A former house church leader called the China Bible Exhibition in Atlanta a "joke", after the exhibition opened, Friday, where dignitaries touted the event as an opportunity for the U.S. to understand the religious situation in China.
"Since 1979, the church has reopened. Now we enjoy religious freedom and more and more new churches are built," Rev. Cao Shenjie, China Christian Council president, said at a prayer breakfast for the Regional Council of Churches of Atlanta, Saturday.
Cao also emphasized that in 2006 the Amity Printing Press, the only government-approved printing press for Bibles, had printed no less than 40 million copies of Bibles.
"We feel we need to speak the truth and know the nature of this Bible exhibition," said Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association, an organization that has long championed for religious freedom in China.
Fu said, over the telephone to Gospel Herald on Monday, that he doubted that sufficient quantities of Amity-printed Bibles have been circulating to the nation’s population of 1.4 billion.
"It would be great if the Bible exhibition can be held in every major city in China…and let the ordinary people know there are Bibles available, if they are any…but why here (in the U.S.)?" asked the former house church pastor, who fled to Hong Kong in 1996 and later moved to the United States.
Bibles printed by the Amity Printing Press are only available for sale at bookstores run by government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches (TSPM) in the cities.
Often times, rural Christians – making up nearly 80 per cent of house church members – are forced to travel thousands of miles to the nearest TSPM bookstores to buy a single Bible, as the bookstores restrict the number of Bible that could be sold in one purchase.
House church Christians in China have long complained that they have not been able to find Bibles in general bookstores though copies of the Koran and Buddhist sutras are available.
Some house church leaders have been known to print their own supplies of Bibles to address the urgent need for scriptures, said Bob Fu, citing the case of Pastor Cai Zhuohua whom was arrested in 2004 for printing Bibles for his own congregation.
Cai was later sentenced to a 3-year prison term by a court on charges "of illegal business practices," though a leading Chinese law firm that had defended Cai maintained that the house church pastor was printing materials intended only for congregational needs.
"If someone like Pastor Cai is in jail, then this (Atlanta Bible Exhibition) is a joke," Fu emphasized. "This is nothing but propaganda."
The TSPM has, since then, defended Cai’s arrest. A high-ranking TSPM official told a Gospel Herald correspondent at the Atlanta Bible Exhibition, Tuesday, that Cai was "doing something illegal."
"In China, you cannot print Bible recklessly. We have to print the Bibles at the Amity Printing Press," said Rev. Mei Kangjun, executive associate secretary general of the National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, when asked about Cai’s arrest.
"You must go through the (Amity) Press to print Bibles or any other Christian literature," Mei added.
According to the "Truth About China" report released by the world’s oldest Christian persecution-monitor agency, Open Doors, "the legal production of scriptures in China is capped at 2.3 million per year… (but) given the growth of the Chinese church at roughly 3-5 million per year, it is clear the Bible need is beyond the ability of this single initiative to fully address."
In the same report, Open Doors added that "overseas missions…are forced into finding ways of supply that supplement the efforts of the Amity press, but do not enjoy government approval."
The China Bible Atlanta exhibition at the Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church is scheduled to end, Wednesday, and will reopen in New York City, June 5-12.