As two hundred China Lausanne delegates were once again barred by local authorities from traveling, Lausanne Congress leaders echoed their regrets and made clarifications towards the Chinese government’s accusations of interfering in the country’s religious affairs.
"Lausanne does not intend to challenge the Chinese government’s principle of ‘independent, autonomous and self-governed churches,'" stated Dou Birdsall, executive chair of The Lausanne Movement. "We recognize the nature of the Christian community and their contribution in Chinese society while respecting China’s established institutions. We very much regret that our intentions and the decentralized invitation process to our Chinese brothers and sisters have been wrongly perceived."
In an interview with media, Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, criticized Lausanne Congress for failing to formally invite the legal representatives of China’s Christians - leaders of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council (TSPM/CCC), the network of state-registered Protestant churches in China - but secretly extending multiple invitations to Christians who privately setup meeting points.
"This action publically challenges the principles of independent, autonomous, domestically organized, and therefore represents a rude interference in Chinese religious affairs," Ma expressed in a statement Friday.
Birdsall explained, "Lausanne Congress participants selected for Cape Town 2010 express wide-ranging theological and cultural diversity of the Church in every country, and the selection criteria and process used by indigenous leaders in China was the same used by other national and regional selection teams around the world." Since the process was conducted by indigenous leaders in China, the matter of secretly extending invitations is non-existent.
Morley Lee, General Secretary of The Chinese Coordinating Center of World Evangelization and International Deputy Director of The Lausanne Movement for the Chinese World, has prior to the conference, issued a statement admitting that because China’s government-sanctioned churches (TSPM/CCC) weren’t able to sign the Lausanne Covenant, there were much inconveniences and was a major negligence during the preparation.
Despite this, to give TSPM/CCC the opportunity to participate in the conference, the Congress has setup seats for observers, and sent out an official invitation to China’s representatives of State Administration for Religious Affairs and TSPM/CCC. The TSPM/CCC leaders, however, replied with their refusal to participate in August.
According to Birdsall, at the last Lausanne Congress in Manila in 1989, 200 seats reserved for the Chinese church were left vacant as the delegation was prevented from leaving the country. But much has changed since then, and over the past two years in-country selection coordinators carefully worked through relationships to include representation of all Christian communities in China, including observers from the CCC and TSPM, and participants from rapidly growing urban house fellowships and large rural churches.
Though all registered participants had proper documentation, including current passports and visas, most were detained at airports or passport control as they attempted to depart China en route to Cape Town, said Birdsall.
"The surprising and unfortunate restrictions placed on our Chinese colleagues may represent mere caution on the part of their government, due to the international nature of this gathering and the global networking that will take place," he concluded. "We certainly hope this does not reflect a precedent for a 'new normal' of limitations on religious freedom in their country."
The Most Revd Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda and honorary chair of the African Host Committee will preside over a long-planned program Monday evening highlighting the church in China. He echoed the profound disappointment and sense of incompleteness among Congress leadership in knowing that Christians from China will not be able to join in the gathering.
"It is an amazing privilege for Africa, which is fast becoming a center for world missions, to host men and women whom God is bringing from around the world as we begin a new chapter for the 21st Century," Archbishop Orombi said. "Our African leadership was looking forward to developing closer ties, friendship and mutual understanding with our Chinese brothers and sisters in a spirit of love, humility, fraternity and support. Not having them here is like not having Brazil at the World Cup! It is unimaginable."
Cape Town 2010, being held 16-25 October, is the latest global congress sponsored by The Lausanne Movement, begun by Billy Graham in 1974. Despite the lack of full representation encompassing the breadth and vitality of Christian communities in China, the Congress is possibly the most representative gathering of the Christian church in history. In addition to the 4200 participants from 198 countries meeting together in South Africa, it extends to another anticipated 100,000 individuals at nearly 700 GlobaLink sites in more than 95 countries around the world.