Chinese Official Church Leader Says Religious Freedom Exists in China

As an unprecedented exhibition on China Bible ministry is going to be held in the U.S., the president of the state-backed China Christian Council (CCC) declares that Chinese Christians enjoy religious
( [email protected] ) Apr 18, 2006 01:25 PM EDT

As an unprecedented exhibition on China Bible ministry is going to be held in the U.S., the president of the state-backed China Christian Council (CCC) declares that Chinese Christians enjoy religious freedom privately.

Rev. Cao Shengjie spoke in Beijing Tuesday on a press conference held to and announce publicize the upcoming exhibition, which will first kick-off at the Crystal Cathedral, Los Angeles from April 27 thru May 4. It will later move to Atlanta and New York in May and June respectively.

Cao said the main purpose of the historic exhibition is "to show conditions of Chinese Christians, the good news of the Bible's spread in China, how the body of Christ has been built under the guidance of the 'word' as well as how the church contributes to society," according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Cao lamented that there is a misunderstanding among Christians in the world- especially those in the U.S.- about religious freedom in China. In most cases, they tend to be too pessimistic about it.

"The Bible exhibition aim is to allow people to witness God's miraculous work in China... we have religious freedom and we can spread the gospel in China," Cao told Agence France-Presse (AFP). "Many people overseas don't realize that."

"The exhibition is also intended to bring new understanding between Americans and Chinese, and to create a greater dialogue between Christians in China and the United States," she said, according to Xinhua news agency.

China has long been condemned for harassing and persecuting Christian gatherings out of the official church, so-called house churches, yet Cao argued that Christians are free to worship and spread their faith as long as they do so privately, Associated Press (AP) reported.

"So we don't have religious activities in public places because we don't want to cause religious disharmony," Cao said, adding that government regulations do allow worship in authorized venues.

Indeed, despite harsh and coordinated crackdowns on house churches, they are growing more rapidly than state-approved churches in part because of zealous proselytizing, according to Chinese and foreign religious scholars. Therefore, the government has also been trying to stop the spread by arresting the top leaders of house church movement, which has drawn international concern.

Cao acknowledged the responsibility as a Christian to spread the Gospel, as speaking to the foreign reporters on the news conference, according to AP. In the official church, she said, believers are free to evangelize by sharing privately about their faith with friends and colleagues.

Concerning the printing of Bible, Cao condemned many overseas organizations which help smuggle Bibles to China for saying Chinese Christians have no access to Bibles. Cao celebrated the fact that almost 40 million bibles had been published in China between 1980 and 2005, including some minority language editions, AFP quoted the statistics.

China already prints enough Bibles and is trying its best to transport them to remote villages in the countryside, she added.

The number of Chinese Christians, including the underground ones, has always remained in mystery for foreign scholars. Cao insisted that the official estimate stands at 16 millions, compared to the unofficial figures of 35 million Protestants and another 12 million Catholics. She also rejected the notion that Chinese Christians were divided between approved and unofficial or underground churches.

Cao’s remark coincides with the start of President Hu Jintao's visit to the U.S. this week. President Bush has promised to raise religious freedom and human rights issues.

Cao will be also coming to the U.S. next week to present at the opening ceremony of the China Bible Ministry Exhibition in Los Angeles. From May 6 thru May 11, she will be visiting Chinese churches in San Francisco with the Chinese delegation of official religious leaders and officials.