Here is the speech of the director-general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) of the People’s Republic of China Ye Xiaowen during the opening ceremony on May 19 at the Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, Atlanta, officially released from the China Bible Ministry Exhibition.
Honorable Mr. President Carter,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Bible Ministry Exhibition of the Church in China, just like a happy bird, is making its second stop at a beautiful and unique place – Atlanta, Georgia- on its journey form the West Coast to the East Coast.
Atlanta is indeed a very special place for China. The Chinese people have learned about America’s past through the move, Gone with the Wind, and Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s "I Have A Dream" speech. The Chinese people are learning abut America’s Present through CNN and Coca-Cola. I hope the American people in Atlanta today will, in turn, learn more about China through this Exhibition.
Atlanta is also a place of historical significance for China. Twenty-seven years ago, two pioneers, Mr. Deng Xiaoping and Mr. Carter, led us to establish a diplomatic relationship between China and the United States. Mr. Carter is able to be with us today. Mr. Deng Xiaoping learned about America through Atlanta and America learned about China through Mr. Deng.
Over the last few decades, more than 40 million copies of the Bible have been published and distributed in China. It is amazing, isn’t it? Some may wonder, "Isn’t China an atheist country?" "Does this country allow the existence of Christians within its own territory?" "Is it true that once the Bible had to be smuggled into China?" "Didn’t they rely on American missionaries to set up and develop their own church?"
As early as twenty-seven years ago, Mr. Deng Xiaoping had told Mr. Carter that, I quote, "In China, freedom of worship, OK; Bible, OK; foreign missionary, No." What Mr. Deng mentioned are the two principles guiding religious affairs in China: to protect the freedom of religious belief and to maintain the independence and self-governance of churches in China. These two principles are like the two sides of a coin. They have been written into the Constitution of China and have ensured a smooth and healthy development of the church in China.
The Bible in China has witnessed this development and has also given its blessing. The Bible is the message from God, but it has many different versions and is available in many different languages. The Church, also, is part of God, but it works in different ways and has different kinds of organization depending on where it is found. China and America are far apart in distance and different in historical background, cultural traditions and level of development; therefore, the two nations need to enhance communication and seek common ground amid their differences. I believe that when God created man and woman, He did not want them to quarrel but to live in harmony with each other. Similarly, God divided the world into East and West, but He expects each to live together in the spirit of harmony, not confrontation. Therefore, we should respect truth and discard prejudice. Prejudice is even farther away from truth than ignorance. Prejudice can become bigger obstacle to fruitful communication and exchange than any physical distance that divides us.
The sincere and friendly exchange between the churches in our two nations will exert significant influence on Christians in both China and America. It will overcome the physical distance between the two nations, and it will improve the mutual understandings of the government and people in our two countries so that we may move towards the goal of building a constructive and cooperative relationship in the 21st century on the basis of a "stakeholder" relationship.
Atlanta is also a place full of dreams for China. Forty-three years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior from Atlanta said, "I have a dream that one day, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers." Twenty-seven years ago, Mr. Deng Xiaoping may also have had a dream, that there will be an end to the confrontation and estrangement between China and America. Today, when standing together with Mr. Carter, do we also have a dream?
May the Bible Ministry Exhibition of the Church in China be a new witness to the constructive and cooperative relationship between the two nations.