“I love the Church in China,” the Baptist World Alliance General Secretary’s brief statement praising the church in China, received widespread criticism from religious freedom watchdog groups, for being well-intended, but short sighted and incomplete. Following the onslaught of criticism, the General Secretary Denton Lotz released yet another statement, reaffirming his first statement and broadly distinguishing between “freedom of religion” and “freedom of worship.”
"First of all, I was giving my personal observations and not speaking for the Baptist World Alliance. Let's make that clear! I have been a Chinese Church observer since my first trip to China in 1986,” wrote Lotz, on Sept 3. “My article was not an investigative article on the question of religious freedom in China! It was an attempt to rejoice with those who rejoice and to tell the truth about the good things that are happening, in spite of restrictions!”
Lotz’ initial statement, which was released last Friday, was largely a statement praising the China Christian Council, the seminary in Nanjing and the “remarkable growth” of religious institutions in the communist regime.
“It was a rare honor to be hosted for dinner by the past president of the China Christian Council, Dr. Han Wenzao. It was a beautiful evening of sharing the joys of the new church in China. Dr. Han indicated that there are now probably 15,000 churches in China with another 20,000 meeting points or missions. There is at least one or two new churches started every day in China. No wonder Chinese Christian leaders say, “The 21st century belongs to us!” exclaimed Lotz.
However, the Voice of the Martyrs rebutted that observation, taking note of the fact that 80% of China’s Christians still serve in the underground churches and are still persecuted and killed by the government for their religious beliefs. VOM also reported that there are more Christian prisoners in China than in any other country in the world, and that only those churches strictly controlled by the government are “legal.” According to the VOM, the majority of Chinese Christians view the “legal” Christian institutions – particularly the China Christian Council and the seminary in Nanjing – as manipulative tools of the communist regime.
“It is tragic to see how these well-meaning people were naively used by the Communist government in an attempt to rehabilitate China's flagging public image as one of the most egregious religious rights violators in the world. One would think that Christians would have learned long ago from experience in the Soviet Union that you just cannot trust what government sanctioned religious organizations show and tell you,” said VOM spokesman Glenn Penner.
In response to Penner’s statement, Lotz said he has “worked under the communists in Eastern Europe for many years” and that he understands there is no religious freedom in a “western sense” of the word.
“Religious Freedom in our understanding includes all expressions of Christian faith beyond the local church building and therefore would affirm true religious freedom as the freedom to have Radio and TV, colleges, universities, nurseries, orphanages, hospitals, printing presses, open air meetings, etc,” explained Lotz.
Lotz then went on to say that despite the lack of such “religious freedom,” China offers the “Freedom of Worship.” This “freedom of worship,” according to Lotz, is “the freedom to worship on Sunday mornings and to hold Bible studies on Wednesdays and prayer meetings on other days!”
“It was this Freedom of Worship, even in spite of restrictions, that I was praising and have seen with my own eyes, having worshiped for the past 18 years in many Chinese churches! The attack on my article failed to distinguish between Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Worship! I was trying to show that in spite of persecution, harassment and difficulties the Church is alive and flourishing!” exclaimed Lotz.
Lotz said that he too opposes persecution, repression and torture.
“This is not to deny that there is persecution of house churches and the arrest of Christians. We very resolutely tell the China government that we are for complete religious freedom of all people. We are opposed to torture, repression, and imprisonment of religious leaders,” said Lotz.
However, he reaffirmed his initial statement, saying that he “still love[s] the Church in China” and stating that there “are now 21 seminaries in China, 2 million Bibles are printed each year, and thousands of young men and women are coming to Christ.”
“It is indeed cause for rejoicing that hundreds of new church buildings are opening every year. It indeed cause for rejoicing that Bibles are being printed. And the list could go on! Are these things not what the Apostle Paul would call "worthy of Praise!?” said Lotz.
Oddly, according to the VOM, during the same time Lotz visited China, several hundred house church leaders were arrested without warrant and three Christian activists were sentenced to three years in prison.
VOM’s Penner charged that the “Chinese government and its 'patriotic religious' subordinates try to put blame on the western media and so-called 'anti-China' forces for its negative image,” rather than “changing its repressive religious policy and bad behavior.”
In an apparent rebuttal to the VOM’s charge, Lotz said, “do those who criticize the Chinese government report on the mighty work of the Spirit in China, or do they only report on the bad things that men are doing everywhere?”
“On the other hand, I tried to report on the good things that God is doing!” Lotz added, exhorting others to do the same.
VOM has yet to respond to Lotz’ Sept 3 statement.