Beijing coerces churches to not meet

WASHINGTON (BP)--The Chinese government has forced pastors of unregistered churches to pledge there will be no worship services at their congregations' meeting sites during a three-month period surrounding the Summer Olympics, a human rights group reported Aug. 13.

The pastors also were required to promise they would not organize or attend any religious gatherings that were not approved by the Communist regime, according to China Aid Association, an American-based organization that monitors religious persecution in the world's most populous country.

The report provided additional evidence of ongoing religious repression in China, reinforcing critics' claims that the regime has not lived up to its commitment to improve its human rights record when Beijing was named in 2001 as the host city for this year's Olympic Games. Unregistered congregations, which are not approved by the government, are among the religious groups under pressure from the Chinese regime.

China Aid Association reported on Beijing's latest strong-arm tactic and provided an English translation of the document pastors were coerced to sign.

The form included a statement committing each signer to "refrain from organizing and joining illegal gatherings and refrain from receiving donations, sermons and preaching from" foreign religious entities. It also said "activities at the gathering sites will be shut down for three months (July 15 -- October 15)."

A China Aid staff member said the report revealed Beijing is "extremely two-faced."

"I think it displays the blatant hypocrisy of the Chinese government, who is telling the world on one hand that they're tolerating religious freedom while at the same time they are severely persecuting house church Christians," Daniel Burton told Baptist Press. "All the house church wants to do is worship in freedom without fear of being persecuted."

China Aid estimates from 60 million to 80 million Christians are part of the unregistered church.

The report of China's newest coercive act against unregistered churches came only three days after President Bush called on the Chinese people to welcome religious faith. After attending an Aug. 10 service at a registered church in Beijing, Bush made a brief public statement in which he said, "[N]o state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion." Later, he promoted religious freedom in a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

White House officials said the Chinese regime denied Bush's request to attend worship with an unregistered church, according to The Washington Times.

The coercion of the pastors continued Beijing's year-long crackdown on Christians in unregistered churches, as well as other religious adherents.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has reported nearly 700 Protestant leaders have been arrested in the last year.

The Chinese government expelled more than 100 foreign missionaries between April and June 2007, China Aid reported last year. Citing sources within the government and at five mission agencies in its report, China Aid said the effort was part of a campaign to prevent foreign Christians from doing evangelistic work before the Olympics. Most of those expelled were citizens of the United States, South Korea, Australia, Canada, Singapore and Israel, according to the report.

The expulsion was the largest of missionaries since the Communist regime sent away all foreign religious workers in 1954, China Aid reported.

The U.S. State Department has designated China as one of eight "countries of particular concern," a category reserved for the world's most severe violators of religious freedom. In addition to house church Christians, the Chinese government especially suppresses Roman Catholics in unregistered churches, as well as Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and the Falun Gong, a meditation sect.

The Olympics began officially Aug. 8 and will close Aug. 24.


Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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