A group monitoring abuses of religious freedom criticized the Baptist World Alliance for an article celebrating the growth of Christian churches in China.
“The church in China has gone through persecution, suffering and imprisonment since 1949,” BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz wrote in an article on the BWA Web site titled “I Love the Church in China.”
“Now, in the post Red Guard period, the churches are flourishing,” Lotz continued. “This is not with the Western understanding of religious freedom which includes witness beyond the walls of the church building, but with their freedom of worship it is amazing how God’s Spirit is moving in China.”
Voice of the Martyrs responded by criticizing the article for “singing the praises” of the China Christian Council, an umbrella and service organization for Protestant churches in China. VOM said most Chinese Christians view the council as a “tool of China’s 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, said VOM, a 40-year-old organization that claims to speak up for the “persecuted church” around 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.”
Asked to respond to the criticism, Lotz told EthicsDaily.com that the VOM article failed to take notice of the clear distinction he made between “freedom of religion” and “freedom of worship.” The point of his article, he said, was to celebrate the fact that Chinese churches are flourishing despite restrictions on expressions of Christian faith that Americans and other Westerners take for granted.
“My article was not an investigative article on the question of religious freedom in China,” Lotz said. “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.”
As a former missionary to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Lotz said he understands what it means to be a Christian under communism. He said he was giving his personal observations and not speaking for the BWA, and that he has been observing the Chinese church since his first visit in 1986.
“Anyone would be blind and naÃ¯ve to not recognize the tremendous movement of the Holy Spirit and growth of the church in China since 1949,” he said. “One cannot deny the spectacular growth of the church, the daily increase in believers, the amazingly huge new churches that are being built all over China. One cannot deny that there are now 21 seminaries in China, that 2 million Bibles are printed each year, and that thousands of young men and women are coming to Christ.”
Lotz’s article came on the heels of a “friendship tour” in China following the BWA’s recent General Council meetings in South Korea. The trip included visits to the Beijing Christian Council and the seminary in Nanjing and dinner with the China Christian Council’s past president, Han Wenzao.
The BWA group was unable to visit the China Christian Council headquarters in Shanghai, but Lotz managed to represent Baptists at a CCC-sponsored “Exhibition of the History of Bible in China” in Hong Kong, where he happened to be attending the recent BWA Youth Congress.
Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, noted the irony that on the day the Bible exhibition began, Aug. 6, more than 100 house church leaders were arrested in Henan Province, according to BosNewsLife, a Christian Internet news service based in Hungary.
Lotz said he does not deny there is persecution of house churches or the arrests of Christians in China, but that the BWA is resolute in telling the Chinese government that it supports full religious freedom and opposes torture, repression and imprisonment of religious leaders.
“On the other hand, 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?” he said. “I tried to report on the good things that God is doing.”
Rather than just criticizing the government, Lotz said Christians should thank God for the growth of Christianity in China, pray for Chinese Christians and work with all governments to end repression and achieve true religious freedom.
The U.S. State Department lists China as a “country of particular concern” for severe violations of religious freedom. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, however, refused to vote on a resolution of censure against China, proposed by the United States.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which cooperates with the China Christian Council to send volunteers to teach English and do other work in China, includes a “frequently asked question” on a Web site about “Don’t you compromise your witness by cooperating with a communist government?”
“On the contrary, we are taking light and love to places that have little or no exposure to the gospel,” the CBF responds. “It is a mystery to them why so many people in America care about the poor and backward peoples in the Chinese countryside. At the very least, a seed is planted and decades of mistrust and suspicion can begin to be put aside. At the very most, there may be unexpected harvests.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.