Bob Fu's Speech for Accepting 2007 John Leland Religious Liberty Award

China Aid Association
Bob Fu’s Speech for Accepting 2007 John Leland Religious Liberty Award from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of Southern Baptist Convention

US Library of Congress, Washington DC

Bob Fu

Dr. Land, Dr Duke, the Honorable Congressman Franks,

I would like to thank the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the Southern Baptist Convention as well as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus for your dedication to promoting international religious freedom and for the great honor of receiving this award today.

I was born and grew up in China. My mom met my dad when she was begging food in his village because of extreme poverty in 1950s. I remember, as a young boy living in Shandong province in northeast China, as my mother was slowly dying of her lung disease caused by starvation, I begged a local doctor, even offering myself as his bond servant for life if he would just help provide medicine for my mother to get well. As he shut the door on me and I walked away with a broken heart, I remember falling on the ground behind a barn in my home yard and in the only way I knew how, praying to a higher power to help me and to help my mother. I prayed that one day my poor mom and I could get some equal status with my other fellow villagers, no matter how poor or rich. With that in mind, as a university student, I was actively involved in the student’s democratic movement in 1989. After the bloody crackdown, I was wondering why the so-called ‘People’s Army” would kill their own people-their brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. I was not able to reconcile that question. From
disappointment to disillusioned wrath, I was planning to commit a suicide campaign to kill those who betrayed me.

However, one night in the classroom, I was given a small booklet which was smuggled in from Hong Kong by my American English teacher. It was a testimony of a pastor. I was fascinated and finished reading it with one breath. I was especially attracted by such beautiful words as “if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The OLD HAS gone and the NEW HAS come.” I didn’t receive my first Bible until a year later, after I became a believer; however I somehow knew that these beautiful words were from the Bible. I was totally convicted that I was as depraved as those I wanted to kill. How could I expect myself to be treated equal by others if I wanted to kill them? “Yes,” I decided, “I want to become a new creation.” I couldn’t help but surrender myself to my Creator. Later I knelt down on the floor with my American teacher at his dorm and accept Christ into my life. I realized the very freedom of conscience that the Creator endowed in my heart is far more precious and fundamental than any other rights. The very next day, I found everything was renewed and I even started having compassion and respect toward my betrayers and my enemies. I suddenly realized that, although as a small boy I did not know who God was, He knew and loved me, just like He knows and loves the 1.3 billion people I left behind in China some 12 years ago when President Clinton intervened for me, my new infant son and my wonderful wife Heidi. I am humbled to stand here today in this historic setting as a Chinese-American who deeply loves the United States and cherishes the religious freedom this great country affords, but I am and always will be, Chinese in my heart. I miss China very much and pray for her future. I sincerely want China’s future to be one of prosperity and stability and I believe that this can only be realized as true religious freedom is fully embraced in China and protected by the rule of law. This objective is the motivation behind all my efforts and the purpose of China Aid Association. Throughout Chinese history, “the Mandate of Heaven”, which is a concept of a higher power influencing leaders of nations, has influenced and been embraced by the Chinese people at all levels of society. I and millions of Christians in China today believe that the “mandate of heaven” is for China to become a lasting, peaceful world power and worthy leader in the international community, but this will only be achieved if religious freedom is established. In the international community and among many Chinese citizens, there is a difference of opinion concerning the status of religious freedom in China.

Certainly, there is more religious freedom today than there was during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s. There are the TSPM churches, that have an estimated 16 million members and 15,000 churches that are officially registered with the Chinese government. The Chinese government would argue that the existence of these churches and the fact that millions of Bibles are printed and allowed to be sold at these TSPM churches is proof that there is religious freedom in China. I acknowledge that there has been some progress in China in the area of religious freedom, and I know members of the TSPM church who believe that all Chinese Christians should be willing to register and only worship in the manner that is officially approved by the Chinese government. But there are over 60 to 80 million Christians who view the TSPM church with suspicion and feel that they should be allowed to worship in their homes and in ways of their own choosing, like I did when I was a little boy, and not be required to register and only assemble for worship in government approved sites.

There are many perspectives among the unregistered churches as to how to deal with the Chinese government’s registration requirements. Some house churches are contemplating aligning themselves with the official TSPM church and working within its structures. Some house churches are praying to God for guidance and waiting to see if the Chinese government will be open-minded and more flexible with registration requirements citing that, logistically, millions of unregistered Christians cannot be accommodated by the official TSPM structure and facilities. Other house churches are strongly opposed to such a consideration and view the official TSPM church as a deceptive arm of a Communist government created to control and undermine the purity of their faith. This is a complex issue whose outcome will determine the future of China’s stability and future. Many of you here today are already aware that China Aid documents and reports extensively on the issue of religious freedom in China and the shortcomings of the current status quo in China.

Although China Aid may be viewed to be hostile to the Chinese government, our purpose is quite the opposite. Our reports are not intended to be hostile and malicious, but rather to be accurate, well-documented and to help to provide a catalyst for the change that is needed if China is to successfully navigate the transitions and challenges that its increased economic growth and access to a freer world
outside its walls is accelerating. China’s recent economic growth, while welcomed in many ways, is also creating a volatile wealth gap and increasing social needs and unrest. This is where millions of Christians who are part of the house church movement can be a stable force for a harmonious society, and why resolving the religious freedom issue is critical. For this reason, China Aid seeks to be a peaceful advocate for the house churches in China and a non-violent outlet for frustrations, as we expose violations of basic human rights, such as the freedom to assemble and worship that the current status quo perpetuates for millions of house church Christians. Not only does China Aid seek peaceful methods to deal with growing frustrations and in some cases, corrupt arbitrary actions of regional local officials, but China Aid also seeks to challenge the house church Christians to serve others, not just demand more rights for themselves. Christians, or “followers of Christ”, are to be servants of their fellowmen.

My hope is that the Chinese Government will recognize that Christianity and other true peaceful religious groups, do not need to be “controlled” and are not a threat to the government, but rather, are one of the needed building blocks for stability and can provide much needed help for promoting non-violence during this time of transition in China’s history. In fact, I want to point out that the current restrictions imposed by the Chinese government create an environment conducive to the incubation of dangerous criminal cults like Eastern Lightening. If the house churches were free to assemble and publish the truth of Christianity, orthodoxy, and also free to instruct their congregations, especially their children, the truly dangerous cults would be more easily identified and less likely to victimize the ignorant as the Chinese government fears. More importantly, a freer Christian community can provide much needed social services contributing to the harmonious society that China seeks. Without mentioning specific locations and names, we know and have been supporting house churches who are serving several hundred orphans and the elderly in different provinces, including the area of Tibet. With the help of selfless foreign Christians, we know that hundreds of schools have been established to provide quality, free education for the children of the so-called floating population (migrant), who otherwise, would have been forever illiterate under current China’s education system. Unfortunately, these unselfish good deeds have to be done secretly, because of their association with the house churches. How much more could they do if they had more freedom to provide such worthy social services? This would be a win-win scenario for the Chinese government but of course, trust must be established before such a visionary plan could begin dialogue.

A quick study of Chinese history helps one understand that there are certain valid reasons why the Chinese government does not currently see and trust Christianity as a positive influence for a harmonious society.

Throughout history, sadly, the Christian faith has been distorted and exploited in ways that do not honor the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. China is no exception to this tragedy. As a Chinese, I will mention the Taiping Rebellion which is a good example of why the Chinese government does not trust the motives of Christians. In the mid-1850s, the Taiping rebellion was started by Hung Hsiu-Ch’uan who was trained by a Southern Baptist missionary named Isaachar Roberts. Rev. Roberts’ intentions were honorable; he himself was a wealthy American Christian who went to China to work with lepers, and eventually died of leprosy. However, the actions of Isachaar’s student, Hung Hsiu-Ch’uan, did not follow the basic tenets of the Christian faith and Roberts eventually concluded that Hung was mentally ill and denounced Hung as “crazy and unfit to rule.” This does not erase the 30 million lives lost in the Taiping Rebellion and the tragic consequences that Hung’s misuse of the Bible to challenge the Chinese government, and his heretical teachings, which included Hung’s belief that he was the brother of Jesus, caused. This time period in Chinese history is important for Western Christians to be aware of and acknowledge because it explains some of the background for why the Chinese government does not trust Christians who are not willing to be tightly controlled, like the house church movement for which I am an advocate though it can not be used as justification for any type of of religious persecution. 

This is why I believe that it is essential that the House churches must go the extra mile to demonstrate that their objectives are not to be violent revolutionaries and enemies of the current government, but rather that their interpretation of the “mandate of heaven” in the Christian faith is quite the opposite: to show respect and pray for those in the government, while being servants of their fellowman and to be a positive stabilizing force in society. I must be truthful and state that from my observations, even as I document shortcomings of the Chinese government in regards to religious freedoms, the house churches, in my opinion, also have shortcomings they need to address and improve on. A well known question, to remind Christians how to live as followers of Christ here in the United States among evangelicals is, “What would Jesus do?” and if I ask myself, what would Jesus do today if He lived in China? I feel I need to meditate more on how Jesus would instruct his followers in the Chinese house churches? Would Jesus demand more rights and join in angry confrontation, be disrespectful to the authorities, consider violent acts to achieve more freedoms of expression, assembly and worship? These were not the methods that Jesus used to address the problems in His own culture and society when He was walking on earth. Jesus modeled and commanded His followers to love everyone, even one’s enemies. He forgave those who unjustly beat Him and eventually crucified Him. He used His life to do good to others by healing the sick, feeding the hungry and showing respect for all, even those in government positions who misunderstood and tortured Him. 
Christians in China should strive to live as Christ lived, even while they are seeking to promote the rule of law and truer religious freedoms than exist today. Christians must be truthful; this is why China Aid strives to carefully document all our reports and focuses on cases where the Chinese Government is not following their own constitutional guarantees. This is why China Aid seeks to peacefully and respectfully expose those local authorities that exploit their positions. This is also why China Aid is encouraged over recent developments. After President Hu publicly called for religious believers, including Christians, to join the harmonious society building last December, we were encouraged that nine house church leaders from Beijing and Hubei were released from their detention center and labor camps ahead of schedule. I pray and hope this will represent a true beginning of reconciliation instead of a one-time diplomatic gesture. But a critical difference between the house church and the official TSPM church still exists and must be reconciled and this critical difference is how each of these groups view the Chinese Government’s registration requirements. For China, this is the most critical, historic issue of this decade that the Chinese government must resolve peacefully, and this will be key as to how China proceeds on religious freedoms and whether China is, or is not, embraced within the international community. My hope, and I believe the hope of the majority of millions of unregistered Chinese Christians, is that the Chinese government will recognize that the majority of unregistered house church members and their leaders are stable, patriotic citizens whose faith is not a threat to national security, but instead they are the single greatest asset the Chinese government has for building and sustaining a harmonious society that can meet the growing social needs and the problems that the wealth gap is creating. The Chinese Christians I know and advise, wish to help with the great needs of the elderly, disabled and with orphans, as well as other vulnerable groups. They want to help promote morals and values and denounce violence.

I do hope that President Bush’s visit to the Beijing Olympics this summer, will further confirm his conviction, as he shared repeatedly to both President Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, that religious freedom is not a threat, but a great help to the Chinese society. So as you, the Congressional Caucus on Human Rights, and various religious leaders, activists and business leaders here today, seek to make a positive difference in China, I want to encourage you to keep religious freedom as a top priority, but also understand this is a complex issue in the Chinese mindset and Chinese history.

As Americans, the more you and I honestly acknowledge that we are also “stakeholders” in contributing to the distrust that China has towards Christianity, the more respect we will be earn as we seek to encourage the expansion of religious freedoms in China. Balance your concerns with sensitivity, but don’t back away, because it is in China’s and the world’s best interest for religious freedom and rule of law to succeed in China.

As a Chinese, I thank you for hearing my heart today as I hope to play a constructive role in helping Americans understand that this is a complicated issue that would be best handled internally in China, if China will responsibly face this task. But as a follower of Christ, I also feel a deeper responsibility to stand with my brothers and sisters in China who are still limited in their freedom to assemble and worship in places other than the official church sites. From my own personal experience of being arbitrarily detained in a Chinese jail, and from the hundreds of documented cases of harassment, arbitrary detentions, seizing of property, torture and even the death of some of my Christian friends and former co-workers in China, I cannot stay silent for those who share our same faith, but not all of our basic freedoms. As I partner with you and continue this work, I also strive to challenge my brothers and sisters in Christ, here in the United States and also in China, that we must not forget the model that Christ provided for us and that all we do, even our activism, must be done with love and grace and I ask you to pray for peace, prosperity and expanded freedoms in my motherland, the People’s Republic of China.

May God continue to bless China and America!
February 7, 2008

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Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
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