China Aid Association
(BEIJING — February 26, 2009) The Voice of America released the following report on January 28, 2009 regarding the December 2008 meeting between Beijing house church leaders and government officials. While many news sources have reported that these meetings indicate a change of attitude by the Chinese government, however Voice of America sources, along with ChinaAid contacts, have emphasized the meetings were not actually arranged by government officials.
The Equivocal Relationship Between the Chinese House Churches and the Chinese Government
By Ya Wei, Voice of America
Last December, the house church leaders in China held a conference in Beijing. According to the person in charge, the conference was not officially supported by the Chinese government as some have assumed. The relationship between the Chinese house churches and the Chinese government remains equivocal.
A few international media sources, including The Times, reported that the Chinese officials and leaders of the Chinese house churches secretly met with each other last year in Beijing, which marked the first significant step towards reconciliation in decades.
It was reported that the two parties joined together as negotiators instead of opponents. It was also said that the meeting was at a crucial time because this year is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the P. R.C., and the Chinese government desires a national celebration without any disturbance.
The Times reported on the rapid increase of the Chinese Christian population in recent years. The Chinese officials privately estimate there are about 130,000,000 Christians in China, many of whom belong to the house churches. The number of Christians in China far exceeds the population of the Communist Party members (Currently there are 74,000,000 Communist Party members). The church leaders believe that this is one of the reasons why the official Chinese think tank — Research Center of the State Council — summoned two breakthrough conferences in late 2008.
It was reported that the majority of those who attended the first conference were academics and lawyers, many of whom are house church members; the second conference brought together six house church leaders.
NGOs Arrange House Church Research ConferenceDr. Fan, Yafeng, an academic of Law in Beijing, organized and attended the meeting on December 1st, 2008. In the meeting, they discussed the treatment of the house churches’ development and the issues in regarding the house churches’ identity. According to Dr. Fan’s description, it was a small-scale meeting among NGOs, which was not how it was promoted.— namely, that it was authorized by and was given under the auspices of the Chinese government to get to know the situation of the house churches and create a dialogue with the two groups. “The conference was a small internal research meeting that an NGO hosted to prepare for a research report on house church issues. One thing I can confirm, this meeting did not have official Chinese backing or authorization to begin a dialogue with house church leaders,” said Dr. Fan. According to an anonymous organizer, the meeting attendees consisted of three groups: specialists and lawyers on religious freedom regarding the relationship of religion and legality; house church leaders and academics from NGOs in the related field. “We hope that, through discussions on the relationship between the house churches and the government, we will impact future policy on religion. We hope the new policy will improve the politics-religion relationship.”
Wish to Give Feedback to the Government
The organizer indicated that they are making every effort to deliver the opinions from the meeting to the Chinese government. He hoped this meeting would help the government gain a positive perspective/understanding of the house churches. Meanwhile, it would encourage the church members to stand for their opinions and make positive impact on the politics-religion relationship. Dr. Fan said, that although the Chinese security officials, from central to local, have constantly negotiated with house church leaders, including Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, Chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance, so far, the Chinese government has not officially delegated any organization to communicate with them. Since last December, the Chinese government has restricted and oppressed Christmas celebrations at house churches. However, since January, the national situation has suddenly become better. Dr. Fan pointed out that the actual fact is two side of the same coin, indicating the nature of the religious freedom policy in China includes both cruelness and speculation. He said, “The recovery of the house church situation resulted from the Chinese house churches, regardless of a series of oppression and persecution in 2008, standing firmly on their position — religious freedom, love for China and prayer for justice.”
Wang, Shuangyan, one of the house church leaders in Beijing who attended the meeting, expressed that she looks forward to the negotiation with the Chinese government about the house churches’ identity. They are striving for this opportunity, however, it currently is just a wish; nothing has been settled. “Having a meeting like this is our wish; we expect to indirectly pass our opinions to the government and appeal for a legal identity for the house church. However, the government has not responded, it’s true. This is our attitude: we will not give up on negotiation and legal identity. Nevertheless, we put our trust and hope in God. Therefore, no matter what circumstance, good or bad, to us we are still free within,” she said.
Yu, Jie, a writer from Beijing, who, in May of 2006, met with President Bush, indicated that persecution of Christians in China occurs constantly. The tension has been slightly relieved since January, 2009. However, it might be due to the fact that it is a season of the celebration of the Spring Festival;, therefore, it should not be regarded as a transformation of the Chinese official policy. Yu said that so long as the Chinese political system maintains the Chinese Communist one-party dictatorship, the general policy on control and persecution over the religious organizations, including the house churches, will remain the same. “As social order in China evolves, China gradually progresses into globalization and more ordinary people accept various religions including Christianity, the CCP realizes it cannot continuously treat religious people violently and blatantly. I believe they are applying the policy of carrots and sticks. Nonetheless, it is impossible for them to fundamentally alter the policy in the short-term because this is just strategic adjustment to the current situations,” Yu said.
It is stated in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, in Article 36 that Chinese citizens have religious freedom. However, in the process of implementing the policy, the government forces the Christian and Catholic churches to register for official approval. The house church gatherings frequently suffer disturbance and the church members have been taken into custody by the police. Therefore, although the church leaders interviewed above expect a legal position for the house churches, they remain rational and practical when confronting the religious policy and circumstances in China.
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