China's Protestant leader dismayed over US Baptist mission plans

By Edmund Doogue

Geneva, 4 November (ENI)--

The China Christian Council (CCC), which represents 10 million Protestants in the People's Republic of China, is threatening to cut off relations with one of the biggest churches in the United States, accusing its missionary board of planning to infiltrate China through clandestine missionary work.

In a letter sent this week by the CCC's president, Dr Wenzao Han, in Shanghai, to "friends of the church in China" around the world, the CCC states that its relationship with the International Mission Board (IMB of the Southern Baptist Convention, USA), has "gotten into difficulty." The Southern Baptist Convention, with more than 15 million members, is the second-biggest denomination in the US.

The CCC says that the IMB has in the past cooperated with the CCC in its work in China, but has now decided, "without consulting us", to adopt a "two-track approach" to China. "In this view, while not giving up its `partnership' with the CCC as the `open' track, it will try to give major attention to a clandestine track, through which church workers from abroad are secretly sent to China to carry out 'missionary' work as dictated by the IMB," Dr Wenzao Han writes. "These persons do not intend to make their identities or their relationship to the IMB known, either to the CCC or to the Chinese government. We cannot see how this can be justified on Christian terms.

"Therefore, the CCC has informed a representative of the IMB that we will not co-operate in their deception, and that we cannot have partnership with any organisation holding to a `two-track approach' and give legitimacy to secret infiltration. This is in violation of our principles and to Christian teachings."

The China Christian Council and its sister organisation, the Three-Self Movement, promote post-denominational Chinese Christianity which emphasises Christian values and good citizenship of China. The Beijing government requires registration of all national and local religious bodies, and all unofficial religious bodies are seen as in breach of Chinese law. The government believes underground missionaries promote "non-Chinese" values.

The CCC is concerned that the presence of foreign missionaries not sanctioned by the government will endanger the relationship the CCC and other official religious bodies have built with the government. "Ever since the Three-Self Movement and the China Christian Council came into being, we have followed the principle that all church work and Christian activity in China should be open, honest and above board, and thus consistent with the teachings of the Bible," Wenzao Han writes. "This has helped us to build up a relationship of trust between church and society, between we Chinese Christians and the Chinese people as a whole."

The CCC is apparently becoming increasingly anxious about the way US Christians regard the situation of Christians in China. In August the CCC's former president, Bishop K.H. Ting, warned that a report by the US State Department on religious freedom of Christians abroad could in fact be harmful to Chinese Christians as the report could be seen by the Beijing authorities as interference by the US in domestic matters. "We will appreciate the reaction and advice of our friends from overseas," Dr Wenzao Han writes at the end of his letter. Although the CCC is a non-denominational organisation functioning both as a council and as church, it is a member of the World Council of Churches in Geneva and has good relations with many international church organisations. Tracy Early reports from New York that Mark Kelly, an employee of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that he had not heard about the statement of the China Christian Council, and that no senior executive was available to respond. President Jiang Zemin of China, who has just completed a state visit to the US, has invited three US religious leaders to visit his country from 30 December to 20 January to investigate religious freedom.

One of the three leaders, Don Argue, an Assemblies of God minister and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told ENI that he and his wife received an invitation to the state dinner President Bill Clinton gave at the White House on 29 October for President Jiang Zemin. Argue said he replied that he felt obliged to accept an invitation from the president, but was "in a quandary because of the religious persecution in China." He suggested in his reply to President Clinton that he could attend if he would have an opportunity to express his concern to the Chinese president. And "to our surprise," Argue said, he got to "talk a little" with Jiang Zemin.

The two other leaders invited to go to China are Roman Catholic Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, New Jersey, chairman of the International Policy Committee of the US Catholic Conference; and Rabbi Arthur Schneier, spiritual leader of New York's Park East Synagogue and founder-president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

Argue told ENI that the three leaders had decided they would secure funds independently to pay their travel expenses, rather than have them paid by either China or the US State Department. They had been assured, he said, that they could work out their own itinerary, including travel to Tibet.

Ecumenical News International
Tel: (41-22) 791 6087/6515 Fax: (41-22) 798 1346
E-Mail: eni@wcc-coe.org
PO Box 2100 150 route de Ferney CH-1211 Geneva 2 Switzerland


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