Friday, December 28, 2007

China's Bible phobia reveals religious freedom worries

The heated Chinese reaction to a controversy over whether officials actually had issued an order to ban Bibles in Olympic facilities being built for the 2008 games shows there is an underlying worry over issues involving religion, according to a Christian ministry."While the U.S. Olympic Committee has received confirmation that visiting athletes, journalists and tourists will in fact be allowed to bring Bibles into Beijing for personal use, the mere possibility of the ban's existence has been seen as yet another attempt by the Chinese government to suppress religious freedom within its borders, despite its repeated claims to the contrary," according to a new statement from Christian Freedom International.A media report earlier revealed that Bibles were going to be banned from the housing complexes for athletes during the 2008 Games. While Chinese officials, who have expelled dozens for Christian missionaries in an apparent crackdown on Christianity in advance of the 2008 Beijing Games, called the report a "total rumor," others said the reaction still indicates problems."Christian Freedom International … is encouraging all believers to pray for the persecuted church in China," the group said. "As the international community keeps a watchful eye on a country still defending itself against a long history of religious and human rights abuses, even as it prepares to welcome the world to the 2008 Olympic Games, CFI is challenging Christians everywhere to remember those in China who routinely suffer harassment, torture and even martyrdom for their faith."The report of the ban had outraged both human rights groups and U.S. officials. Sen. Lindsey Graham had contacted the Chinese ambassador about the situation and U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter introduced a resolution condemning China's action.Even when the Chinese government issued a statement denouncing reports of a ban, the message was given considerable scrutiny, especially since the Chinese government continues to advise that athletes, visitors and journalists should bring no more than a single Bible with them to the Games.The warning is from the Olympic Games' official website, which outlines the process to enter China. Authorities there explain they have been given the right to inspect any and all luggage that arrives with people coming to the Games.And without the inspectors' approval, no one will be allowed in."Only when you pass all the procedures … you really and legally enter China," the website says, right after the advisory that, "Note: Each travel (sic) is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China." Christian Freedom noted the underground Christian church in China has grown "by the millions" in recent years, even though it operates in a technically illegal status, without governmental approval to operate – or even exist.And the printing and distribution of Bibles in the Communist nation remains "severely restricted," the ministry added.CFI said under the direction of its president, Jim Jacobson, a former White House policy analyst, it has "smuggled" thousands of Bibles into China over recent years, because fewer than half of all Chinese Christians own a copy of the Bible, and governmentally approved printers cannot keep up with the demand.Adding to the worry when China states it doesn't ban Bibles are cases such as the recent situation in which the father of a U.S. citizen who has been working on Christian book projects in China suddenly disappeared.Family and friends of Weihan Shi, 37, a businessman who works as a travel agent and recently got government permission to work on some Christian book titles, said the government has not released information about why he was detained.The U.S. embassy was asked to look into the case because Shi's daughter, Grace, 7, is a U.S. citizen. The man's office, not far from some Olympic projects, was raided, as was the family's home, friends said.WND already has reported on China's Olympic blacklist. A man who escaped from China after being imprisoned for teaching Bible classes and now runs an organization to help persecuted Christians is confirming the nation will target 43 types of people with investigations – and possibly bans – when the 2008 Olympics are held.And those targeted will include "religious infiltrators," employees of media organizations, those tied to "illegal" religious organizations and others, the report said.China Aid Association, run by Bob Fu, says the information comes from a "secretly issued" notice from China's Ministry of Public Security that went to security officials and departments throughout the nation."CAA learned from reliable internal Chinese government sources that in April of 2007, the Ministry of Public Security of the Chinese government issued a general nation-wide order, requiring strict examinations on all people both in China and overseas who will participate in the Olympic Games," the organization said. "These include members of the Olympic Committee, athletes, media and sponsors. With this, they also provide a list of 43 types of people in 11 categories to be barred from attending the Olympic Games."The document, a "Notice on Strict Background Check on Applicants for the Olympic Games and the Test Events," targets those who are considered "antagonistic elements," followers of Falun Gong and other "cults," as well as "religious extremists and religious infiltrators."Other categories include media employees "who can harm the Olympic Games," non-government organizations that "pose a real threat to the Olympic Games," those with grievances against the communist party, those under investigation by Chinese authorities, as well as "terrorists" and "members of illegal organizations."The report, China Aid Association said, lists among the targets anyone who belongs to an independent house church in China, which are identified as "illegal religious organizations" and those who have given "illegal sermons."Also targeted and banned will be "people who illegally distribute religious publications and video-audio materials" and "people who have illegally established both in China and abroad religious organizations, institutions, schools, sermon sites and other religious entities.""While CAA understands the legitimate security concern during Olympics, nevertheless we urge the Chinese government to be more transparent regarding the preparation of [the] 2008 Beijing Olympics," CAA said. "We call upon the Chinese government not to use Olympics as a cover to engage in a crackdown on peaceful people of faith both in China and abroad."

As in the days of Noah....

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