Guest / Limited Access /

When President Bush visited Beijing during the Olympic Games, he asked the Chinese government, "Why don't you register the underground churches and give them a chance to flourish?" Bush told Olympics broadcaster Bob Costas that President Hu Jintao politely listened to his request: "I can't read his mind, but I do know that every time I met with him, I pressed the point."

President Bush's instincts are on the money, though his point is just a bit off. Granted, some house churches in China are willing to register (in many cases to avoid arrests and disruption), but they often get turned down. Others don't want to and they shouldn't be required to. As in many other countries, registering as a church in China means state regulation, not a greater chance of flourishing.

Government pressure limits what Three-Self pastors can preach and pray about. Nina Shea, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told Christianity Today about a registered church in Beijing whose pastor prayed for victims of political imprisonment. Government officials raided the church and physically removed the pastor from the pulpit. Constant government surveillance of church services cannot help having a chilling effect on church teaching.

So, we should not be pressing for the government to register more churches. This is a half measure designed to keep trade relations normal while appearing to advocate religious freedom. Instead, we should be pressing China to give up the idea of registering churches.

Put another way, President Bush's well-intentioned comment suggests a more widespread problem in America's advocacy, or lack thereof, for religious freedom.

Department of Particular Concern

When determining the nation's stance toward ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only
Barring Yahweh
The Vatican gives orders to excise the name from worship. Do Protestants agree?
RecommendedThe CT Interview: Saeed Abedini Answers Abuse Allegations
Subscriber Access Only The CT Interview: Saeed Abedini Answers Abuse Allegations
The formerly jailed Iranian American pastor talks to CT about his marriage, his imprisonment, and his hopes for revival.
TrendingNicole Cliffe: How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life
Nicole Cliffe: How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life
I had no untapped, unanswered yearnings. All was well in the state of Denmark. And then it wasn’t.
Editor's PickLetters with the Mosque Next Door
Letters with the Mosque Next Door
How a budding friendship between a pastor and an imam brought a community together.
Christianity Today
See No Evil
hide thisOctober October

In the Magazine

October 2008

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.