Following a three-week tour of China, an American delegation of religious leaders, including Don Argue of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), is hopeful but cautious about religious freedom for Chinese believers.
"The church is growing tremendously in China and the last thing it wants is to be politicized," Argue said at a March press conference. "We had mulitiple contacts with the unregistered church. They are not afraid."
Chinese Christians who stray outside officially permitted religious activity continue to face the prospect of detention, arrest, and confiscation of property. But the situation for house-church leaders remains fluid, subject to unexpected twists and turns. In February, Gao Feng, one of the most prominent of China's younger generation of house-church leaders, was reported released from a labor camp, a few months before his two-and-a-half-year sentence was due to be completed.
The February visit by the American delegation of NAE's Argue, Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York, and Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, New Jersey, took place while Congress debated legislation to sanction nations that permit religious persecution. During meetings in China,the Americans presented government officials with a list of 30 Christians and Buddhists who reportedly were being detained for their religious activities. In addition, Argue gave a Chinese-language Bible to Jiang Zemin, China's top leader, who told Argue that 50 years ago he had received medical care from the hands of an American Christian missionary.
The group traveled countrywide and stopped for visits in Tibet and Hong Kong, now under China's rule. An official report from the delegation is pending.
Not all religious-freedom advocates were in favor of the trip. Nina Shea of Freedom House said in a letter, "I fear that the delegation is touring a religious Potemkin Village, affording Beijing with a propaganda triumph [and] triggering further oppression against Chinese underground religious believers."
Argue told CT, "Our discussions [in China] were very frank and very pointed. This was the beginning of dialogue. We spent a lot of time building relations."
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