Evangelist Luis Palau says he did not mean to "create problems" for Chinese house church members when he urged them to officially register their churches in order to "receive greater freedom and blessings from the government."
Palau's comments at a November press conference in Beijing drew criticism from representatives of Chinese house churches and religious freedom advocates.
"Rev. Palau is either unaware of the problems that registration can cause, or perhaps he is aware that if he makes remarks too critical of China's government, it could severely restrict his ministry there," said Paul Marshall, senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. "Registration can require revealing all the church's members to the government and exposing all of the church's activities. If the government then wants to crack down, it has all the information it needs."
Palau spoke positively of religious freedom in China, saying that the way house churches register in China "is similar to the way churches must register in the U.S." He also said, "You don't get arrested unless you break the law."
Palau has since said he regrets making the remarks. "It's not my role as an evangelist to suggest that churches in China should register," Palau said in a press release responding to criticism. "My role is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ."
In an interview with CT, Palau declined to elaborate on his views. "I expressed my views in a moment of exuberance, thinking it might be helpful, but it turned out not to be helpful," he said. "My goal is to protect, encourage, and bless God's people."
"Almost all Christians in registered or unregistered churches, in the great majority of cases, have quite a large amount of religious freedom," said Daniel Bays, professor of history and director of the Asian studies program at Calvin College. Bays has visited nearly 30 government-registered Chinese churches. "They're evangelical in their faith," he said.
Bays confirmed reports that provincial authorities in some cities have prohibited government-sanctioned churches from baptizing children younger than 18 and from preaching the so-called radical parables of Christ. "In some ways, the house churches are able to do things more freely," Bays said, "but they don't have the same physical security from police breaking up meetings and arresting leaders."
The arrest of unregistered church members in China is not unusual. Bob Fu, president of the Texas-based China Aid Association, said his organization has documented cases of vicious beatings and torture against Chinese Christians who met outside the sanction of a government-registered church last year.
Last August, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that "the Chinese government continues to systematically violate the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief, contravening both the Chinese constitution and international human rights norms." While Christian believers registered with one of the five "patriotic religious associations" enjoy some protection, the report stated, "the Chinese government continues to control the financial, leadership, and doctrinal decisions of all registered religious groups, and it has intensified pressure on ethnic minorities and religious communities perceived as threats to 'national security' or 'social harmony.' "
While in China, Palau attended a worship service with President and Mrs. Bush at the officially registered Guangwashi Protestant Church in Beijing. Preaching there that evening, Palau said he was under no restrictions. "I just preached the Good Newsthe gospel of Christ."
Palau said that more than 50 people responded to an invitation "to accept the Lord" and publicly affirmed their newfound belief in Christ.
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News elsewhere includes:
Luis Palau issues statement after China comments disputed | Evangelist Luis Palau released a six-paragraph statement, dated Nov. 28, expressing a measure of regret over comments he made about religious freedom in China during a mid-November trip to the communist giant. (Baptist Press, Nov 30, 2005)
Christians slam evangelist's pro-Beijing remarks | Chinese Christian leaders and activists are upset at Oregon evangelist Luis Palau, who recently said reports of religious persecution in China were exaggerated and compared Beijing's actions to U.S. tax regulations. (The Washington Times, November 28, 2005)
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