February 10, 1998 in Nation/World

U.S. Clergy Starts Mission To China Seeks To Show That The Faithful Will Aid The State

Associated Press

American church leaders opened an unprecedented visit Monday to promote religious freedom in China, saying they are visiting this atheist state as friends, not as critics.

“Evangelical Christianity in China is booming,” said the Rev. Don Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

“We want to help the Chinese government understand that Christians are good citizens,” Argue said. “They show up for work on time. They pay their bills. They’re honest.”

Argue, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., and Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, plan to meet with government officials and religious leaders in China during the 18-day trip.

“We’re not here to inspect but to share the importance of freedom of conscience,” Argue told reporters upon arrival in Beijing.

Argue said the three religious leaders had asked to speak to people the Chinese government has tried to prevent from expressing religious beliefs. He did not elaborate.

Schneier said the talks would contribute to better U.S.-China relations.

McCarrick said: “We’re here to begin to talk as friends.”

The group is scheduled to visit Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai and Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.

Religion is tightly controlled in China. The ruling Communist Party professes atheism and prohibits party members from joining religious groups.

But China is in the midst of a religious explosion, as many Chinese seek a balance to the rampant consumerism that is supplanting Marxist dogma.

Chinese leaders want to show they are tolerant of religion, in part to calm U.S. concerns about repression of religious rights and head off criticism at the annual session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission this spring.

By law, Christian churches in China must be part of the official Catholic or nondenominational Protestant churches controlled by the government. In the past three years, the government has closed unofficial churches and imprisoned some underground church leaders.

© Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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