|Ecumenical News Briefs|
"He [Hun Sen] gets points with me," says an American nurse with a Christian NGO, noting the sudden absence of official and freelance military checkpoints along the country's highways. "Mind you, I still don't like the guy."
More Cambodians have become Christians since the "killing fields" time of the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime than before, observes Cheryl Quillen of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). "This is a positive for Christianity," she says, "but it's really saying that what used to hold together [the Cambodian] religious system is totally broken. Many people would say God has made a blessing come out of a curse. And I believe that too, but still: the tragedy of what has happened to the people!"
Deng said, "In the last five years, we have seen China squeezing the church on the pretext that house church activity is illegal. But instead of Hong Kong church leaders protesting this development, they seem impressed by it."
Deng confirmed the analysis of many China watchers that the recent anti-religious strategy of the Chinese government has veered away from torture and imprisonment to a more sophisticated containment policy based on their legal system. He said, "Officials have learned a lot from dealing with foreign governments, who insist on the rule of law. So the Chinese have said, 'We will deal with the church according to law,' and they have drafted these repressive laws that allow them to squeeze and pressure the church while at the same time claiming, 'We are only acting according to the law.'"
If the strategy may have backfired internationally, it has succeeded domestically. Noted Deng, himself a Hong Kong Christian church leader, "The Chinese leadership of the government and the official church has received strong support from the Hong Kong church leaders, who are saying, 'We must let the Chinese handle their problems their way, not the Western way.'"
In a letter sent in early November, by the CCC's president, Dr Wenzao Han, in Shanghai, to "friends of the church in China" around the world, the CCC states that its relationship with the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention, USA, has "gotten into difficulty".
The CCC says that the IMB has in the past cooperated with the CCC in its work in China, but has now decided, "without consulting us," to adopt a "two-track approach" to China. "In this view, while not giving up its 'partnership' with the CCC as the 'open' track, it will try to give major attention to a clandestine track, through which church workers from abroad are secretly sent to China to carry out 'missionary' work as dictated by the IMB," Dr Wenzao Han writes. "These persons do not intend to make their identities or their relationship to the IMB known, either to the CCC or to the Chinese government. We cannot see how this can be justified on Christian terms.
"Therefore, the CCC has informed a representative of the IMB that we will not co-operate in their deception, and that we cannot have partnership with any organisation holding to a 'two-track approach' and give legitimacy to secret infiltration. This is in violation of our principles and to Christian teachings."
Fu said of the 29 prisoners, "Make no mistake, these are not the only believers in jail for their faith in China...there are Catholics too, and other Protestants also that we do not have specific details about." Compass has reliable information that the number of believers in jail for their faith is around 180, though the figure may be higher. Fu stressed, "We had two requirements for our list. They were (a) arrested in the last two years and (b) cases where we could obtain reliable information on the prisoners' birthplace and place of detention."
The most famous prisoner on the list is house church leader Xu Yongze, sentenced to 10 years "reform though labor" on September 25. His case is sure to raise the profile of all Chinese Christian prisoners. Four others arrested with him await sentencing also, including his wife, Quing Jing. Three other prisoners on the list have received sentences. Sister Yao Ling Min, a 50-year-old evangelist from Zhejiang province, was sent to a labor camp for two years on July 25, 1996. Two male leaders, Su Yu Han and Wu Bing Fang, sentenced with her, were given one and a half years each. Both these men had their eight-room church building completely destroyed, and all their property confiscated.
Fu said that Jiang Zemin had privately boasted that "We have divided Western governments on the human rights issue, using the China market as our playing card."
In a letter to the president, the Christian leadership in Rajasthan said the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)--the World Hindu Federation--had unleashed a vicious campaign to prevent Christians from going to church and to stop all activities of Christians in the district and state. The letter also quoted a senior leader of the VHP, Acharaya Giriraj, as saying that within three years the Banswara district of Rajasthan would be cleansed of all Christians. Giriraj vowed to do it at all costs. The VHP has also distributed leaflets in villages warning people against Christians as being anti-national. It is also pressuring the government to act against Christians.
A statement issued after the meeting expressed alarm on the part of the Christian community at the rapid erosion of the values of secularism and understanding and tolerance. The statement said that in the five decades since independence in 1947 the Constitution had been diluted, and its protection to the weak and oppressed sabotaged.
The conference expressed concern about increasing violence, both in frequency and intensity, against priests, religious and church workers, and attacks on educational and other institutions. The statement also said Christian organizations are being increasingly targeted across the country, particularly in the north and western states of India where forces of communalism, sectarianism and fundamentalism have found patronage in political parties and political leaders.
Signs that a new attitude towards religion was developing became clear in 1991, when the constitution was amended to allow believers to have their own churches as long as they supported the principle of "Juche" (the philosophy of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung) and the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Until then one was not allowed the freedom to profess any religious belief. In 1994 hostile definitions of religion were suddenly removed from official dictionaries. The current famine has also seen the North Korean government allow many Christian relief organizations into the country.
Sources say that North Korean officials have been carefully studying the formation of China's official church, the Three Self Patriotic Movement, for guidance on how to use the institution to attract Western dignitaries and further aid, especially economic aid. Some warn that a split similar to China's will occur between Christians who join the official church and those who stay in house churches. Few know for certain how many Christians exist inside North Korea, but 100,000 remained at the end of the Korean War.
Government officials reached an agreement in September 1996 with the Moro National Liberation Front promising amnesty and loans for members who laid down their arms and left the movement. But MNLF members grew frustrated because the government has moved too slowly, and abducted Hartford to make a point, they said. Broken promises "are the major reason for continued unrest between Muslims and Christians in Mindinao," Hartford said to government officials on his release. To the rebels, "I would like to remind you that what you did is against the true spirit of Islam," he said.
Vietnam insists that Christianity is legal, but in fact there is very little liberty, according to a VOM worker who has been there five or six times. Government-controlled official churches are heavily scrutinized and regulated, he told Religion Today. All services are videotaped and pastors are required to submit statistics about converts and baptisms. If an official church grows too quickly or has too many converts, police confront the pastor for an explanation. Some official churches reportedly have started illegal house churches to hide their growth.
The government has closed almost 300 home churches. In the south, the government will not allow church leaders to fill openings for 50 congregations that are without pastors, although twice as many pastors and evangelists are available, VOM said. In the north, only nine official churches regularly hold services.
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