Monday, 4 April 2011

Religious Freedom: A tale of two countries

A news article from the People's Republic of China:

Beijing church faces eviction in tense times
April 03, 2011

BEIJING, April 3 — Tears flowed at one of Beijing’s biggest “house” churches when some 300 Chinese Christians prayed on the last Sunday before they face eviction from their makeshift place of worship, pressed by officials wary about religion outside of their grip.

The Shouwang Church, with about 1,000 members, is one of the biggest Protestant congregations in Beijing that has expanded beyond the confines of churches registered and overseen by the ruling Communist Party’s religious affairs authorities.

But the Party is wary about any potential unrest, and this gathering of neat middle-class and student Christians has been told by its landlord that it can no longer worship at the “Old Story Restaurant”, with its walls lined with pictures of Chinese Party leaders shaking hands with former US presidents.

Church leaders warned that unless the church can find a new home, its members may be forced to worship outdoors, a risky step in this nation where big gatherings often attract official scrutiny and can be broken up by police.

“This is the cross that the church has to bear,” Pastor Jin Tianming told the worshippers about the prospect of worship outdoors. Some of them wiped tears from their faces.

“We need a formal approval from the authorities to allow us to find an indoor meeting place. If not, we will not waver in worshipping outdoors.”

Members of the church told Reuters that they did not see themselves as political activists or foes of the government. But the pressures they face shows the extent of China’s recent crackdown on dissent and potential sources of unrest.

“Some people may face getting caught, may have to stand trial or may even be sentenced,” You Guanhui, an older pastor told the congregation about the possibility of gathering in a park or other public place.

“God, we especially want to plead to you as we face these dangerous trials. Please find a way out for us.”

China has arrested and detained dozens of lawyers, bloggers and dissidents after the online calls for pro-democracy “Jasmine” gatherings.

Today, prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a combative critic of Party censorship, was stopped by police from boarding a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong, his assistant told Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. Police also searched Ai’s studio in Beijing, according to Pu and messages on Ai’s Twitter account.

Ai could not be contacted on his phone.

In recent years, restrictions on “house” churches across China eased, allowing them to grow and become more settled.

These churches started as Bible study groups that often grew into large congregations, sparking fears in China’s ruling Party that they could undermine its grip. But those fears eased in many areas in recent years, and many such churches are now much bigger than could fit into a normal house.

There are 40 to 60 million Protestants in China, divided between the official and unregistered churches, according to Carsten Vala, a Maryland-based professor at Loyola University who specialises in Chinese Christians.

The eviction is the latest chapter in a long series of restrictions on the Shouwang church, which started out as a “house church” in a rented apartment in 1993. It holds three services every Sunday, partly because even the restaurant cannot hold all the members at the same time.

When pressed to register with the government Administration for Religious Affairs, the Shouwang church declined, said Cao Zhi, a Shouwang church member in his thirties who works for a non-government group.

“Traditionally, home churches haven’t been willing to register, because the church is considered to belong to God,” said Cao, a former journalist.

Since then, the church has been evicted from rented premises many times. In 2009, the last time it was kicked out of its place of worship, the church assembled in a park in a snowstorm. Promise Hsu, a church member, said about 700 to 800 people turned up.

In 2009, the church raised 27 million yuan (RM12.5 million), in donations from members and tried to buy a space in a commercial building as a permanent home. But authorities pressured the seller not to hand over the property to the church, even though it had paid for it, church members said.

“As citizens and worshippers, we’ve fulfilled all our duties and just want to worship,” said Cao, the church member.

“Churches need their own homes so they can develop. Why can companies buy their own places but not churches?” — Reuters

Source here.

Now have a read of this report from Malaysia:

Christians want Putrajaya to prove sincerity over Alkitab

KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 — In Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia, Christian clerics greeted with caution Putrajaya’s latest 10-point formula to resolve the bible impasse, saying action alone — and not words — can convince the community the pledges will be honoured.

Kuching-based Anglican bishop, Bolly Lapok, said he was surprised by the apparent generosity and sensitivity of the federal government’s latest overture to the Christian community’s 30-year-old-dilemma.

“The Christian community here welcomes it even though it is just an ointment for a symptom,” he told The Malaysian Insider today.

In its 10-point resolution released last night, the Cabinet through its minister Datuk Seri Idris Jala, assured the huge Bumiputera Christian population in Sarawak and Sabah they are free to bring in and use their bibles in Malay as well as in indigenous languages; and that no restriction will be applied.

Jala also said that the bible can now be printed locally in any language, including in Iban, Kadazan-Dusun and Lun Bawang.

Lapok said he was heartened to see the federal government showing commitment to resolve long-standing interfaith disputes.

“It’s an assurance, but we have been given such assurances before,” he said, and noted with concern another set of rules for believers in peninsular Malaysia, requiring the holy books here to be stamped with the words “Christian Publication” and a cross on the cover.

According to Jala, this is because Muslims are the majority community on the peninsula, unlike in Borneo where they are the minority.

“We share the sentiments of our West Malaysian colleagues. There should be one law, not two,” he said.

“If this is negotiable, we stand by what we had said earlier and call on the government to repeal the relevant laws,” he added, referring to legislation that continued to bar Christians from using the word “Allah” for God beyond the Muslim context.

Lapok said Christians are praying the level of understanding and harmony among adherents of the different faiths in Malaysia will rise above the root-cause that ignited the dispute.

The Bible Society of Malaysia’s (BSM) general-secretary, Rev Simon Wong, remained doubtful that the federal government would honour its pledges.

“Datuk Seri Idris Jala may be sincere, but how trustworthy is the BN government?” Wong asked, referring to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) administration which has stayed in power since Independence.

He said the Home Ministry already has a record of breaking its word, which includes “harassing” local printers for printing the bibles and detaining bibles even after an agreement was reached.

“KDN has harassed local printers before. Same condition in 2005, but KDN never honoured — March 20, 2009, KDN detained BM Bibles printed with the same words ‘Penerbitan Kristian’ and a cross,” Wong said, calling the Home Ministry by its Malay initials.

Part of what provoked Christian anger has been blamed on the home ministry’s unilateral decision to seize the BSM’s cargo of 5,000 bibles from Indonesia, locking them up for two years and then hastily stamping the books with serial numbers and the Home Ministry’s official seal before they were released to the importers.

The Petaling Jaya-based BSM is one of the two affected bible importers in the present row.

The other importer is the Sarawak branch of global Christian group, The Gideons.

“They’ve made life hard for us for two years. Even before releasing the bibles, they stamped and serialised them unilaterally. This defacement of holy bibles has caused us great distress and loss of RM70,000,” Wong related.

“After the Sarawak state election or GE, we fear the government would revert to its old ways despite the directives,” he said, voicing the general view among Christians that the latest olive branch was a ruse to pacify the community and prevent a possible backlash at the ballot box when Sarawak goes to the polls in two weeks.

Wong echoed Lapok’s call for the federal government to adopt only one policy to prove its commitment to upholding the Federal Constitution’s guarantees on freedom to worship, in line with Prime Minister’s “1 Malaysia” slogan to nation building.

“Better to adopt only one policy for 1 Malaysia. No restriction, no proscription,” he said.

Rev Thomas Phillips of the Mar Thoma church here said Jala’s statement was “encouraging” but questioned the timing of the 10-point formula.

“Why, after all these years?” asked the cleric who is also an executive councillor in the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM).

The umbrella body representing over 90 per cent of churches here had earlier snubbed the Cabinet’s initial overture to resolve the row, saying it failed to address the core problem of religious discrimination.

“There’s a lot the government has to do to win the trust of the people. It should be 1 Malaysia, one policy. Everybody should have the freedom to worship according to their own religion,” said Phillips, who is also president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).

The priest told The Malaysian Insider the CFM exco will have to hold another meeting to discuss this latest overture before it responds.

“But we are in no hurry,” Phillips told The Malaysian Insider.

Yesterday, the Cabinet initiated a new list of suggestions to put an end to the month-long standoff, in a bid to head off a possible backlash against BN in Malaysia’s biggest and most Christian-dominant state on April 16.

Nearly half the state’s one million population is Christian.

In his media statement, Jala spelled out the government’s 10-point formula to pacify the minority Christians without incurring the anger of the majority Muslims over the religious controversy.

However, he made no mention of the word “Allah”, which both Christians and Muslims view as being the crux of the Alkitab row.

He added that the federal government would reimburse the two bible importers over the markings carried out by Home Ministry officials, which the Christian community regard as a desecration of their holy book.

Jala said that the Cabinet’s decision will be gazetted through the Home Ministry’s secretary-general to ensure the order is carried out and that action will be taken against civil officials who breach these directives.

He said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak will meet the CFM to look for a way forward on outstanding religious issues beyond the bible row.

He added that Christian ministers in the Cabinet will also hold regular meetings with Christian groups to discuss religious issues.

“I hope this 10-point solution will be received positively by the Christian groups as being fair and reasonable,” Jala said in his statement, adding that the government was committed to a peaceful way out of the impasse.

Source here.

How blessed are those who are living in this wonderful some say the only one of a kind tolerant country in the world where cultural and religious diversity is actually celebrated. Pity the Government who struggles to please the minority while trying its best to satisfy the majority, theirs is a difficult job indeed.


Anonymous said...

Hujah di sebelah pagar,

Selagi para politikus kita tidak ikhlas mahu meleraikan kekusutan, maka selagi itulah pihak-pihak yang berkepentingan (politik) akan memanjangkan dakyah.

eddy said...

thanks for your comment Bro Anon 16:32