The URI, the Diocese of California, and the state church in the People's Republic of China

By Lee Penn

Summary:

This story describes the cooperation of the United Religions Initiative and the Episcopal Diocese of California with the state-approved Protestant church in the Peoples' Republic of China. (Since this story was written, the Chinese Government has stepped up its persecution of any religious groups - Catholics, Evangelicals, and Buddhists alike - not subservient to the Government.)

Conditions of use:

This story is an extract from a book-length manuscript by me titled "False Dawn, Real Darkness: the Millennial Delusions of the United Religions and the New Age Movement." You may re-distribute this story by hard copy or electronically, and you may abridge or quote from this story - IF you give credit to Lee Penn as the author, and IF you include - in the body or as a footnote - the following statement:

"An abridged version of this information is appearing in the series of articles titled "The United Religions Initiative: Foundations for a World Religion" (Part 1 and Part 2). The first article was published in the spring of 1999, and the second part is being published in the fall of 1999 by the Journal of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project. You may order the complete stories from the Journal, or subscribe to the Journal, by calling (510) 540-0300, or by writing to the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, Post Office Box 4308, Berkeley, CA 94704, or by visiting the SCP web site, http://www.scp-inc.org/."

Story:

During his travels in 1995 and 1996, Bishop Swing had met with Bishop K. H. Ting, who was then President of the China Christian Council (CCC), and Wenzao Han, who was then General Secretary of the Amity Foundation (AF). Both men gave the URI strong endorsement.(1012) Bishop Swing traveled again to China in November 1997, and invited the China Christian Council to send delegates to the June 1998 URI summit conference.(1013) In 1999, Wenzao Han - the current president of the CCC - publicly endorsed the URI "religious cease-fire."(1014)

The AF and the CCC represent the Government-recognized church in the People's Republic of China (PRC). The policy of the Communist Chinese Government is to persecute members of un-registered evangelical 'house churches,' as well as Catholics who seek to be in communion with Rome. The Communist Government also enforces a strict policy to limit population growth, including forced abortions and mandatory sterilization for women who have more than one child.

Bishop Swing has established an official relationship between the Episcopal Diocese of California and the state-approved churches in China. Bishop Swing said, "On a handshake this now has moved forward into a new reality."(1015) The Standing Committee of the China Christian Council has approved this new relationship, as well.(1016) Swing also outlined the awareness that the diocesan China Friendship Committee wishes to foster among local parishioners:

"The Diocese of California has a small China Friendship Committee which hopes to expand awareness in our congregations of religions in China. Such topics as: Christianity that is expanding too fast...Chinese Catholic vs. Roman Catholic...Southern Baptist's [sic] secret missionary plot...five official religions...Rule of Law granting religious freedom...Islamic breakaway efforts...Tibet politics and religion...post-denominational Christianity...rise of Christian fundamentalism."(1017) [All ellipses are in the original text.]

This program to "expand awareness" sounds like an explanation for Communist persecution of the non-official Churches. ...

Fr. Richard Fabian, a member of the Diocesan China Friendship Committee, said that the Diocese is involved in discussions with the legal churches in the PRC to strengthen those elements within the CCC that oppose the Government persecution of underground churches.(1018) This resembles the China policy of fellow-Episcopalian George Bush after the massacre at Tienanmen Square - "constructive engagement," not confrontation.

Meanwhile, Br. Wayne Teasdale wrote in the second issue of the Journal of the United Religions Initiative:

"religious and spiritual leaders are curiously silent in the face of the PRC's [People's Republic of China's] blatant, and arrogant abuse of human rights on the mainland, and especially Tibet. It is utterly indispensable to the immense opportunity of this moment in history that the Community of Religions confront the issue of Tibet squarely, and commit itself to the resolution of this painful, brutal tragedy."(1019)

Br. Teasdale rightly condemned abuse of human rights in Tibet, and called for action. However, he said nothing about persecution of Christians in China. The URI and Bishop Swing support World Tibet Day, an annual commemoration of the Dalai Lama's birthday and an occasion to "support the Dalai Lama's campaign for peaceful negotiations with China on the future of Tibet."(1020) The Dalai Lama, in turn, has supported the URI since 1996. (1021)

I questioned URI staff member Paul Andrews about the URI stance on persecution of Christians in China and Sudan, the restrictive religious law in Russia, and the bill proposed during 1997 in the U.S. House of Representatives to impose sanctions on nations that engage in religious persecution. Andrews said that the URI is "the scaffolding for a building that has not been built yet. There should be a place where faith communities can gather. We are matchmakers in that effort." (1022) He wished to make a distinction between the URI role as matchmaker and facilitator, and the role of a future United Religions as a body which would make decisions on these matters. Thus, "as the United Religions Initiative, we aren't the organization to take positions on the issues you raise." (1023) These questions would be handled by the members of the United Religions itself, after the organization is launched. Andrews concluded, "How do we have conversations with people with whom we have serious disagreement? People can disagree in good faith. There should be a place where the religions determine on spiritual grounds what are authentic ways to engage each other. This should be decided on a spiritual basis, not on a political basis, as the House is trying to do. Religions need to accept accountability to each other for their actions."(1024)

However, the URI is already forthright in condemning war, poverty, persecution of Tibetan Buddhists, and population growth. Why can't its leaders issue similarly clear condemnation of persecution of Christians in Communist and Muslim countries? Maybe all victims of persecution are equal, but some victims (Tibetan Buddhists) are more equal than others (Christians).

Footnotes

NOTE: Internet document citations are based on research done between September 1997 and August 1999. Web citations are accurate as of the time the Web page was printed, but some documents may have been moved to a different Web site since then, or they may have been removed entirely from the Web.

1012 Bishop William Swing, "Reactions from Religious Leaders," document released in the summer of 1996 by the URI, p. 4 1013 Bishop William Swing, "China: A Quick Trip for Two Conversations 3/4 November 17-21, 1997," Pacific Church News, February/March 1998, p. 5 1014 United Religions Initiative, "Some Early Supporters ... ," Internet document, http://www.united-religions.org/72hours/supporters.htm 1015 Bishop William Swing, "China: A Quick Trip for Two Conversations 3/4 November 17-21, 1997," Pacific Church News, February/March 1998, p. 5 1016 "Diocese Expands Relationship to Include China Christian Council," Pacific Church News, February/March 1998, p. 27 1017 Bishop William Swing, "China: A Quick Trip for Two Conversations 3/4 November 17-21, 1997," Pacific Church News, February/March 1998, p. 5 1018 Private conversation of Lee Penn with Fr. Fabian, October 13, 1997 1019 Br. Wayne Teasdale, "The Interfaith Movement Must Be Based On Prophetic Courage," Journal of the United Religions Initiative, Spring 1997, p. 5 1020 Stephen Williamson, "World Tibet Day," Internet document, http://www.jeanhouston.org/hermes/messages/6.html, pp. 1, 2 1021 Bishop William Swing, "Reactions from Religious Leaders," document released in the summer of 1996 by the URI, p. 1 1022 Interviews by Lee Penn of Paul Andrews, URI staff member, October 7 and December 11, 1997 1023 Interviews by Lee Penn of Paul Andrews, URI staff member, October 7 and December 11, 1997 1024 Interviews by Lee Penn of Paul Andrews, URI staff member, October 7 and December 11, 1997

 

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