IN THEORY: Preparing for a religiously free China

Amid China's rapid economic growth, the government's control of religion has reportedly softened slightly. What does the prospect of a religiously free China mean to you and your faith?

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There are many societies that claim to afford certain freedoms to their citizens while at the same time silencing the voices of those who challenge the status quo.

China has a long history of religious oppression. Jesuit priest and native of Glendale John Houle was imprisoned there more than half a century ago. His crime: his Christian faith. The monks of Saint Andrew's Abbey just outside of Palmdale were expelled in the 1950s rather than face imprisonment for the same crime. Even in recent years when China claimed greater religious freedom, the government appointed “bishops” to the Catholic Church, some who were no more than puppets of the government. Detention and confinement of Catholic priests and other religious ministers is still in vogue.

That China is letting up on rigid control over church bodies is a good thing. The old adage, “Seeing is believing,” really applies here. When individuals are free to practice their faith without fear of persecution, China can prove to the world that it indeed is not an oppressive regime. A government that exerts extreme control over the lives of its citizens is not a government that recognizes liberty as a value or respects the human person. In cases of such extreme oppression, one has to ask, what is it they are afraid of?

FATHER PAUL J. HRUBY

Pastor

Church of the Incarnation

Glendale

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Our church has been translating scriptures into Chinese for the last 10 years preparing for the day when the people of China will be free to embrace many spiritual paths toward their own salvation. This day will dawn.

On this day, there will be an opportunity to enlighten China with a united, interfaith religious movement of hope and peace. As many great spiritual leaders prophesied, L. Ron Hubbard also wrote, “All these people were saying something that was much more important than 'there is a spiritual side to life.' They were saying, 'There is hope.' They can come to you and tell you all is lost and that you are dead, you are trapped, and that there is no hope. They can come to you and say this, but this is not true. There is hope.”

The two strongest practical steps for forwarding religious freedom in China today are negotiation skills and delivering to the government status quo a support system, which forwards the state's economic and social development plans.

I believe religion will play a big part helping China in its rise to world power.

Unfortunately, representing the disadvantaged, the poor or wronged is not the way for religion to enter China. Instead, the best way churches can act in this changing environment is to be active in a practical manner such as helping at the Olympics, hosting trade negotiations and forwarding business enterprise. Church leaders and lay people can set up welcoming booths. Churches can host receptions for foreign business meetings. Churches can still build clinics and support outreach medical care.

By finding out what the Chinese government needs, but cannot provide on a humanitarian or spiritual level, our churches will see a future in China.

CATHERINE EMRANI

Volunteer Minister

Glendale Church of Scientology

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China is emerging as the world's newest superpower. The prospect of a more religiously free China is massively significant for all faiths and the advancement of human rights worldwide.

Islam in China is a little-known phenomenon that speaks to the global and pluralistic nature of Islam and Chinese Muslims in particular. There is a saying in traditional Muslim folklore to “seek knowledge even if it is in China.” This saying not only reflects the importance of education, but also the fascination with the Chinese civilization, the most distant-known place at the time. The third ruler after the Prophet Mohammed, Uthman ibn Affan, commissioned an official envoy to China to start trade and diplomatic relations, less than 20 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 651. Yung Wei, the Tang emperor, received the envoy and then ordered the construction of the Memorial Mosque in Guangzhou (Canton), the first mosque in the country, which still stands today. Islam's introduction to China was facilitated by the golden era of Chinese cosmopolitan culture, Emperor Wei's view of compatibility of Islam with the teachings of Confucius, and dominance of the import/export industry by Muslims.

A Chinese Muslim population emerged as a result of centuries of trade and from intermarriage and contact with Muslims from Arab and Persian lands. The history of Muslims in China has been marred by periods of anti-Muslim sentiment, but this community has proved to be ever resilient over time.

Religious freedom and pluralism are entrenched concepts in Islam on the basis of fundamental teachings of the faith, by historical practice of various Muslim civilizations, and by the everyday experience of mainstream Muslims today. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Muslim governments today have atrociously dismal religious freedom track records for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. These governments do not reflect the will of their Muslim populations due to the lack of basic freedoms and liberties as a whole.

The potential for our global society through international trade and cultural exchange, like the 2010 Olympic Games, cannot be underrated for China. A more religiously free China can lead the way for our global society to promote religious freedom in all developing countries due to China's ever-increasing world leadership.

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

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Communism has not been a friend of religion. As a student rabbi in post-Soviet Russia, I saw firsthand the evil, destructive effect of the Soviet hammer on Judaism.

In just 70 years, Russia's thriving Jewish community was reduced to complete ignorance and apathy; in city after city, magnificent synagogues were transformed into factories and warehouses. Although the Iron Curtain has since fallen and many formerly communist countries now permit free expression of faith, the damage has been done. Only through herculean efforts and near-miraculous events is Judaism once again blossoming in Russia.

During the past century, one ruthless dictator after another sought to forge a monolithic society by neutralizing individual freedoms and squelching religious practice. Fortunately, history shows us that the human spirit is strong, and that good ultimately prevails over evil.

China's economic growth and its quasi-capitalist economy have given the population reason to stand up for their rights — which in turn has begun to force the hand of the government. I have colleagues living in Beijing and Shanghai who are treated with respect and allowed to practice their faith in relative freedom. There are thriving Jewish communities and synagogues in both of those cities.

I believe it is only a matter of time before this little fissure in the official prohibition of religion will spread, and the walls of ignorance will crumble as the officials recognize the fundamental need for spirituality. Hopefully this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing will advance the cause of religious freedom and usher in a new era of faith and freedom for the Chinese.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad Jewish Center

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Religious freedom everywhere is important to me and my faith. In the Armenian Church, we have never taken that freedom for granted because we've had to struggle to attain and maintain it. But even more, religious freedom in China strikes a reverberating chord for us in the Armenian Church.

As we know (and has been articulated by the U.S. State Department) there is a genocide going on in the Darfur region of Sudan. Today, China is one of Sudan's largest suppliers of arms, and in return Sudan is China's largest overseas oil project. Official data shows that China now takes 40% of Sudan's oil output. China can and must play a role in bringing an end to the genocide in Darfur.

In our particular parish and through our youth ministry, we vigilantly follow the news from Darfur and campaign for peace in the region. Being descendants of genocide survivors ourselves, there is a moral imperative, no less dictated by our faith, that we stand in the shoes of others who are going through the sufferings we've endured.

And our motivation to do so comes from the possibility of what might have happened had the world disarmed Turkey at the time of the Armenian Genocide (1915).

With religious freedom in China, I'm hoping that the same Christian mandate that moves us to search and work for peace will lean heavily on the government to end the Darfur genocide. George Bernard Shaw reminds us, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” The Christian Church, at this vital point in history and the history of the people of China, cannot bask in its newfound freedom. It must rise to the occasion and talk the talk of Christ. Religious freedom in China is only as important as we take this responsibility seriously, in an effort to bring peace.

FATHER VAZKEN MOVSESIAN

Armenian Church Youth Ministries

In His Shoes Mission Glendale


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