Knocking at Freedom's Door | Sojourners

Knocking at Freedom's Door

The church in China is finding new openness—but only when the state says so.

For three weeks in February 1998, a delegation of U.S. religious leaders made a historic visit to the People’s Republic of China. Selected by President Clinton and invited by President Jiang Zemin, the delegation’s unprecedented mission was to begin a dialogue with top government officials in China on the subject of religious freedom. The delegates said they knew the dangers of such a state-sponsored visit—especially the risk of co-option by their hosts—but felt they were able to voice criticisms, broaden awareness, and introduce a new perspective on religious freedom to many Chinese officials.

Rev. Richard Cizik, a policy analyst for the National Association of Evangelicals and a staff member for the delegation, said he has been preparing for this trip since reading Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth as a child. Cizik received a graduate fellowship to the National Political Science University in Taiwan in the early 1970s, and visited the garrison coastal islands of Quemoy and Matsu—the closest that an American with a Republic of China passport could get to mainland China at that time. "Looking through binoculars from one of the concrete bunkers built to house artillery batteries," he said, "I promised God that I would someday get to the mainland." This year he fulfilled that promise. —The Editors

"We’re here to build a spiritual bridge between the United States and China," the rabbi, minister, and archbishop calmly explained. At least a dozen reporters with cameras, including representatives of Xin Hua, the official Chinese News Agency, crowded the entryway of the White Cloud Daoist Temple to interview the highest level delegation of its kind at the start of a three week mission on behalf of religious freedom.

"Don’t you think you are being used by the Chinese government for propaganda purposes?" a reporter from Reuters inquired.

"Except my mother and me, the entire Schneier family died in Nazi concentration camps," the rabbi responded. "I know what it means to be manipulated by authorities, and that’s not going on here."

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
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