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I visited China in 2004 on the 25th anniversary of the massacres at Tiananmen Square. My tour guides were lovely, jovial, proud of their country.

As expected, they pointed out the lovely, jovial, proud parts of their country. Look at the mosques over there, the churches on that side – oh, we are quite supportive of religious diversity. I was encouraged. But let’s be honest, the People’s Republic of China is still Communist. Religious diversity? Seriously?

Earlier this month, a Chinese religious scholar named Liu Peng dared to publish a statement in China Daily (the government’s official English-language newspaper) stating China is ready for “an institutional guarantee for the legality and quality of all religions.” He called for equality and legal recognition of religious groups (putting them out in the open instead of forcing them to hide behind closed doors). As Christianity Today explains, the very fact that a government-owned newspaper would publish his statement seems hopeful. Perhaps China is up to the task of talking about religion in public.

Talking, sure, but enacting laws? True religious freedom and diversity under the Communist party seem unlikely at the moment. The Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but only if you’re part of one of the state-run organizations. The government is still cracking down on independent religious institutions, shutting down churches and arresting religious leaders. Is it really religious freedom if the government tells you which churches you can attend and denies admittance to others?

The Associated Press estimates that about 60 million Chinese are worshipping in churches independent of the government, risking arrest. So it seems like the popular movement is toward religious freedom. Kudos to Liu Peng for getting the discussion rolling. It only takes a spark.

Now the PRC needs to do more than just put on a good face for outsiders. They need to enter the 21st century and allow their people the ability to worship the way they want. Individually. Unrestricted. Accepted.

Created by Religion Transcends, 2009

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