At church service, Clinton calls for religious unity President attends service in Beijing, partly to show progress China has made

June 28, 1998|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- In a country where some are jailed for their beliefs, President Bill Clinton attended services this morning at Beijing's largest Protestant church where he called for religious unity around the globe, but did not criticize China's policies on religion.

"I believe our faith calls upon us to seek unity with people across the world, of different races and backgrounds and creeds," Clinton said in brief remarks at the Chongwenmen Protestant Church.

Quoting the Book of Acts, he continued: " 'God has made from one blood every nation to dwell on the surface of the earth.' I believe that is true. Therefore, I believe that Chinese and Americans are brothers and sisters as children of God."

Human rights activists and religious leaders have been deeply critical of China's policy toward religion. While many here can worship with relative freedom, Chinese leaders require all places of worship to register with the government and submit to official control.

The reason has mostly to do with the Communist Party's fear of a rival power base. Although enforcement of religious laws vary widely from city to city, Chinese officials have jailed priests and bishops who refuse to cooperate and knocked down the houses of people who hold unsanctioned services in their homes.

Clinton went to the church, in part, to show Americans a popular parish where hundreds of Chinese worship every Sunday using the same liturgy as Christians around the world.

The visit to the church was part of a broader strategy during Clinton's nine-day visit here to highlight some of the progress China has made in recent years in areas of key concern to Americans.

Some of the events are designed to build support for Clinton's policy of warmer relations with China, which has left many in the United States uneasy because of China's poor human rights record.

In Xian, Clinton visited one of the many villages that have held local elections. Clinton's wife, Hillary, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will carry on the call for religious freedom Wednesday when they visit the Ohel Rachel Synagogue in Shanghai. It was a haven for persecuted Jews during World War II.

The Chongwenmen church, inside a gray brick courtyard along one of the city's thousands of narrow alleys, or "'hutongs," was built in 1870 but was used as a middle school during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when the government closed places of worship.

Later in the day, Clinton was to visit a section of the Great Wall about an hour and a half north of Beijing, as well as the Forbidden City, the sprawling home to 24 emperors that lies in the center of China's capital.

The president was presented with a Bible written in Chinese and English, as well as a cassette of hymns. "We are a long way from home but we felt very much at home with you at this church," the president said.

He said he was encouraged by the "growth of the practice of our faith in China."

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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