Clinton Offers Message of Freedom to Christians in China
From the sanctuary of China's largest Protestant church, US President Bill Clinton yesterday preached a message of unity and freedom in a nation where Christian leaders have been jailed or harassed by the government.
"I believe that Chinese and Americans are brothers and sisters as children of God," he told the congregation. "We come here in that spirit today."
In a country where Mr Clinton's very attendance at church highlighted the quest for religious freedom, he said: "I believe our faith calls upon us to seek unity with people across the world of different races and backgrounds and creeds."
Quoting from the Bible, Acts 17:26, he said: "God has made from one blood every nation to dwell on the surface of the earth." He added: "I believe that is true."
He spoke in Chongwenmen Church, a large building with white plaster walls and brown wooden floor and ceiling. The grey church - unmarked by any steeple - is tucked at the rear of a hotel car park, past a row of shanties. It has a congregation of about 2,500.
Parishioners were hopeful that Mr Clinton's appearance at the government- sanctioned church would make a difference.
"Now that he's prayed with us, the Chinese government will greatly relax its policies toward us Christians and our churches," said Ms Liu Suxing.
She complained that churches not sanctioned by the government, where many Christians prefer to worship, often are shut down. She said the government "says there is freedom of religion but in reality it's not free."
There was a brief disruption when a middle-aged woman walked up the aisle toward the president's pew.
Some members of the congregation tried to grab her but she shook them off, saying she wanted to see Mr Clinton. "Don't throw me out, I'll leave of my own accord," she shouted. …