China (MNN) — Religious freedom advocates are pleased following President Barak Obama's visit with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who spoke out about the need for religious freedom in China. President Obama also emphasized the importance of freedom of information in a question-and-answer session with college students in Shanghai.
Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says this is good news. However, this may be a change in policy for the Obama administration. Nettleton says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made conflicting remarks on her recent visit to China. She said, "We wouldn't be holding China accountable on the issue of religious freedom, or human rights issues. There were more important things like trade and global warming and those types of things."
Nettleton says it's hard to know where the administration stands on the issue. Nettleton says it's also interesting that President Obama made these comments in Shanghai, "which, just within the week before he was there, had just closed down a large house church. Some of the members of the church have been literally hunted down to try to get them off the street and make sure there wasn't any kind of public spectacle while Obama was there."
While Nettleton is grateful to President Obama for his remarks and keeping the discussion on the table, "When push comes to shove, [the United States owes] the Chinese government and the Chinese people a huge amount of money, so it's very hard for us to put any teeth with our proclamation about human rights and religious freedom."
Chinese believers are thankful for the publicity of their plight. However, Nettleton says even if nothing is done to curb religious freedom violations in China, "Their statements are: 'regardless of what our government does, we're going to keep serving the Lord. We're going to keep doing what He's called us to do. They understand that at times, that comes with a heavy price. But they are willing to pay that price because they have sensed the call, and they are willing to answer. "
Nettleton doesn't believe additional amounts of persecution will have a chilling effect on evangelism. "The Chinese church is so used to persecution as a part of following Christ. Regardless of what the Chinese government does, regardless of what Obama says or doesn't say while he is there, the Chinese Church is going to answer the call to evangelize the Chinese people."
In the meantime, Christians around the world can be praying for persecuted believers who are suffering in Chinese prisons. Pray that they'll be strong in their faith despite the oppression and that they'll be able to witness to those who are overseeing their imprisonment.