NEW YORK - The Bible was first introduced in China some 1,500 years ago. Now the historical pieces presenting the growth of the Christian church in China have journeyed across the United States to have its final national exhibit at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, what the church's dean called a "young Cathedral" by Chinese standards.
The red ribbon was cut Monday for the opening of the Bible Ministry Exhibition of the Church in China in New York and the unfolding of a ''friendship'' between America and China, as the Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski stated at the opening ceremony.
The Rev. Gao Feng, vice chairperson of the co-sponsoring group National Three-Self Patriotic Movement, said he expects the New York City exhibit to be even more successful than the previous showings in Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Under the theme "A Lamp to My Feet, A Light to My Path," over 100 Bibles and religious artifacts are showcased in glass and adorning the walls of the still unfinished Cathedral that symbolically serves as an international institution for harmony among all peoples.
"It's fitting this Bible exhibit be held here," said the Rt. Rev. Mark S. Sisk, the 15th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
The Rev. Dr. Cao Shengjie, president of the China Christian Council, told the audience of Christian leaders that their two nations can work together and contribute to world peace.
She ensured the American crowd, "We enjoy religious freedom," noting that the majority of Christians in China have their own Bible.
The Rev. Dr. Paul G. Irwin, president of the American Bible Society and honorary chairperson, spoke along the same lines saying, "The Word of God is alive and well in China."
Meanwhile, protesters stood at the entrance of the Cathedral telling observers not to believe in what is being presented by the CCC and Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
"It's not true," one of the protesters, whose identity was not disclosed, told incoming observers.
The protester claimed that there is no religious freedom in China and said Christians have no choice of which church to attend and believers outside the government-sanctioned churches face persecution.
Some Christian leaders similarly have accused the CCC and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for "propaganda" motives and criticized its intention to cover up the religious persecution image that has been continually cited in religious freedom reports from Christian, human rights, and government groups.
Chinese Christian rights activist Dr. Li Baiguang noted last month that while the China Bible exhibition is "not necessarily bad," it would be more effective in China where he said many people have yet to know the "true meaning" of Christianity.
"If they (the official church) used the money to bring the exhibition to Chinese people, then the result is better," he said, pointing out that there was a need to promote the Bible in the nation of 1.4 billion.
Despite these and other criticisms, many Christian leaders view the exhibition as a learning opportunity about the work of Bible translation and distribution in China. They also note that while much change is still needed in the communist nation, the Chinese government has made more accommodation for the spiritual aspirations of the people of China over the last decade, and have openly praised the contributions to society of government sanctioned religious organizations.
"There's a lot more [freedom] than there was," said the Rev. Dr. John E. Hiemstra, executive director of the Council of Churches of the City of New York and co-chair of the New York City committee.
"They have some ways to go, no question about that,