American evangelist Franklin Graham came under fire this week for saying he opposed evangelism during the Beijing Olympic Games.
Graham had made the comment to Chinese reporters during his recent trip to mainland China, where he visited government officials, church leaders, and preached to 12,000 people at a Chinese megachurch.
The eldest son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham said he opposed missionary work during the Games because it is prohibited under Chinese law, and he does not encourage anything illegal.
In response, a respected religious freedom activist defended Chinese house church Christians as "law-abiding, patriotic citizens" who are not doing anything wrong except following their faith which teaches them to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
"[Christians] cannot and will not [concede] to a 'faith moratorium' in order to please an atheistic government during the Olympic Games, even if that means enduring imprisonment and torture," said Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association, in a statement on Wednesday.
Fu, who was recently honored by President Bush for his religious freedom advocacy in China, denounced the Chinese law as unjust because it asked Christians to go against the teachings of Jesus Christ.
He called Graham's comment about submitting to the ban on Olympic evangelism "a deep offense" to the hundreds of house church prisoners and their family members.
In China, the Christian population is divided into two groups – those worshipping in the state-sanctioned churches under the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and those attending unregistered house churches.
TSPM leaders have publicly stated that foreign evangelistic efforts during the Beijing Olympics are not welcome or tolerated, Fu said. But house churches feel differently.
"To the house church leaders, it's an issue of the lordship of Christ to the church," Fu explained to OneNewsNow. "And if the church ceases to do evangelism, is it the true church? It's a big question."
Religious freedom has improved in communist China in recent years, but the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) this year still recommended the State Department to keep China on its religious freedom blacklist because of its treatment of house churches and religious minorities not recognized by the Chinese government.
Recent persecution of unregistered churches include the arrest of 270 Protestant house church pastors in December, and the expulsion of more than 100 foreign missionaries last summer – the largest event of its kind since 1954 after the communist government took power in 1949.