State-Approved Chinese Religious Leaders Meet with Jimmy Carter

A delegation of government-recognized Chinese religious leaders is in Atlanta through Tuesday to meet with American faith leaders, political leaders, as well as former President Jimmy Carter.

The group is made up of the five state-approved religious bodies: Catholic, Protestant, Buddhism, and Taoism, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The meeting, sponsored by Atlanta-based Mercer University and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, among others, is closed to the public.

But according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Chinese and American leaders will discuss new ways to hold conversations between the two countries on religious freedom and tolerance. They will also talk about how religion can help build stable societies and promote values and purpose.

The delegation's visit is reminiscent of the China Bible Ministry Exhibition in 2006, when Carter had delivered the opening address for the exhibit's kick-off in Atlanta – his hometown.

During the 2006 visit, China's state approved Christian body had proudly displayed historic artifacts related to the Bible in its attempt to show the United States its tolerance of Christianity.

But many Chinese-American Christian leaders had criticized the exhibit for being nothing more than a ploy to improve China's religious freedom image.

China only allows its citizens to worship under government-approved and controlled religious bodies. Protestant Christian groups, for instance, are required to register with the government-sanctioned Three Self-Patriotic Movement. There are about 10 million members within the state-approved Protestant church group.

But millions of Christians join the TSPM and worship in unregistered house churches because they argue God should be the head of the church and not the government. They also believe that requiring government approval to hold religious gatherings is a violation of their religious freedom.

After their meeting in Atlanta, the Chinese delegation will visit Washington to meet with American political leaders.

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