Bush visits controversial Beijing church
China National News
Sunday 10th August, 2008

US President George W. Bush Sunday visited a state-sanctioned Beijing church decried by a US Christian group as reflecting the Chinese government's 'deception' on freedom of worship.

'You know, I've just, Laura and I just had the great joy and privilege of worshiping here in Beijing, China,' Bush said as he left the Kuanjie protestant church.

'You know, it just goes to show that god is universal, and god is love, and no state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion,' he said.

Bush spent less than one hour at the church, joining a congregation of between 400 and 500 people, church officials said.

Bush did not address the congregation, the officials said.

Church officials said earlier that Bush would attend the service in a 'personal' capacity and that no special arrangements were made for the visit apart from extra security.

Outside the church Sunday, Bush thanked the pastor for his hospitality.

'And I want to thank this beautiful choir for singing Amazing Grace and Edelweiss,' he said. 'It was a touching moment.'

Before his visit, the US-based Christian support group China Aid Association said China's presentation of the Kuanjie Church, which assimilated several small house churches, was a 'deceptive ploy.'

'China's embracing of Kuanjie Church is a misleading and deceptive ploy used by China to deceive the international community into believing the CPC (Communist Party of China) is no longer persecuting Christians,' the group said.

The group said it had found that the house churches incorporated into Kuanjie were 'nothing more than a series of government sanctioned 'house cells' that have permission to meet outside of the government-sanctioned building.'

'These cells are led by pastors who have been trained and appointed by the government and who are required to obey all rules (set by the government supervisory body),' it said.

China officially has about 16 million Christians, but activists claim the true figure is at least 40 million.

All religious organisations must register with government supervisory bodies, but many Christian groups refuse to do so, claiming their religious freedom is too restricted within China's official churches.

Police and officials forcibly disband house churches and other illegal Christian groups. Their leaders face criminal charges, and buildings used for underground religious activity are often demolished.

The China Aid Association reported last week that police in the central province of Henan had detained pastor Zhang Mingxuan, head of the underground House Church Alliance, his wife and another pastor.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush said he was using his four-day visit to China to 'express America's deep concerns about freedom and human rights in China.'

'This trip has reaffirmed my belief that men and women who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China,' he said.

Bush attended the opening of the Beijing Olympics Friday and was scheduled to hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao later Sunday.