Of­fi­cial de­nies spon­sor­ship of church park

Govt should cau­tiously draft pol­icy re­lated to re­li­gious af­fairs: ex­pert

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Li Ruo­han

A re­li­gious of­fi­cial in Cen­tral China’s Hu­nan Prov­ince de­nied that a Chris­tian theme park project was spon­sored by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment, after the project trig­gered con­tro­versy over whether pub­lic funds should be used to fi­nance re­li­gious prac­tices in a coun­try that separates reli­gion and pol­i­tics.

The project lo­cated in Chang­sha, cap­i­tal of Hu­nan, is fi­nanced by a lo­cal Chris­tian as­so­ci­a­tion, not by the gov­ern­ment, an of­fi­cial from the depart­ment in charge of Chris­tian af­fairs at the prov­ince’s eth­nic and re­li­gious af­fairs com­mit­tee told the Global Times on Fri­day.

The of­fi­cial sur­named Cao also de­nied the project in­cludes a Chris­tian theme park, adding the ap­proved project only in­cludes a Bi­ble in­sti­tute and “the work site” of the Chris­tian Coun­cil of Hu­nan Prov­ince and Chris­tian Three-self Patriotic Move­ment Com­mit­tee of Hu­nan.

Cao re­fused to elab­o­rate whether the “work site” is a church or an or­di­nary of­fice build­ing, adding that the project was built in ac­cor­dance with China’s pol­icy on re­li­gious prop­erty.

The con­struc­tion of the main part of the project has been com­pleted, and bound­ary walls to pro­tect the safety of the site are un­der con­struc­tion, Hu­nan-based news por­tal red­net.cn re­ported Fri­day.

How­ever, the project sparked con­tro­versy and out­rage on­line after Net users learned that the lo­cal gov­ern­ment might have sub­si­dized the project, say­ing gov­ern­ments should be alert to the pen­e­tra­tion of re­li­gious ideas that con­tra­dict China’s main­stream ide­ol­ogy.

The Chang­sha gov­ern­ment web­site said the Xing­sha Eco­log­i­cal Park, near which the church park is lo­cated, was a gov­ern­ment-spon­sored project. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment jointly re­leased by Hu­nan’s Chris­tian coun­cil and com­mit­tee on Fri­day, the project and the eco­log­i­cal park are not re­lated.

Many city plan­ning projects that in­volve re­li­gious af­fairs have caused con­tro­ver­sies, such as the de­mo­li­tion of Chris­tian churches in Wen­zhou, East China’s Zhe­jiang Prov­ince, dur­ing a pro­vin­cial cam­paign to ren­o­vate the re­gion from 2013 to 2015.

Poli­cies that might in­volve re­li­gious af­fairs should be made cau­tiously, and con­sul­ta­tions with re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties are also nec­es­sary to avoid con­fu­sion or con­flict, Wang Meixiu, a re­search fel­low at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences, told the Global Times on Fri­day.

Mean­while, lo­cal gov­ern- ments are also obliged to ex­plain to the pub­lic in time when con­tro­versy oc­curs, espe­cially as some Chi­nese sus­pect the ex­pan­sion of Chris­tian­ity as the reli­gion is some­times linked to over­seas hos­tile forces in for­eign me­dia re­ports, Wang said.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased dur­ing the 9th Na­tional Chi­nese Chris­tian Congress in 2013, more than 2.4 mil­lion Protes­tants in the Chi­nese main­land were bap­tized from 2007 to 2012, with ex­perts say­ing that more peo­ple are turn­ing to reli­gion for help and spir­i­tual con­so­la­tion. The re­port also said that a to­tal of 5,195 churches had been built or ren­o­vated dur­ing the pe­riod.

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