- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

OP-ED:

Many times we take faith in the public square for granted in United States, particularly when battles erupt over prayer at a high school football game, posting the Ten Commandments on public property, or a professional athlete kneeling in reverence in the end zone. But our misplaced civil “protections” should come into perspective when one considers the lack of religious freedom citizens and even foreign athletes have in China.

Imagine walking out the door for Saturday Sabbath or Sunday worship service, driving (or walking) up to your house of worship and just as you hit the door, you are arrested, cuffed, thrown into a police cruiser and hauled off to jail. What was the crime? Attending church (particularly, one not approved by the government).

Of course this (the mildest scenario) “could never” happen in America. But it does and is happening in Communist China as athletes from around the world gather to compete in the Olympics, despite what the Chinese government describes as a “religiously tolerant” society.

Although American athletes have been told that they are “allowed” to “freely” worship during their stay (an Olympic requirement), that freedom doesn’t extend beyond the protective Olympic wall, where on the other side of it Christians (or those of other faiths) must “go underground” in order to “freely” worship for fear of being harassed, beaten or arrested.

As the first sitting president to attend the Olympics on foreign soil, President Bush, who ignored protests and calls for a boycott, sets an example. No matter how one feels about the president’s decision to attend the games (I had strong mixed feelings which leaned toward a boycott), a person of faith can’t help but recognize the inherent role Mr. Bush has as a messenger. A messenger whose faith requires spreading the Gospel far and wide in the capacity one is best suited. In this case, “Missionary-in-Chief,” seems appropriate.

His weekly radio address affirmed a dual message to the people of China and their government: “I’m expressing 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. They are the people who will make China a great nation in the 21st century,” Mr. Bush said.

To the president’s credit, before and throughout his trip, he has condemned China’s horrific human rights abuses and religious oppression. He notably attended a church service (albeit Chinese government approved, not a non-sanctioned service activists pressured him to attend in order to send a “stronger” message.) And in interviews over the weekend, while emphasizing the importance of “showing respect” to the nation, Mr. Bush put faith and freedom on display: “All people should have freedom to say what they think and worship as they choose. We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful.”

When framing the tenets of a free society, our Founders understood the power of religion in the public square, the freedom that comes with faith, that a nation is set apart by the example it sets and the foundation it establishes. It is one that can mean the difference between a democratic and a non-democratic society. President John Adams proclaimed: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” This is why we are the powerful country that we are, and should make no apologies for it. There is no reason others cannot follow our lead. As author David Barton points out in “Original Intent”: “The Founders believed that religion and morality were inseparable from good government and that they were essential for national success.”

Christian activists and bold Chinese citizens have spoken often about the tyranny that takes place in efforts to thwart the spreading of the “Good News.” The people of China have suffered long enough.

Much has been written and spoken about what needs to happen to encourage a more democratic, less totalitarian China, and many argue that it’s the “economy stupid.” The National Review Online stated that: “Our goal should be to help accelerate the rate of change … Our most powerful tool will continue to be trade.” I would argue, our most powerful tool is religious freedom. Among our goals, should be the acceleration of freedom of speech and religion. With that follows trade and economic prosperity. Abraham Baldwin (a signer of the Constitution) said: “[A] free government … can only be happy when the public principles and opinions are properly directed … by religion and education. It should therefore be among the first objects of those who wish well to the national prosperity to encourage and support the principles of religion and morality.”

It stands to reason that an immoral government is not a trustworthy trade partner, therefore, securing moral prosperity before economic is the loftier goal. Mr. Bush is on the right path.

Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. Tara Wall.