Official denies sponsorship of church park

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/11 0:03:39

Govt should cautiously draft policy related to religious affairs: expert

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 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 governments 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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