10/19/2010 10:01 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Evangelicals Regret Chinese Delegates Banned From Travel

By Munyaradzi Makoni
Religion News Service/ENInews

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (RNS/ENInews) The World Evangelical Alliance expressed disappointment after China prohibited a delegation of some 200 Christians from traveling to a major evangelical conference in South Africa.

"The presence and contribution of Chinese delegates would have enriched all the Congress participants and contributed to a more complete understanding of our common humanity and the diversity of ethnicity and cultural expression that enriches us all," the World Evangelical Alliance said in a Sunday (Oct. 17) statement.

As many as 4,500 participants from around the globe are gathering in Cape Town through Oct. 25 for the Third Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization.

The first such congress was organized in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland, by evangelist Billy Graham; the second congress, in 1989, was held in the Philippines.

At least 200 Protestant Christians were barred from traveling to Cape Town, apparently because members did not belong to China's Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-sanctioned Christian church.

Chinese officials warned Christians in China over the last two months not to attempt to attend the congress, according to AsiaNews, a Catholic-affiliated news agency. Delegates were prevented from leaving China even though they had visas for South Africa. Some were brought
back home from airports while others had their passports confiscated.

The Chinese government's foreign ministry told reporters on Oct. 12 that Lausanne organizers did not invite representatives from the official China Christian Council to attend the congress.

It said that such an act was a disrespectful intervention in the religious affairs of China. The China Christian Council works closely with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

In a statement, Doug Birdsall, executive chair of the Lausanne Movement, said the planners for the Cape Town event had "no intention of challenging the Chinese government's principle of independent, autonomous and self-governed churches .... We very much regret that our intentions and the decentralized invitation process to our Chinese brothers and sisters have been wrongly perceived."