House church leaders in China said Dr. Billy Graham’s controversial visit did three things which they could not have accomplished, according to Ron McMillan, Open Doors News Service’s Asia Correspondent.
First, he shared Jesus Christ with many top communists who hold enormous power in China today. Secondly, Graham made a vigorous case for Christianity and its positive role in China’s development at a time when a critical new law on religion is being drafted in the government. House church leaders expressed hopes that his efforts may result in a more sympathetic law towards religious freedom.
Thirdly, he was able to discuss the message of Jesus Christ with atheistic scholars at several educational establishments. He gave brief lectures and fielded the questions of academicians at Beijing University, the Academy of Social Sciences, and other colleges.
Graham was hosted by two opposing organizations: the Chinese Association for Friendship with Foreign People, which opened doors for him into the Communist establishment, and the China Christian Council. Initially, house church leaders were wary of Graham’s patronage of Communist leaders. However, the prevailing opinion was that Graham had done the best he could under difficult circumstances, and he did not let the house church movement down. He ensured this to a degree by meeting privately with a group of house church leaders in Beijing, and by visiting Wang Ming Tao in Shanghai, the 87-year-old patriarch of the home church movement. Graham also brought extended greetings to a large gathering of believers at an independent house church in Canton.
More importantly, he resisted labeling evangelical ministries who refuse to work through the Three Self Patriotic Movement, an arm of the communist government responsible for monitoring religious activity, as “anti-China.” Religious leaders who have visited China in the past have been urged to make such statements.
His visit ironically ended in controversy over the arrest of a house church leader, Xu Yongze, who was on his way to hear Graham preach in Beijing. Xu has been described as the “Billy Graham of China.” The stubborn refusal of the Ministry of National Security to even admit that Yongze was in their custody served as a strong reminder to the watching world that the Chinese Church is still suffering under strong persecution.