The Chinese government has given permission for special distribution of booklets of the Gospels, copies of the New Testament and full Bibles during the Olympic Games.
Olympic athletes and visitors will be allowed to take religious and spiritual materials from a variety of backgrounds into the Olympic Village for their own personal use.
However, concerns remain about other areas of freedom of speech and expression in and around the Olympic village - with host contracts being signed that forbid criticism of the government or its policies.
An edition of 50,000 bilingual booklets containing the four Gospels will be made available in the Athletes’ Village in Beijing and five other Olympic Cities. Additionally, 10,000 New Testaments and 30,000 Bibles will be printed. The Beijing Olympics organizing committee is allowing the free use of its logo on the scriptures.
The nearly US$400,000 cost of printing the Olympic Bibles will be met by the Bible Societies internationally. The Bibles themselves will be printed by Amity Printing Press at a new multimillion dollar facility which opened in Nanjing last month. Amity produces one million Bibles a month. It produced its 50 millionth in September 2008.
During China’s Cultural Revolution Bibles were banned, destroyed and confiscated. Bible printing in China resumed in the 1980s with the assistance of Bible Societies from around the world.
Christians in China can own Bibles, but they still face prosecution if they practice Christianity outside of registered churches. The same applies to other recognised religions. Protestants and Catholics are defined as two different religions by the authorities in China.
According to the London Times newspaper online, a June 2008 report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the China Aid Association said there has been a recent crackdown on so-called “house churches” (unofficial or unregistered ones) and claimed foreign Christians are being expelled at a rate “not seen since the 1950s.”
With acknowledgements to the Adventist Press Service (APD), Basel/Switzerland.