Palau to distribute 'Friendly Dialogue' book at Olympics

The Chinese Government has granted a major evangelist permission to distribute a Christian-atheist book to athletes and coaches during the Beijing Summer Olympics.

Evangelist Luis Palau will be giving a copy of his book, A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian, to athletes attending the Games.

The book records a conversation between atheist Chinese diplomat Zhao Qizheng - a high-ranking Chinese government official - and the Christian evangelist. It offers both the basic beliefs of Christianity and a unique perspective on Christianity and philosophy of religion as seen from Chinese culture and beliefs.

Palau's distribution approval comes just one month after China announced plans to print and distribute 50,000 Gospel booklets in Chinese and English for the Olympics. China said it will also print 30,000 Chinese-English New Testaments and 10,000 Chinese-English complete Bibles especially for the Games.

News of China's seeming respect for Christianity follows contrasting reports of increased persecution against house church leaders. A report last week stated that the chairman of the Federation House Church and his wife have taken to living on the streets after Chinese authorities repeatedly forced them out of shelters.

Also prominent Chinese human rights lawyer and house church Protestant Li Baiguang was jailed for his work a few weeks ago ahead of his scheduled meeting with members of the US Congress.

Earlier this year, Christian bookstore owner Shi Weihan was rearrested for printing Bibles and Christian literature without authorisation for distribution to house churches. Shi runs a legal religious bookstore in Beijing, but had given Christian materials to non-state approved churches.

In China, the government monitors the printing of religious literature, including the Bible. The government also overseas religious worship and allows people of faith to hold gatherings only in state-sanctioned religious facilities.

Protestant Christians are only allowed to worship in registered churches under the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, although millions of Christians attend unregistered house churches at the risk of being arrested.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged President Bush to visit human rights and religious freedom leaders and display America's strong stance on the issue during his trip to the Beijing Olympics in August.