China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are often in the headlines. The idea recently used to describe the new relationship between Hong Kong and China - "one country, two systems" - has been bandied about, along with abundant speculation concerning its feasibility. Will this plan succeed?
Taiwan is watching, mindful of its future relationship with China. Freedom and individual rights appear to be at stake.
My husband traveled from the United States to Beijing several years after the Chinese government opened up travel within its country to Westerners. Staying in a hotel in Tianjin, he opened the blinds early one morning and was thrilled to witness hundreds upon hundreds of Chinese men and women doing their exercises. Later that day he was touched to see a grandfather flying kites with his grandson, each one holding a kite string with one hand and holding hands with the other. My husband felt a love for the Chinese people.
The highlight of his visit came when he saw an elderly man carrying several tall bamboo cages with birds inside. Using a long pole, the man gently took each bird from the cage and lifted it high, onto an individual tree branch. Even though the birds' wings were clipped, the old man must have wanted them to have a touch of freedom, to feel the wind ruffling their feathers, to return (if only briefly) to a natural setting.
Freedom is precious. It is a right discussed in the textbook of Christian Science: "God has endowed man with inalienable rights, among which are self-government, reason, and conscience. Man is properly self-governed only when he is guided rightly and governed by his Maker, divine Truth and Love" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 106). Freedom gathers strength as the number of countries beginning to embrace truthful, loving, democratic principles grows. Freedom is closely aligned with devotion to one supreme God, the giver and enforcer of individual liberty.
The Bible tells how, after being converted to Christianity, St. Paul was held in bondage by those eager to silence the ideas he was preaching. But Paul had found his liberty in God, as can be seen in his declaration to his captors that he was "free born" (see Acts 22:28). And he spoke for all of us.
Before this, Christ Jesus had spoken of the freedom that is found in God: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31, 32). Walking in Jesus' footsteps, following his teaching, is the way to know this truth of God.
Freedom from political and individual repression, then, is a God-given right. The Bible often relates that God is a just God, a good God, a God of mercy. The children of Israel sought freedom in the land God had promised them; in any "promised land," one must be free to worship God as he or she sees fit, and must be at liberty to help shape a government that observes the rights and dignity of all people. In the case of the children of Israel, only a few of them, those who perceived that their freedom was secure in their relation to God, were readily able to enjoy that freedom.
The promised land of both modern and ancient times is not determined by geography. It is not defined in terms of natural resources, land mass, private or public ownership, race - or even by the government in power. This land belongs to those who, wherever they live and under whatever circumstances they live, know, love, honor, and obey God.
The group my husband traveled with visited a Christian church in Shanghai on a Sunday morning. It was filled to overflowing. They were greatly touched to hear the Lord's Prayer recited in unison in Chinese. This worship bound the attendees together. It boded well for the future of Christianity and for the emergence of a freedom that assuredly accompanies the worship of God. People who truly know God are able to govern themselves with intelligence and integrity.