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Business and Civic Forum - Global Atlanta

posted Aug 21, 2010, 4:16 PM by Tayo Jolaoso   [ updated Aug 21, 2010, 4:57 PM ]
The U.S. and China trade like old friends, but as their economies have become more intertwined, both sides have realized the need for cultural understanding on issues like faith and ethics.

Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics highlighted this gap.  Activists scolded China for not living up to the religious and social openness it promised when rewarded the Games.  At the same time, China wowed the world with dazzling ceremonies and evidence of its economic rise.

From Sept. 5-9, Atlanta, an Olympic city with a history of civil rights activism, became the epicenter of a new effort to reconcile China’s mystifying economic promise with what many westerners see as its spotty record on religious freedom.

The first-ever American-Chinese Multi-Faith Religious Exchange brought top leaders from China’s five government-recognized religions—Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam and Protestantism—to the Georgia capital for four days of meetings with government, civic and religious leaders.

They aimed to foster conversation on a wide range of interfaith issues like the role of religion in society and its ability to fend off corruption in government and business.

The issue has gained as more Chinese have begun to turn to religion.  A study conducted by the Shanghai-based East China Normal University concluded in 2007 that some 31.4 percent of Chinese citizens over the age of 16 are religious.

That’s a total of 300 million, three times more than the official government estimate had been, according to a Pew Research Center report issued in May.

A Sept. 9 forum at Mercer University’s Atlanta campus linked the delegation with two Georgia lawmakers who have been influential in promoting the state’s trade relationship with China.

For two straight years, State Rep. Charlice Byrd, R-Woodstock, and State Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, have sponsored resolutions in their respective houses to recognize the country’s importance to the state’s economy and cultural community. 

The lawmakers spoke on the role of religion in creating the societal conditions necessary for business to take root. 

“The effect of religion on business is much like that effect on government.  Positive influences and good practices taught in religion are most beneficial to an economy,” Ms. Byrd said.

Religions agree on the existence of a moral code, which creates stability that sustains economic development and advances society, she said.

Mr. Hill spoke candidly of his own Christian faith and suggested that a leader without faith in some religion is like “a ship without a rudder.”  In business or government, strong leadership requires deep-rooted values that don’t “shift with political winds,” he said.

“If you have the ability to choose leaders, it is very important to determine the values they possess because it’s those values that determine how they will rule, lead and how they will conduct business,” he added.

The groundbreaking exchange was organized by the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other organizations under the auspices of the Chinese Embassy inWashington.

The visit stemmed from a meeting last year between Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhongand Dee Froeber, an international minister at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.

Mr. Froeber told GlobalAtlanta that Atlanta was a good place to host the event because it’s the only city in the South with a larger Chinese community than Raleigh, where he estimates that about 15,000 ethnic Chinese live.

After its time in Atlanta, the delegation spent Sept. 9-14 in the nation’s capital, meeting with legislators and institutes to discuss religious freedom in China and the role of faith in public life.

In a speech preceding Mr. Hill and Ms. Byrd, Gao Feng, president of the Shanghai-basedChina Christian Council, spoke on how religion contributes to the construction of a harmonious society. 

The “Harmonious Society” has been a buzzword in the highest levels of Chinese government, a sort of mantra that President Hu Jintao coined to guide many of the ruling Communist Party’s policies.

In an unprecedented gesture by the highest leader of the officially atheist party, Mr. Hu last December recognized that religion could play a positive role in China, where rapid urban migrations and economic growth present some of the world’s most complex social challenges.

Trevor Williams - Reporter

Tayo Jolaoso,
Aug 21, 2010, 4:20 PM