Mon, Aug 13, 2007 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Church played catalyst role on road to reforms

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan played a significant role in pushing for democracy during the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) authoritarian rule.

When the nation celebrated the 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law last month, little attention was paid to the "human rights declaration" proclaimed by the church 30 years ago.

Throughout the 1970s, the Presbyterian Church actively opposed political oppression, declaring a "human rights declaration" to help encourage the democratic movement that changed the fate of the country.

On Dec. 29, 1971, after then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger secretly visited Beijing, the church declared that the Taiwanese people had the right to self-determination. They asked the KMT government to implement democratic reforms, including direct elections for all representatives to the highest government body.

In the run-up to US president Gerald Ford's visit to China, the church on Nov. 18, 1975, called on the government to work on its diplomatic predicament and to establish a relationship of mutual trust with the church.

The call came after the KMT regime confiscated more than 2,000 Bibles translated by the church into Taiwanese using a Romanization system.

On Aug. 16, 1977, the church presented its human rights declaration, calling on the government to make Taiwan a "new and independent country" -- a revolutionary stance to take openly during the Martial Law Era.

The church, knowing that the US was making aggressive efforts to normalize relations with China, urged Washington under the administration of president Jimmy Carter to protect Taiwan and ensure its independence and freedom from China would continue. The church also took its call to the international community, the US public and churches around the world, spreading information about Taiwan's situation and the need for self-determination.

On Aug. 20, 1991, the church issued its own declaration on Taiwan's independence, urging Taipei to pen a new constitution, join the UN under the name "Taiwan" and reform its relationship to Beijing as an independent nation.

Reverend Andrew Chang (張德謙), secretary-general of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, said the church had always been driven by a love for all of mankind rather than selective individuals or groups, adding that the church felt an obligation to act on its concern for the nation in the face of domestic and international difficulties.

Chang dismissed criticism that his church was too political, saying that an organization with a conscience could not sit idly and watch a maniac drive a truck-load of people over the edge of a cliff.

"We aren't getting involved in politics, we are just acting on our concern," he said.

Lee Shiao-feng (李筱峰), a historty professor at the National Taipei University of Education, said the Presbyterian Church is the nation's only pro-localization church, adding that most of the nation's other denominations had fled China with the KMT in 1949 or shortly after.

Lee said that what some criticized as political engagement on the part of his church was in fact driven by Christian principles such as protecting the poor and disadvantaged.

"Jesus himself criticized the Romans and became a political prisoner," Lee said. "What [the church] did during KMT rule corresponded fully with the teaching of taking a stand in the face of injustice."

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