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Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
In the Kingdom of God, no one can see so long as
he remains merely a spectator. Nathan Soderbloom
Sixteen years ago this month, I sat behind my desk asking, "Now what do I do?" I had left my ten-year tenure at Christian Legal Society to pursue a global vision to challenge lawyers to bear witness of Jesus Christ. The million-mile journey touching 150 nations has been far beyond anything I could ever have hoped for. Below are a few highlights.
RUSSIA: The first lawyer I met overseas in 1991 trying to follow Christ was Natalya in Moscow. She had just launched Faith, Hope & Love,a legal-aid ministry for Russian inmates. She's had an amazing impact. Her son, Nick, joined our family in 1991, and became our "Russian son." On June 8, 2007, Nick, a very gifted engineer at Dell Computers, had his own first-born son, Alexei - our second grandson! Praise God!
CHINA: The most significant piece I have written was the July 16, 1997, Introductory Comments to Director General Ye Xiao Wen of the Religious Affairs Bureau of China. My friend, Dave Treadwell, and I served as Washington, DC, tour guides for Mr. Ye and his RAB delegation in our two red vans, color-coordinated for Red China! On August 26, 1997, Board member John Langlois and I were Mr. Ye's guests at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. He clarified China's policy that there is no registration required for home Bible study groups - in contrast to house or unregistered churches. On October 16, 1997, the China State Council posted the clarification on their website. Only God knows how many Christians have benefited from that luncheon.
VIETNAM: It was not until May 11, 2007, that advocates in our network went to prison for advocacy. Please pray for Vietnam's response to my letter seeking a visit to Hanoi.
EIGHT GLOBAL OPPORTUNITIES: Recently a lawyer with the Department of Justice asked how he could get more involved in Advocates' global network. I can't think of a better way to plug in and discover the energy of the networks on six continents than by attending one of the 2007 conferences listed on the backside of this letter. It'll change your life!!
Living in His-Story,
Founder & President
P.S. Thanks for being far more than spectators on this 16-year adventure. Your prayers, financial support, availability and notes have impacted the globe for Christ!
June 13, 2007
The Honorable Nguyễn Minh Triết
President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
1233 20th Street, NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036
Dear President Triết,
I am writing on behalf of two friends, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, who were sentenced to prison by the People's Court in Hanoi on May 11, 2007. Dai has been a friend since he attended Advocates International's Global Convocation in 2000. Although I do not recall having met Nhan, I still consider her to be a friend since she is a friend of Dai's. It is my general practice to treat a friend of my friends as my friend as well.
Advocates International is a global network informally linking about 30,000 lawyers, law students, law professors and judges from 135 nations. Although the network draws lawyers from many different Christian traditions, the common thread that binds us together is a commitment to the practical application of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ in daily life and within the legal profession.
I am an immigrant from Sweden where my father was the pastor of several small churches. My parents were lifelong evangelicals, a major branch of the Christian community. In contrast, my uncle was a lifelong member of Sweden's Communist Party. Despite these deep differences, my parents never spoke ill of my uncle. This upbringing has served me well during the past two decades when I have visited 40 socialist or communist nations, as well as many other nations where there are often deep religious and ideological differences.
Jesus taught that the Golden Rule is the essence of good law and the basis for good relationships: "So in everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." As you can see from the enclosed list, this universal principle is found in all major religions. The Golden Rule has been used effectively throughout Advocates' network by lawyers, judges and national leaders to build bridges between Communists and Christians, Buddhists and Baptists, Muslims and Methodists, Proletarians and Protestants.
For example, in 1997, during several meetings with the Director General of the Religious Affairs Bureau of the People's Republic of China in Washington, DC, and Beijing, the Golden Rule helped clarify a policy as to Christians meeting in their homes for prayer and Bible study without registering. I've enclosed some correspondence with Mr. Ye, as well as a letter about the matter to President Clinton from a close friend in the U.S. Congress, Congressman Donald Manzullo.
In one of his best-known stories, Jesus taught that those who claim to be his followers should demonstrate practical concern for people by feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, caring for the sick and visiting those in prison. What a person has said or done does not erase our obligation to follow Jesus' teaching about visiting friends in prison.
Advocates International does not dictate or endorse what everyone within its 30,000-lawyer network may say or do. As indicated, Advocates' approach has been to identify common ground by applying, if possible, the Golden Rule and related principles taught by Jesus and to help societies move toward greater harmony and balance. Of course, we recognize that other groups may use different approaches than Advocates International.
I hope to be in Asia during October 12-21, 2007, to visit friends and colleagues in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Sri Lanka It would be a great honor to visit Vietnam during my journey and to see Dai and Nhan. It may provide an opportunity to share some of my concerns with them. They may not be aware that they are the first advocates within our network to go to prison for their advocacy of any cause.
I look forward to a meeting with Ambassador Nguyễn Tâm Chiến in Washington, DC, to discuss the possibility of arranging my first visit to Hanoi.
Samuel E. Ericsson
Founder & President
Enclosures as stated
cc: The Honorable Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
His Excellency Nguyễn Tâm Chiến, Ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the United States
Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, United States Department of State
His Excellency Michael W. Marine, United States Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Congressman Donald A. Manzullo, House of Representatives, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ranking
Member of Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and Member of Subcommittee on International Trade
Board of Directors, Global Council & friends of Advocates International
TO DIRECTOR GENERAL YE XIAO WEN
AND THE DELEGATION OF THE RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS BUREAU
OF THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
by Samuel E. Ericsson, President
July 16, 1997
The greatest challenge facing all societies is how people can live together peacefully in spite of their deepest differences. Every society, Eastern or Western, desires harmony and balance over disharmony and imbalance. The key is finding unifying principles, as well as the means to implement those principles, which will facilitate harmony and balance. Religion and philosophy are primary sources of values that can lead to either harmony or conflict in society.
There is one principle common to the world's major religions and philosophies: The Golden Rule. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 7:12). The basis for all meaningful human relationships is the Golden Rule which Jesus also called the Second Great Commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39). (The First Great Commandment focuses on the vertical or spiritual relationship with the Lord of the Universe: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart [the emotions] and with all your soul [the will] and with all your mind [the intelligence]. This is the first and greatest commandment" Matt. 22:37-38.) Jesus taught that life is most fulfilling when lived in light of the Two Great Commandments (Luke 10:25-37).
Similar ideas are found in traditional Chinese religions and philosophies. Confucius taught: "Do not do unto others that which you would not want them to do to you." Likewise, in the broadest sense, the Taoist attitude toward life and the universe is the recognition of harmony and balance between the Yin and the Yang, Earth and Heaven, the negative and the positive, female and male. It is interesting to note that Taoism means "The Way," the same term used by the earliest followers of Jesus before the term "Christian" was used (Acts 9:2 and 11:26).
Law serves as a primary means for articulating principles that will help establish and preserve justice and harmony, peace and balance. A cornerstone principle of law in China and the United States is the equality of all people before the law. Article 33 of China's Constitution states: "All citizens of the People's Republic of China are equal before the law." Likewise, over the doorway to the United States Supreme Court are the words, "Equal Justice Under Law," which sums up the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The issue of equality before the law in church-state relations in United States history is long and complicated. Let me share an example of how one major issue was resolved after decades of confusion concerning the proper balance between religion and government in the education of children. The root of the conflict flows from the nature of education of children which brings together three major competing spheres of society: (1) Family -- the desire of parents to pass on their values to their children; (2) State -- the interest of government to develop good citizens; and (3) Religion -- the concern of religious groups that education not undermine the values taught in churches, synagogues and temples.
In the early 1960's, the United States Supreme Court issued two "School Prayer" opinions holding that the State can not use the public schools or its teachers to promote any particular religion or religious content as "The Way," whether it be Buddhism in Hawaii, Mormonism in Utah, Baptist in Texas or Catholicism in Maryland. Thus, teachers could not lead in brief morning devotional exercises, a custom that had been practiced in about 20 states for many decades. The decisions created great controversy and confusion and eventually led to policies banning even student-initiated and student-led meetings with religious content on public university and high school campuses, results never intended by the Supreme Court. These local policies violated the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights which states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." [China's Articles 35 and 36 provide similar guarantees: "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration...[and] freedom of religious belief. No state organ... may ... discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities....]
To clear up the confusion caused by the School Prayer decisions, Congress passed the Equal Access Act in 1984, which was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision in 1990. The Equal Access Act is based on the "equal justice under law" principle of the Freedom of Speech Clause of the First Amendment which gives equal protection to philosophical, religious and political speech. By providing "safe harbor" guidelines, the Equal Access Act brought harmony and balance back to the university and high school campuses and resolved, in large measure, the long and divisive debate over the role of religion in public schools and universities.
Cross-cultural tools are helpful in addressing problems common to all societies and in discussing universal principles that may provide solutions. In the belief that "a picture is worth a thousand words," the accompanying diagrams provide one set of tools to help inform and educate judges, lawyers, clergy, teachers, government officials and others on how to find harmony and balance among competing interests in society. The diagrams have been used in trial courts in America, as well as in law schools, seminaries, churches, universities and high schools. In addition, they were used at judicial and church-state conferences in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, the U.K and the U.S.
October 28, 1997
President William J. Clinton
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500-0005
Dear Mr. President:
In preparation for your October 29th meeting with President Jiang Zemin regarding relations between our two countries, I wanted to bring to your attention a modest - but significant - step forward for religious liberty in China.
Over the past few months, Sam Ericsson, President and CEO of Advocates International, a network promoting rule of law, reconciliation and freedom of conscience, has been seeking clarification from China's State Council on the legal status of "home meetings" held by Chinese believers for Bible studies and religious discussions. On October 16, 1997, Mr. Ericsson was advised by the Bureau of Religious Affairs of a new 11-page report entitled, "Freedom of Religious Belief in China." The report helps clear up some of the confusion as to the policies on "home meetings" by providing:
"All normal religious activities held either at sites for religious activities or in believers' homes
in accordance with usual religious practices, such as worshipping Buddha, reciting scriptures, going to church,
praying, preaching, observing Mass, baptising, monkhood initiation, fasting, celebrating religious festivals,
observing extreme unction, and holding memorial ceremonies, are protected by law as the affairs of
religious bodies and believers themselves and may not be interfered with." (pg. 2 - emphasis added.)
"There is no registration requirement for, to quote from Chinese Christians, 'house services,'
which are mainly attended by relatives and friends for religious activities such as praying and
Bible reading." (pg. 5 - emphasis added.)
Many feel that these "home meeting" policies will help local Chinese officials better understand the rights all citizens enjoy under the Freedom of Speech, Press and Assembly Clauses of Article 35 and the Religion Clauses of Article 36 of China's Constitution. A policy statement may not assure compliance in all cases, but it provides a tool that can be of great value to the millions of religious believers living in China today. Finally, I believe the issuance of this report provides an excellent opportunity to commend and encourage the Chinese government. Whenever possible we should pro-actively assist countries, such as China, in finding common ground on difficult issues.
Donald A. Manzullo
Member of Congress