Exclusive interview with Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe - by Christian Today, Australia

General June 8, 2008

World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) director Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe is currently in Sydney to meet and communicate with some of Australia’s most respected Christian leaders.

His visit to Australia follows shortly on from a visit to China where he was able to meet leaders of the official Three Self Church as well as representatives of China’s government.

Here he tells us more about his visit and how WEA is working with the Church in China.

CT: China has a reputation for restricting human rights and religious freedom. What was your impression of the current situation there for believers and what is your strategy for engagement with the official Church in China?

GT: The Religious Liberty Partnership (which includes the Religious Liberty Commission of World Evangelical Alliance) recently released a statement called the “Zurich Statement” in which it acknowledges the progress that China has made in the last three decades. http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/view.htm?id=1741

While acknowledging the improvements that have been made, we also recognize that because China is so big, when the central government makes a decision, it does not always translate to the all provinces or jurisdictions. We’re not blinded to that, but we are committed to negotiation, a “quiet diplomacy” with the Chinese government. Right now this is the strategy that we will take.

These days, China is beginning to open up to the rest of the world. Hosting the Olympics is just one example of this openness. It is true that there are still some serious human rights and religious freedom issues that need to be addressed, I think we have to continue to work carefully with the Chinese government, trying to resolve some of these challenges, and negotiating our way through. We have already told the government that we will not support a boycott of the Olympics.

Our hope for the future is to continue to build a relationship of understanding, so that we can deal with difficult matters as well. Because I think as you build relationships, you can deal with more difficult issues. There must be freedom from both sides to share issues and concerns.

We know that this approach might be hard for some Christians to accept, but I would say “Trust us” at this point. We are not compromising; we are committed to promoting human rights and religious freedom wherever we go.

I think the key is to keep the end in mind; there are different ways of getting there. The way we are choosing to go is through negotiation with the Chinese government. The next several years will be quite important for us, as we build ties with Chinese churches and other institutions.

CT: How do you see the outreach of Three-Self Church?

GT: The government asked the Three-Self Church to be more involved in reaching out into the community through community services. What’s interesting was the response from the leadership of the Three-Self Church, who said that they felt they did not have an adequate theological and biblical framework to do so. So they said to us, perhaps one of the ways that you can help is by providing training to our leaders in the area of social transformation and the engagement of society with the foundation of a biblical basis. Partnering with the Chinese Church in this area may be just one of the ways the Global Church can serve China and its people.

CT: What other works were you involved in during your trip to China?

GT: There was the chaplaincy issue with the Olympics. As you know, foreign chaplains will not be allowed in the Olympic village. Some of these international chaplains have great experience in serving at these major global sporting events. They have worked in the Olympics for many years. So perhaps one strategy is to link them with the Chinese chaplains and perhaps they can set up some referral systems. The Chinese chaplains will be in the village, but if there are issues where they need assistance, they can refer them to some chaplains outside the village.

CT: You travel to many countries as part of your role as WEA head. What is your approach when you meet leaders in non-Christian countries?

GT: When we go into a country and meet with leaders, one thing that we often say is: "We're followers of Jesus. How can we serve you?" It’s not about going in with some big agenda. Any country, whether it's a Muslim country, whether we meet believers, or presidents, we're simply the followers of Jesus, “How can we serve you?”

We as Christians need to be on the forefront of peacemaking and reconciliation in the world. The Gospel is about reconciliation. It's reconciliation to God, to humanity, and to creation. I think as we look at the conflicted areas in the world, whether it's Darfur, whether it's the Middle East, we have to be on the front edge of promoting reconciliation. I think that's a great place for us to be as Christians.

Sometimes reconciliation is about speaking truth in love. The heart of the Gospel is reconciliation. We need to be known around the world as being those kinds of people. It will result in having a greater impact. It will change people's perception of Christians.

CT: The image of the Evangelical Christians is generally not a good one right now. What is the true image of the Evangelical Christian to you?

GT: Many people think we're always against stuff. We are often defined by our opposition to one or two issues. We have the concern for the family, we have concern for marriage, we promote a culture of life; but we also have concern for the poor, we have concern for justice. We have broad based concern; we are committed to nation building.

I tell government leaders: Christians are your best citizens. We are committed to strong families. We are committed to integrity. We are committed to honesty in working, we have a strong work ethic...all these things that are necessary for the building of a society. So I tell government leaders, Christians can be your best citizens.

As citizens who are also Christians there is this opportunity to be prophetic, speaking into the culture. So I think that is why it's important for Christians not to be aligned with any one political party, because the more closely aligned to a political party we are, I think we lose our prophetic voice.

I think part of our role as we speak to government is to affirm the good things that the government is doing, no matter which party it is. But also to speak out and raise concerns on the issues that we have concerns about.

For example, every government has a budget, so when we evaluate a budget, which is really a moral document, a moral statement, it's a statement of what the government plans to do. So we need to ask: what are the good things in that budget, and what are the concerns that we may have? What values are coming through that budget? Does it reflect the values that will have a positive impact on society?

CT: Prince Caspian was released in Australia on June 5 and I heard you have already seen it twice. What did you make of it? What will Christians be able to take from it?

GT: We work closely with Walden Media. The Chronicles of Narnia was produced by Walden and Disney. Walden also produced the film "Amazing Grace, The William Wilberforce Story", We are committed to a long term partnership with Walden Media. And of course with films like Prince Caspian, which is the second installment of the series of seven C.S. Lewis stories finds strong support in our community. We are encouraging Christians around the world to see these excellent films and use them for personal enrichment as well as tools for engaging the broader culture.

Prince Caspian is certainly different from the first Narnia film. It's almost more like the Lord of the Rings style. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I took my children who are 18 and 20, and they thought it was great. While I think the film does take some dramatic interpretations of the original book, I think there are some great talking points, learning opportunities, and teaching opportunities. I sure encourage people to go and see it.

Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe is currently on a tour around Australia and after departing Sydney, he is expected to meet key political and Christian leaders and speak to audiences in Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide.