Cutting Bible distribution in China

stack of biblesA story about more than 300 confiscated Bibles by Chinese officials has received little newspaper coverage in the midst of all the buzz about this month's Olympics (if there has been television news coverage, please let me know). The only major newspaper to cover the seizing was The Los Angeles Times on Monday. The details may seem predictable, but it all depends on how you describe the situation. Here is the LAT:

BEIJING -- An American Christian group that was stopped at the airport when it tried to bring in more than 300 Bibles won't leave the customs zone until it gets the books back, its leader said today.

The four Americans, led by Pat Klein of the Wyoming-based Vision Beyond Borders, said they were convinced officials wanted them to leave the Kunming airport in southern China without the Bibles, preventing their distribution.

"We paid a lot to come here and bring them," Klein said in a telephone interview from the customs area, where the four have been since Sunday. "We're not bringing in contraband, drugs, evil stuff. We're just bringing in Bibles."

Since this story was published, the Bibles were returned to the Christian group, but that does not mean the story is over. Here is the Associated Press:

BEIJING -- A group of American Christians who had 315 Bibles confiscated by Chinese officials when they arrived in China is refusing to leave the airport until they get the books back, their leader said Monday.

Pat Klein said he and three others from his Vision Beyond Borders group spent Sunday night at the airport in the southwestern city of Kunming after customs officers took the Bibles from their checked luggage.

The problem with this AP story is that it portrays the situation as resolved. What is obvious but goes unsaid is that Chinese customs officials were successful in preventing 315 Bibles from being distributed in China. The "one Bible for personal use" policy has been successfully implemented despite international news coverage that generally portrayed the Chinese authorities as repressive and against religious freedom.

Perhaps this story is seen as all too typical and lacking in excitement for news editors. Imagine the international outrage if U.S. customs officials prohibited Muslims from carrying in 315 Korans into the United States? It is a unfortunate statement on how journalists can grow accustomed to government officials acting repressively and see it as all too normal.

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