Cross-like supports for pole valuting at the Good Luck Beijing China Athletics Open, 22 May 2008/David GrayBesides the usual Olympic sports, another competition seems to be shaping up for the Beijing Games in August — evangelisation. Christian organisations are debating whether they should use the Games as an opportunity to spread the faith among the Chinese during those weeks. China seems determined to control religious activity during the Games and allow only religious services for foreigners attending the Games. But doing covert missionary work in difficult areas — usually Muslim countries — is a challenge some Christian groups relish.

The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) discussed this recently with an article entitled “Should Christians Evangelize at the Beijing Olympics?” The prominent U.S. evangelist Franklin Graham angered some fellow evangelicals by saying they should not go to China and preach outside approved channels. But groups such as 4 Winds Christian Athletics disagree. They want athletes competing in Beijing to speak about their faith during interviews. The group’s head, Steve McConkey, said: “Christians should use caution and do as God leads.”

Carl Moeller, head of the Open Doors U.S.A. group defending persecuted Christians worldwide, told Mission Network News: “We’re actually encouraging travellers to the Olympic Games to call Open Doors, to visit Open Doors and to get from us some materials that are specifically designed for evangelism during the Olympic Games. We feel like evangelism during the Olympic Games will be a tremendous opportunity.” At the bottom of the story is a link to the Open Doors U.S.A. website saying: “If you’re traveling to ChMarathon runners pass the National Olympic Stadium in Beijing, 30 April 2008/Jason Leeina for the Olympics and would like helpful tools to share your faith during the games, click here.

China showed how vigilant it can be after the Sichuan earthquake, when it searched Christian aid groups for any signs they might try to proselytise and turned away any suspected covert missionaries.

There are often calls to keep politics out of the Olympics. Does the same hold for religion?