U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger has been named to a joint congressional-executive branch commission charged with monitoring human rights abuses in China.
House Speaker John Boehner named the Republican congressman from Charlotte to the panel because of his past work supporting religious minorities in China and other countries.
Evangelical Christians and the Vatican have complained for years that the Chinese government routinely persecutes Christians. Though the government has allowed more Bibles to be published in recent years, it still restricts where and how many Christians worship. The Vatican and Chinese rulers continue to spar over the government's insistence on ordaining Chinese Catholic bishops without Vatican consent and detaining some bishops loyal to the pope.
The government has also been criticized for its occupation of Tibet, where two Buddhist monks recently set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and the continued exile of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Created in 2000, the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China monitors human rights and development of the rule of law in China. It holds hearings and roundtables and must submit an annual report to the president and Congress.
One of Pittenger's main interests will be whether religious rights are respected in China.
His own years of Christian activism stretch back to after college, when he went to work for Campus Crusade for Christ. He worked on the staff for 10 years, serving as an assistant and advance man for Bill Bright, the group's founder. In that capacity, the young Pittenger also helped launch a ministry for elected officials and staff on Capitol Hill.
According to spokesman Jamie Bowers, Pittenger also traveled to several Eastern European countries, including the Soviet Union, to support persecuted Christians and underground churches.
Pittenger was in China on a mission trip in February 2012 when then-U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., announced she would not run that year for a 10th term. Pittenger, who got the news even though he was halfway around the world, was subsequently elected to succeed Myrick in the 9th congressional district.
Bowers said Pittenger has attended Central Church of God, a Pentecostal church in Charlotte, for 17 years. But because of frequent Sunday obligations, he and his wife now regularly attend Saturday evening services at Forest Hill Church, also in Charlotte. The Rev. Loran Livingston pastors Central Church of God; the Rev. David Chadwick is pastor at Forest Hill, an evangelical non-denominational church.
Over the years, Bowers said, Pittenger has gone on mission trips to Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, India, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, and Guatemala.
One other N.C. Republican congressman -- U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, who represents the western part of the state -- sits on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, chairs the commission; U.S. Rep.Chris Smith, R-N.J., is co-chair.
-- Tim Funk