Chinese authorities announced on Thursday that they are holding Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church on suspicion of “subversion” despite an international outcry from religious freedom advocates and human rights organizations.
Chinese police raided numerous Early Rain churches last weekend and arrested dozens of congregants along with Pastor Wang and his wife. The church was targeted under new regulations that require all Protestant churches to be sanctioned by the government-controlled Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee. Even churches with Three-Self approval have been subjected to harassment as the Communist government cracks down on religion.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for the immediate release of Wang and the scores of imprisoned Early Rain Covenant Church members on Thursday and demanded the government allow them to resume worship services.
“The shutdown of a Protestant church in Chengdu epitomizes the Xi Jinping government’s relentless assault on religious freedom in China. It makes a mockery of the government’s claim that it respects religious beliefs,” HRW China researcher Yaqiu Wang said.
“Everyone who supports religious freedom should stand with Wang Yi and speak out against the Chinese government’s repression of religion,” HRW’s Wang added.
HRW noted that Chinese police seized church property and abused congregants without due process and some of the church members released from custody have said police beat them and deprived them of food and water. The families of some church members still in custody say officials have given them little information about the whereabouts and condition of the detainees. Police told Pastor Wang’s mother, for example, that they detained her son on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”
Police also accused Wang’s wife Jiang Rong of subversive activity; her whereabouts are unknown. The Chinese government described her situation as “residential surveillance,” implying it is a form of mild house arrest, but that is difficult to reconcile with keeping her incommunicado in an undisclosed location. According to her mother-in-law, Jiang was permitted to remain at her home for only a few hours before the police separated her from her 11-year-old son and whisked her away to parts unknown.
A lawyer who claimed to represent her but insisted on speaking anonymously said Jiang might be held for up to six months in an effort to intimidate others from speaking up on behalf of Pastor Wang.
“Accusations can be made against Pastor Wang Yi – after all, he’s the one at the lectern doing all the preaching,” the lawyer told the South China Morning Post. “But his wife doesn’t hold any position in the church, nor has she made any public comments. There are no words to describe the absurdity of this situation.”
“The handling of the case shows how furious the top party leadership is about the church,” the lawyer added.
Wang’s assistant Li Yinqiang, who has been chronicling the attack on the Early Rain church through social media, was arrested on even more nebulous charges of “picking a quarrel and inciting trouble.” Police have jailed other church leaders for unspecified “illegal operations.”
The New York Times ominously noted that Wang and Jiang face the most serious charges specified to date and could face prison sentences of up to 15 years.
ChinaAid, a religious freedom advocacy group founded by Wang’s longtime friend Bob Fu, on Thursday published a manifesto written by Wang in anticipation of his imprisonment. Wang asked for this “Declaration of Faithful Disobedience” to be published in the event he was incarcerated for longer than 48 hours.
In the document, Wang sought to reconcile his Christian faith with submission to the legal authority of the Chinese government, even though he was “filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience.”
Wang stressed he would never engage in subversive activity even though he refuses to remain silent about the abuses of the Chinese government, which he invariably described as a temporary “regime” in terms the authoritarian state and all-powerful ruler-for-life Communist Party leader Xi Jinping would never accept:
As a pastor, my firm belief in the gospel, my teaching, and my rebuking of all evil proceeds from Christ’s command in the gospel and from the unfathomable love of that glorious King. Every man’s life is extremely short, and God fervently commands the church to lead and call any man to repentance who is willing to repent. Christ is eager and willing to forgive all who turn from their sins. This is the goal of all the efforts of the church in China—to testify to the world about our Christ, to testify to the Middle Kingdom about the Kingdom of Heaven, to testify to earthly, momentary lives about heavenly, eternal life. This is also the pastoral calling that I have received.
For this reason, I accept and respect the fact that this Communist regime has been allowed by God to rule temporarily. As the Lord’s servant John Calvin said, wicked rulers are the judgment of God on a wicked people, the goal being to urge God’s people to repent and turn again toward Him. For this reason, I am joyfully willing to submit myself to their enforcement of the law as though submitting to the discipline and training of the Lord.
At the same time, I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God. My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.
But this does not mean that my personal disobedience and the disobedience of the church is in any sense “fighting for rights” or political activism in the form of civil disobedience, because I do not have the intention of changing any institutions or laws of China. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disruption of man’s sinful nature by this faithful disobedience and the testimony it bears for the cross of Christ.
Wang’s lengthy declaration made it clear he expected to be persecuted, and perhaps martyred, for his faith. He concluded by calling on his tormentors to reject the malevolent demands of their political masters, which is the very definition of “subversion” in the Chinese Communist Party’s ugly dictionary:
Separate me from my wife and children, ruin my reputation, destroy my life and my family – the authorities are capable of doing all of these things. However, no one in this world can force me to renounce my faith; no one can make me change my life; and no one can raise me from the dead.
And so, respectable officers, stop committing evil. This is not for my benefit but rather for yours and your children’s. I plead earnestly with you to stay your hands, for why should you be willing to pay the price of eternal damnation in hell for the sake of a lowly sinner such as I?
Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever. I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.
The Wall Street Journal derisively accused China of “rounding up the usual Christians,” a riff on the famous line from Casablanca, and saw Beijing hitting the Christian community with the worst oppression it has faced in decades this holiday season.
“On Wednesday, Mr. Wang’s family received notice that he has been charged with inciting the subversion of state power – the same charge Beijing leveled against Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who died last year in custody. Mr. Wang visited the White House in 2006, and U.S. officials should urge his release when they engage with Chinese counterparts,” the Journal urged.