A prominent Chinese pastor and human rights activist was recently arrested by the communist government on allegations of “inciting subversion of state power.” Here are five facts you should know about Wang Yi, a remarkable leader in China’s persecuted house church movement:
1. Wang earned an undergraduate degree in law from Sichuan University and worked as a lecturer in law at Chengdu until 2008, after which he resigned to take up a full-time pastorate in the Early Rain Reformed Church. While a professor, the Chinese government banned him from teaching for 18 months, though he was later reinstated, he said, because the Chinese government “can control you better if you remain in the system.” Wang has been fearless in his criticisms of the authoritarian regime. For example, Wang was one of six university scholars in China who wrote an open letter to the communist regime in 2007 demanding human rights compliance before the 2008 Olympics. “A government that cannot safeguard its citizens’ basic human rights has no [moral] right to sponsor the Olympics,” said the letter.
2. In 2004, Wang was included in a list of “50 Most Influential Public Intellectuals of China” by Southern People Weekly, a current affairs and culture magazine. In response, the Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China issued a decree blacklisting Wang from being published in the state-owned press. Wang’s website, which he used to post articles from a pro-democracy perspective, was also shut down by the government. “Of course it matters that the microphone has been taken away,” Wang said. “But vocal cords are part of one’s body. And the right to speak is an inalienable one; one which is laid down in black and white in China’s constitution.”
3. In 2005, Wang converted to Christianity and started to serve in house churches. That same year he began a fellowship in his home that would later become Chengdu Early Rain Reformed Church (later renamed Early Rain Covenant Church). In 2006, while still a law professor, Wang and two other Chinese house church leaders met with President George H.W. Bush, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House chief of staff Josh Bolton, White House press secretary Tony Snow, and the president’s senior Adviser Michael Gerson, to discuss the development on religious freedom in China. In 2009, Wang was ordained as a teaching elder, and in 2011 was appointed to be the senior pastor of his church. Early Rain Covenant Church currently has about 700 congregants.
4. In 2015, Wang and other pastors at Early Rain Reformed Church posted online a document titled “Reaffirming our Stance on the House Churches: 95 theses.” As Chloë Starr of Yale University Divinity School said, “This bold move, challenging the state and the Chinese churches has created controversy in China and abroad. The theses address a series of issues on sovereignty and authority with regard to God, the church and the government.” As Starr adds,
A central theological datum for Wang, for example, is freedom of conscience, which is linked to the church’s freedom and so to church–state relations, to questions of what is legal and illegal, to who has ultimate authority over the conscience, and to the Bible in its role as “the constitution of the church.” The premise often guides the argument: forcing a non-biblical standard onto a Christian, for example, is “to destroy humanity’s conscience and rationality, and to attack God’s rule over a person’s conscience”
5. In May of this year, Wang was detained by Chinese police for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in planning a prayer on the 10th anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake. According to The New York Times, the police also took away dozens of people who arrived for the planned service on Saturday morning, and they used trucks to remove publications belonging to the church. At the time, Wang told his congregation, “The religious case of the Early Rain Covenant has begun.” This has proved prophetic, as Wang, his wife, and more than 100 Christians who attend Early Rain were arrested this month by Chinese authorities and charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” According to China Aid, this is a charge often handed to Chinese Christians because the Communist Party views religion as a threat to their ideological control. If convicted, Wang and his parishioners could face up to 15 years in prison. Some of the church leaders and members have since been released but remain under house arrest. Earlier this year, Wang wrote the declaration “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience,” a letter to be published by his church should he be detained for more than 48 hours:
On the basis of the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the authorities God has established in China. For God deposes kings and raises up kings. This is why I submit to the historical and institutional arrangements of God in China.
As a pastor of a Christian church, I have my own understanding and views, based on the Bible, about what righteous order and good government is. At the same time, I am 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. But changing social and political institutions is not the mission I have been called to, and it is not the goal for which God has given his people the gospel.
For all hideous realities, unrighteous politics, and arbitrary laws manifest the cross of Jesus Christ, the only means by which every Chinese person must be saved. They also manifest the fact that true hope and a perfect society will never be found in the transformation of any earthly institution or culture but only in our sins being freely forgiven by Christ and in the hope of eternal life.
You can read the rest of the letter at the China Partnership blog.