I will serve my sentence, but I will not serve the law. I will be executed, but I will not plead guilty.”
In what is believed to be the longest sentence against a house church leader in more than a decade, Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church in China, was sentenced to nine years in prison for “inciting to subvert state power”, attempting to turn people against the Chinese government, and “illegal business operations.” The charges for business operations relate to the printing and distribution of Christian books by the church, the Voice of The Matyrs, reports.
Pastor Wang’s trial was secretly held on December 26th and the verdict was announced on December 30th. Along with the lengthy prison sentence, he was also fined over $9,000 CAD and denied all political rights for three years. “This is a pure case of unjust religious persecution against a peaceful preacher of a Chinese reformed church,” reports Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid.
Pastor Yi’s sentence comes just few days after Elder Qin Defu of Early Rain Covenant Church was given four years pprison term for sharing gospel tracts.
As for many of the remaining members of the Early Rain Covenant Church (those who have not been imprisoned), governing authorities recently mandated that these congregants meet with security officials five times a day. Despite the stringent stipulations and heavy oppression, members of the church continue to faithfully meet together, seeking to serve God any way they can.
China has seen an uptick in religious persecution under the administration of President Xi Jinping who took office six years ago. In recent years, the government has demolished crosses, cracked down on house churches, arrested pastors, and put officially-recognized churches under tighter control.
Chinese law requires that places of worship register and submit to government oversight, but some have declined to register, and are thus deemed illegal. These churches are known as “house” or “underground” churches.
Wang had openly criticized Xi and refused to comply with Chinese government requirements to register with China’s Religious Affairs Bureau. In 2006, he traveled to Washington to meet with then-President George W. Bush, asking for his support in their fight for religious freedom.
Ahead of his arrest, Wang published a letter condemning the “evil” Communist Party for its continued persecution of Christians.
He expressed hope that God would use him to “tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority, and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.”
“Regardless of what crime the government charges me with, whatever filth they fling at me, as long as this charge is related to my faith, my writings, my comments, and my teachings, it is merely a lie and temptation of demons,” he wrote in the letter titled “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience.” “I categorically deny it. I will serve my sentence, but I will not serve the law. I will be executed, but I will not plead guilty.”
Please prayerfully uphold Pastor Wang, his wife and family as they now must contend with the implications of this verdict. Pray that justice will still prevail and that this sentence will be overturned. Remember the members of the Early Rain Covenant Church as they seek ways to continue reaching out with the Gospel message in their community.
The U.S. was quick to denounce the prison sentence this week. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the verdict and called for his release: “I am alarmed that Pastor Wang Yi, leader of Chengdu’s Early Rain house church, was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison on trumped-up charges.”
I am alarmed that Pastor Wang Yi, leader of Chengdu’s Early Rain house church, was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison on trumped-up charges. Beijing must release him and end its intensifying repression of Christians and members of all other religious groups.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 31, 2019
Christianity In China
Explosive growth has characterized the church for at least the past 30 years. About 100 million Christians live in China, but only 30 million are affiliated with the government-authorized Three-Self Patriotic Movement (the state church controlled by the Communist government). The remaining 70 million worship in unapproved house churches. Despite continual pressure and oppression, house church leaders refuse to compromise the Gospel. About 60 percent of the believers in China live in rural areas, and only a few house church leaders have formal theological training or access to Bible study materials, according to VOM.
The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that by 2030, it could have more churchgoers than America.
Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 2 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.
The Chinese Communist Party once tried to destroy religion, but it failed, and today, according to some estimates, there are more Christians in China than Communist Party members. Up to 100 million.
Life for Christians In China:
Ten years ago, unregistered churches in China’s “house church” movement enjoyed a measure of acceptance by the government. However, today things are much different. In February 2018, a new religious regulation led to increased government restrictions on unregistered churches. This has resulted in the forceful closure of hundreds of churches, the arrest or detainment of pastors and church members, and the prohibition of online sales of Bibles. If church leaders refuse to join the government-controlled church, false charges are filed against them. It is illegal to teach religion to anyone younger than 18 years of age.
China ranks number 27 in Open Door’s list of top 50 countries where it is most deadly to be a christian.