The Chinese government detained more than 100 Christians in coordinated overnight raids on Sunday, and a prominent activist pastor was among those taken. The arrests are part of a recent crackdown on unregistered religious organizations in the communist country.
What are the details?
According to members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, police rounded up dozens of worshippers from their homes the evening after pastor Wang Yi posted a manifesto on social media criticizing the government's targeting of religious organizations. Wang's house was ransacked in the raids, and he and his wife, Jiang Rong, were among those taken into custody by the authorities.
Religious organizations in China must be state-sanctioned in order to be legal, so many religious groups — particularly churches — operate underground to avoid government control of their worship. But Wang has made a name for himself through his public protests urging a separation of church and state.
Wang is a well-known legal scholar, former film critic, and blogger who converted to Christianity in 2005. He formed Early Rain Covenant Church in 2008, and one of his many antagonizations against the Chinese government is his annual sermon condemning the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
In his social media statement Saturday, the pastor attempted to rally Chinese Christians into civil disobedience, the Wall Street Journal reported. Within the 7,300-word piece titled "Meditations on the Religious War," Wang likened Chinese President Xi Jinping's rule to that of a Biblical Egyptian pharaoh, calling the government's aversion to religious freedom "morally incompatible with the Christian faith and with all those who uphold freedom of the mind and thought."
Members of the Early Rain Covenant Church have already been detained numerous times this year. Directly prior to the most recent arrests, the church issued a statement saying, "Lord, help us to have the Christian's conscience and courage to resist this 'Orwellian nonsense' with more positive Gospel action and higher praise," according to the New York Times.
"Without love, there is no courage," the statement continued.
The church's high-rise office was raided, phone line cut, and members' social media accounts blocked as part of the government's latest sting operation. Assistant deacon Zhang Guoqiang was one of those arrested but was released under house arrest on Monday. He told the South China Morning Post, "The police said our church is an illegal organization and we cannot attend any more gatherings from now on."
Under President Xi's leadership, the Chinese government has ramped up its efforts to tamp down unregistered religious organizations. Over the past few years, thousands of Christians have been arrested, houses of worship have been shut down, defaced or demolished, members have been forced to denounce their faith, the online sale of Bibles has been outlawed, and more than 1 million Chinese Muslims have allegedly been sent to internment camps for "re-education."
In spite of authorities' efforts to suppress religious freedom in China, the faithful remain undeterred.
Early Rain church elder Li Yingqiang told the Post, "Even if we are down to our last five, worship and gatherings will still go on because our faith is real. Persecution is a price worth paying for the Lord, we would rather live through it than to hide our faith and we hope more Chinese churches will speak up and stand with us."