Wang Yi, a well-known Chinese pastor, was sentenced to 9 years in prison over the holiday season, roughly a year after the homes of many of his congregants were raided last December.
He and roughly 100 of the church’s members — including his wife — were detained, but most were later released days or months later.
Wang, however, has remained in detention facing charges of “inciting subversion of state power” for running an unregistered congregation.
The 46-year-old was a popular blogger and human rights activist before he converted to Christianity in 2005.
He was even invited to the White House by then-President George W. Bush for his activism efforts the following year, according to NPR.
In 2008, he founded one of the most prominent underground churches in Chengdu — Early Rain Covenant Church — which is believed to have almost 500 parishioners.
Under Chinese law, nongovernmental organizations such as churches and mosques not only must be registered with the state, but also must not challenge the country’s leaders.
Last year’s raid, which affected more congregations than just Early Rain, was only part of the communist-run country’s attempt to suppress uncontrolled religion within its borders.
Wang remained detained for over a year and was sentenced Monday to 9 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and illegal business operations, according to a statement from the Sichuan Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court.
His political rights were also taken away for 3 years, the statement said.
An estimated 60 million Chinese residents practice Protestant Christianity, and scholars believe nearly half of them attend underground churches.
While a majority of these churches have not been raided in the same way Early Rain has, some believe the government is targeting more prominent congregations to set an example.
“The government is worried about the development of these churches,” Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The New York Times.
“They think there are too many, and they are going against the bigger ones to solve the problem in this fashion.”
Wang was not only the pastor of an unregistered church, according to Fox News, but he was openly critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping as well.
He has also held annual prayer meetings on June 4 — to remember the 1989 attack on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Despite Wang’s imprisonment, other members of the Chinese church are putting their hope in Christ and are praising God for the ways they believe this persecution will be used to further glorify his name.
“Praise God for the faithful witness of our brother in Christ, whose reward is now great in heaven,” a statement from a Facebook page run by Early Rain’s supporters said.
“May the Lord use Pastor Wang Yi’s imprisonment to draw many to himself and to bring glory to his name.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.