Chinese Church VoicesChurch and State

When the Police Come Knocking

A Guide for Churches

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.


According to social media reports, Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province was detained by police on the evening of Friday, May 11, 2018. Wang Yi and Early Rain Covenant Church had planned a special worship service for the following day to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake. He was released 24 hours later.

An outspoken critic of government action against Christianity, Wang Yi has been detained by police several times in the past. Wang Yi was a legal scholar at Chengdu University prior to being called to full-time ministry.

Wang Yi posted this article, “When the Police Come Knocking (House Church Edition),” only a couple weeks prior to his detention. Here Wang Yi details specific guidelines and legal advice for pastors and church staff on how the church should respond to government intervention, including what to do when the police come knocking at your door.

When the Police Come Knocking (House Church Edition)

There are a couple versions of “When the Police Come Knocking” circulating which are written by human rights lawyers, such as the versions written by brother Wei Jiang or brother Zhang Peihong. Churches and Christians may refer to some of that content. As for this “house church version,” it is written from the religious perspective of a church, listing the spiritual attitudes we should have toward the church and persecution, as well as possible legal strategies. This is based on the experience and stance of “Early Rain Covenant Church,” as well as the content of two recent staff legal trainings.

There are seven sections[1] to the article, roughly 5600 words. Not only are there general rules, but also details. This document not only reflects the church-state relationship of “Early Rain Covenant Church” and its stance of church in the public, it is also a guide for the church to respond to persecution with “non-violent disobedience.” We hope that this may serve as reference or an option to the pastors and staff of many house churches.

I. Our basic attitude toward the Regulations on Religious Affairs and the enforcement of religious law

1. The content and passing of the Regulations on Religious Affairs are both unconstitutional. It deprives religious freedom and is a severe infringement. The government does not have the authority to limit the religious freedoms of churches and believers. It does not have authority to pass executive laws that have not been authorized by the constitution or by law. It does not have authority to regulate people’s spirit and faith of the church.

2. The highest law of the Christian is the Bible. Any law that contradicts the Bible we will disobey by non-violent methods.

3. The Regulations on Religious Affairs violates the Bible’s definition of the church and the teaching of the church’s Great Commission. It also violates the Bible’s limits on the government’s function and authority.

4. Therefore, all the limits and restrictions the Regulations on Religious Affairs places on the church’s faith and worship, the church refuses to obey. All the orders and executive measures in the Regulations on Religious Affairs that limit the church’s worship and faith (including joining the Three-Self Church, attending any meeting held by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, accepting any registration or suspension by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, any orders to disperse our meeting, or any threats), the church will disobey by non-violent methods, and for the reason of faith will not obey.

 II. Our basic attitude toward sub-district (jiedao) [political] enforcement and police enforcement

1. The church respects and accepts sub-district or police enforcement (that follows basic laws and relate to security regulations, fire regulations, and proper processes) regarding the church’s public actions, as long as such enforcement does not violate basic principles, and does not discriminate against Christians as secondary citizens based on their Christian faith, and does not involve interfering with the church’s doctrine, pastoring, and administration.

2. The church fully understands that in the current environment, police and local governments have been granted too many and too heavy responsibilities of controlling society, which they cannot fully accomplish. The church fully respects and empathizes with the specific local law enforcers. Without violating our faith and conscience, we seek to respect and cooperate with their law enforcement. In certain circumstances, we are even willing to surrender our outward rights and take on outward damages because of inadequacies in the proper processes of enforcement.

3. When the local government, police, or other government departments, whether actively or passively cooperating with the State Administration of Religious Affairs, begin to limit or interfere with the church’s worship, gathering, education, and gospel work, or demand records of the church’s membership, finances, or gospel preaching, the church will disobey nonviolently because of our faith and the Bible, and we will target the above authorities. But even as the church disobeys, we will consistently have a meek and humble heart, and will under no circumstances use violence or physical resistance.

 III. The church’s attitude toward religious cases and implicated members

1. As soon as coercive measures have been taken against a church staff or member because of their faith, and they are interrogated or questioned; or if the church or any organization under the church (such as a school) has received administrative penalization from government departments, it will be viewed as a religious case having occurred.

2. Please inform the church as soon as possible if a religious case happens. Except in cases when a church member strongly objects to being publicized, the church will immediately send out a prayer request to the whole congregation, and will publicize a memo and prayer request under the church’s name at an appropriate time. We will view all religious cases as part of our gospel movement, and as opportunities to publicly witness the gospel.

3. When brothers or sisters are brought to the police department for continued interrogation or are summoned, or experience any other coercive measure, brothers and sisters should seek to accompany them or follow behind them, and inform the church at the first opportunity.

4. Once the church is informed that a member has experienced coercive measures because of their faith, pastors, elders, or preachers should immediately go to where they are being detained, and actively seek information concerning the case from the relevant public security bureau, police station, or sub-district administrative office, and also express their concern and wait for results. The church also encourages brothers and sisters to take turns going to the known place of detainment, ask for information, show concern, and wait for results, thus sharing in the risks and carrying the cross together. If the police illegally enforce the law, and do not inform relatives of the place of detainment, the church should have pastors, elders, or preachers guiding brothers and sisters to use any legal means possible to seek, ask, and inquire about any possible premises of such illegal detainment. As long as the member’s whereabouts is unknown, we will not give up seeking and praying.

5. The church encourages brothers and sisters to use all legal means (such as voice recording, video, phone calls, letters, and in-person visits) to report the case to the police, to file complaints, to request a supervising police officer to be present, and to file appeals with the police or other government departments throughout the process of the religious case. And at appropriate future times, brothers and sisters should apply to the police and government departments to publicize records of questionings and other government documents, as well as exercise our civil rights and meet with the local representative of the People’s Congress to report and reflect the situation, as well as publish the facts of the religious case and religious persecution to the media and church members.

6. For any executive or criminal penalties taken against the church, the church will demand hearings according to the law, administrative reviews, administrative litigations, and complaints. As for individuals who persecute and severely violate the civil right to religious freedom, the church will bring criminal and civil charges according to the law against such a person. If a staff or member of the church is detained because of their faith and needs legal assistance, the church will raise and be responsible for all necessary funds.

IV. The bottom line of the church when faced with religious cases and persecutions

1. The church upholds the freedom to worship on the Lord’s day and other public gatherings. Under any circumstances, the church will not and cannot stop Sunday worship because of government pressures or threats. Except to protect the personal safety of invited speakers, the church will not cancel scheduled public gatherings because of government pressures or threats.

2. The church upholds the independence of the nature and function of our teaching. Under no circumstances should we change the calling to pastors and elders because of government pressures or threats, nor will we change the church’s pulpit plans or the content of the teaching, nor will we change the structure of church administration or pastoral methods.

3. The church adamantly upholds the stance of separation of church and state. Under no circumstances will our church accept any inspection, guidance, supervision, or teaching by the State Administration for Religious Affairs or other government departments, including installing cameras or organizing political and legal study. We also adamantly refuse to accept any demands to introduce politics or culture into the church, such as displaying the national flag, or singing the national anthem or other secular songs.

4. During Sunday worship in the church, we will respond to any police attack, interruption of the gathering, checking identification documents of members, and other such action with nonviolent disobedience. The church will do all it can to continue the gathering in a peaceful manner, and will under no circumstances willingly disperse, until the pastors, elders, teaching staff, and church members are being forcefully taken from the church building. In circumstances when pastors, elders, or preachers are forcefully taken from the church, other elders, preachers, deacons, and seminary students will continue leading the gathering, until there are no preachers with calling or ecclesiastical staff remaining to lead the gathering.

5. In other gatherings of the church, if the police demand to check identification documents of gathered people without obstructing the normal process of the gathering, the church can decide based on the circumstances whether or not to uphold a stance of disobedience. If the church decides to obey, the present members should be informed, and they have the right to decide on their own whether or not to cooperate with the police check. In the above circumstance of police attacking a church gathering, the church encourages any present believers to use their mobile phones to record and photograph, so as to preserve evidence for future complaints, charges, and for publishing the truth to the outside world. But when police prevent this by violence, we should peacefully stop recording.

6. When small groups and fellowship families are faced with interference by the police or the community, they should insist that family gatherings are a bottom line of faith that the church and Christians must uphold. Under no circumstances should we give up family gatherings. To any demand to stop or dissolve such gatherings from the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the police, or any other department, the church and staff refuse to obey.

7. Families meet in private residences. Without a search warrant, police do not have the right to enter residences, and have even less of a right to inspect the identification documents of those within the residence. Group leaders and families may demand according to the law that the police show their police identification, and dial 110 to verify such documentation. If necessary, please dial 110 to demand the presence of a supervising police officer. If the police demand to register gathering members, or to inspect identification documents of gathering members, we should adamantly refuse, and be willing to pay the price, until we and all gathered members are forcefully taken to the police station. The church also encourages small group members and present family members to record the entire process of police enforcement by phone, and save it as evidence for future complaints, charges, and proof for publishing the truth to the outside world. Only when police prevent this by violence, should we peacefully stop recording.

8. When the church loses its church building, or cannot enter the church building peacefully, we should do all we can to continue corporate worship. This includes searching for other permanent or temporary indoor places for meeting. If because of the government, no suitable indoor place for meeting can be found, the church will search for a suitable outdoor meeting place, and insist on continuing to gather for corporate worship.

9. Under no circumstances will the church willingly disperse or give up Sunday corporate worship, until pastors and all elders have lost their freedom, and church members leading corporate worship have been forcefully taken from the site. In circumstances when pastors, elders, or preachers are forcefully taken away, then other elders, preachers, deacons, and seminary students will continue leading corporate worship, until there are no preachers with calling or ecclesiastical staff remaining who can continue to lead the gathering. Afterwards, the church will make arrangements according to the risks, and divide corporate worship up into 5 to 10 groups of Sunday worship gatherings, which will continue to maintain the same form of Sunday corporate worship.

V. The church’s attitude concerning members being visited or interviewed by the police, or being pressured at work for reasons of their faith

1. The church encourages members to inform brothers and sisters in their group, as well as their shepherding elders and preachers, as soon as possible if visited or interviewed by the police, or if pressured at work for reasons of their faith. Then the small group and the entire church may pray in unity, and face such difficulties together.

2. The church encourages members to reject all requests for phone interviews by anyone claiming to be from the police or law enforcers from other departments. Members should only accept questioning and interviews in person after being shown documentation of authority and being informed of the relevant case details.

3. When police show up for an interview or demand questioning, members can insist according to the law that they show police identification, and record their information such as name, police number, and jurisdiction. If they are not willing to show identification, call 110 to verify the police’s identity, complain of the police’s illegal actions, and demand a supervising police officer to be present. If the member is alone at home, they should contact family members and the church before opening the door. They should send out texts, and use their phone to record or open a video call or some other method of live broadcast, before opening the door. When verifying the police’s identity, they should inform family members or other Christians by the on-going phone call or video call the name of the police, the reasons for questioning, the place they are being brought to, and all other information.

4. After police or other law enforcers show their identification, members may request according to law that they be informed of the events in which they are suspected of breaking the law (the reasons they may have violated the law) as well as the basis for such (the laws and regulations they may have violated). Members may also reject according to the law all unreasonable requests by law enforcers, or reject any illegal enforcement by the law enforcers, especially any forceful requests without legal basis by those who do not have the right to enforce the law (such as police assistants or community workers). As for any action that is suspect of being illegal enforcement, the church encourages members and families and any present believers to record and photograph the entire process by mobile phone, and save it as evidence for future complaints, charges, and publishing the truth to the outside world.

5. If the member’s work or school pressures or threatens them inappropriately because of their faith, unless said member strongly resists publicizing such or strongly resists church involvement, the church’s pastors, elders, or preachers will take initiative to contact the manager of the member’s work or school, to negotiate and communicate because of our faith. If necessary, the church will formally complain in writing against such inappropriate action and violation of our civil right to religious freedom. The church will also, at an appropriate time, publicize the truth of such religious persecution, and will assist members in taking legal action against their employers in protecting their legitimate rights.

6. Under any circumstance, if police become angry and use forceful tactics, whether or not they are abiding by the law and proper processes, may the Lord protect our hearts, taking away our passions and anger, so that we may cooperate and not resist physically. From the time of leaving our home to arriving at the place of questioning or interrogation, do not resist, but cooperate with any of the police’s illegal demands, such as surrendering your phone or turning on your computer. But take note of their name, police number, and the specific time.

VI. After coercive measures have been taken against a church member because of their faith, how do they answer interrogation and questioning?

1. Under no circumstances lie. Don’t attempt to play smart and protect the church or others by lying.

2. By the wisdom that comes from our faith and the gospel, be selective in answering questions, including refusing to answer any questions outside the scope of the relevant event or case.

3. Do not reveal any information about the church or others that is not public. Do not reveal any private information you learned from private communication with others.

4. Ask many questions, and avoid answering questions directly. Continually question the legality of the issue. Repeatedly ask to clarify the logic, laws, and religious aspects of the question’s content and meaning.

5. Continually elevate questions to presuppositions of the gospel and spirituality. Continually discuss and seek to clarify the questioner’s logic and all concepts relating to religion. On all things relating to religion, be bold in using the Bible and theological and religious language.

6. Before answering important or unclear questions, stop repeatedly to pray. When faced with obstruction, request case handlers to respect a Christian’s religion and practices according to Article 20, paragraph 4 of Police Law.

7. After interrogation or questioning is complete, you may request to add to or amend the transcript, including adding hand-written content. Do not sign any transcript with incorrect or missing information. If there are multiple copies or multiple transcripts, clearly label or write the version number of the transcript.

8. If case handlers violated law or used violence and threats, you may demand to avoid them in later interrogation or questioning. Also note their name and police number. If you cannot get their name or police number, remember the specific time, so that you may later apply to review the recording.

9. By God’s grace and help, do what you can to turn the interrogation into a process of sharing the gospel. Do what you can to turn the transcript into a gospel tract witnessing to Christ. Do what you can to turn the interrogation room into a meeting room for new visitors at church. View this as the highest goal in being questioned or interrogated for the sake of your faith.

10. In some circumstances, by God’s grace, choose to give no testimony when faced with illegal interrogation and questioning. When family is not informed of the premises of questioning or reasons for the case, or when appropriate requests to avoid someone are refused, or any other situation where the proper processes are not followed, refuse to answer all questions.

11. Hold to the first basic spiritual principle. That is, when coercive measures are taken, we must assume that any negative words the police say against the church or members must all be evil lies. Do not under any circumstances listen to the accusations, instigations, or negative discussion made by the police against the church, pastors, or members. Do not be so foolish as to suspect the church, family, or members when you have lost your personal freedom. By God’s grace, realize fully that this is irrational temptation under the attack of the Devil.

12. Hold to the second basic spiritual principle. That is, when coercive measures are taken and we lose our personal freedom, we must completely entrust our family and the church to the gospel of Christ’s grace. When being questioned or interrogated, we should not strategize our answers out of worry for them. Once we are cut off from the outside world, our responsibility lies only in being faithful to the Lord according to our Christian conscience. All others we entrust to the Lord, including the church and family who are currently free.

13. By God’s grace, avoid lightly answering questions out of fear. Carelessly, directly answering any illegal questioning or interrogation lacks a representation of the gospel, and risks falling into the temptation of betraying the church and members. If we are not sure whether or not a question would betray the church or harm brothers, then we refuse to answer on the basis that the question is not legal, and ask the police to do their own investigation.

14. When we are not able on our own to hold to the above principles, when we demonstrate clear betrayal, falling, and lying while isolated, we hold to this same spiritual principle: our only spiritual responsibility at this time is to rely on our Christian conscience, and repent to the Lord, so that we are forgiven by the Lord’s precious blood and recover a conscience without blemish. All other responsibilities (such as whether or not our words or actions endanger the church or members), we entrust to the Lord. At this time, if we have not met with a lawyer yet, we do not trust any advice the police gives, regardless of how kind and good any one of them may seem. We must fully realize that at this time they are being used by the Devil as evil tools to attack the Christian church and its faith. If they do not repent by grace, they and their family and descendants will suffer God’s curse and vengeance.

VII. The church’s attitude to pastors, staff, or members who are weak, fallen, and betray the Lord and their faith.

1. The church is fully considerate of members and staff in religious cases, understanding that they are under many pressures, and may temporarily stop attending church, apply for transfer of membership, leave without notice, resign from their position, give up hosting fellowship or other services because of weak faith. They may even distance themselves from the church or deny the faith. The church encourages brothers and sisters to treat them with lovingkindness, knowing that who we are today is fully because of God’s grace. Since it is because of God’s grace, it is received, and we must definitely not boast of the strength of our own faith, nor admonish members who are weaker in faith. Instead, we must exhort one another and watch over one another, waiting for Christ’s reviving work to arrive.

2. As for church staff or members who fall and sin in religious cases, such as lying, forming cliques, denouncing the church or staff, leaking information, accusing the church or pastors, dividing the church, joining the Three-Self, betraying church finances, church property, member information, the church will pray for them with a saddened heart, and ask that God give them a heart of repentance, and that by the grace of Christ’s resurrection, we may help, counsel, guide and wait for their repentance. At the same time, we will soberly carry out church discipline, publicly admonishing the sinner and the sin, in order that God’s true sons and daughters may thus feel shame and remorse, so that they may all the sooner stand back up, their sins forgiven, and their conscience unblemished.

3. For pastors, ecclesiastical staff, and full-time staff who fall as described in the above paragraph (2), in addition to praying for them, providing counseling, companionship, and carrying out church discipline, we also must cease all their ecclesiastical function and work in church, so as to protect God’s church, that church members may not fall into greater sin because of their fall. In such circumstances, the church will call the entire congregation to fast and pray, asking God’s forgiveness and pardon, and his protection of the church.

Original Article: 当警察来敲门(家庭教会版)

Notes

  1. ^ Editor’s note: The original article said there were eight sections but only included seven.
Image credit: Gaylan Yeung

ChinaSource Team

Written by members of the ChinaSource staff.  View Full Bio


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