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Execution imminent for church leader sentenced to death in China

HONG KONG (BP)–The leader of an evangelical house church network in China’s Hubei province may be executed by the government Jan. 5, a Christian worker in East Asia says.

Gong Shengliang, 46, was convicted and sentenced to death Dec. 30 after a secret trial in Jingmen City. His niece, Li Ying, 36, also was given a death sentence suspended for two years.

Gong was accused of complicity in rape and using a cult to undermine the enforcement of law, stereotyped charges often leveled against groups the Chinese government has labeled as cults. Evangelical missionaries who know him, however, insist he practices traditional Christian doctrine and has been targeted because he refused to register his church with the government.

“After receiving an initial report (about the death sentence) a few days ago, we and our coworkers have made some investigations and discovered this group is not a cult at all but practices fundamental evangelical Christian doctrine,” said a missions researcher who specializes in China.

“In fact, this group was an offshoot from one of the major house church networks in China that we closely work with.”

House church leaders in China told the researcher, “If this group is a cult, then we all are cults.”

The Chinese government labels a group a cult solely on the basis of whether or not it has registered with the government’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement church, he said. No theological standards are used to distinguish a group from orthodox Christianity.

Gong’s 50,000-member South China Church “and all the other house church networks in China have refused to register and so are labeled ‘cults,'” he said. “This then allows the government to deal with them as they like.”

Unlike many cults, the South China Church operated openly, the Compass Direct news service reported. In April 2000, the group issued a public invitation to Christian workers to attend a conference in central China. Heretical cults usually operate in secrecy.

Charges similar to those leveled against Gong also were made against two cult leaders who were executed in 1995 and 1999, Compass Direct said. The truth of the charges against Gong cannot be assessed because the trial was conducted in secret and the government has made no information available to the public.

The sentences against Gong and his niece came after a Communist Party conference on religious affairs in early December 2001 that called for tightened control of all religions. The South China Church was added to the list of banned religious sects in April 2000.

Fifteen other members of the church also were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two years to life. Those sentences are being appealed.

“We do not know if Gong has already been killed or not,” the researcher said. “One unofficial source told our coworkers that the execution is scheduled to take place tomorrow, Jan. 5.

“It is quite likely that this man is a genuine brother in the Lord who has been targeted by the government because of his faith and the growth of his unregistered church,” he added. “Let’s pray God’s will be done in this matter, and that if the Lord would have him spared that God himself would intervene and save him.”

    About the Author

  • Mark Kelly