Purdue Symposium 2014

Religious Freedom and Chinese Society: A Symposium of Case Analysis


Religious Freedom and Chinese Society: A Symposium of Case Analysis was held at Purdue University on May 5-7, 2014. The symposium gathered together over thirty clergies, attorneys and educators who have made important contributions to the active promotion, protection and fight for religious freedom and rights in China. Concerned with the increasing deprivation of rights in contemporary China, participants had in-depth discussions and heated debates on the relationship between religious belief and citizen’s rights and between religious freedom and state power, and the multiple dimensions of rights defense.


Rev. Thomas Wang, one of the most prominent leaders of Chinese Christianity provided a theological analysis of the origin of spiritual life, averring that Christians should rely on God’s grace to serve as the light and salt of this dark world and shoulder social responsibilities. Rev. Wang Yi, Senior Pastor of Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu, examined the Christian view of justice. Rev. Wang argued that absolute justice will only be actualized on the Day of Judgment when Jesus Christ comes back. Prior to that time, what we should do is to continuously acknowledge our own unrighteousness so that we can equip ourselves with God’s justice to act in the world of injustice. We can then understand that justice is realized in history, but also negates historical justice. The Christian view of justice may be a spiritual resource for those fighting for justice in today’s China to avoid moralistic self-righteousness or self-reproof. Rev. Yujian Hong from Canada traced the varied views of “human rights” in Western and Eastern histories and how Christianity has made important contributions to the development of contemporary views of human rights. Rev. Hong also criticized the secular humanistic view of human rights.


Dr. Teng Biao, a renowned rights-defense lawyer, discussed the origination of rights-defense movement in contemporary China, its multifarious forms and enabling social conditions. Dr. Teng asserted that the relentless crackdown on rights-defense movement results from the inevitable conflict between the Chinese government’s “stability maintenance” efforts and Chinese people’s fight for their rights. Although such crackdown has never halted, nor has it slacked up, human-rights defense movement has not been damped down, but rather grown to become organized, politicized and publicized by way of taking to the streets. Rights-defense lawyers have increased in number, are demonstrating greater solidarity and commanding higher moral prestige. Dr. Teng believed that rights-defense movement has been playing a pivotal role in advancing China’s democratic transition.


Participants agreed in unanimity that in Mainland China Christian house-churches have become the pioneer in the fight for Chinese citizens’ right to religious freedom, the most fundamental human right. Rev. Ezra Jin, Senior Pastor of Beijing Zion Church and one of the few church leaders who first proposed that Chinese house-churches went public, delivered a speech entitled “For Our Faith, and for Our Society.” Rev. Jin suggested that as it is about to mark its 60th anniversary, Chinese house-church movement be regarded as a type of non-violent civil disobedience movement, from which vintage point Chinese house-churches are seen to have formed the biggest civil rights movement in China: it is organized, faith-based, internationally supported, and firmly rooted in the Gospel for spiritual inspiration, engaging in civil disobedience in protestation against right abuse and right deprivation by the government. Rev. Jin called on Chinese house-churches to be absolutely clear about the nature of the movement and to try their best to make house-churches better understood by the wider society. Rev. Jin also admonished Chinese house-churches about caring for everybody’s rights, not just Christians’ and advised against indifference to right abuse afflicted upon people outside the Christian community. Rev. Tongsu Liu, Senior Pastor of Mountain View Chinese Christian Church in California stated that although under the Neo-totalitarian regime the Chinese people have enjoyed trickles of freedom in the sphere of private life, they do not have personal autonomy due to lack of the fundamental right to religious freedom. Chinese house-churches have been practicing their religion, which is essentially public, in the sphere of private life, blazing the trail for religious freedom. House-churches are now en route toward publicization, which means they are coming out of the “houses” hidden from public view and adopting a public form befitting to Christianity. Rev. Liu believed that when enough people start to follow the model of house-churches, religious freedom and public life will be legally recognized and guaranteed in China.


The right to education, freedom of publication, freedom of speech, and freedom of association, etc. are secondary rights derived from the fundamental right to religious freedom. Rev. Wang Yi pointed out that the Chinese Constitution, which ensures the dominance of the Communist Party’s leading ideology, makes it illegal for people to receive religious education. Rev. Wang offered a theological analysis of the necessity for Christian education and proposed that Christian churches be crystal clear on their mission to break down conventions, bring out the tension between secular state power and spiritual church, and to suffer together with the rest of society through protecting the right to religious education. Rev. Wang, Ms. Cindy Lien, co-founder of At Home Academy, and Mr. Willie Xu, President and Principal of Morning Star Education Group shared the respective operational models of the Christian schools they operate and the experiences of how they handled government suppression. They pointed out that neither Chinese Christians nor churches have an adequate understanding of the importance of Christian education. Mr. Xu reported that Christian education in China is on the rise, regional and national networks are forming, and online education and Christian colleges are about to emerge soon. Mr. Ling Cangzhou, a famous writer and media veteran introduced the myriad laws and regulations related to religious publication and how they have created a “Kafkaesque castle” that strangles the publication of the Bible. Rights-defense lawyer Mr. Xue Rongmin talked about how he and his colleagues convened a “lawyer team” to defend the legal rights of their clients in the cases of lawyer Wang Quanzhang and Chen Baocheng, journalist of Money magazine. He proposed that lawyers and journalists are natural allies, which the other participants concurred.


The symposium held six case analyses sections. In the section of “political-legal institutions vs. rights defense,” Mr. Zhu Mingyong, a lawyer from Beijing retold how much spiritual strengths he witnessed religious faith gave to his clients. Mr. Yu Shijun, a lawyer from Jiangsu disclosed unfair and selective law enforcement in the Changshu Case. Mr. Yu indicated that self-defense as a legal right has vanished in China, a clear reflection of the shielding of the privileged class, maintenance of public power and brazen violation of citizens’ rights on the part of the Chinese government. Mr. Yan Huafeng, a lawyer from Zhejiang Province traced the development of the case of peasants accused of mass violence against government buildings in Jingzhou Village, Jixi County of Zhejiang Province. He spoke about the prevalence of police brutality in mass incidents and how the “release on bail” system has degenerated into government officials’ rent-seeking device and means to control the accused. Oftentimes public power openly and swiftly defames the accused. Mr. Yan argued that criminal procedure law in China cannot protect the innocent from criminal liability, because 1) China’s public security and judicial organs are defined as the Communist Party’s hilt, a.k.a. the government’s control apparatus, 2) the rate of acquittals has dropped dramatically in recent years, 3) legislation has deteriorated gravely, 4) judges tend to undervalue life and freedom, and 5) it is very hard for lawyers’ suggestions to be adopted. Mr. Wang Jun, a lawyer from Beijing compared and contrasted the Hu-Wen administration and the Xi regime. President Xi strives to regenerate social cohesion around the Party-State through posing as a charismatic leader, while enhancing the concentration of power in domestic politics and taking a tougher line in foreign relations in order to boost nationalism. Mr. Wang discussed the strategies Chinese churches could employ when dealing with the current regime.


In the “urban house-churches’ right defense” section, former minister of Beijing Shouwang Church Oscar Yan and current elder Liu Guan of the same church spoke about how the purpose of Shouwang’s outdoor service shifted from “merely for worship” to a clearly defined rights-defense movement. Oscar Yan argued that non-violent civil disobedience was not in line with what the Bible says. He proposed to revisit the tradition of prophetic protestation in the Book of Exodus and explore possible models of action for house-churches’ rights-defense movement. Rev. Ezra Jin commended Shouwang Church for being a path-breaker in the struggle for existence as a voluntary organization. Rev. Jin criticized those who thought what Shouwang has been doing was too premature. He called for support of the publicization movement of house-churches exemplified by Shouwang through public petitioning and writing articles, etc. Rev. Jin appealed to the rights-defense lawyers to give attention, suggestions and help to Shouwang Church. Relating to two rights-defense events at Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu, Rev. Wang Yi maintained that a difference exists between an individual person’s rights-defense endeavor and a church’s. Because the gospel requires churches serve as testimonies for Jesus Christ in the public sphere through suffering in the world, it is (theologically) illegitimate for a church to seek legal redress for extraneous reasons other than its own autonomy or the evangelical and apologetic missions in the public sphere. It is legitimate, on the other hand, for an individual to do so. A church must demonstrate the freedom solely rooted in the gospel and must become the practitioner of such freedom in the public sphere, regardless of whether it is written in the Chinese Constitution or not or whether it is implemented.


Shortly before the opening of the symposium, the new Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province was demolished. The Symposium held a special session on “the cause and effect of church demolition and cross removal in Zhejiang Province.” Pastor Zheng Leguo and Rev. Oscar Yan who were among the leaders supervising round-the-clock church protection actions detailed the development of events. They stressed that it took twelve years for the construction of Shanjiang Church to come to completion. In 2007 Zhejiang Provincial Civil Affairs Bureau gave the green light to build the church. Although in 2009 the Planning Bureau of Zhejiang indicated disapproval, Wenzhou City government acquiesced to expanding the scale of the building project and even encouraged it by setting it up as a “municipal model project.” Behind the deplorable fate of the church is religious persecution disguised under the poor excuse that the building broke planning rules. Sorting through the propaganda videos and public and internal documents of the government that he managed to locate, the US-based Rev. Man De provided an analysis on how the Chinese government’s recent “three removal, one demolition” actions have unabashedly taken Christianity for its target, rather than any other religion, and constituted a draconian crackdown on Christianity’s tenacious pursuit for publicization and legalization in order to stunt its growth. Rev. Man De presented the various ways Christians have used in rights-defense in the face of religious persecution and suggested measures for rights-defense within China and without. The lawyers in the audience commented that the Sanjiang Church made a major mistake by not hiring lawyers. However, not a single person who had the capacity to entrust a lawyer could be found. Prof. Fenggang Yang at Purdue University proposed that Chinese Christian Church give serious consideration to the adoption of episcopalism. The fact that many churches do not have clear leadership may be the Achilles’ heel for their future development.


In the session of “rights-defense of churches within the ‘Three-Self’ system” discussions surrounded the Nanle Case where the Three-Self sanctioned church pastor Zhang Shaojie and over a dozen believers were illegally detained in Nanle County, Henan Province. Mr. Xia Jun, a rights-defense lawyer currently on exile in the United States, did a slide show of photos that displayed how the lawyers were beaten and robbed by the police and the thugs they hired and how he used the media to tell the truth of what happened. Mr. Wen Yu from Guangdong Province explained how he helped prepare his clients and their family members against possible defamation by the public power. Mr. Wen argued that the fraud charge in this case was without merit because there was no victim; his clients were obviously framed. He underlined the appalling fact that the public power made arrest first and then tried to find “evidence” later. Tracing the historical transformation of the Chinese Three-Self Movement, Rev. Li Yading, who studied and worked in the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary for fifteen years, averred that leaders of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the China Christian Council (CCC), as well as pastors and elders of lower level churches are appointed by the government, rather than democratically elected, and many of them are actually Communist Party members. The government has a firm grip on the organizational, personnel and financial matters of TSPM and CCC, which indicates that “three-self” is merely nominal and they are actually controlled by the Party-state. Government officials talk the talk of Enlightenment atheism, but at bottom they adhere to militant atheism, which explains why churches and people from the Three-Self system are not safe from the government’s suppression and persecution.


In the session of “rights-defense of Christian denominations, radical sects and cults,” Mr. Chen Jiangang, a rights-defense lawyer from Beijing and Mr. Li Guisheng, a lawyer from Guizhou, spoke on what they did as defense counsels for believers of “the Shouters” in Ye County, Pingdingshan, Henan Province who were convicted in the trial of first instance of the crime of “using a cult to undermine law enforcement.” Mr. Li explained his defense strategies, including writing open letters to levy pressure of public opinion on public power, and requesting that bystanders in the courtroom disclose their identities, atheists involved in the court hearing withdraw themselves on account of conflict of belief, and the defense be allowed to bring in witnesses, etc. Through these strategies the defense lawyers dragged out the hearing process as long as possible so that the media would keep reporting on the case, wearing down the public power executioners and itching their conscience. Mr. Wang Hongjie, a lawyer from Guangzhou, talked about how he used tactics such as “early defense” and “in-depth defense” to achieve the goals of rights-defense for his clients. Mr. Xu Ping, a lawyer from Beijing reported on the religious case of the so-called “Three Grades of Servants” church. This Christian group did not call themselves by this time, but the government gave it this label in order to single it out as a heretical sect and alienate it from the greater Christian community. Although the defense team consisting of over thirty well-known rights-defense lawyers mounted a powerful defense, it could not shake the government’s determination to eradicate this group. In the end the three top leaders of the group were sentenced to death on the grounds that their Bible teachings allegorically alluded to their murderous intentions. Mr. Xu said the absurdity in the verdict was unprecedented.


Mr. Li Guisheng opened the session of “rights-defense of other religions and the so-called ‘evil cults’” by speaking about his experiences defending Falungong practitioners. He maintained that for cases that are already under prosecution, defense counsels should try to make a big deal out of any possible procedural loopholes in order to lay more administrative resources to waste and make the public power reluctant to commit more reckless arrests and bring prosecutions. Mr. Li stressed that defense counsels should get involved in lawsuits as early as possible, taking action right after their clients are arrested and challenging the legitimacy of the arrest warrants so as to stop the public power from further violating the clients’ rights. Mr. Chen Jiangang argued that none of the so-called “evil cults” prosecuted in the lawsuits that he has handled was truly an “evil cult” as none aimed to commit crimes against humanity. What lies behind the veneer of judicial justice in “evil cult” cases is political persecution. Commonplace in these cases are illegal collection of evidence, extortion of confession by torture, detention beyond the legally prescribed time limits, and even physical harm on the part of the public power. Mr. Chen asserted that the significance of rights-defense in religious cases helps enhance citizens’ awareness of their lawful rights and give people a chance to witness how lawyers fight for their rights, elevating the lawyers’ moral prestige. Rev. Man De pointed out that contention between orthodoxy and heterodoxy usually takes place among religions on doctrinal bases and the state does not have the authority to define and criminalize “evil cult.” In China where Marxist communism is the establishment religion, threat to the Party-state’s rule motivates the criminalization of “evil cult.” Mr. Chen Jiangang and Rev. Man De forewarned Christians not to make the mistake of rejoicing over the government’s crackdown on “evil cults.” They asserted that every religion, especially Christianity, should come to the help of any other religion whose rights are violated, which led to lively discussions among the participants. They agreed that there is an urgent need to raise public awareness on this issue.


Mr. Zhang Kai, a rights-defense lawyer, provided a comprehensive analysis of the moral law (Dao), circumstances (shi) and tactics (shu) in the practices of rights-defense. Drawing from the Bible and Sun Tze’s The Art of War, Mr. Zhang proposed to evaluate strategically whether to assume an antagonistic stand toward the public power or not and how to maximize desirable outcome, take into account the multiple factors of “heaven” (tian), “earth” (di), and people (ren), create favorable circumstances, keep a victor’s mentality by actively controlling one’s mood, and mount a tough fight against a clearly defined target, better still, a target that is already isolated.


Through three-days of engaging discussions, some consensus was reached about religious freedom. After further discussion among the symposium participants, a text entitled “Purdue Consensus on Religious Freedom” was generated so that the understanding of religious freedom can be spread and greater attention can be paid to the issues of religious freedom in China. The text and signatories of the Purdue Consensus on Religious Freedom are made public on May 14, 2014. 

By Jun Lu

Purdue Symposium 2014

“Purdue Consensus on Religious Freedom” with Signatories




“Religious Freedom and Chinese Society: A Symposium of Case Analysis” was held on May 5-7, 2014 at Purdue University. The participants included lawyers, ministers, and scholars. Through engaging discussions, some consensus was reached. Consequently, some participants proposed to draft a text of consensus for signatures so that the understanding of religious freedom can be spread and greater attention can be paid to the issues of religious freedom in China. The text was finalized after further discussion by the symposium participants. The text and signatories of the Purdue Consensus on Religious Freedom are made public today (May 14, 2014).


For those who want to support this consensus, please send an email to religiousfreedom2014@gmail.com. Please include at least this information: your full name, profession, and residence.


“Purdue Consensus on Religious Freedom” with Signatories


We are deeply concerned about the following reality:


1. China’s Constitution and law lack a clear definition of and sufficient protection for religious freedom.


2. Misunderstanding, violation, discrimination and persecution abound with regard to religious freedom in legal and social practices of China.


3. As a result, intellectuals and the general public in China lack an understanding of and a basic consensus on the value and implications of religious freedom.


In accordance with the definition and protection of religious freedom prescribed by a series of international covenants on human rights, we hold the following beliefs:


1. Religious freedom encompasses not only individual freedom of conscience and the freedom to express belief or disbelief in a religion, but also the freedom of family members (adults and children) to adhere to and to express their religious faith, the freedom of parents to instruct their children in their religious faith, the freedom of parents to choose religious education for their children, and the freedom of children to practice their religion and receive the religious education chosen for them by their parents. Religious freedom also encompasses the freedom of religious groups to practice their faith, to worship together, to establish religious venues, to use religious symbols, to publish religious books, and to disseminate religious faith.


2. Religious freedom is a basic and core value of modern nations and societies. Without full protection of religious freedom, other freedoms such as the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression, the freedom of thought, the freedom of academic pursuit, the freedom of family, and the freedom of education that are guaranteed by the Constitution will not be fully protected in reality.


3. Religious freedom implies that religious faiths and non-religious systems, whether in private or in public, are entitled to equality with respect to free expression and legal standing. Neither religious nor non-religious systems shall be deemed negative and discriminated against.


4. Religious freedom implies a constraint on state power, i.e. the state cannot pass judgment on any religious or non-religious system as doctrinally or morally right or wrong, good or bad, let alone penalize citizens on basis of such judgment. Neither can the state make any religious or non-religious system the basis for the state’s legitimacy and accord it a preferential legal status.


5. Religious freedom implies that the state has no right or moral authority to distinguish between “legitimate religion” and “feudal superstition,” between “orthodox religion” and “heterodox cult,” between “orthodoxy” and “heresy.” Members of any traditional or emerging religion shall not be subject to government censorship or legal judgment for merely believing, expressing, disseminating, or practicing their religious faith.


To that end, we fervently appeal that:


In legal and public life, all Chinese citizens, irrespective of their religion, denomination, and non-religious system, have the responsibility to respect, to protect, and to fight for the above principles and values of religious freedom.




Yang Fenggang
Rev. Wang Yongxin
(Thomas Wang)
Rev. Liu Tongsu Rev. Wang Yi Attorney Teng Biao
Zhang Kai
Rev. Hong Yujian Rev. Fu Xiqiu
(Bob Fu)
Mr. Ling Cangzhou Attorney Xia Jun
Rev. Man De
(Guo Baosheng)
Rev. Yan Xin’en
(John Yan)
 Mr. Wu Chaoyang Attorney
Chen Jian’gang
Rev. Jin Mingri
(Ezra Jin)
Li Xiongbing
Attorney Li Heping Dr. Liu Junning Professor
Zhang Qianfan
Professor Sun Yi
Rev. Chen Yaomin Rev. Jin Zhongquan Rev. Wang Baoluo
(Paul Wang)
Zhang Peihong
Mr. Zan Aizong
Rev. Li Yading Mr. Chen Yongmiao Attorney Li Subin Attorney
Li Fangping
Attorney Sui Muqing
Jiang Tianyong
Attorney Sun Guodi Professor
Xing Fuzeng
(Ying Fuk-Tsang)
Dr. Zhang Zhipeng Mr. Zhu Ruifeng
Rev. Wang Wenfeng Attorney
Zhuang Daohe
Attorney Tang Jitian Attorney
Xiao Fanghua
Wang Cheng
Tang Jingling
Attorney Liu Shihui Mr. Fan Xuede Dr. Xia Yeliang Rev. Liu Fenggang
Rev. Li Yading Mr. Chen Yongmiao Attorney Li Subin Attorney
Li Fangping
Attorney Sui Muqing
Mr. Liu Guan Rev. Wang Zhiyong (Paul Wang) Rev. Zhang Boli Attorney
Zhang Liheng
Chen Zuoren (Stephen Chan)
Liu Weiguo
Sze-Kar Wan