China detains prominent activist pastor and over 100 worshippers

China detained Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church and more than 100 of the church's members in a series of coordinated raids starting Sunday night, a church leader told The Wall Street Journal.

Chinese officials have threatened to close the church, which sits in the central city of Chengdu, by the end of the year in order to enforce new regulations on religious organizations, several congregants told the Journal.

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Wang, a prominent activist, has been a vocal critic of President Xi Jinping and has organized resistance to the new regulations, which require all churches to be registered. 

Early Rain organized a petition in February condemning the crackdown on churches that attempt to remain independent from state religious authorities. Wang's was the first signature on the document.

"He’s the bravest pastor in China today," the Rev. Hong Yujie, a longtime friend of Wang's who is based in Vancouver, told the Journal. 

The Journal reported that Chengdu's Public Security Bureau and the religious-affairs regulator as well as China's national religious regulator did not immediately respond to faxed requests for comment.

Wang and Early Rain worshippers have been detained before and were released after a few hours or days, according to the paper.

The latest arrests are part of a wider crackdown on religious worship in China. Officials have closed unregistered churches and removed crosses and onion domes from some official churches and mosques.

State Department official Scott Busby also told lawmakers that China has detained somewhere between 800,000 to more than 2 million Muslim ethnic minorities in camps where they are tortured and coerced to renounce their beliefs.

On Saturday, Wang published a manifesto on social media titled "Meditations on the Religious War," the Journal reported.

In it, he urged Chinese Christians to commit civil disobedience and argued that the Communist Party has instituted "Caesar worship" by making politics into a religion that elevates Xi. 

Wang wrote that such an ideology is “morally incompatible with the Christian faith and with all those who uphold freedom of the mind and thought.”

A leader at Early Rain said the church would stand firm and services would continue.

"Some house churches have to sacrifice," he told the Journal. "We are willing to do it."