China's New Legal Eagles
"We pray that a Chinese Martin Luther King will arise from the church in China," say Christian leaders of the new Human Rights Protection Movement (HRPM).
These lawyers, pastors, journalists, and human rights leaders across China are trying out the strategies of the historic American civil rights movement, using litigation, media publicity, and nonviolent protests.
Fan Yafeng, an influential constitutional scholar in Beijing, says, "We are seeing the intersection of law and religion in China. More and more Chinese public intellectuals say that only Christianity can provide a solid foundation for the rule of law in China."
Inspired by examples of American civil rights activists, such as the freedom riders of 1961, HRPM members travel at a moment's notice to fight injustice and defend villagers thrown off their land, persecuted believers of any religion, and the human rights of all.
Four years ago, the Human Rights Protection Movement began with about 24 members. Now there are 300. HRPM lawyers are official legal counsel for the Chinese House Church Alliance, established in 2004 to represent 300,000 members of smaller independent churches. The lawyers also represent older house church networks. The demand for legal services is high. On average, they receive 30 requests per week.
In the beginning, Chinese church leaders were wary of the civil rights movement. The older generation believed suffering silently for Christ was more ennobling than actively opposing injustice.
Older leaders were more likely to emphasize a Bible-only approach that viewed scholarship as worldly. Fan recalls that in 1997 his church in Beijing ordered him to read only the Bible and to cease his academic ...