After U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell talked with China's top leader, Jiang Zemin, a Chinese provincial court gave a last-minute reprieve to the founder of a growing evangelical church movement.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry passed the news to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in advance of a congressional delegation visit. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Congressmen Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) had asked the White House and Secretary Powell to intervene.

In December officials charged Gong Shengliang with using an "evil cult" to "undermine the enforcement of the law." The court had also convicted Gong of "crimes of rape and hooliganism."

The case is now on hold. The pastor, 46, founded the South China Church in 1990. It has 50,000 members in eight regions.

Gong was at one time a leader in Peter Xu's Born Again Movement, one of China's largest house church groups. Gong's group has an evangelical statement of faith called "God's Forever and Ever."

In another statement, "South China Thirteen Rules," the church says it aims to "bring the gospel to the whole nation, cultivate a Christlike culture, and create a nationwide church." That nationwide goal attracted government attention.

An August 2001 top-secret Public Security Bureau document used the "Thirteen Rules" to help it decide that the church was a cult. Li Shi-xiong of the New York-based Committee for the Investigation of Persecution of Religion in China provided a copy of that secret document to CT.

Four other South China Church leaders received suspended death sentences that could be commuted to life terms. The death sentences are the first against evangelicals under China's recent restrictions on religious groups using "anti-cult" regulations. At least one South ...

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