(RNS) After applying for an internship with the China Soul for Christ Foundation, a 23-year-old university student found herself in a Paris hotel bed with the foundation’s famous founder, Yuan Zhiming, according to a new independent investigation.
The unnamed woman’s story is laid out in the investigation by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), a Virginia-based nonprofit founded by one of Billy Graham’s grandsons, Boz Tchividjian.
The student said she had two encounters with Yuan in September 2013.
“He started saying that he was lonely and that he needed to have company,” she said.
The woman stayed with him part of the first night as they watched a soft-porn feature film. The next evening, she refused his request and left.
Yuan is recognized as one of the leading preachers and theologians for the global Chinese Christian community, which has at least 70 million Christians in China and more overseas.
The GRACE report highlights the chronic difficulty of Chinese churches, many of which are independent, in holding their pastoral leaders accountable.
“Rev. Yuan and (China Soul) stand on the threshold of a unique opportunity that could allow them to be a powerful example of authentic Christian repentance to those inside and outside of the Chinese community,” the report says.
The GRACE report said the woman’s account was credible because five individuals corroborated her narrative during interviews with a professional investigator in Paris.
Yuan, through his attorney, denied any wrongdoing with the student.
During the past year, Yuan has been on sabbatical after being accused of raping an acquaintance, Chai Ling, in 1990. Yuan said he was guilty of “sexual iniquity,” but not rape, when the two met in Chai’s apartment.
Both Yuan and Chai were dissidents during the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests and later converted to Christianity after fleeing to the United States.
A leading filmmaker in the 1980s, Yuan became a Christian after arriving the U.S. He produced the renowned four-hour documentary “The Cross: Jesus in China.”
In recent months, Yuan has returned to international ministry, causing deep concern among leaders in the Chinese church.
“I found Yuan’s pattern disgustingly similar,” Chai said, referring to her experience with Yuan in 1990. “He identifies an innocent and trusting young woman, isolating her into a one-on-one situation, in the name of discussing the movement, or job, or religion or spiritual matter. He surprises his targets with a premeditated pornographic or sexual explicit video; while they were in shock, he strikes.”
Jackson Wu, a leading theologian, church planter and author, reviewed the report and said many Christians will criticize the college student for being naïve. “Those criticisms, however, overlook a key value in Chinese culture -- respect for authority,” he said.
“Let’s not forget also that Yuan held the power to grant her an internship.”
(Timothy C. Morgan is an RNS correspondent)