F&A Series: What has Jerusalem got to do with Hong Kong? How Christian Voices are being heard in the midst of Hong Kong Protests (Part 2 of 2)

Ann Gillian Chu is a PhD (Divinity) candidate in the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics at St Mary’s College in the University of St Andrews. Her doctoral research investigates how Christians conceptualise civic engagement in light of Hong Kong’s resistance movements. Follow her on Twitter: @agillianchu

In the previous post, I framed the current situation in Hong Kong by illustrating and analysing my experiences in the field, Hong Kong, as an insider researcher. Currently, the communication breakdown in the Hong Kong Christian community is divided along pro-establishment and pro-democracy lines. In this post, I will provide a nuanced perspective of both sides’ theological and political convictions, and propose a way forward through applying the concept of incarnational humanism.

Theological Convictions and Political Convictions

And how did we get to this point where nobody can hear anyone else? Christians in Hong Kong have been involved in pro-establishment and pro-democracy debates both as activists and actively dissuading activism, and this has to do directly with their theological convictions.[1]

The pro-establishment Hong Kong Christians who side with the government want access to China for evangelical and human welfare goals. They believe that, without a good relationship and mutual trust with the Chinese government, this essential pastoral and almsgiving work cannot happen. From their perspective, governments come and go, but the Gospel is here to stay, so Christians cannot bypass opportunities for evangelism to bring about a worldly government that might be more just and democratic. Holders of this perspective include some laypersons and leaders from the Anglican Church (Sheng Kung Hui) and the Evangelical Free Church of China. They often cite Romans 13, on being subject to earthly authorities, as mandating that Christians should submit to the established government.

On the other side of the divide, some pro-democracy Hong Kong Christians view the current governmental structures as unjust. Some Anabaptists, a subset of Baptists distinguished by their nonviolence convictions, believe they cannot participate in the current government structure as pacifists and conscientious objectors. Meanwhile, there are some from Methodist and other Mainline denominations who work toward radically reforming the existing regime to make it more just through civic participation and other forms of activism.[2] Some from these pro-democracy groups would rebuke the pro-establishment Christians, asking why they do not read Revelations 13 instead of Romans 13, since Revelations 13 calls for Christians not to bow down to the beast with ‘great authority’ as the beast is blasphemous and its powers, given by the dragon, are evil. The pro-democracy Hong Kong Christians cite Revelations 13 to highlight that pro-establishment Hong Kong Christians are cherry-picking Bible verses to suit their political agenda by playing the same game. They instead advocate for understanding the current situation in Hong Kong through the overarching Christian story.

In each group, political and theological convictions are intertwined, which leads to a hardening of perspective—each views the other side as not grounded in biblical teachings, or not ‘real’ followers of Jesus. From this fragmented state, can Christians be considered a community unified by faith? I would argue that, if Hong Kong Christians believe in ‘one body and one Spirit, […] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:4-6 NRSV), then different political stances and somewhat varied statements of faith should not be barriers to the unity of Hong Kong Christian believers. But where can this community go from here?

A Proposal

If the goal of Hong Kong Christians is merely to blame others for everything that they perceive as wrong in society, then the current state of affairs will serve. But if members of the Hong Kong Christian community desire to understand others, who might be their mothers, sisters, and daughters, and might hold slightly or very different opinions from their own, then some subversive actions within the community is necessary. How can we begin to see each other as humans and respect each other’s dignity, like Jesus, who was once incarnated in human form to redeem humanity? This approach considers human flourishing—and all our efforts toward freedom, sociality, and relationality—as based on the imago dei. We can acknowledge the pain and hurt of each human being, rather than just succumbing to conspiracy theories of political interference by foreign agencies or mainland China and seeing those different from us as a faceless mass. Theology and politics affect one another, as God is in everything, so not only is it unfair to say that people with divergent opinions are motivated by political agendas or monetary gain alone, but it is also inaccurate and unhelpful. Can we bracket our disbelief (epoché) of positions different from our own for genuine togetherness and common grief to begin?

One way forward I see is through shared grief. If there is no room for any dialogue for the fear derived from the implementation of national security law,[3] removing legislators,[4] and terminating teaching licences and tenured professors,[5] can we at least mourn these losses together as fellow humans? Now is not the time to come to a consensus or even to embrace differences but to grieve together. Those who are still living feel like they are in danger even where they consider to be home. Incarnational humanism proposes that suffering can be turned toward self-knowledge; the current situation in Hong Kong makes a good starting point to contemplate how incarnational humanism can work on the ground.[6]

Jens Zimmermann proposes incarnational humanism, which argues that Christ’s incarnation in human form affirms the dignity of nature and humanity, and that only through the restoration of our communion with the Maker do we begin to live an abundant life that is fully human in our present historical-cultural situation and in our particular vocation.[7] This means we as Hong Kong Christians need to think of how our humanity can be understood within the context of Hong Kong, our tradition as Christians, and our role as humans in God’s creation. Even when we are critical thinkers, our thoughts and ideas do not come about in a vacuum, but rather, through our experiences of our sociopolitical context and from our shared tradition. If nothing else, many in Hong Kong feel angry, tired of being misunderstood, and exhausted by too much news. The pro-establishment group might have imagined a smooth and stable transition into Chinese rule, while the pro-democrats might have imagined a democracy or even independence. Can we grieve together for these sociopolitical futures we all imagined that will never come to fruition, even if each person’s wish for Hong Kong’s future is very different? This conversation can start in the church first, where we have more than one common identity. We are still one people in Christ, in ethnicity, in culture, and in language, and we are still in pain.

Written by: Ann Gillian Chu

Image Credit: Joseph Chan (@yulokchan) @Unsplash

References

Klassen, Norman, and Jens Zimmermann. The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006. Kindle Edition.


[1] The Christian church has been involved in Hong Kong protests for a long time. I previously wrote a post on the history of Hong Kong protests and Christian churches’ response from 1960s to 2019: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/religionglobalsociety/2019/12/hong-kong-city-of-protests-city-of-god/

[2] Localists in Hong Kong would not see themselves in line with democrats, whom they believe do not use radical enough means to get the Chinese government to listen. However, localists make up a very small percentage in the Christian community, and the majority of pro-democracy Christians would consider themselves to be democrats rather than localists. Localists usually employ vandalism as a tactic, which is not in line with what most in Hong Kong consider to be Christian values.

[3] For further information on the Hong Kong national security law, see https://www.isd.gov.hk/nationalsecurity/eng/

[4] For further information on Hong Kong pro-democracy legislators being removed from office, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/11/china-pro-democracy-hong-kong-lawmakers-opposition-oust

[5] There were primary school teachers and tenured university professors terminated, possibly due to their political stance. For more information, see https://www.thestandard.com.hk/section-news/section/11/221357/Benny-Tai-sacked

[6] Klassen and Zimmermann, The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education. 161.

[7] Ibid., 16, 151.

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