The religious force has played a major role in many social upheavals. It’s probably because the religious sector has a natural inclination towards such values as justice, social responsibility and freedom.
Thus, it’s not surprising that the three leaders of the pro-democracy Occupy Movement — Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming — are avowed Christians.
While the campaign for genuine universal suffrage has been positioned as a civil disobedience, it is widely believed to draw much support from the Christian community, who looks to Jesus Christ as a model in the fight for social justice.
However, Reverend Peter Koon, provincial secretary general of the Hong Kong Anglican Church, has called on the three Occupy leaders to stop playing lead roles in the campaign as their action could embarrass the Church as a whole.
Koon stressed that no religion should encourage people to break the law, and that the prolonged occupation of streets could descend into anarchy. He urged the protesters to return the roads to the public and to accept Beijing’s electoral reform framework before seeking its revision in the future.
Church leaders — and everyone else, for that matter — have the right to express their personal views on the Occupy Movement.
But Koon, by speaking about the proper attitude of Christians towards the Occupy campaign, is expressing not only his personal views but speaking as one of the leaders of the Hong Kong Anglican Church.
In fact, his views echo those of the head of the local Anglican Church, the Most Reverend Paul Kwong, who said earlier this year that Christians should remain silent in the face of social conflicts as Jesus was silent on the cross.
But we should also remember that the two leaders of the Hong Kong Anglican Church are occupying secular positions, and therefore, their views, especially on such secular matters as the Occupy campaign, are a reflection of their secular positions.
Koon has just accepted his appointment as a consultant of Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank established by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa to study and promote government policies. Archbishop Kwong, on the other hand, is a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a Communist Party-controlled advisory body.
If the three leaders of the Occupy Movement are in the forefront of the fight for democracy, Kwong and Koon, by virtue of their ties with the Hong Kong government and the central authorities, are also standing on the frontline, although on the opposite side.
Some local Anglicans have spoken among themselves how times have changed, how different it was during the time of Reverend Bishop Ronald Owen Hall, who spoke about Christ’s teachings on social justice.
Many young Anglicans, in particular, are bewildered over what their church leaders are saying about the pro-democracy campaign, about their fight for a better future in the face of what they consider as efforts by Hong Kong and mainland authorities to undermine their freedoms.
For the past 50 days, many of them are manning the protest zones in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, and they are saddened because their church leaders don’t seem to understand why they are out on the streets. If they remain silent, will their campaign even last for a week?
There’s a fierce debate on what should be stand of Christians with regard to political reform and universal suffrage. Some theologians are saying that Christians should not participate in an “illegal” activity such as street occupation, citing biblical passages that enjoin people to obey their rulers. But there are others who cite the example of Jesus Christ himself, who condemned the hypocrisies of church leaders, who performed miracles even on a Sabbath in violation of the church statutes, who spoke out against unrighteousness.
No less than Reverend Yuen Tin-yau, president of Hong Kong’s Methodist Church and chairman of the Hong Kong Christian Council, said unequivocally: “Equality and justice are core teachings in Christianity and for that reason Christians tend to support democratic development”.
It ought not to be that a small group of people controlling the power to manage society, he said.
But it is sad that at a time when our moral leaders are called upon to fight against injustice, some choose to assail those who dare to stand up and be counted.
Says the Good Book: “And why do you take note of the grain of dust in your brother’s eye, but take no note of the bit of wood which is in your eye?” (Matthew 7:3)
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