23 October 2016
Archbishop Paul Kwong has sparked a social media debate after saying the democracy movement has been the cause of unrest in Hong Kong. Photo: Echo Skh
Archbishop Paul Kwong has sparked a social media debate after saying the democracy movement has been the cause of unrest in Hong Kong. Photo: Echo Skh

Why church leaders won’t weigh in on religious freedom

In keeping with tradition, Christian leaders in Hong Kong delivered their Christmas messages this week in which they gave the faithful an accounting of the past year and revealed their hopes for the coming year.

What they did not do was weigh in on social justice in Hong Kong and religious freedom in the mainland.

They attributed social disharmony in Hong Kong to its people, echoing top leaders in Beijing who accuse the most vocal of them of destabilizing society.

Archbishop Paul Kwong of the Anglican Church and Cardinal John Tong of the Catholic Church urged their followers to unite.

They said Hong Kong society is fractured for political, economic and cultural reasons and by conflict with its “neighbor to the north”.

There was no mention of the demolition of a Christian church and the removal of a cross in the southeastern Chinese city of Wenzhou.

Neither did they have anything to say about the government’s handling of political and social issues that are polarizing Hong Kong.

They did admonish their flock to end political conflict and divisions.

Both leaders used the occasion to discuss personal growth and family.

Tong stressed the importance of family values and highlighted the opposition of the Catholic Church to gay rights.

In the recent district elections, that translated to non-support by the church for homosexual candidates. 

“Family is very important in the formation of society… we must treasure it and beware of any possibilities that endanger the family,” Tong said.

In contrast, Kwong, who is also a deputy to China’s highest political consultative body, focused on restoring social harmony after years of acrimony over Hong Kong’s political development.

“Our city has been divided and fragmented after the Occupy Movement and the dispute over political reform last year,” he said.

“When dealing with people and social issues, we begin to see the more frequent use of violent language and behavior rather than mutual trust, tolerance, objectivity and rationality.”

Kwong sparked a social media debate among Anglican followers after saying the democracy movement has been the cause of unrest in the past two years.

But is that a fact? 

There’s no doubt cross-border relations are at a historic low, but it takes both sides to bring it to this level and the problems cannot be blamed on Hong Kong alone.

China ruffled the waters with its increased meddling in Hong Kong after upending “one country, two systems”.

Young people took to the streets in protest, ending in a 79-day street occupation last year. Their specific grievance concerning genuine universal suffrage was just part of a bigger issue — loss of confidence in their own future.

Kwong further inflamed social media by linking the democracy movement with terrorism.

Some Anglicans accused Kwong of fear-mongering and oversimplifying an important issue to divert attention from the real problems confronting Hong Kong.

“Does this mean Christians do not need speak out against injustice,” a Christian named Alex Yip, wrote in a blog post.

He rattled off a litany of public concerns — the lead-in-water crisis, the confused education policy, the controversial high-speed railway and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying accepting a HK$50 million secret payment from a private company.

Yip perhaps represents a larger section of young people that are disappointed with their religious leaders for being out of touch with their concerns.

They are suspicious of their spiritual ministers who in their minds are pandering to Beijing despite religious persecution in China.

The Bible teaches Christians to be “sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good”.

We wonder if our religious elite have come across that line.

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EJ Insight writer

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