The Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, also known as the Hong Kong Anglican Church, has cut off its ties with Chung Chi College, which it co-founded but has stopped supporting financially over the past two decades.
Outsiders may view the breakup as normal since business relationships don’t always last forever.
But in the local Christian community, the parting of ways between the Anglican Church and Chung Chi College, the divinity college of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is seen as a profound political development.
Its roots can be traced to efforts by Beijing to penetrate Hong Kong churches to persuade them to focus on spiritual matters and support the administration in the fields of education and social welfare.
From Beijing’s standpoint, local churches must not be involved in politics, particularly in raging issues such as political reform, the democratic roadmap and the performance of the chief executive.
They should hold their tongue when it comes to sensitive subjects such as human rights violations and the removal of the cross from Christian churches in the mainland.
So how is that related to Sheng Kung Hui’s severance of ties with Chung Chi College at this moment in time?
In the past, Sheng Kung Hui has been sending students to take up theological education at Chung Chi College while the school’s graduates become priests and ministers in the Anglican Church.
However, as the political chasm in Hong Kong deepens, Sheng Kung Hui and Chung Chi College find themselves standing on opposite sides of the fence.
Chung Chi supported students who joined the class boycotts and street protests during the pro-democracy Occupy campaign of 2014.
The college community was one in the struggle for genuine universal suffrage and condemned the police for abusing their power in the crackdown on street protesters.
Chung Chi also condemned the arrest of one of its students during the Mong Kok clashes in early February. The student was later acquitted by the court.
Indeed, the college played a significant, if active, role in the democracy movement over the past two years while the liberal atmosphere on its campus encouraged critical thinking among the students and action in the face of injustice in society.
On the other hand, the leadership of the Anglican Church appears to have lost its voice amid the political turmoil in society, shirking from its duty to speak up on sensitive political issues for fear of offending the powers that be.
Beijing has appointed Paul Kwong, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, into the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, making the church a subject of the Communist Party’s rule.
In fact, the appointment implies that the Anglican Church is no longer an independent Christian church but a part of the Communist Party.
Many Hong Kong people lament that Sheng Kung Hui now belongs to the pro-Beijing camp, with its leader telling his congregation to “stay silent just like Jesus did on the cross” while the debate on the government’s political reform proposal was raging two years ago.
His position on the issue is that Hong Kong people should not go against the central government when it comes to its policies for the city.
Kwong also criticized those who joined the Occupy protests for trying to “force” central authorities to meet their demand for an election without Beijing intervention, adding that people should also try to look at the issue from the central government’s perspective.
He kept quiet when the authorities started condemning the Occupy protesters for “thinking only about their own interests and not considering the good of the public”.
It is somewhat unnerving that just weeks before the Anglican Church announced its decision on the breakup with Chung Chi College, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the latest round of restrictions on religions including Christianity.
According to Xi, all religious believers should “merge religious doctrines with Chinese culture [and] abide by Chinese laws and regulations … We should guide and educate the religious circle and their followers with the socialist core values”.
The Chinese leader also said that religious doctrines should be interpreted in a way that is conducive to modern China’s progress and in line with its traditional culture.
One cannot help but suspect a link between Sheng Kung Hui’s announcement of its breakup with Chung Chi College and the release of Xi’s doctrine on religion.
With Kwong being a member of the CPPCC and the church taking a pro-Beijing stance, one cannot help but speculate that the Anglican Church is trying to differentiate itself from other Christian churches and denominations which are supportive of the city’s democratic movement, and to show its loyalty to the Communist Party.
Could it be that the Anglican Church, which is now led by a CPPCC member, now considers Beijing’s policies as of the same importance as the teachings of Jesus Christ?
Chung Chi College was founded in October 1951 by representatives of Protestant Churches in Hong Kong to fill the need for a local institution of higher learning that would be both Chinese and Christian, and to defend Christianity’s core values after the Communist Party rose to power in 1949.
Chung Chi, since its founding, has been an institution that is dedicated to opposing the atheistic world view of the Communist Party, or at least to guard against the ruling party’s influence on its basic Christian tenets.
Against this backdrop, it is quite clear that the Anglican Church is trying to keep itself away from the democratic movement by cutting off its ties with Chung Chi.
The church’s leader has to let go of Chung Chi after receiving Beijing’s kiss.
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