As the protests continue to rage across the region of Hong Kong, many are wondering what the future holds for those who adhere to the Christian faith.
When China announced its intentions to enforce an extradition bill earlier this year, believers feared that their religious freedoms could be at serious risk.
Seeing as the communist nation is one of the most oppressive nations on earth in which to live as a Christian, Hong Kong’s 800,000-strong Christian population were right to be concerned. The fear was simple — would China start deporting them from Hong Kong on false pretenses, before locking them up for good on account of their Christian faith?
Speaking to International Christian Concern, pastor Chih-hung Lau from City Concern of Christians Fellowship relayed that sentiment, noting that followers of Jesus have for some time been concerned that “human rights persecution will come” in Hong Kong and that “freedom [of religion] might be lost” forever across the former British territory.
“While the government might be cautious to implement the law at first (with the goal to let people’s guard down), this ‘knife’ is still dangling above your head. It creates fears and invites self-censorship,” added Professor Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “For Hong Kongers, it will be much more challenging to do any ministry inside China in the future.”
With Hong Kong’s pro-China Chief Executive Carrie Lam stating that the extradition bill will now be completely withdrawn, Christians are breathing a huge sigh of relief as the threat of future Chinese-led persecution dwindles. This could change, however, if the Chinese government makes another attempt to force the legislation through. In that instance, Lam, would be almost completely powerless to resist it — she is, after all, a mere figurehead, controlled by the central communist government under the command of President Xi Jinping.
In a pre-recorded video message released September 4, Lam insisted that she would “formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns,” adding that the street protests had “shocked and saddened the Hong Kong people” and that the violence was “pushing Hong Kong towards a highly dangerous situation.”
These fears were heightened when vast numbers of Chinese military vehicles and troops were seen being deployed to the border region just a few weeks ago.
“No matter what discontentment the people have towards the government or the society, violence is not the way to resolve problems,” Lam warned, according to the BBC.
Still, despite the withdrawal, violent skirmishes continue, with vicious incidents of police brutality captured on camera most days. Yesterday, footage emerged of one man being sprayed point-blank in the face with mace as he was forcibly pinned to the ground, blood pouring from a deep head wound. Indeed, many believers remain horrified by the sustained level of violence they are facing from law enforcement on the streets of Hong Kong — and this continued, indiscriminate mistreatment, they say, remains a key sticking point.
Withdrawal ‘simply not enough’ to appease Christians
“While it is a good news that Chief Executive Carrie Lam pledges to formally withdraw the controversial anti-expedition law, a bill that has initiated a series of protests and social movement in Hong Kong since early June, many Hong Kong Christians believe that it is simply not enough,” ICC’s South East Asia regional manager, Gina Goh, told Faithwire.
This reluctant withdrawal, Goh said, cannot repair the damage that has already been done through the total erosion of trust between the people and the state. As the violence continues, thousands of official complaints are being filed against the heavy-handed police force.
“Nine lives perished (suicide) for this cause,” Goh added, “and the demonstrators want to continue to pursue justice and democracy so their fellows did not die in vain.”
The Hong Kong Justice and Peace Commission (HKJP) has sent out an official statement in response to Lam’s withdrawal announcement, noting that it is “of the thought that merely retracting the bill will not be sufficient to calm the social unrest caused by the government.”
“On police’s abuse of power, excessive use of force, and indiscriminately attacking citizens, in present state, the Hong Kong Police have already lost people’s trust,” it added, “so it would be ridiculous to expect that they will be fair after people file their complaints against police’s misconduct.”
HKJP went on to make several demands, including that Hong Kong be granted greater legislative separation from the Chinese state.
Speaking directly to Carrie Lam, who herself is a Catholic, Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, issued some scathing remarks on the situation:
“Carrie Lam should at least agree to two demands: retract the bill and set up an independent investigation committee. That way, hopefully people can accept a period of truce,” the Bishop said. “Otherwise, it is unimaginable what great disaster would be inflicted on us before October 1 (the 70ths Anniversary of PRC) ! She does have a choice. Or she repent, or else God will not be able to help her.”
The Christian worship song that gave immunity to thousands
Over the course of the past few months, thousands upon thousands of believers have been joining in with street protests and demanding that Hong Kong retain its powers of autonomy. One extraordinary moment occurred when the city center erupted with the sound of voices singing “Hallelujah to the Lord,” a popular Christian hymn.
Not only was this a show of devotion to Jesus in the midst of tumult and political tyranny, but it also offered the faith community a level of immunity thanks to a Hong Kong law of public assembly that makes exceptions for religious gatherings.
This sort of bold action has emboldened many unlikely Christian protestors to get out on the streets and fight for their civil and religious liberties.
One such individual who has been regularly heading out to take part in the mass gatherings is Polly Lui, a worker at the city’s Queen Mary Hospital.
“Most of my peers have families of their own, so they assume I can go out and protest because I have no family burden and can afford to be reckless. But that’s not true,” she told South China Morning Post. “I do it because I believe that is right and trust that God will watch over me.”
Others have traveled to Hong Kong to pray for those battling the governing powers in a bid for freedom.
One such man is Keith Wheeler; an American who has been traveling around the world, literally “carrying his cross.”
According to his website, after giving his life to Jesus on Good Friday of 1985, Keith “began carrying a 12-foot, wooden cross” and never stopped. He has now walked with the cross over 24,000 miles and through more than 175 countries.
Recently, Keith was in Hong Kong, praying and marching the streets with believers, some of whom even offered to help carry his cross for a while.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be here in Hong Kong at this time,” he said in a video released on his YouTube channel. “I saw in the news what was happening here.. I don’t know all the details.. but I know there is a sense of hopelessness despair.”
“I felt like God wanted me to bring the cross here just to be a beacon of hope to the people,” he added.
“Jesus can speak to the hearts of the people: there can be freedom, there can be hope and there can be peace.”
Do continue to pray for all those who are seeking simply to follow Jesus and retain their right to religious expression. May God give them strength!