Blog Entries

A New Phase of Christianity in Hong Kong

A New Phase in Hong Kong Part 2


Concern about Religious Freedom

As mentioned in an earlier article, I’ve joined a task force to find out the impact of the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement on the pastoring of Christians in Hong Kong. We conducted focused group interviews for pastors of churches in various denominations and backgrounds. Thankfully, the pastors provided practical understanding and in-depth retrospection. The detailed report will be publicized later. But I would like to share some projection into the future drawn from my interviews.

Apart from talking about the immediate impact, some of the interviewees voiced their concerns related to the freedom of Christianity in the future. Citizens in Hong Kong have been enjoying religious freedom. The anti-extradition bill movement has raised an alarm that once the foundation of “one country, two systems” is shaken, the prosperity and liberty in Hong Kong will lose their luster. Pastors have become very aware that the agreement regarding the current governing system has a lifespan of only 50 years (up to 2047). It is increasingly apparent that in the next few decades, churches, seminaries, and Christian organizations in Hong Kong will gradually be subject to the same religious rules as in China.

Ministry under Censorship

Some pastors raised pragmatic worries. Over the decades, a significant portion of social services provided by Christian organizations has been funded by the Hong Kong government. If the funding is cut due to increasingly control of religion, the witness of Christianity values in society will be hampered. Moreover, it is expected that resources drawn from the middle and upper classes will be reduced significantly due to migration when Hong Kong is no longer considered a free, prosperous, and safe city to live in. The richness in manpower, talents, and treasure will decline.

On the other hand, the demand for pastoral care imposes a new challenge. Current pastoral services are mostly delivered to individuals and families. Now there is a huge need for healing the divisions in the community collectively. The younger generation is growing up in an atmosphere full of enmity which is very different from the traditional, harmonious Chinese culture.

Hong Kong is Not Alone

These are the changes we have to face due to the transition from a religiously free environment to a prohibitive environment. In fact, as a trend the world over, freedom of religion has been declining. The Pew Research Center has conducted surveys for 11 years to review the level of religious restriction in 198 countries around the world. The following diagram shows the growth of the world’s population living under high or very high restriction. The following graph is derived from the indexes of the annual survey reports on religious restriction from the Pew Research Center[1] compiled with the population data from World Bank in the corresponding years from 2007 to 2017.[2]

Hong Kong is not alone in facing more and more religious restrictions. However, we have to understand two factors of religious restriction as defined in the Pew research, including (a) government restriction and (b) social hostility. The following diagram is extracted from the Pew report in July 2019.[3] Twenty-five of the most populous countries are plotted on the graph according to the ratings of the two factors obtained in their survey. On the X-axis, when a government exerts a higher restriction, it is plotted towards the right side of the scale. Similarly, on the Y-axis, when social hostility exerts a higher influence in a country, it is placed at the upper end of the scale. Each circle stands for a country; a bigger circle represents a larger population.

To make it easier to understand the whole picture, I have added dividing lines so that the graph is divided into four quadrants.

A: Harmonious Zone

  • Low or moderate government restriction
  • Low or moderate social hostility

B: Censored Zone

  • High or very high government restriction
  • Low or moderate social hostility

C: Gold-Refining Zone

  • High or very government restriction
  • High or very high social hostility

D. Unfriendly Zone

  • Low or moderate government restriction
  • High or very high social hostility

Hong Kong is not on the original graph as it is not the most populous place. But for the sake of comparing Hong Kong to China, I have added Hong Kong into the picture according to the ratings assessed in the Pew survey. Hong Kong enjoys a high level of freedom close to that of Japan and South Korea. China lies at the far end of high government restriction. However, China’s environment is not as painful as Indonesia, Russia, or Egypt where both government control and social hostility are very high. Obviously, there is a huge contrast between Hong Kong and China. It becomes clear why the pastors in Hong Kong worry about the changes after the “one country, two systems” agreement ends. We have to identify and understand that a new era is coming.

Under Caesar’s Sword Project, organized by Notre Dame University in 2014, is very good resource for Hong Kong to prepare for the aforementioned transition. This collaborative global research has investigated how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated. The study covers 25 countries under the most severe oppression with regard to Christianity and also some similar happenings in the West.

The detailed report shows that Christians living in the most persecuted regions respond with a wide variety of approaches ranging from reactive to proactive. Collectively, their strategies are grouped into three main types.[4] Statistics of the distribution of the three types are shown in the following diagram.

 

It is worth mentioning that confrontation is the smallest portion out of all the three types of strategies. Among different forms of confrontation, violence is the last resort. However, the 2% violence is not used for attacking the governing regime but for combating the militant groups which the governing bodies fail to control. It is also found that a theology of suffering, church, and culture has supported oppressed Christians to lead a tenacious life, as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.[5]

Perseverance under the Sword

I do not know why God allows widespread persecution to fall on people whom he loves. But their witness shines brightly under Caesar’s sword.

In a world with growing religious restrictions, perhaps I have to view such sufferings from a different perspective, recognizing that:

While Christians are prohibited to spread the gospel by words, our vigorous life demonstrates more powerfully the faith, hope, and love we embrace in Christ.

We have to learn how God guided his people to salvation when they lived under authorities without justice in different eras from the Old to the New Testaments.

Image credit: Julian Williams