Changes Affecting Churches in Hong Kong
A recent survey indicated that the mental health of the residents in Hong Kong has hit a new low. The average score of our mental health is lower than satisfactory level. The threats to our physical health due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest stemming from the anti-government protests last year are identified as the likely causes of the deterioration in mental condition.1 The social disturbance has left a lingering effect in the city after a year and it appears that worries about the murky future are causing a wave of emigration. According to another survey conducted by a university institute, 43.9% indicated they would emigrate if they had the chance.2 Sadly, among those intending to leave, the middle and upper classes will be actively planning their move with the expected outcome that a portion of the cream of society will be lost.
Such a loss of talent in society will also impact the leadership and resources available to the churches in Hong Kong who are already suffering from a decline in church attendance. The Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement recently released an unpleasant statistic concerning the number of those attending gatherings in Protestant congregations. The number has been dropping at a rate of 2.5% for the past five years. As this census was conducted in mid-2019, the effect of social disorder, political divisions among church members, pandemic lockdown, and the National Security Law had not come into view yet. It is estimated that the decline would be more serious if another snapshot would be taken at present.3
Enlightenment from Three Prophets
These results reflect the frustrations of Hong Kong citizens, especially in church communities. As always, the Bible is our resource for support when trying to cope with unresolvable pressure. As I look for relevant passages for guidance, I’m not only seeking comfort but an understanding of the possible work of God behind the seemingly gloomy outlook on the surface. In the process of exploring an interpretation of the hard-hit predicaments in sequence, I have found the enlightening wisdom of prophets who lived in an age of topsy turvy changes in their country. Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel ministered as prophets at a historical turning point when the people of their nation were expelled out of their homeland into exile.
The prophets served in separate locations but in the same chaotic and pressurized time. The Jews had to face the calamities of plague, sword, and famine, some staying within the country while others were deported to Babylon. (Jeremiah 21:9, 24:10, 29:17-18, 32:24, 32:36; 34:17; 38:2; Ezekiel 5:12). Divisions in political stance arose. Some stood on Jeremiah’s side with an assertion of surrendering to Babylon (Jeremiah 26:20-24). Others advocated holding out in opposition against the invading enemy (Jeremiah 27:14; 28:1-4). The political dispute continued even after the fall of Jerusalem as the community of refugees wrestled with whether they should sojourn in Egypt (Jeremiah 42:14-19; 43:2-7).
I am sure that the contemporary Jews surviving in that stressful environment faced many more contradictions than we do. At present, despite the social controversies, economic downturn, pandemic, and forthcoming brain drain, at least our city is still running in a controlled fashion with a limited number of coronavirus cases. Therefore, I am not making a direct analogy between the case of Hong Kong with the Jews in exile. Furthermore, the horrendous Jewish deportation was a punishment resulting from their rebellion against God. They had been warned about such possible banishment on entering the covenantal relationship with the Lord (Leviticus 26:34-39; Deuteronomy 4:25-29). The present predicament in Hong Kong is not tied to such a breach. Nevertheless, the positive attitude of the three prophets, ministering at a pivotal change in the destiny of their nation, are good examples for us. No matter what calamities came, they held on to unyielding hope in God. He would not only bring salvation to them but even blessing to all nations in his ongoing work.
A Watershed Moment
Hong Kong has transitioned into a pivotal watershed. Since 2017, Li Fei, the Chairman of the Basic Law Committee, has laid down the interpretation that “one country” carries more weight than “two systems”. His argument has shattered the notion of many Hong Kong people that the two systems in place respectively in our city and the motherland are on equal footing.4 Li’s statement has now become a guiding principle since the implementation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong. With the announcement of the enactment on July 1 this year, China’s officials stressed that this would be a new milestone in central government policy and a turning point for Hong Kong.5 A new normal has arrived.
The three prophets, in the dreadful transition to living under a pagan hegemony, had to adjust to a new normal. They showed some common characteristics in coping with the challenging transition:
- They fully trusted God’s sovereignty in the changes of the world (Jeremiah 16:19-21, 17:7; Daniel 6:23; Ezekiel 17:22-24). They believed that God was extending his plan across all nations and was not confined to the promised land. They held firmly to the hope that God would execute his plan at his time. (Jeremiah 23:5-8, 31:28-31; 45:5; Daniel 2:31-45, 7:13-14; Ezekiel 36:36, 37:24-28) .
- They endeavored to keep their spiritual purity while leading their kinsmen to turn back to God. (Jeremiah 4:1-2, 7:5-15, 22:3; Daniel 1:8; 9:3-19; Ezekiel 4:12-15, 18:21-31).
The prophets’ bifocal view, the far-sighted perspective of the mission of God and caring for the near neighbor and kinsmen before their eyes, helps me reflect on how our faith communities in Hong Kong should reframe our attitudes in facing the challenges ahead.
In the past century, with well-established churches, seminaries, and mission organizations, Hong Kong has been a base of support for the development of Christianity in China during the past century. But our churches in Hong Kong have been distinct from our counterparts in the mainland. As ideology is changing and the “one country” is considered the precondition for the “two systems,”6 we will not be as distinct as before. More exchanges in knowledge and experience of practicing faith under an autocratic government should take place.
Following this line of thought, I developed a Sunday School course which has been well received by groups of mature Christians, pastors, and missionaries. In this series of blogs, I will discuss the topics explored in the course. I hope to provoke more thought among church leaders and explore the opportunities ahead for coping with God’s work behind the social remodeling taking place in Hong Kong and around the world.
- Elizabeth Cheung, “Hong Kong’s mental health hits new low in survey listing Covid-19 pandemic and social turmoil as likely factors”, South China Morning Post, Sept. 9, 2020 https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/3100907/hong-kongs-mental-health-hits-new-low-survey.
- Wan-tai Victor Zheng, “Survey Findings on Views about Emigration from Hong Kong”, the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at CUHK, Oct 6, 2020.
- 麥嘉殷,“ 2019教會普查發佈：聚會⼈數下跌之最”, Christian Times, 29 May 2020.
- Joyce Ng, “One Country Carries More Weight Than Hong Kong’s Two Systems”, South China Morning Post, July 6, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/2101615/one-country-carries-more-weight-hong-kongs-two-systems-basic.
- Teddy Ng, Joyce Ng, Jun Mai and Tony Cheung, “National Security Law Will Uphold ‘One Country, Two Systems’ in Hong Kong, Top Official Says”, South China Morning Post, July 1, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3091307/national-security-law-will-plug-hong-kong-loopholes.
- Keynote Speech on the topic of Fully and Faithfully Implementing “One Country, Two Systems” is Key to Sustained prosperity and stability in HK by H.E. Ambassador Liu Xiaoming at the Young Icebreakers 11th Anniversary Dinner at Bright Courtyard Club, London, 8 November 2019, from website: https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1169603.shtml.
Image credit: Friscocali via Flickr.
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