When a Social Movement Impacts the Church and Its Mission
The social movement in Hong Kong since June last year has awakened local churches to the possibility that the government in the mainland will extend its control over religious activities to Hong Kong after the expiry of “one country, two systems” in 2047. Churches must consider how to cope with the dwindling freedom following after the repression of Christianity in mainland China. It will take some time for the churches to formulate an approach for bringing members in different political camps back to unity in Christ. Due to the changing socio-political environment, pastors may have to find a new game plan to shepherd their congregations.
While a lot of attention has been focused on managing the changes inside the church arising from the social unrest, we should not neglect its impact on the mission that the church seeks to achieve beyond its four walls. Many Christians misperceive that mission is a venture for those sent out for full-time cross-cultural work only. But in reality, fruitful mission is the result of a healthy church. Mission involves the whole church, not just a few frontline workers.
The analogy of a successful space program is helpful here. In order to launch a spacecraft carrying just two astronauts to the moon, thousands of professionals working together on the ground are needed. By the same token, interwoven chains of teams working together in the spiritual, material, and professional spheres at the home base are necessary to support a few full-time workers at the frontline.
Participants in Mission
The whole Bible unveils the mission of God. He calls his people to take part in his missional plan. The churches in Hong Kong, in spite of the social disturbance, should keep pursuing the Great Commission as a mandate. Ralph Winter helps us to understand the full scope of mission activity by the laity and pastors, as well as the cross-cultural workers through a list of action items from the frontline to the backend. The following table shows the variety of programs according to Winter’s typology with a particular application to the cross-cultural interaction between Christians in Hong Kong and their counterparts in China.
Roles of Christians in HK
How to Serve China
Soul care and social care
Cross-cultural workers and professionals
Bible teachers and pastors
Interchurch social exchange
Brotherly care for the churches in China
Raising funds and resources
Donors and volunteers
Supply for the mission field in China
Revival conference in the church
Disciples with a commitment to the Great Commission
(Mobilization in the churches in HK is not directly related to the counterparts in China.)
Evangelism for diaspora
Kingdom ambassadors and companions
Outreach to those coming from China
The above list also assists us to review the influence on all those involved in mission due to the turmoil in Hong Kong.
Before further analysis, we will first try to comprehend the perceived relationship between Christianity and the social disturbance in the eyes of the government in China.
How the Government Sees Religious Infiltration
China Daily, the newspaper owned by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party, has asserted that some external “black hands” have played a role in the social turbulence. Further, it has cited President Xi’s determination to disallow any external forces to interfere with affairs in Hong Kong and Macau. In alignment with that thinking, the new director of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, Luo Huining, has elaborated that, if national security mechanisms are not in force, external forces will be able to carry out infiltration activities to destroy “one country, two systems.”
On top of these warnings, pro-China media, such as Wenweipo, and Huanqiu, have criticized Christian bodies for supporting the movement to sabotage the stability in Hong Kong. Such comments have even extended to the connection of churches to NGOs and human rights associations in the West, which are considered part of the foreign “black hands” who keep on instigating the disorder.
For years, the Communist Party has raised alarms about infiltration activities through religions from abroad. This contention has been backed by a series of sociological studies done during Xi Jinping’s presidency in relation to religious infiltration, pinpointing Christian mission and evangelism in particular; while another scholar views it otherwise. In the eyes of the Communist Party, the happenings in Hong Kong raise its concern about foreign intervention through Christianity in the West.
The above opinions by no means represent my own standpoint. But they give an important hint about the negative attitude of the China government towards the further spread of Christianity.
With this backdrop, the challenges for mission activities are now put into perspective. Workers serving in the mainland bear the brunt of the government’s control over foreign parties preaching Christianity. I have heard from a number of agencies that their workers in China have been asked to leave the field, in part because of the perceived involvement of churches in the violent protests in Hong Kong. This has caused officials to heighten their measures to prevent foreign interference through the spread of Christianity.
The challenges of the sending agencies are not less than those of their workers. As an immediate reaction, they have to take care of the workers returning home unexpectedly and explore other suitable fields for them to continue following their calling. Furthermore, we can foresee a threat to sending agencies. Previously, a sending agency only cared about sending workers to Restrictive Access Nations. But now, the home base is turning into a territory that is itself subject to possible government interference. Sending agencies will need to consider their own prospects for continued ministry in the new environment.
Part two of this blog dealing with the risks for those reaching out globaly from Hong Kong and some proposed changes that may be needed will follow next week.
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