Churches in the midst of Social Unrest
The Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement has drawn the world’s attention to the ongoing protests and social unrest in Hong Kong. Violence has been escalating. It seems that we do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are already suffering the effects of an economic downturn as a consequence—especially in the retail and hospitality sectors. Personally I feel the splinterings in my social circles—even in the church—due to opposing political opinions held by the public.
As a citizen in Hong Kong working for the kingdom with a call to serve China, I have had a deep concern to find out how the movement impacts local churches and ministry related to China. Different churches hold different political attitudes. Some insist on the principle of separation between church and state while others may take a certain political stance based on the leader’s interpretation of the Bible. No matter which side is taken, most church leaders are under pressure from within and without, and have to deal with unprecedented and disputable issues.
A Study into What Has Happened
As a first step to understand the issues, I started approaching pastors in different churches to ask about their situations. After a few interviews, I found out that a seminary, in collaboration with a publisher, has a common interest in conducting research among pastors to review the unusual clashes in Christian groups and their ways of handling those clashes. Excitedly, I joined a task force involved in the qualitative study being done through focus-group interviews. While the thorough analysis is still being processed, I would like to share some thought-provoking findings I observed from my own interviews.
In general, disharmony ocurred in various parts of the church—between the denominational council and the individual churches, within pastoral staff teams, among fellowship members, and in the families of some brothers and sisters. Pastors have been busy trying to resolve conflicts, counsel the depressed, and mend some broken relationships. Unfortunately, no matter how hard the pastors tried, some sheep left. Some changed to another fold with a closer political viewpoint while others simply dropped out. Some churches are concerned about losing the younger generation. Although the current loss constitutes only a small proportion of members, it is expected that some families in the middle or upper class will gradually leave Hong Kong, immigrating to a more stable environment.
Messages from the pulpit have often been criticized. If pastors do not mention their hermeneutical interpretations of some social incident, they are blamed for keeping aloof of society. But once they cite their points of view, congregants in a different camp voice their disagreement. The preachers are placed in a dilemma, not knowing how to deliver their sermons so as not to offend different parties.
Adding to the aggressive complaints about the contents of prayer and sermons has been the societal pressure of being interrogated by outsiders about how the church has responded to some arguable public affairs. Hence pastors have been put under great stress while they serve as caretakers among the sheep.
Not Only a Social Movement but Spiritual Warfare
The interviewees provided rich and insightful opinions. I do not intend to give a lengthy report here, but having described the general phenomenon, I would like to highlight the aggregating cracks in relationships among church members. I believe they are a sign of spiritual warfare apart from a political campaign on earth.
The interviews revealed that many brothers and sisters were trapped in contradictions and conflicts in the name of “justice;” some of which rose to the surface, others have been kept below the current. From what I have observed from social media, people in various camps spread information to attack their opponents by exposing their hypocrisies, falsehoods, misleading information, partial truths, and lies. That means both sides do not have a clean slate. Condemnation, destruction, white terror, and violence continue to darken our communities at the expense of rational reflection. People try their utmost to defend their own righteous stance. But no one is convinced by the counter-arguments of others except those who are already in their own camps. Stance takes higher priority than truth and mercy. Anger turns into hatred which spews into households, social circles, workplaces, churches, and community divides. The social divisions as a whole create clouds of darkness. No one is a winner in the campaign except Satan whose intention is to stir up discord in society and tear apart the unity of Christ’s body.
The theme of the Epistle to the Ephesians refers to the mystery of God’s plan that both Jews and Gentiles should be one in the church through the cross and the resurrection so that Christians can be filled with the fullness of God—becoming light in the church, the family, and the world. Paul makes us aware of three opposing forces against such unity and fullness. They are (a) the ways of this world, (b) the ruler of the kingdom of the air, and (c) the cravings of our flesh (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul has even identified the evil forces on earth and the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly places.
He advises us to put on the sevenfold, full armor of God to ensure that we can successfully stand up against all the schemes, strategies, and deceit of the devil (Ephesians 6:11-12). Such armor consists of truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer (Ephesians 6:13-18). All these are intended for establishing the admirable character of Christ in his followers, which is very different from the weapons used for destruction in social violence.
In Matthew 5:22, Jesus said, “ . . . Anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca (You empty-headed idiot)!’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” This moral standard has awakened me. In retrospect, I have uttered many such condemnations in my heart upon watching the news, reading opinions different from mine, as well as hearing disagreeable arguments every day. Then, I become aware of the need for quiet, personal reflection, confession, and asking for forgiveness. I cannot provide advice for the churches but I have found a sure relief for myself and I am ready to influence others through putting on the full armor to help establish others.
Image credit: Christianity in Hong Kong by Michael Coghlan via Flickr.
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