HONG KONG (RNS) — Since protests began more than 12 weeks ago over an extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China for trial, the city’s Christian community has taken an active role.
Groups of Christians regularly participate in the marches that have coursed through Hong Kong’s streets every weekend since June, and their pleas for peaceful protests and their hymns and prayers are often heard along with protest chants. One hymn, “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” written in 1974, has caught on as an anthem of the protests, sung by believers and nonbelievers alike.
The Christian hymn not only inspires: It grants the protesters some protection under a technicality in Hong Kong law of public assembly that exempts religious gatherings.
The bill that brought the protesters out into the streets has since been suspended, but the demonstrations have continued, turning into a larger campaign for democracy and for maintaining the “one country, two systems” model agreed upon when the former British colony returned to China in 1997.
The protests have sometimes turned violent. While some Hong Kong residents see violence as the only way to obtain their demands, many, including most Christians, choose to support the protests through peaceful means. The city’s Christians number about 900,000, or 12% of Hong Kong’s population of roughly 7.5 million.
Protesters sing “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” a hymn that has become the anthem of the pro-democracy protests, during a Christian rally on Aug. 23, 2019, in Hong Kong. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Several Christian organizations have officially voiced their concerns over the extradition bill, including the Hong Kong Christian Council, the Catholic Diocese, the Baptist Convention of Hong Kong and the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church Union of Hong Kong. They have also urged the protesters to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Tens of thousands of people march in the rain in Hong Kong on Aug. 25, 2019. At the end of the day of marching some of the most violent clashes between the protesters and the riot police to date took place. Protesters threw bricks and petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Christians took part in a 35-kilometer (21.7-mile) human chain across various areas of Hong Kong, exhibiting “the Hong Kong Way,” a peaceful protest initiative modeled on “the Baltic Way,” one of the biggest anti-Soviet protests. The Baltic Way had its 30th anniversary on Aug. 23, 2019. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
The protests have provided Christians with an opportunity to voice their concerns about religious freedom. If China ends the “one country, two systems” status quo, they fear, the persecution of religious denominations in mainland China may spread to Hong Kong.
On Friday (Aug. 23), tens of thousands of people gathered in Chater Garden for the first large-scale political rally specifically for Christians. With the motto “Salt and light, for justice we walk together,” the rally aimed to “provide all Christians a platform to express themselves outside the church, hoping people would safeguard Hong Kong by singing, praying, worshipping God and at the same time speaking up for justice and standing together with all the Hongkongers in difficult times,” said a press release from the rally organizer.
Thousands of participants filling Chater Garden use their cellphones for light during a Christian rally on Aug. 23, 2019, in Hong Kong. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu