Christians lend an anthem, and a pacifist spirit, to protests in Hong Kong
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.
More than 15,000 people attend an evening rally in Hong Kong on Aug. 23, 2019, the first large-scale political rally for Christians since the democracy movement started in June. Sunny, a 24-year-old pastor and organizer of the rally, said: “We don't have support from any organization. We are just Christians from different churches. We used social media to spread the information and people showed up.” RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
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.
Howard, a 26-year-old seminary student, addresses the Christian service held at Hong Kong’s Chater Garden on Aug. 23, 2019, in Hong Kong. “Since the beginning of June, I have gone to the protests to provide young people with a positive mindset,” he said. “As Christians, we have to know how to stand in front of the authorities and walk in the truth of God so we can have justice. In the Bible it says Jesus loves everyone, including the police, but the people from the front lines don’t love the police. I tell them God sees everyone, including the police, and he will judge in the end.” First names are being used to protect individuals. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Participants lay hands on one another in prayer during the Christian rally at Chater Garden on Aug. 23, 2019, in Hong Kong. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Vicky, 36, covers her right eye while holding her 2-year-old son, along with other protesters at the Christian rally on Aug. 23, 2019. Covering an eye is a sign of solidarity with a protester who suffered a severe eye injury during clashes with the police on Aug. 11. “It is the first time I come to the protests,” said Vicky. “I am here for my son. If we don’t have freedom and justice his future is gone.” First names are being used to protect individuals. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
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
Volunteers distribute water, food and face masks at the front line of a protest on Aug. 24, 2019. “We know they don’t have enough of these things, so we help as we can,” one participant said. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
A group from a small Hong Kong church at a protest on Aug. 25, 2019. “We came to pray for the people, bless them and use our power of belief to help them. Our city is going in an extreme direction, but we hope we can bring some peace to the Hong Kong people,” said one of the participants. 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
Christian protesters pray during a rally on Aug. 23, 2019, in Hong Kong. More than 15,000 people attended the event, the first large-scale political rally for Christians since the democracy movement started in June. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Hong Kong police watch people participate in the “Hong Kong Way” on Aug. 23, 2019, the last peaceful protest in almost two weeks of rallies without violence, before clashes between the protesters and riot police occurred again on Aug. 24 and 25. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu
Protesters cover their right eye in solidarity with a woman who suffered a severe eye injury during clashes with the police on Aug. 11. 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