WIT welcomes Ann Gillian Chu as a guest poster. She is currently working towards her Doctor of Philosophy (Divinity) with the University of St. Andrews in the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics (bio below).
I have been interested in how Christians reconcile their faith in the backdrop of Hong Kong’s civil resistance since 2014. How does the Christian Church in Hong Kong interact with secular politics? As Hong Kong shifts politically toward a less democratic government, it has experienced several civic actions, such as the Occupy Central Movement (2013-2014), the Umbrella Movement (2014), the Fishball Revolution (2016), and the ongoing Anti-Extradition Law Movement (2019-2020). Some Christians, due to their faith convictions and civic duty, have taken part by engaging in nonviolent protests. How do Hong Kong Christians reconcile their faith with the civic actions going on around them? And how can we learn from their experiences? As a Hong Kong Christian who lived through the Occupy Central Movement and the Umbrella Movement, I am motivated to investigate how Christian churches in Hong Kong pastor their congregations amid all-consuming socio-political tensions, which led me to publish an article, “A Perspective of Christianity on Civil Disobedience: A Study of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central and the Umbrella Movement”, in Resonance – A Theological Journal in 2018.
As a Hong Kong Christian and an academic, I conducted thorough and in-depth research on what contemporary theologians suggest the Christian Church do to advocate for both social justice and Christian ethics. I engage with Hong Kong theologians, including John Wai-on Chan 陳韋安, Seguire Shun-hing Chan 陳慎慶, and Andres Tang 鄧紹光. I have always found it slightly colonial that Caucasian theologians are cited so often in Hong Kong theological research. Chinese theologians, in contrast, rarely make it onto the works cited list in Western contexts, so I wish to briefly highlight these Hong Kong theologians and their recent research.
John Chan his Doctor of Theology from Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany and is now an Associate Professor of Theology at Alliance Bible Seminary in Hong Kong. He argues for Karl Barth’s eschatology and attempts to pit it against Stanley Hauerwas’ eschatology in his article, “Thy Kingdom Come: A Comparison of Eschatological-Political Ethics between Stanley Hauerwas and Karl Barth as a Theological Construction of Widerstandstheologie in Hong Kong”, in Jian Dao in 2016.
Seguire Chan graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and is currently a Professor in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University in Hong Kong. He conducted research on the Christian community and the Umbrella Movement, and published an article, “The Protestant Community and the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong” in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies in 2015. While he observes a lot of Christian involvement in recent nonviolent protests, he is critical of the mainstream Hong Kong Christian community of how civil disobedience is portrayed.
Andres Tang graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy (Divinity) from the University of St Andrews and is now the Professor of Christian Thought (Theology and Culture) at Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary in Hong Kong. He argues for means over ends, because means is something individuals can control, and ends are out of one’s control, so one cannot use evil means for possibly good ends.
The exploration of John Chan, Seguire Chan, and Andres Tang’s arguments lead to my main point of discussion. One idea that I explore in-depth in my research is that a particular preoccupation with individual morality and evangelism has led to the dichotomization of spirituality from the secular world. It assumes that Christian convictions are private and should not interfere or dialog with the secular world. Morality is seen as operating on an individual level, such as in tithing, sexual practices, etc., implying it should not be something to dialog and influence the wider society, such as government structure, economy, etc. This notion is strong especially among Evangelical Christians in Hong Kong. Yet, this dichotomization is arbitrary and very recently conceptualized—enlightenment created the secular space which religion can no longer speak into, but as Charles Taylor argues, if we see religion as needing to speak the secular language in order to argue within it, then religion loses its platform and is subjugated under secularism.
Perhaps because of this dichotomy, there has been little meaningful dialog within the Hong Kong church community on Christian convictions and civil resistance. Through my research, I discovered that most laypeople in Hong Kong have not been taught to think about socio-political issues from a Christian perspective. When asked, they find it difficult to comment on how concepts like democracy and human rights interact with their faith. Should Christians work outside the system and participate in civil disobedience? Or should they work within the system, even as their advocacy makes them complicit with unjust institutions? These are the two main arguments in Hong Kong Christian communities. Some Hong Kong churches look to the works of Stanley Hauerwas, who proposes that the moral integrity of Christian individuals within public institutions can bring down systems of injustice—such is the slow work of God. Andres Tang, together with his colleagues Freeman Huen 禤智偉 and Vincent Lau 劉振鵬 from Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary, responded to John Chan’s article questioning their use of Hauerwas. They subscribe to Hauerwas’ idea that Christians are to learn to be better disciples, and their interest in Hauerwasian theology is demonstrated through Huen, who wrote a reader for Hauerwas’ Peaceable Kingdom, which they cited in this article.
The experience of writing this article gave me space to think about what the Christian stance could look like in the midst of large-scale social issues. It also surprised me how people outside of Hong Kong are interested in this topic and how it resonated with their own context and experiences. Doing theology is inevitably contextual, yet scholars, at critical historical moments in their own specific contexts, can certainly produce thoughtful materials with which others in different contexts can resonate. Do you have any reflections in your context that might be helpful to share with others?
Photo taken by: Ann Gillian Chu
This post was adapted from an original paper: Chu, Ann Gillian. “A Perspective of Christianity on Civil Disobedience: a Study of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central and the Umbrella Movement.” Resonance – a Theological Journal, 4:2 (June 2018): 34-41.
Ann Gillian Chu grew up in Hong Kong as a Canadian, and graduated from the University of Edinburgh with Master of Arts (Honours) in English Language. In an unexpected turn of events, she became a Fellow of Chartered Certified Accountant. She completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Theology with the Alliance Bible Seminary in Hong Kong, and graduated from Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. with a Master of Divinity. She is now completing her Doctor of Philosophy (Divinity) with the University of St. Andrews in the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics. You can find out more about her work here: http://gillianchu.com.