This week’s big news is the Hong Kong protest, started by a group of junior high and high school students. Their plight and mistreatment by some policemen sparked a city-wide outrage that turned into a 200,000 strong protest. What if you’re a minister in such a city? What if both protesters and cops are in your congregation?
Today also marks the national day of China. This protest is not going to go over very well at all. For a good timeline of all that is relevant to the protest, see my friend Dr. Jonathan Tan’s blog here. The original purpose of the protest is to try to win more democratic election of the city chief and universal suffrage. These may seem outrageous, but they are quite reasonable considering the fact that the city only recently tried to impose a minimum wage on its workers, making its workers’ rights fall far behind many developed countries.
As I’m writing, the city is still in a mess with all its main districts being occupied by protesters. What can the people of God do in this situation?
Some have participated in various degrees. Many have said that the solution is to generate more number of protesters and with gigantic number, neither China nor Hong Kong police would dare to do anything. In this internet age, surely China would be more cautious to how it’s going to lose credibility and financial advantage. If we have read history careful, number has never deterred China from oppressing and even killing its people. If we look at Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989, around 100,000 students participated initially. China generated 300,000 troops from outside Beijing to kill the students. We still do not have a head count on how many got killed exactly in 1989. One friend remarked that he felt very mixed about pushing the student protesters because he’s afraid of sending them to their death. Number of protesters will only generate more number of soldiers from the government. Losing face is more the reason why China could come down swiftly on the people. China doesn’t want the success of this movement to become a role model for other uprisings. As for now, I’m unsure what the people of God can actually “do”, other than giving support to protesters while keeping in mind that there’re also Christian cops who’re trying to do the right thing, whatever that right thing actually means.
On the internet, I see a lot of people bashing the police, and certainly, the initial handling of the situation by the police needed a lot of help. Some of it was disgraceful. This doesn’t mean every single cop in the city is a thug or the enemy of freedom, evident in this clip where the cops share a humorous moment with young protesters. We need to make a separation between the individual and the system under which he has to work. Many are convinced that cops are only following procedures. Some people have called for the cop with conscience to resign in protest. However, not many mid-career policemen have the financial luxury to resign. What would they do to feed their family? They have free housing now. If they resign, they would have to buy the impossibly expensive flats to live in. To make matters worse, Hong Kong job market is limited for people with that kind of skill set. No one wants his family to starve. You simply can’t eat your ideal.
Based on what I’ve said above, what am I saying? First, as people of God, we have to realize that certain principles are important. The church should not get the priorities wrong by insisting that human rights are an issue that we can stay neutral on. There’re many false prophets within church leadership right now that insist that the principles behind the protest are negotiable and neutral, and that we need to accept all opinions, no matter how ridiculously non-Christian such opinions are. The protest is essentially about human rights. Human rights are not negotiable. Second, as people of God, we don’t only deal with principles and ideals; we deal with people. When people are involved, things get messy. What do you do with the parent of a protester if violence is used? What do you do with the cop who only wants to feed his family? These are hard questions. From my observation thus far, I think sometimes the church gets it wrong. She often takes the black and white principles and turns them into neutral issues, while she takes the messy issues and makes them neatly black and white. A wise person balances between principles and people.
With principles, there’re many different ways to uphold them, but the principles remain the same. With people, lives are at stake. It is easy to point finger when OUR lives are not at stake. By learning to empathize and listen, the church may have a more human face. By learning to practice principles, the church can regain societal respectability. At the end, we can be sure of one thing. Human governments are terribly imperfect. As Christians, we can’t put our entire trust in a better system. Our hope is always futuristic. Although our duty is to participate in this worldly system, ultimately, the system, even in its improved form, can’t save us. We do not give up however in doing what we can while we can to make this place better for the sake of everyone. As ministers who speak on the pulpit, we need to get these priorities straight.