The last two days feature one event that shapes my world, the world where I do most of my academic and ministerial work. I’m talking about the mysterious walkout by pro-China legislators in HK in a vote for a fake reform orchestrated by them that was to be voted down. I say “fake reform” because it was something that would allow people to vote ONLY Beijing-approved candidates instead of a free election as proposed before. To save their own blushes, these pro-communist legislators walked out of the legislature building instead of voting, suffering a landslide defeat. Mockery reigned for the moment, as China lost face. Some Christians even call this a miracle, an act of God.
Quite ironically, the eve before the vote, the three major Christian denominations, the Baptist, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the Evangelical Free Churches, to which some of the pro-communist Christian legislators belong (yes, some of those pro-communist politicians are self-professed Christians), held a joint public lecture to address the politics mostly of the church about how to be harmonious with a little spillover rehash of separation of church and state. Most of the lecturers avoided a direct confrontation with the present political situation. Instead, they would talk about the need of peaceful solution. Okay I must admit Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi had already spoken on this. No one needs to read the Bible to get that picture. Furthermore, they distract by using red herrings by going conceptual instead of practical and by pointing to the past instead of dealing the present. They would talk insipidly about separation of the church and state, but not even in the right way because that whole phrase ironically was used originally in the US within the period when Thomas Jefferson was trying to give the baptists dignity and freedom to practice their religion. If we appeal to the concept, we should at least get our history right. Then, someone said that we should be certain that the Tiananmen massacre on June 4th, 1989, was definitely wrong. That’s like saying that the Holocaust was wrong. Everyone knows that. Tell us something we don’t know! All these people did was an appeal to the vapidly safe option. Sometimes the church just needs to spell stuff out straight, like “This reform is a lie” instead of beating around the bush about church and state relations and other mind-numbing niceties. To call a lie a half truth is lying. To call a lie a matter of separation of church and state is lying. To call a lie something that is anything else is lying.
When we look at such a simple discussion by the church, we can’t help but to say that the free churches of HK have been standing on the safe side of the whole democracy debate. Leaders and even theologians skirt the issues instead of attacking them head on. Why? It’s because taking a real stand creates risks.
I have one thing to say to this situation. NOT taking a risk also creates risks. There’s no safety. Safety is an illusion. Risky situations are risky whether we take a stand or not. This is what some people fail to understand. Failing to voice out doesn’t just make our silence a political stance. Our failure also puts us at great risks. With such failure to voice out, the free churches of HK have missed an opportunity to witness against an oppressive system. Sure, many would excuse this silence by saying that they have interests and mission in China and that’s why they keep silent. Fine! Have they however thought of the home mission? HK, as a home to these Christians, also is a mission field. We fail our home mission by staying on the safe side of the political debate. We fail human dignity of the students who were abused during the Umbrella Movement. We fail biblical justice when we don’t denounce a government that hires thugs to keep order in the election or protest. Does the Bible have no answer about the problem of human dignity?
Jesus said to the disciples, “You will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria” in Acts 1.8. Being a witness in Acts had never been about keeping silent. Being a witness was about speaking into a real situation on the ground via the gospel of Jesus Christ. Silence is risky because it reeks of cowardice and ignorance. Silence is risky most of all because it violates the very nature of being a witness. Silence creates missed opportunity. Silence doesn’t create safety. It creates the illusion of safety. In this debacle, no one is safe. The perfect opportunity to tackle a situation head-on had passed in the luke-warm discussion the night before the vote. At the moment, many of the representative speakers of the three denominations look more like the German Church leaders during WWII than Barth or Bonhoeffer. Now that the vote had gone the way of democratic advocates, many celebrate, but these free churches should mourn instead because they had very little part in the discussion leading up to the vote. They don’t deserve to celebrate! The only question left for them would be, “How many more opportunities will we miss before the church becomes completely irrelevant to our world?”
For Christians to appeal to this event as a miracle, the event has to have enough church involvement whether in prayer or social action. The problem isn’t whether God is working in THIS or THAT event. God’s always working, though we probably don’t know what He’s doing up there. The problem isn’t God working or not or whether this can be deemed a miracle. The problem is whether the church has done much leading up to this miraculous event. More important, the problem is whether Christians, especially Christian leaders, have been involved either by voice or by prayer or by action before all this took place. Some did, but many didn’t. Some were riding the fence so hard that I worry about their trousers.
Silence can’t save us all. In fact, silence in this case just destroyed us all because silence is equally risky. We shall not be silenced.