Sunday, October 5, 2014

Christianity is a potent force for democracy

One of the most interesting things I've read about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong touches on an aspect that has received relatively little attention so far. An article in The Wall Street Journal looks at the religious background of some of the movement's main organizers. It turns out that many of the key people are Christians.

Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old leader of the activist group that has played a key role in launching and organizing the demonstrations, is an evangelical Protestant. Two of the three leaders of Occupy Central, the main protest group, are Christians. A former Catholic bishop of Hong Kong is another big supporter. "Christianity has been a visible element of the demonstrations, with prayer groups, crosses, and protesters reading Bibles in the street," the article notes. ...

Yet many other leading media organizations -- like The New York Times or CNN -- have neglected to mention this point. This strikes me as a significant omission. We can hardly be expected to understand why the demonstrators persist in defying the world's most powerful dictatorship without understanding the beliefs behind their choices.

Why has there been so little attention to the Christian factor? I think it's a combination of ignorance and embarrassment. Most journalists in the countries of the West today are skeptics or secularists. They tend to regard religious belief as a quaint oddity, a sort of exotic irrelevance. ...

No one, not even the communists, believes in Marxism-Leninism these days, and the [Chinese Communist] Party has yet to come up with a solid value system to take its place.

On top of that, the Party is also extremely sensitive to a history apparently lost on many of the reporters currently covering the protests in Hong Kong: the long and illustrious Christian involvement in revolutions around the world. The Chinese leadership is painfully aware of the role played by Pope John Paul II and his Polish Catholic compatriots in the downfall of the communist system in Eastern Europe. And despite their eagerness to discount Chinese Christians (and Hong Kong protesters) as agents of foreign powers, the rulers in Beijing also know that indigenous Christians were equally prominent in the pro-democracy movements that brought down dictators in South Korea and the Philippines in the 1980s.

Indeed, Christians have played strikingly important roles in popular protest movements ranging from the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa to the civil rights campaigns in the United States. ...

Martin Luther King mined Biblical texts for powerful metaphors of individual liberation and collective empowerment. Twentieth-century activists have translated Christ's radical emphasis on love into programs for non-violent struggle. On the purely practical level, churches provide alternate networks of support and refuge that can come in handy for activists who might otherwise find themselves alone against the power of the state.

Most people in Hong Kong aren't Christians -- so what is it about this particular faith that seems to predispose its adherents to activism? Surely that's worth examining.
--Christian Caryl, Foreign Policy, on beliefs that motivate