As protests continue in Hong Kong, we asked Alex McCoy, vicar of St Andrew’s Church, Kowloon, to help us understand the situation a little better. Here are his answers.
TGCA: Could you begin by bringing us up to date. We saw those massive rallies against the extradition bill but things seem to have continued after the bill’s suspension and removal. What are the larger issues at work?
There is a perception amongst many that Carrie Lam and the government were slow in listening to public opinion after the mass rallies in June against the extradition bill. Frustration and anger increased during the cycle of protests in July and August which led to instances of civil disobedience, damage to public property, and violence. It seems that the tension is now no longer about the bill, but a deeper mistrust held by some towards the government.
Hong Kong is in a period of grief and despondency. Many people have a creeping sense of hopelessness for the future.
Hong Kong is in a period of grief and despondency. Many people have a creeping sense of hopelessness for the future due to many complex factors including housing affordability, work and education pressures, and the city’s political future. Finding solutions to these concerns highlight deep divisions in Hong Kong society.
TGCA: What are the protestors wanting to achieve?
The protestors’ publicly stated demands are well documented: the dropping of the term ‘riots’ to classify the protests; for police to drop the charges against those arrested during the protests; for the government to convene an independent inquiry into the recent events; and for universal suffrage and the opportunity to democratically elect leaders.
However, more simply, the protestors simply want to be listened to and have their concerns heard. They are communicating that they have uncertainty about the future of Hong Kong that they want clarified.
TGCA: At the start of the protests a number of reports highlighted the involvement of Christian leaders and churches and suggested that this was part of the reason why things were staying peaceful. Is that (still) correct?
At the beginning, the mass demonstrations against the bill did have widespread support amongst churches in Hong Kong. The city does have a long tradition of peaceful demonstrations and civic pride, which is encouraged by many church leaders. The challenge going forward for churches is to visibly demonstrate the unity that we have in Christ, even though Christians will sometimes disagree on the solutions to the current crisis.
TGCA: Has St Andrew’s been involved in any way?
We have felt a close proximity to the tensions in the city. St Andrew’s is located in the heart of a busy retail and tourist district, directly opposite a police station. There have been several protests outside our church directed against this police station, with tear gas and riot police involved.
Otherwise, we’ve sought to remind one another of God’s sovereignty in all things. Even though there are no easy solutions to our present circumstances, God governs our affairs. We can easily see that circumstances constantly change and are out of our control, so we’ve tried to encourage one another to lift our eyes to see God’s goodness and the peace that he offers to all in Christ.
TGCA: What is the mood among your parishioners? What are their hopes and fears?
Like most people in Hong Kong, our church members are deeply affected. They grieve and are saddened by the situation, by the cycle of violence, and by the deep divisions that have developed in Hong Kong society. For many, these divisions are a lived experience, hurting friendships and households.
TGCA: How have you been advising them to think and act?
The past fifteen weeks have been an incredible stimulus to prayer in many facets of our community life: on Sundays, in special prayer meetings, in our small groups, and with individuals. We’ve been comforted by God’s sovereignty, and spoken about how to pray for the city, for the government, and for various groups.
The past fifteen weeks have been an incredible stimulus to prayer. We’ve been comforted by God’s sovereignty, and spoken about how to pray for the city, for the government, and for various groups.
We’ve spoken about how to disagree well with one another. That means being quick to listen, slow to apportion impure motives to those against whom we disagree, reflecting deeply upon our own motives, and being quick to extend grace and forgiveness when we feel hurt or slighted.
It’s easy for people to disagree with one another during this crisis, especially over questions of justice. Christians should be concerned for justice and we should work for it in Hong Kong. Yet, it’s okay to disagree about political solutions. The bible’s vision of justice is so comprehensive that no current political framework can fully express it. We should be cognisant of the limitations of our own views, and when we disagree with one another, seek to maintain gospel unity, understanding that ultimately God alone is able to provide perfect justice.
TGCA: What specific things can we be praying for the situation in Hong Kong?
Pray for a climate of restraint and mutual understanding, for differing groups to be able to listen to one another, for healing, and for a return to peace. Pray for the government to exercise its authority well and to act with justice. Pray that Hong Kong people will endeavour to regain their trust and respect for the government.
The encouragement for Christians is to maintain our unity in Christ, even when we disagree with one another on solutions to the current crisis, and to reaffirm our faith in the goodness and sovereignty of God. Pray that we would do this. In a city where many are losing hope for the future, pray that Christians would proclaim the everlasting hope that Jesus offers to all through his death and resurrection, and that many would turn to him.