Hong Kong: Top Christian leader signals softening of attitude to Beijing

Umbrellas became the symbol of the Occupy Hong Kong movement in 2014.Reuters

Churches in Hong Kong should not simply criticise the Beijing government, but work towards reconciliation and peace, the chairman of the city's Christian Council has said.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Rev Eric So Shing-yit said: "In the past, I've heard relatively more often that churches should be like a prophet... speaking up on social issues, criticising unfair systems, autocracies and suppression. But is that all we should do?"

Churches should serve their communities, and be like a priest "who prays and brings reconciliation" for people, and draws them closer to God, he added.

Christians were at the forefront of huge protests for free democracy in Hong Kong in 2014. Among the key figures of the 'Occupy Central' movement were Baptist minister Rev Chu Yiu-ming, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the former Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong, and Christian student and activist Joshua Wong, who mobilised thousands of his fellow students to join the demonstrations.

In total, around 100,000 people flooded the streets of Hong Kong in protest against the Chinese government's insistence on screening political candidates to ensure their allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The demonstrations lasted 79 days.

Speaking to Christian Today from Hong Kong at the time, professor of politics at City University, Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, confirmed that many Christians were personally involved in the protests.

"Christians by nature are anticommunist as the Communist party are atheist and the tolerance for Christians under the Communist regime is extremely limited," he said.

"Also, Christians believe in the next world, and so are more willing to sacrifice, and to fight injustice."

So hinted toward Hong Kong's troubled relationship with Beijing, and said he expected to face "great challenges" in his two-year term as chairman.

"Hong Kong is very divided and polarised, and we need to learn to lay ourselves down and love each other," he said.

The Christian Council has 10 seats on Hong Kong's Election Committee which selects the chief executive of the city, currently Leung Chun-ying. So urged Leung to promote "tolerance and respect" in Hong Kong society.

"As a servant, it is crucial to think about how to set aside personal interest and dedicate yourself," he said. "This is what I tell everyone about leadership."

The Hong Kong Christian Council is a Christian ecumenical organisation founded in 1954. According to its website, it "promotes a united witness and outreach to the whole society. It is the visible sign of church unity in Hong Kong, promoting the spirit and work of the ecumenical movement."

It represents a total of 22 denominations and societies.