Benedict Rogers: In Hong Kong, Churches Face a Difficult Choice

A sobering op-ed from the founder of Christian Solidarity Worldwide in Hong Kong:

Exactly a week from today, we will celebrate Christmas. Yet for the first time ever I worry for the fate of the Church in Hong Kong, and the ability of Hong Kong Christians to worship and live out their faith freely. […]

Hong Kong’s most prominent lay Catholic, the great Jimmy Lai, is in jail, facing serious charges under the National Security Law, along with fellow Catholic Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong, who has always been clear about how he is motivated by his Christian faith. And last week Hong Kong police raided the Good Neighbour North District Church and HSBC froze the bank accounts of the church, its pastor, Roy Chan, and his wife. Two of Pastor Chan’s colleagues were arrested, and his own arrest has been ordered.

Merry Christmas from Xi Jinping.

Freedom of worship — the ability to go to church on Sundays — may not be restricted immediately. But freedom of worship is only one dimension of religious freedom, and an anodyne one if it is bereft of conscience, values and meaning.

Church buildings may remain . . . but if pastors are hounded for standing for justice, priests ordered by their hierarchy to tone down their sermons and if churches that help vulnerable young activists in need of humanitarian and moral support are raided by the police, then religious freedom in its fullest form is already under assault in Hong Kong.

This is basically how international (i.e., expat) churches currently operate in China. Passports are required for entry. Worship is permitted so long as sensitive topics are off the table. “Anodyne” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

It seems that the Church — along with everyone else in Hong Kong — is effectively being presented with a choice: be loyal to the CCP or suffer the regime’s retribution. Or, to put it in more moral, theological terms, sell your soul to the devil or be prepared to carry your cross. […]

Churches have a tough choice to make — to compromise and sell out; to stay silent and hope to stay safe; or to live up to their values and risk everything. Their choice is not made any easier by the shameful silence of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The words of the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood up to the Nazis should, however, ring in their ears: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil … Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act”.

This is a dreadful choice to have to make. Below is a prayer for those who must make it. It’s taken from the Orthodox compline service — fitting, given the dark night that Hong Kong now faces.

Lord, O Lord, who deliver us from the arrows of temptation that fly by day, deliver us also from every deed of darkness. Accept the lifting up of our hands as an evening sacrifice. Grant that we may also pass through the course of the night without blemish, untried by evil, and deliver us from every trouble and from the fear that comes to us from the devil. Grant penitence to our souls, and let our minds be concerned with Your dread and righteous judgment. Nail down our flesh in fear of You, and mortify our earthly bodies, that in the calm of sleep, we may be made bright by the contemplation of Your judgments. Take from us every unseemly imagination and harmful desire. Raise us up at the time of prayer, strengthened in faith and advancing in Your commandments; through the good pleasure and goodness of Your Only-begotten Son, with whom You are blessed, together with Your All-holy, Good and Life-giving Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

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