Hong Kong protests a Christian mission? But first, . . .

Offline eighteen days and Trueman vanishes from the site, Turk takes on Jones's and Levy's presbyterianism, and I miss "Deviant Calvinism week." Conspiracy theorists (and perhaps certain biblical theology practitioners) might discern a theme, but enough about what everyone else is discussing.

I thought the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong were going to fade before I was back online, but they continue. In mainland China the headlines are mostly on other issues or about how these pesky youths are frustrating commuters in the once orderly colony. (Such party-supporting spin is exactly the sort of thing Hong Kongers are trying to resist.) Meanwhile, WSJ online ran Ned Levin's piece under this headline: "Hong Kong Democracy Protests Carry a Christian Mission for Some."

Levin reports that many of the protest organizers self-identify as Christian, "including the 17-year-old leader of a student group and two of the three heads of Occupy Central." One of the latter two is a baptist minister, the other a professor. Also, one of the most outspoken supporters of the Occupy Central protest group is the city's former Roman Catholic bishop. Reports from other quarters indicate that both evangelical and more liberal protestants are participating in disproportionate numbers relative to their share of the general population, and the whole affair has a clear, but not exclusive, Christian cast to it with Jesus-themed signs, barricades doubling as chapels, public Christian prayers, and the like.

Yet, one of the leading critics of the movement is the Anglican Archbishop, who seems to cast the organizers as uninformed and misguided in a heavily-criticized sermon; and Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old student organizer, has reportedly been frustrated over the refusal of church leaders to take a more activist stance. But there are very good reasons for church leaders, however sympathetic their personal political convictions may be, to hold back:

First, democracy is not the church's message or her mission. The church, as the only institution on earth entrusted with God's word, has things to say to civil magistrates and she must be willing to say those things even when it will cost her dearly (in worldly terms). Democracy, however, is neither her message nor her mission. Confusion on this point will undermine her ability to care for God's people and maintain the purity and potency of her witness; it will also do real harm to the wider society. The world needs the church to be the church, not some sort of political action committee. Besides, she will mangle whatever political activism she does attempt because she was not designed and ordered for that work; her work is to glorify God by proclaiming the gospel to all people in all places and to gather in and perfect the elect as worshipers through the ministry of word and sacrament.

Second, politicizing the church seems unlikely to do any good for the cause of Christ in China or the world. To closely associate the church with disruptive democratic protests in defiance of the rulers in Beijing, especially in the wake of recent disputes over church property in some locations, seems likely to undermine those voices within the party that lobby for a more moderate stance toward the tens of thousands of unregistered churches that fill the mainland. In recent decades, an unofficial but clearly evident (and very welcome) tolerance has emerged. It remains as fragile as the party is paranoid, and any unnecessary politicization of the church or Christian identity in China could do serious and perhaps permanent harm to millions of Christians who love their country, strive to live peaceably under its rulers, and seek the welfare of their neighbors. 

I do not judge our brothers and sisters who have made the decision to join the protests in Hong Kong--on the contrary--but I hope they are clear that they do so as citizens of Hong Kong and China and not as a matter of Christian mission. More to the the point of this post, I hope this helps you pray well for the church in China, in both Hong Kong and the mainland, not only in light of recent headlines but also in view of the continuing integration of Hong Kong and her churches into mainland China.