HONG KONG (Reuters) – When Hong Kong’s largely gentle pro-democracy protests turned violent closing summer season, it drove a wedge through every fragment of society, dividing associates, households and also worshippers at its extra than 1,500 church buildings.

Ricky Wong Wai-hung, 54, Pastor-in-price of Trinity Theological Baptist Church, poses after an interview with Reuters in Hong Kong, China July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The huge majority of folks in Hong Kong articulate some form of Buddhist, Taoist or assorted mature Chinese faith, however the mature British colony has about 900,000 practising Christians, about 12% of the population per authorities figures, slit up almost evenly between Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths. There is no longer any consensus among them concerning the protests or China’s tightening grip on the metropolis.

Canaan Wong, Blesson Chan and Kristy Chan, all in their mid-20s, are segment of a team of about forty folks that in late June quit their positions as mentors and teachers on the evangelical Tung Fook Church, because they stated they felt stress from senior church leaders to sustain gentle about political matters.

They stated a complete lot of pastors had been educated by church leaders to steal their names from public statements opposing a invoice closing Three hundred and sixty five days that would per chance comprise allowed prison suspects to be extradited to mainland China, the difficulty which sparked the protests. The invoice became finally withdrawn. The three stated they did no longer know which church leaders, or what number of, had been telling pastors to steal their names.

“It sends chills down our spine with such self-censoring,” stated Wong. “This reveals that on this church, politics clearly overrides faith and fact.”

The team wants the church to focus on up on political points, corresponding to the fresh nationwide security law enacted by China on June 30, which makes the leisure that Beijing regards as subversion or promoting independence punishable by existence in detention center.

“We’re no longer asking for a yellow church,” stated Blesson Chan, the usage of the local shorthand for pro-democracy. “We honest feel that church is a segment of the society and ought to gentle no longer be hiding up in an ivory tower.”

The team is made up our minds to comprise talks with leaders of the church, which is positioned subsequent to the headquarters of China’s fresh nationwide security company in Hong Kong, about easy programs to fetch to the backside of their points. A consultant for Tung Fook church stated it wished to “enhance communication and fetch rid of bewilderment” with the team.

If the church does no longer steal a stand, the three stated they feared this may even merely close up reminiscent of the Three-Self Patriotic Circulate, a Protestant organization in mainland China that is carefully managed by the enlighten and whose leaders staunchly give a purchase to the Chinese Communist Birthday party.

The Nationwide Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Circulate of the Protestant Churches in China declined to comment.

Even supposing China is an officially atheist enlighten, it does allow clear enlighten-supervised non secular organizations, corresponding to the Three-Self Patriotic Circulate, to operate. Alternatively, Beijing has closed down many so-called underground or dwelling church buildings exterior the enlighten-managed system and has imprisoned worshippers on the grounds that they are extra valid to their faith than to the Chinese enlighten.

Chinese authorities did no longer respond to a ask for comment.

‘TEAM JESUS’

On the assorted facet of the divide is a 49-Three hundred and sixty five days-mature police officer, who stated he left the Christian and Missionary Alliance Tak Tsuen Church after 14 years closing June, when he became abused by fellow worshippers who educated him the police deserved to be attacked by protesters.

“As Christians, seeing the police bleed and wounded, how can you suspect it’s factual and we deserve it?” stated Tell, who asked to be identified by most productive one title. The church did no longer respond to a ask for comment.

Almost in the present day after, the policeman joined Trinity Theology Baptist Church, arrange by mature police officer Ricky Wong, 54, as a refuge for police who felt unwelcome in other locations.

“I comprise to diminish my brothers’ and sisters’ hatred in direction of the yellow camp,” Wong educated Reuters, relating to the total opposition among police officers to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy slip.

“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they had been harassed and helpless, admire sheep without a shepherd,” stated Wong, quoting a passage from the Bible. “These folks are also lambs.”

Wong stated the 120 or so people of his church, which consist of many people of the uniformed services and products plus some scientific doctors and teachers, pray at secret areas for concern of being targeted by pro-democracy activists.

No subject his enlighten of affairs concerning the yellow camp, Wong stated he did no longer name as blue, or pro-Beijing. As an quite quite loads of, he described his congregation as “Crew Jesus.”

ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD

When China took support control of Hong Kong in 1997, it adopted the precept of “one nation, two systems” and agreed to uphold the territory’s Classic Law, its de facto structure, which contains the freedom of speech and faith.

That precept is now viewed to be below threat after China imposed the fresh nationwide security law, which supporters order will bring stability to the financial hub, however critics order will crush all forms of freedom.

Hong Kong’s authorities did no longer respond to a ask for comment. It has stated beforehand the fresh security law preserves “the elemental rights and freedom lawfully loved by law-abiding electorate.” The law makes no mention of non secular groups.

Nonetheless, church leaders are treading cautiously.

A day sooner than the law became imposed, Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention of Hong Kong, the umbrella team for the metropolis’s 164 Baptist congregations, posted a message serious of the law on the convention’s online page, however took it down a day later.

“We demand the authorities to enact honest laws to label society harmonious and receive,” stated Lo in the withdrawn publish, arguing that the fresh security law would per chance no longer attain prolonged-term stability and that most productive a in actuality democratic system would lead to prosperity. 

Lo, sixty eight, educated Reuters he became anxious by an nameless caller who accused him of encouraging violence.

Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper managed by the Chinese enlighten, singled out Lo for what it called “hijacking the church buildings.” The newspaper did no longer respond to a ask for comment.

“In church buildings now, assorted folks, assorted political stances are continuously battling,” stated Wong. “Obliging now, I don’t think the rift in our society would per chance even be mended.”

Reporting By Yanni Chow in Hong Kong; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Modifying by Bill Rigby