The Age, by Kirsty Needham: Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam faced the public on Tuesday evening and apologised just days after two million people marched against her extradition bill, many of them calling for her resignation. But on Monday, Lam took counsel from six religious leaders.
The heavy hand of Communist Beijing is being watched in Hong Kong, as speculation rises over whether Lam will step down as leader. But another strong factor in Hong Kong’s politics –from the office of the chief executive to the streets and the people power movement – is Christianity.
Lam refused to become a Communist Party member because it would require her to renounce her Catholic faith.
Yet, while she met with Catholic Cardinal John Tong on Monday evening, Bishop Joseph Ha stayed outside her office, praying with young protesters who were demanding she step down.
“No matter how long they stay, I will continue to stay with them,” said Reverend Ha, 60.
Yat-ming Fung, director of the Hong Kong Catholic Social Affairs office, said protesters were in contact with priests, and when things became too agitated, they called the bishops down to the protest zone to soothe the situation.
“We are trying to keep the young ones calm,” said Fung, who is from Melbourne. “There is no way things should become violent.”
He says Lam is a member of Wanchai parish, but the Catholic church doesn’t promote any political candidates. Instead it calls for justice – which means universal suffrage.
On Wednesday, Cardinal Tong and the head of the Hong Kong Christian Church Reverend Eric So, issued a strong joint statement saying the churches accepted Lam’s personal and public apology “with the admission of her own inadequacies.”
But they called for Lam to go further, and “make an explicit, public statement that the bill has been ‘withdrawn,’ to meet the strong demand of the general public.” They said the churches also wanted an independent investigation into clashes between police and protesters on June 12.
The Catholic Church opposes the extradition law because it would imperil missionaries in China, where a crackdown on religious groups has worsened under President Xi Jinping.
“What if a particular individual is accused of illegal trading – selling the Bible?” says Fung, who marched on Sunday.
He also sang. “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” has become the movement’s anthem.
Australian lawyer Antony Dapiran says protesters believe religious songs would protect them from prosecution, because religious gatherings are exempt under Hong Kong’s public order laws.
On the night before police fired tear gas to disperse protesters on June 12, a church group started singing “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” on a footbridge overlooking the Legislative Council. They didn’t stop until the gas forced them out.
Professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan of Hong Kong Baptist University says Christianity, particularly Catholicism and Methodism, is a strong influence in Hong Kong’s political activism.
Umbrella movement founder Joshua Wong attended a Methodist school.
“Hong Kong is a religious city. All the top schools are Catholic. Lam went to a school run by nuns,” says Cabestan. “Many Chinese fled communism because they were Christian.”
The first mass democracy protest movement, Occupy Central, was launched at the Kowloon Union Church in 2013.
The only Occupy founder to escape prison in April, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, 75, was granted leniency for his record of public service. The Baptist pastor marched again on Sunday.
Kenneth Chan, a former Legislative Council member for the Civic Party, said many democracy activists like him are lay Catholics who feel strongly about protecting Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and religious freedom.
“It is not just the clergy. There are outspoken individual leaders like retired Cardinal Joseph Zen who are moral leaders, and many lay Catholics respond.”
On Tuesday, Lam held press conference to personally apologise to the public but refused to withdraw the extradition bill or step down. A day earlier police Commissioner Stephen Lo had sought to calm public anger by saying only five protesters had committed acts of rioting on June 12 and the majority of the young people should not fear prosecution. Lam said her position was the same.
But human rights groups said if only five people were violent, the police use of 150 rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets was disproportionate.
Chan said Lam’s government could no longer govern: “People are angry at her arrogance and she is not willing to listen. She should do the honourable thing and just go, but it may not be easy. Beijing may not let her go.”
Cabestan says it was “too late” on Monday for Lam to reach out to the church. She should have brought the community on [her] side earlier.
He said the chief executive role was an “impossible task – to answer to Beijing and at the same time be accountable to the people of Hong Kong.” No chief executive since the British handover has completed a full term.
“She is in damage control mode. It is hard to predict but she may be forced to resign soon, or she may survive because what are the alternatives?”
The Catholic Church is playing politics to gain leverage in Beijing. Who do you think will gain the upper hand?
“And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” Revelation 17:1-2.