An estimated 2 million people—nearly a third of Hong Kong’s population of 7 million—took to the streets last night to protest the government’s handling of a wildly unpopular extradition bill. While many Hong Kongers are favorable of a more democratic society with the right to elect their own officials, church-goers may be even more so. Several church leaders have backed the recent protests and voiced support for a more democratic Hong Kong in the process.
“You’re western journalists. Please stay with us here tonight. We’re worried about a police crackdown. If they shoot us, if they hurt us, if they kill us, we want someone to have witnessed it,” Australian journalist Hamish MacDonald was told Sunday night by protestors concerned for their safety.
A sea of people filled the streets overnight, marching a distance of about three kilometers from the area between Victoria Park and Admiralty, which are located on the northern side of Hong Kong Island. Admiralty is the area where Carrie Lam (the Chief Executive of Hong Kong) has her office. The protestors are calling for the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, the acknowledgment that the most recent round of protests have been peaceful and not worthy of the label “riot”, and the release of protestors who have been arrested.
Hong Kong Protests: No Extradition Bill
The protests started earlier this month when Hong Kong’s rulers–which are elected by Hong Kongers, but only after they’ve been approved by China’s seat of power, Beijing–put forth a bill that would allow for the extradition of offenders in Hong Kong to mainland China. On Saturday, June 15th, after a surprising 1.03 million people took to the streets the week before, Lam announced the bill would be shelved, indicating it likely won’t be passed this year. For the protestors, though, that announcement was not enough. They called for Lam’s resignation and took to the streets again Sunday night, this time effectively doubling their numbers.
The Church’s Involvement in the Hong Kong Protests
On June 9th, the leader of a megachurch that tends to side with the government made a comment on the church’s Facebook page calling for the extradition bill to the shelved. Patrick So is the senior pastor of Yan Fook Church, which is home to about 10,000 members.
Yan Fook Church isn’t the only Christian group that has publicly announced its opposition to the extradition bill. On June 11th, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong issued an appeal to the government requesting the government not pass the Extradition Bill “hurriedly before adequately addressing the queries and worries of the legal sector and of the general public.” Additionally, the appeal asked for the government and the public to seek “peaceful channels” to find a solution to the “impasse”, and that Christians would “continue praying for Hong Kong society.” It should be noted that Lam is a member of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Joseph Zen of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong actually spoke at an extradition protest rally. He lamented the fact that some protestors over the years have been met with violence from the police, even when the protestors have been peaceful. “Many young people in the occupation were peaceful but they were shot by the police,” Cardinal Zen wrote on his Twitter account. Cardinal Zen has also held prayer gatherings and observed Mass for “the future of H.K.”
Sing Hallelujah to the Lord
Christian groups joining in the protests have taken up singing the hymn “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”. Several videos of protestors singing the hymn have been posted on Twitter. Some are even going so far as to call the song the protest’s anthem.
sing hallelujah to the lord pic.twitter.com/en3g39xiZV
— 三爪 (@sanzhao4) June 16, 2019
<script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
— Nathan Law 羅冠聰 (@nathanlawkc) June 13, 2019
A group of Christians and youngsters have gathered on a footbridge outside #HK gov HQ, facing dozens of police behind barricades. Some of them singing “Sing hallelujah to the lord”. Placards read “Stop shooting HK student. Stop treating HK citizens violently.”#ExtraditionBill pic.twitter.com/2MWcrQIhbu
— Shirley Zhao (@shirleyZhaoXY) June 13, 2019
The Reverend Chu Yiu-ming of Chai Wan Baptist Church is seen in this video leading the hymn:
1970s Christian worship song “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” sung here by retired pastor and Occupy Central leader Chu Yiu-ming, has become an unlikely rallying cry among #HongKong anti-extradition protesters. #NoChinaExtradition #HongKongProtests #反送中 #616黑衣大遊行 pic.twitter.com/hoi0Oq0ww8
— Coconuts Hong Kong (@CoconutsHK) June 16, 2019
Joshua Wong Released Early From Prison
It seems the protestors caught an unexpected win when Joshua Wong was released from prison before his two-month sentence was completed. Wong was a main face in the 2014 Umbrella Movement, which called for more open elections. The Umbrella Movement gave voice to residents’ growing frustration over elections for government leadership which only include a Beijing-approved list of candidates. While it is not clear whether Wong’s early release is due to a common practice that releases prisoners early for good behavior (when they have served half their sentence) or whether it was more of a gesture of goodwill from authorities.
Upon being released, Wong took up protestors’ latest cause and used his platform to call for Lam’s resignation.
Hello world and hello freedom. I have just been released from prison. GO HONG KONG!! Withdraw the extradition bill. Carrie Lam step down. Drop all political prosecutions!
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 (@joshuawongcf) June 17, 2019
What Does the Future Hold for Hong Kong?
Full integration of Hong Kong into mainland China is scheduled to happen by 2047 according to the original plan set in place when Great Britain gave up control of Hong Kong in 1997. However, it appears if the protestors have their way, such an integration will likely not happen. More than anything else, the current protests are motivated by opposition to the proposed trajectory of Hong Kong coming back under the complete rulership of mainland China in the years ahead. Several Hong Kongers and commentators alike are saying this protest could be the city’s “final” push for greater freedom.
For the church in Hong Kong, if protests such as these accomplish their goals, it would allow for the ability to exercise their faith with a much greater degree of freedom than churches in mainland China have.