Hong Kong: Can Christians Protest?

Back in Hong Kong, I see reports on the BBC’s news website that flights are being disrupted at the airport on account of the protests. I am due to fly back home tomorrow and the thought of staying longer in this giant sauna does not delight me. Around the hotel and plaza to which it is attached, I see groups of young men, some wearing masks. Are they enjoying a pleasant evening together and wising to avoid the city’s famous fumes, or are they planning the next round of dissent? Police vans park on the road. Are they there to dissuade locals from congregating or are they performing routine patrols? I do not know. The online videos show the protestors waving Union Flag, the old British colonial flag, and the US stars and stripes. In the meantime, they tear down the red flags of China, much to the chagrin of ordinary Chinese people and the powerful state which that cloth represents.

Still it raises questions about the rights and wrongs of civil disobedience and objecting to a government. From my point of view, and that of the Chinese state, the demonstrations are dangerous, disorderly and causing a chaos we could all do without. The police have responded with a show of strength, employing tear gas, non-lethal bullets and baton charges. Some of the demonstrators, use petrol bombs and bricks. Why are these Hongkongers doing this?

They are concerned about recent legislation which allows Hong Kong citizens to be sent to mainland China for trial and sentence. As an authoritarian state, Communist China has a tough justice system and is the world’s most prolific executioner of prisoners, though it does not release the figures. Western Human Rights organisations estimate the figure to be about 2000 per annum. Let’s also remember that China is criticised for its use of torture and show trials. With all this in mind, one can understand the level of feeling here in Hong Kong. Imagine if British citizens could be extradited to fellow EU countries for alleged offences committed in the UK. We too would take to the streets. Or would we?

The sermon I heard at Bridgman Baptist last week took the text from 1 Peter 2:

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. (emphasis mine).

Let’s remember that the ‘king’ to whom Peter refers is Nero Caesar- a vile, unjust individual who murdered his mother, his first wife and probably his second. He castrated a male slave and ‘married’ him. He attached Christians to poles and burnt them to death, the light from the flames illuminating his garden parties. Subsequent emperors were better, but only just.

So perhaps Peter has made a mistake? Well not if the Holy Spirit inspired him. We are not to honour rulers just when we like them but because of their God-appointed office. Civil government, though imperfect, is one of God’s gifts to fallen humanity. It is a means by which sin is limited and a sense of justice remains. Of course, we look forward to the day when this imperfect government is replaced by Christ’s perfect government, but until then, says Peter, obey the state and honour those in authority. So much as I understand and sympathise with the protestors’ aims and fears, their violent methods I cannot condone.

We in the West, enjoying the benefits of democracy, have less need to protest. A government we do not like, we vote out. If you wish Corbyn occupies Number Ten rather than Johnson, you may vote for his party and hope enough of your fellow countrymen do the same. Might one argue that voting against a sitting government is contrary to Peter’s instruction? How about criticising it or taking to Twitter and objecting to its policies? Scripture’s teaching to respect, submit and honour does not necessarily mean support, like and love. I believe it allows for peaceful protest but not violence or revolution.

I hope my plane leaves tomorrow night, with me on it. I hope order is restored to Hong Kong. I hope the former colony will enjoy the benefits of a fair and transparent judicial system. Sadly, I’m not sure that all three of these hopes are going to be realised. Thank God, we know that a far better Ruler is already on His way:

“And, behold, I come quickly”. Revelation 22:12