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How the Umbrella Motion Spurred Hong Kong’s Digital Witn…… | Information & Reporting

This month marks the seventh anniversary of the Umbrella Movement and the second anniversary of the Hong Kong government’s official withdrawal of its controversial extradition invoice.

For a lot of Hong Kongese, these are bittersweet reminiscences. On the one hand, the sequence of pro-democratic actions since 2014 present the Hong Kongese’s urge for a greater society that goes past the capitalistic ethos of the town; on the opposite, these actions turned a Pandora’s field of civil unrest. Two years in the past, 2 million individuals protested towards the extradition regulation in June, and the implementation of the national security law the yr after led to mass arrests and a crackdown on democratic events.

Hong Kong Christians famously took to the streets in prayer and in track as a part of the demonstrations. However what worldwide audiences might haven’t seen is how the political developments in Hong Kong launched the church into the digital public sphere too. Going through tighter non secular freedoms, Christian leaders have grown their presence on-line and on social media.

Even because the Hong Kong diaspora has scattered throughout the globe, leaders have taken to the digital area as a platform to indicate solidarity to the persecuted and to instruct followers to persevere via tough instances. The digital public theology they’ve developed over the previous seven years has grown right into a witness for the worldwide church.

Writing on the Mid-Autumn Competition, the day Hong Kong households are inclined to reunite (tuan yuan) to see the total moon (yue yuan, a play on phrases for “reunion”), I consider the persistent prayers for our brothers and sisters are struggling on the opposite facet of the world and our compassion for many who can’t see their households because of exile or imprisonment.

The Umbrella Motion (2014–2019)

Within the mid-2010s, protestors in Hong Kong relied on on-line platforms similar to Fb, Firechat, and Golden Discussion board to speak their methods, which required rapid response through the motion; half of these concerned in demonstrations had been under 25.

The transfer impressed a shift amongst pastors and Christian leaders as effectively, as they deliberately started to develop a digital public theology for the primary time. They addressed what was occurring round them from a Christian perspective.

Many mirrored on the which means of the separation of church and state, which is harassed in most evangelical denominations in Hong Kong. Due to the huge entry on-line, their teachings prolonged to achieve those that wouldn’t often learn Christian articles in conventional media.

Just like the chasm through the 2016 US election, factions shaped on-line throughout and after the motion, with Christians on either side. The professional-democratic activists turned the “yellow group” due to their frequent use of a yellow umbrella as an emblem—umbrellas being a device for self-defense when protestors had been attacked by tear fuel. The “blue group” was composed of those that supported police, who wore blue uniforms and tried to suppress “violence” via tear fuel.

Either side incessantly obtained memes and information of their WhatsApp discussion groups, however the yellow group tended to be digital natives who generated content material on the pro-Umbrella Motion Fb teams.

The Umbrella Motion had an instantaneous impact in church buildings. Many protestors struggled to remain at congregations that maintained silence in an effort to uphold the separation of church and state. This impressed the institution of parachurches, similar to Umbrella Metropolis Cyberchurch (UCC), which launched in 2014, and Movement Church, which started in 2018.

The benefit of creating these parachurches is that they supply flexibility for pastoral leaders to work alongside different native church buildings with out being certain by present denominations with fastened political ideologies.

“The Umbrella City Cyberchurch intends to assemble, mirror, and practise a ‘Umbrella Theology,’” UCC writes on its Fb web page. “The UCC goals to enhance and deepen the Umbrella Revolution as a valued revolution, to reconstruct Hong Kong’s core values.”

These parachurches are typically extra tech savvy and are energetic on social media, offering live-streamed providers for younger Christians who query the function of church buildings within the motion.

The Umbrella Motion additionally raised the difficulty of decentralization, criticizing authority figures who dominated the path of the motion. Whereas that is true for political ideologies, it’s debatable whether or not Christian communities embrace the idea of decentralization wholeheartedly.

Digital theologian Heidi Campbell has highlighted the significance of charisma amongst pastoral figures on-line; those that emerged as key opinion leaders after the motion had been often pastors or theologians that already held some form of authority amongst their communities.

I don’t understand digital media and particularly dynamics amongst Christian teams as a complete decentralization, however the shift of public theology on-line was observable. For instance, the lead pastor of Movement Church, John Chan, continues to make use of his private Fb web page, theologia autumnitas rosea est (theology is pink autumn), in addition to Flow Church’s Facebook page to relate his wrestle to be a pastoral chief after the Umbrella Motion.

His reflections on-line resonated with church leavers who couldn’t specific their political opinions freely in bodily church buildings, the place politics turned a taboo topic. In some methods, the shift helped create a platform for protestors to mirror on a theology that engages with public points after the motion.

The Anti-Extradition Regulation Protests (2019–2020)

June 2019 turned the kairos for Christian leaders to talk out, because of the proposal of extradition legal guidelines in Hong Kong that will have imposed China’s legal guidelines on the town and affected non secular freedoms. Outside prayer conferences had been promoted on social media, which attracted each Christians and non-Christians.

Since non secular meeting was exempted as authorized gatherings beneath Hong Kong legal guidelines, protestors joined Christians to carry out “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” close to the Hong Kong authorities complicated as an act of resistance. The general public presence of Christians was amplified on the protest web site, in addition to via livestreams on Fb.

Furthermore, digital media has change into a platform for Christian teams to specific their public theology, not solely due to the frequent utilization of social media through the social actions but in addition due to the restrictions on in-person actions because of COVID-19 since January 2020.

For instance, the Hong Kong Pastors Community, comprising pastoral leaders of various denominations, issued the assertion “Hong Kong 2020 Gospel Declaration” on-line to problem authoritarianism in Might 2020, which highlighted the significance of justice in addition to the proclamation of gospel. The assertion will be in comparison with the 1934 Barmen Declaration from German pastors towards Nazis ideology.

“Within the face of a totalitarian regime that distorts information, controls the media, and buries the Reality, the Church courageously rejects all falsehood, and factors out what the regime has completed incorrect,” learn one level.

Protestants change into extra vocal about Christian engagement with the social actions. Solar Fuk Channel (“Bitterly Blessed” Channel), a web-based Christian present, invited Protestant leaders from completely different denominations to debate the Hong Kong protests. Mission Residents, a marketing campaign consisting of pastoral leaders, laypersons, and teachers, additionally initiated a sequence of prayer actions and on-line talks to bridge the hole between the blue and yellow groups.

Whereas the Umbrella Motion had already caught media consideration globally, the campaigns within the following years targeted far more on worldwide consideration, with a number of crowdfunding ads positioned in main newspapers. Initially these had been created by protestors who wished to lift issues to those that help democracy all all over the world.

However because the protests proceeded, Christians additionally adopted this type of digital outreach to lift prayer help for each the Hong Kong diaspora and, via translated prayers, for Christians who converse different languages. This led to a extra world outlook of Hong Kong public theology, the place the Hong Kong diaspora additionally helped to advance the Hong Kong protests and assemble the pro-democratic discourses.

Put up-Nationwide Safety Regulation (2020–Current)

Democratic campaigns in Hong Kong quieted after the nationwide safety regulation started being enforced final July. Members feared getting arrested. Activists had moved abroad because of political persecution.

Nonetheless, due to the emphasis on worldwide consideration, the social actions about Hong Kong have change into extra transnational, similar to the continual marketing campaign of democracy in Hong Kong by Nathan Law, the youngest elected lawmaker in Hong Kong historical past and an asylum seeker in the UK.

A number of Protestant leaders, after transferring abroad, proceed to construct on the present theological dialogue to nurture Christians on-line. For these leaders, similar to Rev. Roy Chan of England Good Neighbour Church and Rev. Yeung Kin-keung (d. September 15, 2021) of Hong Kong Christian Church in Edinburgh, it’s extra about “telling the reality of the gospel” than about highlighting the prevalence of their id as yellow group Christians.

Reasonably than saying that the protests are over, I consider the way in which they’ve scattered Hong Kongese all all over the world. In my present metropolis, Edinburgh, I see that half of the protestors who be part of the in-person rallies in regards to the state of affairs in Hong Kong are Protestants or not less than related to the Chinese language church buildings right here.

Whereas English media tends to report the event of pro-democratic activists, it must be harassed that the blue group can also be fairly energetic. Vancouver-based Christian thinker Leung Yin-shing is a well-liked visitor speaker amongst Chinese language media within the diaspora such because the Media Evangelism, regardless of his feedback that protestors had been too violent once they fought again towards the triads throughout the 721 mob attack in July 2019.

On YouTube, not less than half of the outcomes protecting the protests in Chinese language condemn the members as rioters or cockroaches. Whether or not or not one perceives these movies towards the protests as propaganda, the digital sphere just isn’t as pro-democratic as one might imagine.

As Christians, we’re blessed with free will granted by God, in addition to the liberty of speech on-line. We may additionally discern how we will use them sensibly to be the witness of God. Whereas I’m not an enormous fan of the phrase “silence is golden,” which has broken Hong Kong church buildings for the reason that Umbrella Motion, we might ponder whether or not our on-line speech is beneficial for constructing others up (Eph. 4:29).

We may additionally ponder whether sharing specific information tales on-line is helpful for our followers, particularly since a few of these will be faux information or with false condemnation. This will probably be a steady lesson for Hong Kong Christians, in addition to my mates within the UK or the US the place the digital area is additional dichotomized because of political variations.

The Put up-1984 Lifetime of Hong Kong Christians

Certainly, Hong Kong Christians will face additional persecution, which is already constructed up by the assault of Ta Kung Po, the state-owned newspaper in Hong Kong. For a lot of, life within the current is far worse than 1984 Hong Kong, the yr Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping signed the Sino-British Declaration to substantiate Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997—for the latter confronted solely imaginary concern, however the former’s concern is rapid.

Following the cross removal of Zhejiang churches within the mid-2010s, Hong Kong Christians usually marvel once they would be the subsequent, particularly as Xia Baolong, a determine who’s instrumental within the removing marketing campaign in Zhejiang, has been Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Workplace since February 2020.

The pursuit of peace in Christians’ hearts, in addition to the work produced by this mentality, will differentiate their witness from individuals with different beliefs. Within the Hong Kong protests, the phrase “concern, then you’ll lose your complete life” (qie, ni jiu shu cheng shi), from a 2013 film Unbeatable, is usually quoted to specific the urgency of protesting for Hong Kong’s future.

I discover this phrase to be somewhat Christian: If concern dominates your life, it appears to contradict the assumption that God gives steering and peace. Residing as much as this motto is not going to be simple, however it would change into important as occasions develop in Hong Kong.

When conventional media in Hong Kong fails to supply complete views on sure information, the shift to digital media will change into extra evident within the coming months and will probably be accelerated because of the mass migration of Hong Kongese to different components of the world.

On-line engagement by Christians will change into extra vital to additional develop a digital public theology for Hong Kong, whether or not it’s for evangelism or for offering an area for many who are traumatized by the social occasions in Hong Kong.

To be the channel of peace, whereas constantly talking the reality, would be the foremost duty for all Christians within the digital area. I welcome brothers and sisters all around the world to hope for Hong Kong Christians for his or her witness on-line and offline.

Calida Chu is a Hong Kongese theologian and Instructing Fellow on the Faculty of Divinity, College of Edinburgh. She will be discovered on Twitter at @calidachu.

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