Religion and revolution

OC2Occupy Central, the revolution that’s brewing for almost a week now in Hong Kong, has been front and center in major news outlets. For those unfamiliar with what’s been happening in Hong Kong, this massive protest boils down to the demand for universal suffrage, a right that Beijing has wrested away from voters in this tiny territory that was returned to China in 1997. To get up-to-speed, see this nice summary by the South China Morning Post.

While most media reports have focused on the political aspects of this movement, few have noted the involvement of religion in Occupy Central (originally called Occupy Central with Love and Peace). Many of the movement’s key leaders are Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. In Beijing’s eyes, these Christians are seen as “troublesome gangsters of Hong Kong”. On the streets, churches have opened up their space to accommodate protesters, allowing them to use their facilities. Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said every Catholic in Hong Kong “has the right and duty to get involved” in politics. Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old Protestant and founder of Scholarism, has been organizing social movements since he was 15. Christians in China are now the thorn in the side of the Chinese government.

What’s vexing for Beijing is not merely the massive number of people these leaders have organized but the increasing public role Christians and Christian churches have taken in these events. Some have noted that such a developing public theology in a secular society, evolving from a “New Calvinism” that’s imported from the West, allows these Christians to better organize and resist the intrusive Chinese state. Place the Occupy Central movement in context of what has happened with the crackdown on Christian churches in Wenzhou and Beijing in the last year and it becomes immediately clear a larger confrontation between Christianity and the Chinese government looms near.

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