Occupy Central

Church leaders divided over 'Occupy Central' plan

Prominent cardinal urges Hongkongers to join mass protest in fight for universal suffrage while other pastors advise against civil disobedience

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 5:18am

Local religious leaders have clashed over the Occupy Central movement in the battle for democracy, with one calling on Hongkongers to join in even as another argued against it.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, 81, said at a Baptist University forum yesterday that he would encourage all Hong Kong people to take part in the plan, spearheaded by law academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming. The plan called for at least 10,000 people to block traffic in Central in July next year unless the government delivered an acceptable proposal for universal suffrage.

"Sometimes, we have to do things that can be useless … because miracles can happen if you try," Zen said.

Sometimes, we have to do things that can be useless … because miracles can happen if you try
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun

Although he would be too busy to take an active role in the plan, Catholics should consider joining in to show their concern for the city, he said.

Zen's views contrasted with those of the Evangelical Free Church of China's Reverend Ng Chung-man, who was accused of twisting the words of the Bible after he wrote civil disobedience was not a biblical principle.

In the article, which appeared in his church's newsletter earlier this month, Ng wrote that while "some Christians are advocating … occupying Central to force the governments to give in to their demands … civil disobedience is acceptable biblically only … when people's rights to religion and to live are under threat". He stressed that believers ought to pray for those in authority, in "active subordination" to "relatively just governments".

Zen said he disagreed with Ng's views because "[the right] to live includes [the right] to live in a dignified manner as well as the right to democracy". "The Catholic Church agrees we have to co-operate with the government, but it also says, under extreme circumstances and in the face of a very wrong government, after peaceful means have completely failed … the people can even revolt," he said.

But Zen's endorsement of the movement also conflicted with the views of his successor, Cardinal John Tong Hon, who said last month he would not encourage followers to take part as communication was a better option.

Separately, at a forum co-hosted by the Church Renewal Movement, Tai said his movement was inspired by late United States civil rights leader Martin Luther King. "Churches were the powerhouse behind social reforms in the past," he said.

Dr Andrew Kwok Wai-luen, Baptist University's assistant professor of religion and philosophy, echoed Tai's view. "The Bible suggested that if our right to obey the greatest commandment - which is to love God … as well as our neighbours - and social justice were in crisis, we could consider undertaking an act of disobedience," he said.