Hong Kong Christians must act to make a ‘constructive difference’ in society, former Archbishop of Canterbury says

Dr Rowan Williams also says he will continue to fight for gay rights, saying some of the best priests he had known were gay

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 8:02am

Christian leaders and followers must speak up when appropriate and make a constructive difference in society, even if it means becoming unpopular with a political party, the government or the media, the former archbishop who led the 85 million-stong Anglican church has said.

Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, was responding to questions on the role Christians should play in Hong Kong, where its residents and Christian churches have been deeply divided on issues such as democratic reforms and gay rights.

Speaking in an exclusive interview in Hong Kong, the 67-year-old also said he would continue to argue for the political and civil dignity of homosexuals, saying some of the best priests he had known were gay.

Williams is visiting Hong Kong as an adviser to the Lui Che Woo Prize, which honours promoters of “world civilisation”.

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In recent years, Hong Kong has been divided socially and politically, especially after the 79-day Occupy sit-ins in 2014. Some Christian clerics and activists, such as Joshua Wong Chi-fung, had participated in the Occupy protests, while others who opposed those actions were criticised by believers and non-believers alike.

Williams believes that political division is a global phenomenon as there has been “a revival of nationalism and localism”, especially in the US, Europe and Asia in recent years.

He said education was important when tackling those trends, and Hong Kong, as an international city in China, was well-positioned to play a role in raising the region’s awareness about the relationship between – and find possible solutions for – environmental, economic and political problems.

Williams added that church leaders would need to “be willing to contribute to public debate” in society.

“So often church leaders will say things that are not going to be acceptable by either the left or the right,” he said.

However, when dealing with governments in developing countries such as Myanmar and Zimbabwe, Christian leaders must consider “what kind of protest is going to be effective” if they were to engage in such actions, he said.

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For Hong Kong church leaders facing social issues, Williams said: “I would expect them to be asking exactly that question: what’s going to make ... a constructive difference?”

Last month, the city’s court sentenced Wong, who grew up in a Christian family, and two other activists to jail for storming the government headquarters in the run-up to the 79-day Occupy sit-ins of 2014. The sentences raised questions on what role Christians should play in Hong Kong.

Williams said while he would not comment on a specific person or event, he believed “every Christian has a calling to make a difference to society”, and it could be made by ways ranging from supporting the poor or standing for election.

Williams, who retired as archbishop in 2012 after a decade spent battling divisions in the worldwide Anglican communion over female and gay bishops, also said he would continue to speak up for homosexuals.

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“I’ve always argued very strongly for the political, legal, civil dignity of gay people,” he said.

Williams noted that the Church of England’s policy, that those in active same sex relationships should not be ordained as priests, was “not observed very much now”.

“Some of the best priests I’ve known have been gay people,” he said.

But Williams declined to comment on whether the Hong Kong government should make a law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.