Hong Kong Divided: The Believer’s Role in Conflict
My first visit to Hong Kong was in 1998, shortly after the British government withdrew. Many locals then were worried what would result from China’s “One country, two systems” approach.
Over the ensuing two decades I’ve visited Hong Kong friends and colleagues over a dozen times. Never did anyone ask, “Aren’t you afraid to go there?”
I was not afraid to come, but Hong Kong is a different city this time. Caution and uncertainty are in the air. People pay attention to which MTR stations are closed, or where protestors are gathering.
Hong Kong has seen minor demonstrations over the years as people exercised their right of free speech. But nothing like the public opposition being voiced these last three months.
In May Hong Kong’s government announced a new legislative bill allowing extradition of individuals for prosecution to countries with whom HK has no extradition treaty (including China).
On June 9 more than a million Hong Kongers took to the streets in peaceful protest. A week later the demonstration swelled to two million. The government gave no response.
Unrest grew. The government restricted permits for legal demonstrations. Thousands, mainly young people, protested anyway.
Things turned ugly in recent weeks, as often happens when emotions are high. Objects were thrown at the police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Property was destroyed. Transportation was disrupted. Arrests were made, sometimes with beatings.
The cycle continues. Today’s news contained more of the same.
Many Christians initially stood with their fellow citizens for the principles of liberty. But when violence erupted, most were dismayed. Peaceful demonstrations are one thing. Violence and vandalism are another. Believers here are faced with difficult choices.
What are our choices when conflicts arise? Four are easily identified.
Avoid – for many, conflict avoidance is a high value. This may take the form of passivity: ignore the problem (and hope it goes away). Or, take flight and physically remove oneself from the arena of conflict.
Observe – refusing to take sides, some will simply watch the drama unfold. Others, like journalists, will document the event and perhaps report it (with or without personal bias).
Participate – some will choose a side and actively recruit others to join their side. Others are drawn into the fray, perhaps reluctantly, recognizing action must be taken.
Mediate – this is a role few seem called to, especially when the conflicts are heated and prolonged. A successful mediator needs to be trusted by both sides, and honest brokers may be difficult to find. “Blessed are the peacemakers” remains true today.
There is a fifth option open to all believers, and that is “Intercede.” Rarely in conflict is one side 100% pure and the other 100% evil. It’s human nature to magnify the wrongs of our enemies and overlook our own faults.
The prophet Daniel models the kind of intercession that carries weight with God. In Babylonian captivity with the Jewish exiles, he begins his heartfelt prayer with confession.
Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.
Daniel goes on to list Israel’s specific transgressions. He recognizes the rightness of God’s judgment on a sinful nation. He appeals for God’s mercy on the basis of God’s righteous character, compassion, and reputation.
How far removed is Daniel’s prayer from how we pray much of the time. Daniel appeals for God’s cause to be forwarded rather than merely calling out for relief, deliverance or destruction of his enemies.
I’m reminded of Joshua during Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Approaching an armed soldier he doesn’t recognize, Joshua inquires, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”
The response? “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.”
Joshua bows in worship. He recognizes the proper goal in conflict is not to recruit God to our side. Rather it is to discern His agenda and align with it. Whatever the Lord leads us to do for His glory is the believer’s best option in every conflict.