Rose Wu '00 and the Theology of Hong Kong's Occupy Central Movement

 Nathan Road in Mongkok. The background is a picture of Jesus. The words are from Matt 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”Rose Wu, who received her Doctor of Ministry degree from EDS in 2000, is a theologian and activist, and has been involved in the pro-democracy, women’s, and LGBTQ movements in Hong Kong for decades. An adjunct faculty at the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Wu has also been active in the city’s Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) movement. Here she talks about her involvement in OCLP, how theology informs her activism, and the role of the church in the Occupy movement.

On participating in the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement...

My decision to participate in the movement is rooted in the fact that Hong Kong has been my home ever since I was born.

I was also moved by the sincerity and the sacrificial spirit of the three initiators of the movement—Benny Tai Yiu-ting, associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong; Chan Kin-man, sociology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; and The Rev. Chu Yiu-ming. I am especially attracted by Benny Tai’s strategy of using an act of civil disobedience to put pressure on the government if its proposal of universal suffrage proves to be an offer of “fake democracy.” I believe that, in the course of history, no group of people has ever achieved their freedom without resistance and sacrifice.

I have signed the covenant of the Occupy Central movement stating that I will carry out acts of civil disobedience, give myself up to the authorities, and file no defense in any trial. I have offered talks on “Resistance and Spirituality” and the “Non-violence Principles of Civil Disobedience” at Tamar Park in Admiralty during the class boycott campaign. I have helped to design and organize several walking and sitting meditation activities in Mongkok and Admiralty for the protesters, and have joined a documentary team to interview individual protesters to tell their stories that will hopefully be transformed into a publication.

The Lennon Wall in Admiralty.On the connection between academics, ministry, and activism...

To me, theology is contextual and incarnational. A living theology has to be rooted in communities and the lives of people here and now. Christians are called to step out like Jesus, who exposed himself and his work to the public and who stood against structures of injustice and exploitation.

My theology is also communal. It begins with our communal lament as a Hong Kong community yearning for justice and democracy, mutuality and healing. It is the expression of grief, anger, and resistance over all kinds of evil existing in our present political and socio-economic structures.

My activism is a form of social ministry that is willing to reach out to our neighbors, that is prophetic and experience-based. In order for the church to do the work of Jesus Christ, it must take itself outside of the institution itself. It is the responsibility of every church to diligently search out areas of human need and to do their best to fill that need.

On the roles that churches and leaders of faith have played in Occupy Central...

The Occupy movement is headed by several self-identified Christians, including Benny Tai and The Rev. Chu Yiu-ming. Another young prominent leader is Joshua Wong, a student activist who is the convener of Scholarism and who has achieved fame for leading several student demonstrations in Hong Kong before helping organize the recent pro-democracy protests. Wong admitted that his activism is primarily about protecting Hong Kong’s democratic process, and he has rooted his advocacy in a distinctly Christian theology.

“I believe in Christ,” Wong told a news reporter. “I believe everyone is born equal, and they’re loved by Jesus. And I think that everyone, therefore, should get equal rights in the political system, and we should care for the weak and poor in our society.”This art was created with many umbrellas and hangs in the Occupy protest area in Admiralty.

Moreover, when the police fired tear gas canisters at protesters in late September, nearby Wan Chai Methodist Church opened its doors as a shelter, offering its facilities for the demonstrators to receive first aid, store supplies, and distribute food. As media coverage of the church’s actions mounted, The Rev. Tin-yau Yuen, the president of the Methodist Church in Hong Kong and the chairperson of the Hong Kong Christian Council, published an open letter explaining the church’s position.

“The Gospel we believe in is a Gospel which redeems people from evil and sin, not only saving us from personal sin, but also freeing us from the suppression and binding of evil and sin caused by others, society, and the Constitution,” the letter read. “It’s impossible to be politically neutral, as who can have no political view? . . . As Christians, we take sides according to Biblical teaching and church tradition rather than simply seeing things from the social perspective.”

Another church leader, who has been very critical and vocal against the government in the past, is the Rev. Joseph Zen, Hong Kong’s former Catholic bishop, who has also taken to the streets to express solidarity with the movement.

In addition to organizing prayer gatherings and meditation activities for the occupiers, some pastors and seminarians have also launched hunger strikes and have offered counseling services for those who feel emotionally and spiritually stressed.

I must admit, however, that these prophetic witnesses only represent a minority voice within the institutional churches in Hong Kong. Recently, for example, the Archbishop of the Hong Kong Anglican Church, the Most Rev. Paul Kwong, gave a sermon at St. Paul’s Church on July 6, which was also a confirmation celebration and Theological Education Sunday. On what Jesus would do in the face of Hong Kong’s current political climate, he claimed, “Jesus was gentle and humbled when He was condemned before Pilate, silent like a lamb waiting to be slaughtered. Those who come out to protest have had no peace within nor do they have the wisdom to think straight,” Kwong argued. “That’s why you see so many irrational responses. Some are even worried that they will no longer be allowed to protest next year.”

Hundreds of tents have been set up in Admiralty, and the small umbrellas were made by the protesters.On the Occupy movements in Hong Kong and the United States...

Based on my limited knowledge, the major difference of the Occupy movements in the United States and the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong is their original motivations. The former movement began in the United States initially with Occupy Wall Street, which was a protest against economic inequality and corporate greed, whereas the Occupy movement in Hong Kong is a protest against the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on electoral reform in Hong Kong. The decision implies that only those candidates Beijing has approved can contest the post of Hong Kong’s chief executive. In response, the students have called for an election system that can reflect authentic democracy in which citizens can nominate candidates as well as cast votes for the designated chief executive candidates.

However, I find there are at least two similarities in both movements. The first one is the principle of non-violence, and second is the movements’ overwhelming representation of young people.

On EDS and the shaping of activism...

As I look back, EDS has taught me that theology is not merely a subject to be taught or learned but rather is a constant challenge about our ethical stance on any controversial issues in life.

In addition, I have also learned from the community of EDS that the role of the Church is to be a persistent dissenting voice in society so as to try to live honestly and to ask what we think are important values in this human community. Through this process of being a prophet, of standing firm on our Christian principles and upholding our Christian values, of empowering the marginalized, of being a shepherd for the weak, we seek to renew the Church, to make it relevant to the lives of the people of Hong Kong, to energize the spirituality of the people, and to offer hope to the community.

Photos from top to bottom: 1) Rose Wu, Nathan Road in Mogkok. The background is a picture of Jesus. The words are from Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” 2) The Lennon Wall, Admiralty 3) Umbrellas hang in the protest area, Admiralty 4) Tents in the Admiralty; the small umbrellas were made by protesters