I just returned from Hong Kong and my mind is spinning with the images and impressions I gathered there. If there is a need to prove the success of capitalism, that need can be met on the streets of this royal colony. The blinding neon lights that seem to be hanging everywhere over the crowded streets attest to the role of advertising in this fierce market society. The BMWs and the Mercedes that dominate the traffic are evidence that there is big money in town. And the hundreds of soaring apartment buildings provide ample testimony to the ingenuity of a people who, in just a couple of decades, have figured out how to house 6.5 million people. Ironically, this citadel of capitalism is about to be taken over by Communist China.
As I came away from Hong Kong, I was somewhat troubled. I found that the churches of the colony are mostly pastored by young ministers in their twenties or early thirties. Many of the older church leaders have left to avoid the consequences of the communist takeover. They are shepherds who have abandoned their flocks in the face of impending danger, and the Bible has something to say about shepherds like that.
Another troubling sign is that the Mainline churches of Hong Kong show signs of having been seduced by the affluence of the colony, and of having lost their zeal for evangelism. Non-traditional churches are also a cause for concern. For instance, Pentecostal churches seem to have bought into a prosperity theology. I found these Pentecostal Christians very difficult to figure out, since they know that just a few miles across the border were millions of Christians reduced to poverty because of their faithfulness to Christ. I often asked, “If faithfulness to Christ makes people rich, then how come the Christians in Red China are so poor?” Perhaps these churches need the challenges that will come with the communist takeover and their new relationship with the Christians on the other side of the bamboo curtain. What will it be like for them to suddenly be connected with the underground church in Communist China that, in just three decades, has grown from 900,000 to 30 million? What will the churches of Hong Kong learn from those Christians across the border whose faith has been greatly strengthened in the face of government oppression?
What especially disturbed me about the churches of Hong Kong was the extent to which their people had reduced the Gospel to an individualistic salvation that was weak on issues of social justice. As a case in point, I was extremely upset to find that there are about 150,000 Philippino maids in Hong Kong who experience incredible racial discrimination and scandalous sexual harassment from their employers – many of them “Christians.” The church leaders in Hong Kong have had little say against these social injustices, and have done almost nothing to change the laws to provide protection for these Philippino maids.
On the last Sunday I was in Hong Kong, I preached for a Philippino congregation. It was one of the most unusual experiences of my life. There were approximately 1,000 women and only two men present. Many of these women had left husbands and children behind, often at the encouragement of their husbands, who wanted the extra money that could be made in Hong Kong. But neither the churches of Hong Kong, nor the churches of the Philippines, had much to say about this exploitation of women.
Before I make any further judgments, I suppose I ought to say something about how the United States is about to impact people in both Hong Kong and China. We are about to once again grant Most Favored Nation status to China. This will guarantee free trade between our nations; which in turn, is supposed to benefit both them and us.
Maybe I am missing something here. But if there is an imbalance of trade with China that has left us with a $290 billion dollar deficit for 1996, I fail to see why this is supposed to be such a good deal for us – especially when we consider how many American workers could lose their jobs in this bargain.
However, if we are going to deal with Red China, ought we not to try to extract some concessions on the human rights issues in return?
While in Hong Kong, I spent an afternoon with an exiled dissident from Tiananmin Square. His life will be in severe danger come the takeover on July 1st. Shouldn’t we use the granting of Most Favored Nation status as a bargaining chip with the communist in exchange for freedom for such dissidents who dare to defy totalitarianism? Ought we not to be demanding some real freedom of religion in China in exchange for the financial bonanza it is about to receive from us?
Gary Bauers and I do not always agree on public policy, but I am behind him when he calls for a rejection of the Most Favored Nation status for China, unless there is some reciprocation with human rights concessions. Bauers contends that economic considerations should not obliterate moral considerations when it comes to national policy. He’s right! It is time for Christians of every political persuasion to join together and oppose MFN status for China. Making human rights more important than cutting a deal that helps big business should be something that all Christians, regardless of party affiliation, can make a matter of agreement.
Hong Kong as a British colony is coming to an end. Christians everywhere should be asking what can be achieved for God’s Kingdom in the communist takeover.
Author and speaker Tony Campolo is a professor of sociology of Eastern College in St. David, PA.