Some scholars believe the current divisions between the churches began to take shape after local consciousness increased following the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Christians, like Hong Kong society in general, have become more engaged in social issues and begun to participate more in social movements.
The Catholic, mainline Protestant and liberal churches have pushed, to varying degrees, for socio-political reform while the evangelical mega-churches avoid criticising the government. Instead, they and evangelical para-church organisations like the Society of Truth and Light, devote more time to moral issues, the media, sex culture and family values. As a result, they are considered to be conservative and pro-establishment.
At the two ends of spectrum, liberal Christians have a more modern, inclusive outlook while the evangelicals tend to stick to more literal readings of the Bible. Compared to the liberal churches, mainline churches have become relatively quiet on socio-political issues, concentrating instead on charity work and maintaining their church operations.
With the mainline churches keeping out of the fray, evangelical Christians have been outspoken on issues such as homosexuality. Helen Fu Dan-mui is the deputy general secretary of the Society for Truth and Light, one of the most high-profile Christian voices against the so-called promotion of homosexuality or gay lifestyles. “God loves everyone unconditionally… however, he does not like the sexual act between homosexuals… It is the homosexual sex act that we oppose, not homosexuals,” she says.
Responding to the charge that evangelicals are too conservative on the gay issue, a minister from the evangelical Kong Fok Church, the Reverend Daniel Ng Chung-mun says: “Society has labelled the word ‘conservative’, it is not the same as ‘backward’. It should be something to be proud of as conservatism [is about] upholding some basic values that humankind needs.”
Meanwhile, Fu’s reassurance that conservative Christians are not opposed to homosexuals themselves is of little comfort to liberal Christians like Silas Wong Kwok-yiu, the resident pastor at one of Hong Kong’s few gay-affirming churches, Blessed Minority Christian Fellowship. Wong says his church is regarded by others as a heretic organisation and tells Varsity about the discrimination and suffering gays experience in the Christian community.
Theologian Chan Sze-chi, a senior lecturer at the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University, finds it unacceptable that such discrimination exists among Christians. “Christianity is fundamentally a universal religion, a religion that accepts everybody in the whole wide world,” he says. “Why do you [evangelicals] accept everybody but the homosexuals?”
Such diverse opinions may stem from different interpretations of the Bible. Evangelicals view the Bible as an authoritative foundation, or as Chan puts it, a “crutch” and their interpretation of scripture tends to be more literal. Whereas David Cheung, a minister of the relatively liberal Narrow Church, says: “We maintain a conversational relationship with the Bible. The Bible is not an absolute power.” Cheung says faith and belief should evolve along with the changes of context.