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Rise of religious right and splits between evangelical and liberal Christians on gay rights and politics 

by Frances Sit and Silvia Li

Heads were sometimes bowed in quiet prayer, sometimes lifted towards the sky in song. Thousands of Christians gathered in a picture of harmony on a lawn overlooking Victoria Harbour on January 13 this year. But this was no ordinary prayer concert or mass worship.

They were taking part in a rally at Tamar Park next to the government headquarters to oppose consultation on legislation to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Titled the Inclusive Love Praying Concert, the event was organised by various evangelical churches, such as the mega-churches affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of China: Yan Fook Church, Tung Fook Church and Kong Fok Church.

The participants made a declaration that they would not discriminate against homosexuals, would not verbally abuse them, would not deny them their dignity and would not force them to change their sexual orientation. A prominent pastor from the Yan Fook Church then knelt down to pray for “struggling” homosexuals.

Despite the stated theme of inclusion, the event clearly highlighted the divisions among Hong Kong’s Christians on the issue of homosexuality.  B. Tsang watched as a group of several dozen Christians held a counter-rally at the site. “I could not feel any inclusion and care,” Tsang said. “Despite the words of love they were saying, I only felt overwhelming pressure and fear, even as a non-homosexual.

“The concert is a carefully plotted and manipulative event. They attempt to use religious belief to override human rights,” he added.

On the other side of the divide, a participant who only wanted to be identified as Michelle said: “It is stated in the Bible, in God’s words, that monogamy should be practised…To disagree with homosexuality does not equal discrimination against them.”

Differences over homosexuality are the most visible division between different sections of Hong Kong’s Christian community, but there are also clashes over issues such as censorship and media depiction of sex, attitudes to drug users and participation in social activism and social movements. The socially conservative evangelical churches and the relatively more open liberal churches seem to be increasingly at loggerheads, or even at war – a culture war.

The idea of a culture war was popularised in the United States and is used to depict the struggle between two sets of conflicting cultural values. Sociologist James Davison Hunter identified a number of issues such as homosexuality, abortion and gun control, where society was generally divided along opposing lines.

Most Protestant churches in Hong Kong can be characterised as traditional or mainline churches. But a growing number of Christians are attending evangelical churches, and a smaller number worship in liberal or progressive churches.