How the Umbrella Movement Spurred Hong Kong’s Digital Witness

Faced with political division and government oversight, the church began to develop richer and wider-reaching online public theology.

This month marks the seventh anniversary of the Umbrella Movement and the second anniversary of the Hong Kong government’s official withdrawal of its controversial extradition bill.

For many Hong Kongese, these are bittersweet memories. On the one hand, the series of pro-democratic movements since 2014 show the Hong Kongese’s urge for a better society that goes beyond the capitalistic ethos of the city; on the other, those movements became a Pandora’s box of civil unrest. Two years ago, 2 million people protested against the extradition law in June, and the implementation of the national security law the year after led to mass arrests and a crackdown on democratic parties.

Hong Kong Christians famously took to the streets in prayer and in song as part of the demonstrations. But what international audiences may have not seen is how the political developments in Hong Kong launched the church into the digital public sphere too. Facing tighter religious freedoms, Christian leaders have grown their presence online and on social media.

Even as the Hong Kong diaspora has scattered across the globe, leaders have taken to the digital space as a platform to show solidarity to the persecuted and to instruct followers to persevere through difficult times. The digital public theology they’ve developed over the past seven years has grown into a witness for the global church.

Writing on the Mid-Autumn Festival, the day Hong Kong families tend to reunite (tuan yuan) to see the full moon (yue yuan, a play on words for “reunion”), I think of the persistent prayers for our brothers and sisters are suffering on the other side of the world and our compassion for those who cannot see their families due to exile …

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