It was June 5th 1989, less than thirty-six hours after the historic “Beijing massacre”, when the People’s Army complied with the Chinese government’s order to roll the tanks down the Avenue of Eternal Peace and through Tiananmen Square, to clear all debris from the nation’s political heart, whatever the cost. I was in the student canteen at Hong Kong Baptist College, picking at my rice box, sitting across from one of my students. Mee Mee had just struggled through a final exam on a day when many of the students, still in shock, had stayed home, unable to think about schoolwork when their homeland’s future was hanging in the balance. We were discussing whether or not the college should postpone the remaining exams until the political crisis cooled.
About six weeks earlier, near the beginning of the forty-nine day student protest that ended in tragedy, four well-meaning students had come to my office trying to persuade me to cancel my classes in support of the democracy movement in China. They were quite surprised at my rather unorthodox response, and went away perplexed at the idea that there should be a Westerner, a U.S. citizen no less, and a teacher of religion and philosophy, who actually claimed not to believe in democracy! Until then, I had normally kept to myself the political ideas which had been brewing in my mind over the past ten or twelve years, since voicing them usually met with just such reactions of offence and disbelief.
But here was Mee Mee, her heart torn in two over the recent events in China, not knowing whom to support. Her parents thought the Chinese government was in the right; she disagreed, yet found it hard to accept the equally extreme belief of the recent tendency in Hong Kong to view democracy as the final answer to mankind’s political quest. I bared my heart to her, telling her how I have always been the sort of person who is naturally inclined to grasp his rights in the name of freedom and justice, and yet, how the results of such grasping rarely satisfy me. For if my struggle to defend my rights succeeds, I am often left with a strange sense of emptiness or guilt; and if it fails, I am left with bitterness at having been treated unfairly. As our conversation developed, I realized that what she was so interested in discussing, others might also find challenging in this time of crisis.
This is my favorite passage:
If we wish to adopt a form of Christianity consistent with the Bible, then we must seriously consider whether or not we are perhaps being deceived by our society and culture-and perhaps also by our own human selfishness-when we preach democracy as the panacea for all political problems. Aside from offering the citizen certain legal rights, most versions of democracy tell us we have the power and authority to claim for ourselves certain “inalienable rights”, such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Yet this is one of the greatest political lies ever told! Christianity is a religion of the cross, a religion whose founder taught that true life comes only to those who are willing to die [see e.g., Mat. 10:38-39; 16:24; cf. 1 Cor. 15:31]. Among other things, this means Christians are called to give up all rights: not just the basic right to “life”, but also rights such as “liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness”. For the Bible repeatedly says Christians are to be “slaves of Christ” [e.g., Eph. 6:6; Rom. 6:22] and are to endure all manner of suffering for the sake of a future glory [see e.g., Rom. 8:18; 1 Pet. 2:18-4:19; and Chapter Six below]. How, then, can a Christian defend a political system which encourages its citizens to stand up and defend their “basic human rights”?
How indeed? If you are wondering in what sense this is practical:
And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.
1 Samuel 8:18