Church and State: Interview with Chan Do

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#2 of our Social Media Influencers series: A localista, a Civic-Passionista, and a pastor-ista. HT looks at non-media people who influence HK’s political mood.

Last issue, Harbour Times interviewed social influencer Kay Lam (林忌), who described himself as a glocalist. Today’s influencer identifies with ‘localism’, and is a member of Civic Passion, an activist group that has found themselves on the fringes of the political spectrum for their anti-CCP views and disruptive methods. Rare among the radicals, our interviewee is a traditionally trained pastor.

Chan Do (陳到), who has accumulated over 10,000 followers on Facebook, garnered attention when he began openly criticising the religious establishment in Hong Kong, in particular the Protestants. After graduating from seminary, Chan began his work as a pastor and drew a broader audience by criticising anti-gay rallies organised by a local church, and the efforts to build the Noah’s Ark attraction in Ma Wan Island. In recent years, Chan has been using his unique position in social media to connect Christian teachings to Hong Kong’s tumultous political context.

Chan currently writes for Passion Times (321,914 Facebook likes) and (4,514 likes). Since 2013, he has also co-hosted a podcast with popular Christian critic Howtindog on the Passion Times’ website.

Why did you pick ‘Chan Do’ as your pseudonym?

I decided I needed a pseudonym because Hong Kong’s church circle is small and full of thin-skinned people in important positions. I wanted to have the freedom to be critical, without harming my job opportunities.

I wanted to be named after someone who already existed but wasn’t very well known. So I chose ‘Chan Do’, a character from the Three Kingdoms novel, who is considered insignificant and laughable.

How would you explain your fame on the Internet?

When I first started, I brought a very fresh angle to the table. In terms of politics and Christianity, I’m quite sensitive to the nuances compared to your average joe and I provide insight faster than others. For example, I predicted the challenges Christianity in Hong Kong would face when confronted with issues in society and the turns it might be forced to take, long before it happened. Conventional churches are just catching up now.

What is your political stance?

Politically, I’m a member of Civic Passion and identify as a moderate localist (本土派). I believe the encroachment of our rights and resources, and the colonisation from Beijing has to stop. I don’t necessarily advocate for the establishment of an independent state, but I believe ultimately we have to break away from mainland China’s influence.

How do you identify yourself as a Christian?

The term I like to use is Progressive Christian. Enlightened, thoughtful, and unwilling to blindly drift along with the establishment. For the past 30 years, Christianity in Hong Kong has enjoyed a rather stable period, slowly becoming part of the establishment by providing welfare work on its behalf. Without any incentive to be critical of the establishment, the Church has lacked teachings on how to be a Christian during these turbulent times.

As a thinking Christian and leader of a church, I have to prepare my congregation in face of uncertainty in society. What the Church has conventionally taught has become defunct, and is often found to be detached from the realities we face in Hong Kong. For example, we usually speak about love and acceptance when we mention HK-mainland relations, but how about Nehemiah, which talks about facing invasion? Or Exodus, which teaches about slavery? We need to reimagine how we can adapt theology to our current times.

It’s truly a paradigm shift, but it’s still very new and in flux as society is facing its own growing pains. It requires the efforts of many to define this reimagination of what Church should be. I do my part by practicing these new definitions in church, and by providing visions through my writings.

Do you feel conflicted as a Christian when you’re confronted with the Hong Kong-mainland debate?

In my sermon a few weeks ago, I taught John 10:11, which speaks on being “the good shepherd” and bringing sheep into the fold from the outside. In our context, while I personally loathe mainlanders for abusing Hong Kong the way do, they are nonetheless “sheep outside the fold” and need the gospel as much as anyone. That’s what Jesus Christ taught us, and that overrides anything else.

In my sermon, I spoke about not being dominated by your inner devil, and avoiding dehumanising mainlanders. You can vent your emotions, but in the end you need to remember they also need Christ. Of course that doesn’t mean we should just open our doors and let them all in. What they’re currently doing is robbing us, and one man’s acceptance could result in the everyone else’s loss. Hong Kongers are the priority in this dilemma.

When Hong Kong can find the appropriate distance from the mainland, we’ll make our efforts to spread the gospel there. But before that, there’s no love and acceptance, only the defence of our home.

Do you worry that Civic Passion may “dehumanise” [mainlanders] through its political messaging and actions?

First you need to understand that most of the time it’s just figurative description; a method to express our rage. But I do have such worries, so I always exert the need to remain vigilant. As Christians, we need to face our mission in the end, and remember that these mainlanders need the gospel, too.

The truth is, politically, we are too weak, and don’t have a high chance of winning. So in terms of our political message, our wording is strong and I can live with that. I truly believe localists are not fascists who would perceive mainlanders as not human.

What is your vision of an ideal Hong Kong?

Ultimately, I think what I yearn for is quite similar to most people in Hong Kong; to live and work in peace and contentment (安居樂業). Sadly, it has become impossible. I see people struggling to find wiggling room just to survive, and it’s so painful.