(Hong Kong—May 13, 2022) Omicron surged in Hong Kong earlier this year for the city’s fifth wave of COVID-19. The government tightened restrictive measures, and places of worship were asked to be closed until April 20. After the pandemic was brought under control, places of worship were reopened on April 21. Still, only those with a “vaccine pass” are allowed to enter these venues, causing pastors in Hong Kong to be concerned about the religious freedom of churches in the future.
On February 10, the Hong Kong government requested that places of worship be closed and set April 21 as the date for reopening, but they must strictly abide by a series of COVID prevention measures. New regulations require those entering venues for religious purposes to present a Vaccine Pass and ensure that entrants use the “LeaveHomeSafe,” “iAM Smart” or “eHealth” mobile applications. The app scans visitors’ QR codes and keeps records for 31 days.
The Hong Kong Christian Times quoted Hong Kong pastors’ opinions about the Vaccine Pass as a stringent measure, and the churches’ record of attendees can already achieve the effect of tracking. Some pastors also said that the transmission risk of churches is lower than that of public transportation, but their gatherings have been severely restricted. Key personnel of an organization believe that the government’s method of non-discretionary implementation is ineffective and points out that the government’s provision of vaccination as a condition for admission to churches violates the principles of belief and violates religious freedom.
In an interview with Christian Times, Rev. Wong Ka Fai, general secretary of the Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China (HKCCCC), said that in this day and age when the masses look forward to returning to the Church, many brothers and sisters in Christ have not been vaccinated but have a desire to return to church gatherings. He said that the Church should be open to all visitors, and there is no reason to shut out brothers and sisters in Christ or classify them based on whether they have been vaccinated. He has reflected his concerns to the authorities and tried to strive to eliminate these restrictions. Even with the usage of the Vaccine Pass, he doesn’t think that the Church should need to take the initiative to check and verify.
“If the government stipulates that you cannot enter a church without vaccination, it is a serious violation of religious freedom,” Choi Chi-sum, general secretary of the Society for Truth and Light, expressed honestly.
In the Christian understanding, the Church has always been a group of faithful that embraces those who are weak. As recorded in the Gospels, it should be the mission of the Church to be Christ-like and to touch those who were considered unclean in society at that time. In times of disaster, spiritual support is crucial, and people need comfort from God, mutual love, and care among the faithful.
However, the current COVID measures in Hong Kong only allow those who have been vaccinated to attend gatherings, and the pastoral team has become a part of the effort to assist in the implementation of these restrictions. This means that those who have been vaccinated have priority over those who have not been vaccinated. Under the pandemic, for whom is the door of the Church opened? What is the Church’s testimony to the world? These questions have caused many pastors to reflect on the Hong Kong government’s policies.
Some pastors reflected on the core issue behind these questions and came to the conclusion that if churches allowed themselves to be defined by the regime as venues for religious activities, it is no different than handing over the nature and mission of the Church to the government to decide. Will the regime’s direct intervention in the Church affect future religious policies? The government has no intention of interfering with religious freedom on the surface, but it forces the Church to submit to the COVID prevention policy. This decision makes the Church lose its choice and uses secular laws to override the Church’s internal creed.
Dr. Kin Yip Louie, an associate professor in theological studies at China Graduate School of Theology, posted in an online discussion panel, “Pastoral Care under the Vaccine Pass,” held by the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement. Dr. Loui said that the government has done a lot of things that have never been seen before, including regulating people’s ability to enter venues of worship, or even shopping malls and more, with the mindset that “if you do it once, there may be another time.” This time it is because of the pandemic, and the next time it can be for other reasons. Regulation is a “way of no return,” and there will even be a trend of “the government getting bigger and bigger.”
~Gao Zhensai, Special Correspondent of ChinaAid
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