Summary: Invoking "separation of church and state", pro-CCP Hong Kong Waterloo Hill Evangelical Free Church Consultant Pastor Rev. So Wing-yui 蘇穎睿on Jan 7 urged the Church not to take part in politics or attempt to change the political system (note 1). He asserted that Jesus came to spread the Good News rather than to change the political system. Yet the First Amendment to the US Constitution builds a wall separating church and state not to prevent the Church from criticizing the State but to guarantee religious freedom, as stressed by Thomas Jefferson. Though Jesus Christ never set up a political party, he put forth an alternate set of values to console those without power, and to de-absolutize the State. Also, it is in itself a highly political act for a Christian in HK to assert that Jesus Christ is the "King of kings" (1 Timothy 6:15) for Chairman Xi Jinping is probably the most powerful anti-Christ atheist in the world.
Origin of Separation of Church and State
The separation of church and State comes from Martin Luther's 16th-Century advocacy that both the Church and the State belong to God but their functions and jurisdiction are so different than each other that they are basically "two kingdoms", that neither of them should control the other. The Church should not pursue or possess political power, nor should the government have a say in the religious affairs of the Church.
The "Church" in "The Separation of Church and State" is not equal to religion or faith; and the "State" therein is not equal to politics, either. The principle prevents neither the Church, nor priests, nor believers, from responding to political events or from criticizing the government.
The 1st Amendment is for Protecting Religious Freedom
The First Amendment to the US Constitution that builds a wall of separation of church and state is meant to protect religious freedom rather than to forbid the Church to criticize the Government. The First Amendment, which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”, is based on the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, originally authored by Thomas Jefferson, the Constitution's drafter:- "no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever". In short, the right to practice any faith, or to have no faith, is a basic freedom, a right behind what Jefferson meant when he spoke of a “wall of separation” between the church and the state.
Jefferson was not proposing that religious people or religious motivations should be exiled from public debate. Actually, the letter was from a religious people appealing to an elected official for their rights — an elected official who, incidentally, regularly attended church services during his administration.
Jesus's Alternate Set of Values Unsettling the Authorities
Rev. So Wing-yui preaches that "Jesus built the Church for the mission of spreading the good news worldwide. The existence of the Church is for the sake of spreading the good news rather than changing the system of the State. From the perspective of the individual, Christians may take part in politics. But from the perspective of the Church, politics should be separated from religion."
Admittedly, Jesus Christ never organized a political party. Yet he did preach the good news of God's kingdom, introducing a new set of values and standards, and challenging conventional authorities and powers. "One of the significance of Jesus Christ's kingdom is the de-absolutization of the State" (Rev. Wu Chi-wai 2010).
The new set of values concerned is summarized in Matthew 5: 5-11 KJV: " Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth... Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
The Church is supposed to promote this alternate set of values, at the same time unsettling those in power and consoling those without power.
To Uphold God is to be Political
It is in itself a highly political act for a Christian in HK and for a Hong Kong Church to insist that Jesus Christ is the "King of kings" (1 Timothy 6:15; Rev. 17:14), for Chairman Xi Jinping is probably the most powerful anti-Christ atheist in the contemporary world.
Jesus Christ himself was an innocent political prisoner, his offence being claiming to be "the King of the Jews."
To Criticize the Govt is to Believe in God
John Calvin, in his Commentary Daniel 6:22, wrote, "earthly princes lay aside all their power when they rise against God and are unworthy of being reckoned in the number of mankind. We ought rather utterly to defy them than to obey them."
Similarly, English theologian Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 –1936) said, "It is only by believing in God that we can ever criticize the government. Once abolish God, the Government becomes the God."
Throughout history, many Christian bodies have taken part in political activism. For example, the American Quakers promoted the Abolition Movement; British Anglican Church and the Methodists participated in the movement against trafficking of slaves; the Mennonites of America and Europe were adamant anti-war pacifists.
Note 1: SO Wing-yui, "Can Christians Take Part in Anti-Govt Actions", Christian Times, 2020-01-07.