At a politically sensitive time for Hong Kong, Christians in the city of 6.8 million people find themselves on the defensive over comments made by an international charismatic satellite broadcaster.
U.S.-based God TV first aired its programs in Great Britain in 1995, and quickly became Europe's first daily Christian broadcast network. Organizers claim the ministry can now reach a potential 120 million viewers in 212 countries via 11 satellites. After signing a one-year contract with the Hong Kong company Cable TV, God TV began broadcasts in Hong Kong in January.
Many in Hong Kong are already nervous. This spring Communist Party leaders rebuffed demands by Hong Kong democrats for universal suffrage in 2007. About 400,000 residents marched the streets on July 1, the seventh anniversary of the handover to China.
Controversy erupted in May, however, after God TV appealed for viewers to mail videos of the network into mainland China. The Christian community in Hong Kong, about 10 percent of the population, is divided over the appeal.
"Sending videos doesn't help the Chinese believers who don't have the opportunity to ask questions," said a pastor who requested anonymity. "It raises suspicions of [the] Chinese government, and undoubtedly it creates more mistrust from Beijing about the Hong Kong churches."
However, Dennis Balcombe, an unofficial adviser to God TV and pastor of Hong Kong's Revival Christian Church, does not see any harm in the appeal. "China is much more open than most people think," Balcombe said. "And this station is not political or anti-China. People do carry Bibles to China without any problems. I don't see any problem with that."
In China, foreigners are not allowed to proselytize. In the mainland province of Guangdong, ...