While most of Hong Kong's churches and parachurch groups have been keeping a low profile in anticipation of the political changes of 1997, the Hong Kong Christian Institute has been churning out newspaper editorials, position papers, newsletters, and books.

Founded in 1988 by a group of 120 Hong Kong Christians, the institute's stated purpose is to contribute to "the social betterment of Hong Kong, especially during the crucial transitional period."

Operating from a small flat on the tenth floor of a drab building in Hong Kong's bustling commercial district, the institute offers a Christian perspective on social issues ranging from public access to cable television to civil service. The organization also publishes a bimonthly theological journal, "Reflection," and organizes seminars on the church and society.

But not surprisingly these days, the institute's main focus is Hong Kong's imminent return to China.

"If China follows [the Basic Law], there will be no problem," says Kwok Nai Wong, director of the Hong Kong Christian Institute. But he adds, "Beijing wants to run Hong Kong like China. They want to control Hong Kong at all costs."

Kwok, an ordained minister of the Church of Christ, is one of the few Hong Kong Christian leaders willing to publicly and forthrightly challenge China's undemocratic policies.

Before helping to launch the Hong Kong Christian Institute, Kwok served for ten years as general secretary of the ecumenical Hong Kong Christian Council. But his expressions of concern about the transition to China have put him at odds with many of his former colleagues, who say they want to avoid getting involved with politics.

"The churches don't want any trouble," Kwok says. "But when you stay away from controversial issues, maintaining the status quo, that is a stand. You are taking a side that is highly political."

Kwok is also critical of Western churches for not doing more to support the churches in Hong Kong. "Christians in the U.S. and Europe are so obsessed with China. They have some kind of romantic illusion about China … and ignore Hong Kong," he says. "But if you overlook Hong Kong so that one day Hong Kong goes down the drain, that will be a great detriment to China."


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