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, which borders Hong Kong, no unapproved foreign religious material may be sold, distributed, copied, or shipped. Chinese residents cannot accept any outside money or assistance from foreigners or foreign organizations. Foreigners cannot establish religious organizations or churches, appoint pastors, distribute religious materials, train disciples, or conduct any other religious activities. All of these offenses are punishable by fines of U.S. $2,200 to $11,000. On June 18, police in Guizhou province's Tongzi County arrested a 34-year-old woman for distributing Bibles. The charge was "spreading rumors and inciting to disturb social order." The international press said police beat the woman to death while she was being interrogated.
God TV representatives said their goal is to get government permission to broadcast into the mainland. However, many Christians say the station is in jeopardy of not having its contract renewed by Cable TV at the end of the year.
Compounding Christian unease, in May, Hong Kong's leading daily, the South China Morning Post, reported that God TV co-founder Wendy Alec, a former television producer from South Africa, had published a book prophesying a bloody conflict in China between good and evil. In the 2003 book, Journal of an Unknown Prophet, Alec predicted that "Holy Warring Angels" would go to war against "the satanic Princes of the East."
Church leaders and Christians in Hong Kong called the book unnecessary and provocative, with possible serious consequences for churches in Hong Kong. Balcombe wrote to God TV expressing his concern. He told CT, "Such things don't help."
God TV called the controversy unfortunate. After stating that the book was selling well and would not be removed from the God TV website, the organization quietly dropped the book from its site at the end of June.
Outside media reports about China are a touchy subject these days.
"We need to be more sensitive," the anonymous pastor said. "The people in China need to have the opportunity to know who is God, why he died. But we must respect their different political reality."
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