AN ANALYSIS OF HONG KONG LAY CHRISTIANS’ LIVED THEOLOGY
Ann Gillian Chu is an Assistant Professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. Dr Chu obtained her PhD in Divinity from the University of St Andrews. She is the author of a recently published, open-access journal article titled: Stanley Hauerwas and ‘Chan Tai-man’: an Analysis of Hong Kong Laypeople's Lived Theology and Hong Kong Theologians’ Engagement with Stanley Hauerwas's Political Theology from a Practical Theology Perspective, published in Practical Theology.
In this article, I brought together two research projects that spanned over five years: (1) how Hong Kong theologians use Stanley Hauerwas’s theology to understand the Hong Kong context in 2013-14; (2) ethnographic research on how Hong Kong Christians understand their faith and civic identity in 2018-2020. Hong Kong Christian communities often draw upon theological resources from the West. But can Western theological sources be meaningfully applied to Hong Kong? Western theological sources stem from Western epistemologies, which may not necessarily resonate with the values or cultural assumptions of Hong Kong Christians. In this article, I argue that ‘Chan Tai-man,’ a composite figure from my ethnographic research, has a lived theology that has significance for the field of practical theology in considering how majority world epistemologies can impact the Western world, especially regarding Christianity in individualistic societies.
This article was written specifically for a special issue titled “Majority World Epistemologies for Practical Theology.” In their call for papers, editors of Practical Theology asked contributors to consider how “[e] is also often expressed in hidden assumptions that structure relationships and inform the ways individuals and communities craft meaning out of the medium of lived experience. When we uncritically impose epistemological values and viewpoints in practical theology, the result can equate a White and western as organizing for Christian thought and practice.” In my paper, I find that Hong Kong theologians’ engagement with Hauerwas's work makes a suitable starting point for Hong Kong Christian communities. Nonetheless, they will eventually have to broaden their understanding of political theology through critical self-reflection of their own lived theology. There is nothing wrong with using already established tools. It past and present experiences of dominance and the power dynamics of the Anglophone world in Hong Kong. However, we must be aware that tools are never neutral. They always carry ideologies and persuasions that, if we are not critically engaging with the underlying assumptions, we are led to believe must be universal.
The call for papers also finds that the discipline of practical theology has historically prioritized the importance of wisdom, worldview, and a way of life for individual and collective knowing. At its best, practical theology invites scholars and communities into a collaborative and contextual way of knowing that promotes epistemic justice. My paper considers the practical theology of Hong Kong Christianity through John Swinton and Harriet Mowat’s model of critical faithfulness. Following their method, I (1) identified a practice or situation that requires reflection and critical challenge (Current Praxis), (2) applied qualitative research methods by asking new questions (Cultural/Contextual), (3) critically reflected on the practices of the church in light of scripture and tradition (Theological), (4) revised forms of faithful practice (Formulating Revised Practice), then circled back to (1) and continued this journey of being faithful yet critical. As an example, I cited a venture of critical faithfulness through my institution’s Cultivating Peace initiative, “which aims to promote the idea of peacebuilding in the society for reconciliation and transformation.” Through social media engagement, conversations with opposing parties, communal reflections, artistic expressions, and other methods of engagement, they aim to bring communities together for deeper conversations.
As a sociologist of religion and a theological ethicist, I often find that my study of Christianity is pigeonholed into World Christianity, rather than being accepted into dialogue with respective fields of sociology of religion or theological ethics. Hong Kong theologians, whether engaging in systematic theology, doctrinal theology, analytic theology, or the like, are often confined to discussions within World Christianity rather than their respective theological disciplines. I hope this article can be a starting point to consider Hong Kong Christianity, not simply as an example of Christianity in one field site, but as it contributes and dialogues with Christianity as a whole, or, in my case, practical theology.
Centre for Sino-Christian Studies, and CEDAR Fund. (2001). Cultivating Peace. https://rel.hkbu.edu.hk/news/cultivating-peace.
Huen, C.-W. (2017). Writing with Hauerwas: Essays on Social Ethic. Logos Publishers.
Swinton, J., and H. Mowat. (2006). Practical Theology and Qualitative Research. SCM Press.
(Photo credit: https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/10/09/354859430/a-surprising-tie-that-binds-hong-kongs-protesters-faith)