Thoughts on Homeland－An Interview with Bernard Wong, Assistant Professor (Theological Studies)
Bernard's family members visited him at MIT
Bernard and his wife Clara, and their children, Kristin and Josiah
Professor Brent Waters of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Bernard
Bernard interceded in prayer at the 3.27 candle worship hosted by Climate Conscious Christian Coalition
Interviewed and written by
Remembering ~ my home Hong Kong
Bernard became a Christian when he was in secondary school. In 1989 he went to study in the US and later immigrated to Canada with his family. Returning to Hong Kong in 1997, Bernard worked as an environmental consultant. Then he was called, studied divinity at CGST and after graduation he served full time in a church. In 2011, while the wave of ‘anti-national education movement’1 swept Hong Kong, Bernard once again went to the US, to study Christian ethics. “Relationships are the core of ethics. Without relationships, there can be no ethics. Among them, familial relationships are the most intimate and significant. Chinese churches always see the importance of families but they tend to focus on the counselling aspects. I hope that my attempt of integrating counselling and theology of family would shed some lights on this subject matter.” Having returned to Hong Kong in 2015, Bernard started teaching at his alma mater, CGST.
Several significant mileposts in Bernard’s life journey seem to have interwoven with major events of Mainland China and Hong Kong, which not only an eye-opener for him, but also awaking his sense of identity. “It was a dream come true to study university abroad. When I left Hong Kong in the late 1980s, I thought I might never come back!” He, however, felt that he was affectively tied to the events and situations, from the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 to all that occurred before his departure in 1989, made him realize that he is a ‘China-Hongkonger’ and should make a contribution to Hong Kong.
Bernard came back to Hong Kong in late June 1997, so that he was able to witness the return of Hong Kong to Mainland China. His return surprised his friends but it was homecoming for Bernard, “Why do I like Hong Kong so much? I’m not sure, perhaps it’s the overall feeling of ‘This is my home’! After all, we were created flesh and blood, and under His good providence, we must contextualize ourselves in a home, a culture, and a language. Hong Kong is my ‘earthly home’, I really like this city! I do not expect my children to hold the same view though, they will decide for themselves later.”
In 1997 Bernard came back by himself, but in 2015 he had his wife and children accompanying him. His feelings for the two returns varied differently with the political changes in-between. Yet, Bernard still believes that Hong Kong can be a good model for China, “The importance of Hong Kong lies in ‘we embrace firmly with our core values’—not for independence but upholding who we are. We hope that the core values that we embrace may bless China some days later!”
Pondering ~ the Lord’s church
When the ‘Umbrella Movement’ broke out in 2014, Bernard was still in Chicago— having sleepless nights with much on his mind. He began responding to the situation, reflecting and writing on the matters of faith: forgiveness, reconciliation and peacemaking. “My concern has always been the church. I want to encourage the church to face the political situation. Having served in a church for six years, I strongly believe that Christians need to go out into the community. The church needs to get involved. Yet, I saw that many churches did not know how or did not even want to face the situation. It made me wonder: What had happened to our faith?” He worried that if the church continued to evade, this in effect would mean giving up on the next generation, giving up on Hong Kong’s future. “We do not get to decide what is happening in front of us, but we need to deal with it. In fact, there are precious theological resources in the Reformed tradition that would help to restore our concern for the society and politics.”
Bernard may be worried, but he is not pessimistic. After the 2016 Lunar New Year clash in Mong Kok2, Bernard deliberately talked more about politics at the pulpit. When teaching church-state relationships at Sunday school, he also touched upon issues such as political elections and how to think about the rise of the autonomy movement in Hong Kong. Among the congregation were policemen as well as young people who were at the occupation site during the ‘Umbrella Movement.’ Tension was there, but the young people were able to frankly express their confusion about violent resistance. “Actually, if you are willing to talk about it and encourage further discussion, this would show that you understand the situation and that you can be trusted, they are more willing to start a dialogue. I think there is a huge need to have a platform for dialogue and to talk about politics like ordinary life!”
As a lecturer at CGST, Bernard meets many pastors who are willing and eager to reflect on social issues. However, busyness leaves them with little time to deal with the situation. The thoughts of our faith may have also limited us how to interpret the issues, “For instance, if we preach or interpret on the topic of localism using Paul’s view on the people of Israel, i.e. ‘this is my people and therefore I will be loyal to her’, the young generation might not accept it for being ‘leftist idealistic’. Let me clarify that I am not judging anyone here. I just want to point out that even if a pastor wants to do something, he may not be aware that he has his own faith framework as he reads or interprets the Bible. After all, the political situation at the time when the biblical books were written was so different and we cannot use it directly.”
Cherishing ~ the Father’s world
To break through one’s framework of faith, one needs to broaden one’s mind, and to face the impacts of different traditions. Bernard understands so well, “My seminary in the US is rather liberal. My supervisor adopted a political approach to research on family ethics. Both the campus atmosphere and the research approaches broadened my horizon, helping me to understand various frameworks as I learned to comprehend with different perspectives or methods.” Therefore, when Bernard prepares his teaching materials on Christian ethics, apart from the usual topics such as abortion and homosexuality, he intentionally adds topics such as fair-trade, land justice, medical ethics, economics and finance, and his forte creation care, “Time may not allow us to go through the matters in detail, but I hope that students will have a wider exposure, and are able to see that our faith has implications on everything that happens in the world.”
When Bernard was serving in a church, he was in charge of the community service department. It was a time when the city was not so overwhelmed by political issues. Things he organized mainly included visiting the elderly, caring for the poor and the environment. He also taught a Sunday school class to reflect on community service, including disaster relief, education, and advocating policy reform. Creation care remains in Bernard’s heart – out of his love for the nature, and of his faith, “I believe that faith and the world are inseparable. At least I don’t think we are saved to be taken from the world. God loves this world therefore we are to love this world.”
Thoughts for Hong Kong, reflection on his faith, cherishing the earth, all stem from a deep commitment and a discernment through theological training, “Reflection can provoke thoughts and have an impact on our situation. Theology is not a dichotomy between theory and practice, both can actually take place simultaneously.” Bernard urges, “May our students make good use of the opportunity.”
1. The Education Bureau of Hong Kong proposed a new curriculum on moral and national education as a compulsory subject for primary and secondary schools, which became controversial as the content was criticized to be biased towards Communist Chinese ideologies.
2. On February 8, 2016, the first night of Lunar New Year, a group of activists confronted hygiene officers and police to defend illegal street hawkers in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. The clashes were among the fiercest Hong Kong had seen since the city’s 1967 riots against the British colonial government.