The year Linda Lee Stassen-Benjamin penned the Christian worship song, “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” OPEC ended its oil embargo against the United States, America and Russia met to discuss nuclear disarmament, India tested an atomic device and President Richard Nixon resigned after being impeached during the Watergate scandal. It was 1974 and the cost of a first-class stamp was just 8 cents.
Forty-five years later, the song, written as a tribute for Easter, has emerged as an anthem for the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The protests began in June after the government announced plans to extradite suspects to China for criminal prosecution. The plan was later suspended, but protestors continue to push for democratic reforms, fearing communist China will do away with the existing “one country, two systems” model implemented when Britain returned its former colony back to China 22 years ago, Religion News Service reported.
The Hong Kong song and Christian involvement emerged early in the protest movement but was highlighted once again on Aug. 23 when Christians organized their first large-scale rally in Chater Garden. According to a press release by organizers the motto of the gathering was “Salt and light, for justice we walk together” and was designed to “provide all Christians a platform to express themselves outside the church, hoping people would safeguard Hong Kong by singing, praying, worshipping God and at the same time speaking up for justice and standing together with all the Hongkongers in difficult times.”
Although the protests have been marred by incidents of tear gas, batons, rubber bullets, riot shields, and intimidation that has included the staging of troops and military vehicles along the Hong Kong border, the peaceful influence of the hymns has helped to maintain peace, according to some of the protestors.
“It has a calming effect,” Timothy Lam, 58, a Catholic priest at Grace Church Hong Kong, told Fox News in June. “The police had a lot of equipment, they were very tense and searching people. The students sang this to show they were peaceful.”
In addition to the inspirational element of the song, protestors said it’s also helped provide protection to the crowd as Hong Kong law provides an assembly exemption for religious gatherings. According to Fox News, the song helped diffuse tension with law enforcement at a time when they were preparing to crack down on “organized riots” and when allegations of police brutality emerged.
“As religious assemblies were exempt, it could protect the protesters. It also shows that it is a peaceful protest,” Edwin Chow, 19, acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, said. “This was the one people picked up, as it is easy for people to follow, with a simple message and easy melody.”
Christians have expressed concerns about a crackdown by mainland China, fearing the widespread religious persecution in the communist nation could seep into Hong Kong and drive the church underground.
The Stream reported that Christians have also provided practical help through food and shelter at various demonstrations.
“We believe in upholding justice,” David Cheung, a pastor who has taken part in protests, told the New York Times. “Our faith gives us our courage, confidence and hope against this evil government power.”
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Anthony Kwan/Stringer