Ever since I read Hunter’s To Change the World last summer, I have been wrestling with the thoughts and implications presented. What made this so relevant to me was being in the midst of the political turmoil and calls for freedom in Hong Kong.
To summarize the recent Hong Kong political climate, the trouble began with the intended introduction of an extradition bill that would allow the Hong Kong government to extradite criminals to mainland China (the direct cause of this being the murder of a young woman by her boyfriend – both Hong Kongers – in Taiwan). This launched a widespread outrage that Hong Kongers’ civil rights were in danger and that this was an act of Beijing tightening its grip on Hong Kong. This led to a massive people led protest movement that has continued to this day. What has been so fascinating about watching the Hong Kong protests unfold has been the fact that there is no centralized leader of the movement (an effect of the 2014 Umbrella Revolution). Uniting under the mantra of “Be water,” the mentality of “they can’t arrest us all” has been a driving force for the Hong Kong people.
In the midst of everything, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s the point?” Friends and I constantly discussed what good the protests were doing besides possibly inciting an incident from Beijing that would echo the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. But these thoughts came to a head following the November 2019 elections where there was a major restructuring of the Hong Kong district council; after months of protest, the Pro-Democracy Party came out on top of the election.
While it’s yet to be seen what will happen in the coming months, years, and decades, the upset of the district council election has been seen as a sign of the power of the people. Of course it must be noted that the tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing stretches far beyond the past year, the current situation is a valuable case study in how culture changes.
One of Hunter’s propositions is that “Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up.” When I first read this, I thought, “No, that can’t be true. People make things change!” Perhaps it’s the mythos of figures such as Spartacus who led a slave rebellion against the Roman Empire that drives my imagination in this regard. But as I reflected on Hunter’s proposition, I realized his observation is the way change is presented in the media we consume. If one thinks about The Hunger Games, a no name girl from the lowest district ends up leading a rebellion against the totalitarian regime following her victory in The Hunger Games competition. This in and of itself does not spark change, but her position of power after she wins is used a catalyst by the real people behind the rebellion to bring about the revolution they want.
To give another example, I recently finished the science fiction series Red Rising by Pierce Brown. The situation is similar: A universal caste system where people are branded into slavery or wealth. Those on top (Golds) are biologically engineered to be superior in every way to the other classes. Reds (the lowest caste) are used as slaves. The main character, Darrow, is a Red who, after his wife is killed, is used by the Sons of Ares (a group of freedom fighters) to infiltrate the Gold training academy. They engineer Darrow into a Gold and send him into the academy, where he quickly rises through the ranks with the mission of “Become one of the elites and take them down from the inside.”
What this boils down to is that there needs to be someone within a position of power that sympathizes with the ensuing change for it to take effect. Hunter writes, “Cultural change is most enduring when it penetrates the structure of our imagination, frameworks of knowledge and discussion, the perception of everyday reality. This rarely if ever happens through grassroots political mobilization though grassroots mobilization can be a manifestation of deeper cultural transformation.” This is not to diminish the importance that grassroots movements can have, but rather that the natural progression is for these movements to put someone in power who can institute change at a structural level.
This is what makes Hong Kong so interesting to observe in conjunction with this book. A grassroots movement has put people in power. Now it is up to the newly elected officials to move forward with that dream that put them there.
In our churches, something similar happens. We all know that person of power in the congregation who “gets stuff done” simply because of who they are. We may have ideas of how to change our churches, but unless we have the capital with the people to introduce these changes, is it likely that change will be instituted? Perhaps we can act as a catalyst to get the ball rolling, but until the people with power see the need to change, will they?
Hunter’s eleventh proposition is, “Cultures change, but rarely if ever without a fight.” As Hong Kong prepares to move forward, one can see that this is just the beginning of an even longer road. The past year has been one of sacrifice after sacrifice. It hasn’t come easy by any means, but the wheels are in motion. What wheels of change are in motion in our own sectors of life? Our ministry contexts?
We have to keep in mind that change is a slow moving process and it requires patience. Even when it doesn’t look like things are changing, when we take a step back we can see that we are rarely, if ever, where we started.
 For an in-depth timeline of the protests, this is a helpful site: https://www.hrichina.org/en/2019-hong-kong-protests-timeline
 This is taken from Bruce Lee’s popular saying, “Be water, my friend.”
The following link provides a breakdown of the elections: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3039311/hong-kong-elections-protesters-consider-how-keep-momentum
 James Davison Hunter, To Change the World, New York: Oxford University Press, 41.
 Ibid., 43.