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Speech by SCMA at the International Conference on "The Family and Sexual Ethics: Christian Foundations and Public Values"

     The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, addressed the opening ceremony of the International Conference on "The Family and Sexual Ethics: Christian Foundations and Public Values" at the Hong Kong Baptist University this (May 26) morning. Following is Mr Lam's speech:

Vice-Chancellor (Professor Albert Sun-chi) Chan, Dr (Michael) Schluter, Professor Kang (Phee Seng), distinguished guests, brothers and sisters in Christ,

     I am most grateful to you for inviting me to address this very distinguished audience. The theme of the Conference, "The Family and Sexual Ethics: Christian Foundation and Public Values", is a matter very close to my heart. It is also a subject of central importance to the health of any community.

     The organisers have invited me to give a message of welcome. As a member of our government, I wish to say that it is always good news that we have friends from overseas and the Mainland of China to visit Hong Kong, to have academic exchanges, and to add to the cumulative value of academic research.

     I should make it clear that I am speaking this morning more as a member of the Christian church than as the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs. Nonetheless, since we pride ourselves on being Asia's World City in Hong Kong, on behalf of the HKSAR Government, I warmly welcome all of you to Hong Kong.

Economic Prosperity

     Many have said that Hong Kong is an economic miracle. From being a barren rock, we developed from a fishing village in the 19th century into an international metropolis in the 21st century. Just last week, the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland has rated Hong Kong as the most competitive economy in the world alongside with the United States. For 17 years in a row, the US Heritage Foundation has rated Hong Kong to be the world's freest economy. In both 2009 and 2010, Hong Kong's Stock Exchange secured top position for initial public offerings among all stock markets – ahead even of London and New York.

     Today, our per capita GDP stands at over US$31,000. This is of developed economy status. Prosperity brings many benefits. Alongside with a more wealthy and affluent living, we have our social issues to address.  In the past decade, the number of divorce decrees in Hong Kong has increased by 18 per cent. There was a divorce case per three cases of registered marriages. This is high. Our community pays a price.

Family and Social Services

     This is why since 2007, the Government has established a Family Council to help preserve family values and to promote family life.

     Indeed, for many years, family life education has been an important feature of our social services. Apart from the efforts of the Social Welfare Department, we in Hong Kong are blessed by the presence of the many non-governmental organisations (NGOs). For many decades, particularly since the end of World War II, these NGOs have established many service units including hospitals, schools and orphanages. They have provided voluntary services and relief to the needy in the community.

     The Government's estimated expenditure for the current financial year exceeds HK$370 billion. The social welfare budget accounts for over 17 per cent of the Government recurrent expenditure. This is second only to education. The Government is subventing over 170 NGOs to provide a wide range of social welfare services. They represent an important part of Hong Kong's social fabric. Thus, the governmental and NGO sectors apply their efforts jointly to keep the Hong Kong community in shape.

     I know there are many participants from the Mainland of China. I trust that many distinguished academics here today would have experienced personally the trend of prosperity which the Mainland has undergone in the past 30 years. Currently, per capita GDP stands at over US$4,500 in the Mainland. In Southern provinces such as Guangdong, which has already undergone industrialisation, GDP per capita is about US$7,200. Since the open door policy was adopted in 1978, GDP per capita has increased by around 50-fold. As in Hong Kong, prosperity has improved the livelihood of the population. Along with prosperity, social issues have emerged in the Mainland. In 2010, the ratio of divorce cases to registered marriages in Mainland China was about one to six -- this means that on average one divorce case was recorded for every six marriages.

Hong Kong-Mainland Co-operation

     The HKSAR Government co-operates very closely with the Mainland authorities -- in particular the Guangdong Provincial Government. Much of the co-operation concerns the economy, infrastructure and the flow of people across the border. We have over 20 bilateral expert groups. One of them is focused on exchanges in social services. Among other things, we share our experience with Guangdong counterparts on how we support NGOs in Hong Kong to provide a wide range of social services. It is, of course, for the Mainland authorities to decide how, and if so to what extent, Hong Kong's experience is relevant and useful.

Bible and Lessons on Morality

     Preserving the family unit as an institution of modern society will continue to be an on-going challenge. In this regard, the Bible has valuable lessons for us to refer to. We are all familiar with Samson's story. He abused the freedom which he had, and liaised with prostitutes. He also had a relationship with Delilah. He confessed to her the secret of his strength. Delilah cut off his hair and he lost his strength. He only regained his strength when he prayed to the Lord. With the renewed strength from the Lord, he crushed the pillars of the temple which the Philistines built and along with that he brought destruction over his enemies (Note: Reference taken from the Bible, the Book of Judges, Chapter 16, verses 4-30).

     King David also had his fall. Instead of doing battle at the frontier of war, he cast his eyes on Bathsheba and ended up committing adultery with her. Thereafter, David committed murder against Bathsheba's husband by sending him to the frontier of war to be killed by his enemies (Note: Reference taken from the Bible, the Book of II Samuel, Chapter 11, verses 1-27). The prophet Nathan rebuked David. He prophesied that David's household suffer because of his sin (Note: Reference taken from the Bible, the Book of II Samuel, Chapter 12, verses 1-12). David had to face mutiny from his own son, Absalom, who committed adultery with David's concubines under public glare (Note: Reference taken from the Bible, the Book of II Samuel, Chapter 16, verse 22). The lessons from the Bible are clear. Sexual immorality breeds destruction and breaks up families. David did repent. The Lord still blessed him with his son Solomon, who succeeded his throne (Note: Reference taken from the Bible, the Book of I Kings, Chapter 2, verse 12).

     As a Government official, I find encouragement in the story of Joseph. While he was a slave and long before becoming the Prime Minister of Egypt, Joseph refused the advances of his master's wife. Joseph fled from the house when he was seduced (Note: Reference taken from the Bible, the Book of Genesis, Chapter 39, verses 6-11). Though he was unfairly imprisoned, the Lord did not forget Joseph and raised him to a place of honour second only to Pharaoh (Note: Reference taken from the Bible, the Book of Genesis, Chapter 41, verse 40).

     There are several key lessons which we can glean from these stories in the Old Testament. Firstly, sin and immorality wreak destruction on one's personal life and the family. That was the bitter experience of Samson and David. But the Lord's blessing can still be found in repentance.

     Secondly, one must flee and flee immediately, from temptation when it presents itself. That is what Joseph did. He fled from his master's house. Joseph lost his shirt, but he kept his soul (Note: Reference taken from the Bible, the Book of Genesis, Chapter 39, verse 12).

     Thirdly, an important feature of the evolution of human society involves the pursuit of freedom. In the name of freedom, many causes have been pursued over the centuries. In the 19th century, President Lincoln freed the slaves of America through the Civil War. In Britain, Lord Wilberforce succeeded in enacting legislation to outlaw slave trading in the United Kingdom. Both Lincoln and Wilberforce were eminent Christians in their own time.

     At the other end of the freedom spectrum, Samson and David abused their personal freedoms and brought pain upon themselves and their families.

     On the question of freedom, the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel is clear. In the Gospel of John, Christ said to those who had believed in Him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Note: Reference taken from the Bible, the Book of John, Chapter 8, verse 31-32). True freedom is found in faith built on salvation by Jesus Christ. This is why I believe, the spreading of the gospel will contribute to our efforts to preservation of the family as a building block of human society.

     Among the galaxy of academic talent gathered here today, I have made some initial remarks only to convey to you these thoughts in the hope that they may be of some help in stimulating your discussions over the next two days. I have put forth these thoughts with a heart of humility knowing full well these are indeed difficult issues. As our Lord Jesus has said, in Chapter 8 of the Gospel of John, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone" (Note: Reference taken from the Bible, the Book of John, Chapter 8, verse 7).

     The conference organisers have actually set a tall order for this occasion; the family, sexual ethics and public values are issues which spiritual and temporal leaders have faced for many centuries. All of you have many years of research experience and many papers to share. I have every confidence that your gathering would be of value and will contribute to research in the respective areas.

ENDS/Thursday, May 26, 2011