Rev. Dr C.M. Kao, Asian church leader and human rights advocate, has passed away. In the 1970s, he served as general secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, which has been a WCC member church since 1951.
Kao was a vital voice within his own church and within the WCC in diaconal ministry, in witness for social justice and peace, and in work with indigenous peoples.
A strong promoter and mobilizer of the people for the cause of democracy and human rights during the authoritarian years of the 1970s and 80s, Kao was involved in issuing numerous statements and taking fearless actions, firmly adhering to his faith in Christ and played a key role in the democratization of Taiwan, especially during his term as the General Secretary of the PCT. He, along with other church leaders, were imprisoned by the government of Taiwan.
When the government of Taiwan was expelled from the United Nations in 1971, the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan was prohibited from participating in WCC events until the WCC Vancouver assembly in 1983. This was a bleak period in the history of the church, but the WCC stood by the church, sending several pastoral delegations to render ecumenical support, especially during the trial and imprisonment of Kao, who was known for his integrity and his scholarship.
In a telegram of protest signed by the then-WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Philip Potter, the WCC expressed “its great shock and grave concern at the arrest of the Reverend Kao, the general secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan.”The telegram, addressed to the Taiwan president Chiang Ching-kua, “urged the immediate release of the Presbyterian church leader whom Christians in all parts of the world hold in great esteem.”
A native of Tainan, Kao graduated from Tainan Theological College and Seminary before serving as a minister at indigenous churches. He served as the principal of Yushan Seminary, which later became the only school founded for indigenous Taiwanese.
His efforts in promoting social harmony and happy families inspired the city of Tainan to create “Happy Family Day”and promote healthier families. In 2012, he was awarded an “Outstanding Resident”award by the Tainan government.
“His legacy as an inspiring Christian leader, a teacher and mentor with deep theological insight and one who stood firm for the dignity and rights of people, will continue to be a guiding light to all…”, stated Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of WCC.