Until the early 13th century, Christianity was not known to the people in the land of Myanmar. From its beginning, Christianity has been unwelcome, undesired, misunderstood and even sometimes persecuted by most of the Buddhists in Myanmar. Why do Christians suffer in Myanmar? As far as I know, there are four main reasons:
Christianity as Western Culture: When Christianity arrived in Myanmar, it came along with its Western religious-cultural ideas such as Western dress, lifestyle and ways of worship or the liturgies that make the gospel message of salvation incomprehensible to Burma Buddhists. They think of Christianity as a foreign or alien religion being imported from the West. As a result, being a Christian is identified with being a Westerner.
The Christian’s Association with Colonization: Christianity came when the colonial British attacked Burma. This caused trouble for the Christian missionaries because they were misunderstood as collaborators of the British. Adoniram Judson who was not British but an American missionary was arrested and imprisoned because he was white like the British and received ministry support from England.
The Rise of Nationalism: Buddhism not only has deep roots in Myanmar’s history, but it is also closely aligned with its national identity. A saying frequently repeated in modern times is the following: “To be Burmese is to be a Buddhist.” In the past few years, a new form of nationalism has appeared known as the “969 Movement” which puts Christianity and other religions in big trouble.
The Political Development of the Country: Because the vast majority of Myanmar people are Buddhists, Buddhism becomes a useful tool for the generals or leaders to gain control of political power. Both civil and military governments have supported Buddhism practices since 1948 when Myanmar gained its independence from the British. Under General U Nu’s government, a law was passed that established Buddhism as the state religion. Fortunately the law was abolished under General Ne Win.
By looking at the Christian-Buddhist relations in Myanmar, we Christians must not repeat the mistakes of the past, but we must also remember that Christians will always be misunderstood and persecuted even more in the future. When such persecution comes, let us remember the very words spoken by our Lord Jesus: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt.5:11-12)