Obama Visits Land of Some of World's Longest-Running Persecuted Christians (Updated)
Updated Jan. 11: The Star reports on persecution of Chin Christians in Burma's state-run Buddhist schools.
(Updated: President Obama's speech in Rangoon included this statement on religious freedom.)
On Monday, President Obama will become the first U.S. president to visit the long-isolated nation of Burma (Myanmar)–home to some of the world's longest-running persecuted Christians.
In response, leaders from the American Baptist Church, The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) urged the President to advocate for religious freedom in the Buddhist nation.
"We continue to be gravely concerned by human rights violations," wrote American Baptist Church leaders. "Our ties to Burma date back nearly two centuries to 1813 when Adoniram and Ann Judson landed in Rangoon as the first American missionaries in the country. ... Baptists now constitute the largest Christian group in the country with 1.5 million members convened in 18 language and regional Baptist conventions." (Southern Baptists recently celebrated this ongoing missions legacy 200 years after Judson's first visit.)
USCIRF urged the President to discuss communal and ethnic violence against Burma's Muslim and Christian minorities. "Chin churches are destroyed, religious services are banned, pastors are targeted and killed, and the military forces religious adherents to build Buddhist temples and shrines," wrote USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett.
"Until there is freedom of religion or belief for all people in Burma, we cannot speak of true and lasting change," said CSW executive director Mervyn Thomas in the group's own letter to the President. "... [We] hope that the President will take up the issues raised as a priority during his visit. There are two dangers at the moment: premature euphoria, and entrenched cynicism–both of which could undermine the chance of genuine change in Burma."
Burma has most recently made headlines for communal violence directed against its Rohingya Muslims, but has long drawn criticism for ongoing abuses–including church closures and forced conversions to Buddhism–against its Chin, Karen, and Kachin Christians.
CT recently reported, among many articles related to Burma, the flickers of hope for Burmese Christians living under one of the world's longest-running civil wars, as well as how the release of activist Aung San Suu Kyi signaled optimism as Burma's election spurred fear.
CT also posted a slideshow of how Burma's Christian maintain their distinctive faith.