Christianity in Southeast Asia 9789812307033

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Table of contents :
Contents
About the Author
1. Introduction: Missionary Movements and the Coming of Christianity to Southeast Asia
2. The Philippines
3. Singapore
4. Malaysia
5. Indonesia
6. Christianity in the Other Countries of Southeast Asia: Brunei, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
7. Conclusion: Social, Political and Economic Considerations Concerning Christianity in Southeast Asia
References
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Christianity in Southeast Asia

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The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) was established as an autonomous organization in 1968. It is a regional centre dedicated to the study of socio-political, security and economic trends and developments in Southeast Asia and its wider geostrategic and economic environment. The Institute’s research programmes are the Regional Economic Studies (RES, including ASEAN and APEC), Regional Strategic and Political Studies (RSPS), and Regional Social and Cultural Studies (RSCS). ISEAS Publications, an established academic press, has issued more than 1,000 books and journals. It is the largest scholarly publisher of research about Southeast Asia from within the region. ISEAS Publications works with many other academic and trade publishers and distributors to disseminate important research and analyses from and about Southeast Asia to the rest of the world. The Southeast Asia Background Series is a major component of the Public Outreach objective of ISEAS in promoting a better awareness among the general public about trends and developments in Southeast Asia. The books published in the Southeast Asia Background Series are made possible by a generous grant from the K S Sandhu Memorial Fund.

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Southeast Asia Background Series No. 7

Christianity in Southeast Asia

Robbie B.H. Goh

I5EA5

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INSTITUTE OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES Singapore

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First published in Singapore in 2005 by ISEAS Publications Institute of Southeast Asian Studies 30 Heng Mui Keng Terrace Pasir Panjang Singapore 119614 E-mail: [email protected] • Website: http://bookshop.iseas.edu.sg All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. © 2005 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore The responsibility for facts and opinions in this publication rests exclusively with the author and his interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views or the policy of the series editor, or the publisher or its supporters. ISEAS Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data Goh, Robbie B. H., 1964– Christianity in Southeast Asia. (Southeast Asia background series) 1. Christianity — Asia, Southeastern. 2. Missions — Asia, Southeastern. I. Title II. Series BR1178 G61 2005 ISBN 981-230-297-2 Typeset by Superskill Graphics Pte Ltd Printed in Singapore by Utopia Press Pte Ltd

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Contents

1

About the Author

vi

Introduction: Missionary Movements and the Coming of Christianity to Southeast Asia

1

2

The Philippines

19

3

Singapore

35

4

Malaysia

47

5

Indonesia

57

6

Christianity in the Other Countries of Southeast Asia: Brunei, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam

65

Conclusion: Social, Political and Economic Considerations Concerning Christianity in Southeast Asia

73

References

79

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About the Author Robbie B.H. Goh is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore. Educated at the National University of Singapore and the University of Chicago, he works on Christianity and Cultural Transformation, Late Nineteenth Century British Literature, and Postcolonial Urbanism and Cultures. Recent publications include Theorizing the Southeast Asian City as Text (co-edited with Brenda S.A. Yeoh), Asian Diasporas: Cultures, Identities, Representations (coedited with Shawn Wong), Sparks of Grace: The Story of Methodism in Asia, and Contours of Culture: Space and Social Difference in Singapore (forthcoming).

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Missionary Movements and Coming of Christianity to Southeast Asia

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Chapter 1

Introduction: Missionary Movements and the Coming of Christianity to Southeast Asia Christianity in Southeast Asia is in many ways a relatively recent phenomenon, with the most significant events taking place from the late nineteenth century onwards. Certainly compared with religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, Christianity in the context of Southeast Asia as a whole must be considered a minority religion and one that has only recently begun to make a cultural impact. Yet this impact is by no means negligible, and has played quite an important role in shaping some aspects of Asian modernity, especially in the areas of education, medical and social work, and in laying the foundation for significant international networks in the age of Asian diasporas and globalization. The earliest signs of a Christian presence in Southeast Asia possibly date back to the seventh century; archaeological finds suggest that there were a number of Christian settlements (originating in Central Asia, and spreading through India) in the Malay Peninsula and parts of Sumatra and Java (Gillman and

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Klimkeit 1999, pp. 307–9). However, little is known about these early Christian settlements, and they certainly had no lasting impact on the early kingdoms and cultures of Southeast Asia. It was only in the early sixteenth century that Christianity entered Southeast Asia to make a sustained impact, and it was in large part because religion entered together with mercantile and military interests that this sustained presence was effected. From this point onwards, the spread of Christianity in Asia is connected, if in complex ways, to European colonial interests. It was not until the latter part of the twentieth century, after most of the Southeast Asian nations gained independence, that indigenous leadership and growth in the churches took place. Catholicism arrived in Southeast Asia well before the main Protestant missionary movements. The earliest sites of Catholic influence in Southeast Asia were Malacca, a port which the Portuguese occupied in 1511, and the Philippine islands, which Spain claimed from 1521, although it was not until the latter part of the sixteenth century that their control over the islands was complete. The impact of Christianity was quite different in these two cases, since the Portuguese and Spanish forms of colonialism placed quite different degrees of emphasis on religious conversion. By all accounts the Portuguese seemed much less inclined to push the proselytizing agenda: as a small nation interested primarily in trade, they did not have the resources to establish more substantial a colonial presence than a number of ports and settlements scattered across the world. With only a few exceptions, the Portuguese did not exert as systematic and forceful a control over the hinterlands of their ports as did the later European colonial powers, and this also meant that their cultural legacy in terms of religious conversion was less pronounced. Other factors determining the extent of Catholic influence in these two sites include the duration of control by the colonial

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power, and the moderating force of other colonial powers and their religious policies and affinities. The Portuguese colonial influence in Southeast Asia, as in most parts of the world, waned in the seventeenth century, and they were ousted from Malacca by the Dutch in 1641. The Dutch, who had fought their own war of independence against Catholic rulers and whose national Church, the Lutheran Reformed church, was hostile to Catholicism, did their best to stifle Catholicism wherever they encountered it in their colonial expansion, including in Malaya and the Indonesian islands (Roxborogh 1992, pp. 7–8). In contrast, the Spanish exerted almost continuous control over the Philippines for close to 400 years until 1898, when the islands were ceded to the Americans. While the Americans also brought Protestant missionaries who were keen to convert the locals to their own form of Christianity, they were hardly as hostile to Catholicism as were the Dutch, and initially made little headway against the long-entrenched Catholicism of the Filipinos. The Portuguese also introduced Catholicism to Myanmar and Cambodia in the sixteenth century, as they consolidated their control of trade routes east of India and north of the Straits of Malacca. However, as with most of the other Portuguese settlements in Asia, the religious influence declined sharply with the contraction of the Portuguese empire in the seventeenth century. Catholics today make up only a small fraction of the populations of these countries: a little more than one per cent in Myanmar, and less than half a per cent in Cambodia. Catholicism also appeared in Vietnam in the seventeenth century, carried there by French missionaries. Although it experienced mixed fortunes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, from the latter part of the nineteenth century its presence was boosted by French colonial interests. A treaty in 1862 lifted the centuries-old ban on Catholicism as well as

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officially recognizing French control of South Vietnam. This provided a certain degree of protection and encouragement for the work of the French priests who were busy establishing schools, carrying out social work as well as converting the Vietnamese to Christianity. Catholicism, like the Protestant denominations, suffered setbacks in the era of the communist rule of Vietnam, but it remains the largest Christian denomination, and still has a significant number of adherents constituting about six per cent of the population. Catholic priests also reached Laos in the latter part of the nineteenth century, but made little impact there, with the result that Catholicism in Laos today is very much a minority sect, with adherents constituting less than one per cent of the population. Thus it was the work of Catholic priests, often accompanying the early commercial and colonial expansionist projects of countries like Portugal, Spain and France, which first brought a sustained Christian presence to the countries of Southeast Asia. Although this was by no means an evenly sustained presence throughout the region, varying (among other things) according to the extent and duration of the colonial control in each country, it has succeeded in establishing an enduring influence on the cultural, educational and religious life of significant portions of the region. Apart from the Philippines where Catholicism is the overwhelmingly dominant religious form, Catholicism is also the largest single Christian denomination in most of the countries of Southeast Asia today (although it is smaller than all the Protestant denominations combined, with only a few exceptions such as the Philippines and Vietnam). Protestant Christianity came to Southeast Asia much later than did Catholicism, in a series of movements starting from the seventeenth century (with the Dutch in Indonesia), although the

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bulk of Protestant missions only occurred from the late nineteenth century onwards. Both the Dutch and the English, the two main Protestant colonizers in Southeast Asia, were initially concerned primarily with trade and profit, and the private companies that were in charge of the two colonial projects often discouraged missionaries as a potentially disturbing presence. In both cases, it was only after the private companies were supplanted and a proper colonial government established that missionaries gained more of a foothold in the Dutch and English colonies. The Dutch presence in the Indonesian islands began in 1605, and although the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was initially primarily concerned with commercial profit, in later years (particularly in the nineteenth century) after Dutch control over the islands had been consolidated, evangelical activities began to increase, initially by Dutch reformed missionaries (Santoso 1996, p. 319). Protestant missionary activities in Southeast Asia accelerated in the nineteenth century, catalysed in part by British colonial expansion in Malaya and Burma, and with the advent of American control over the Philippines at the end of the century. British colonial interventions arrived belatedly in Southeast Asia compared to the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch, as their attention was initially occupied by the vast and complex field of India. However, when their colonial ambitions did turn to the countries of Southeast Asia — with the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824–26 ending with the ceding of territory to the British, and the Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824 resulting in the consolidation of British control over Malaya in exchange for their withdrawal from Indonesia — they facilitated the entry of Protestant missionaries much more quickly than did the Dutch. This was partly a consequence of the British experience in India: although the British East India Company was initially opposed to the

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presence of missionaries as being a potentially destabilizing influence due to the possibilities of religious and cultural conflicts, this did not stop pioneering Protestant missionaries such as William Carey from coming to India from as early as 1793, and when the Company revised its charter in 1813 the door was opened for more missionary organizations to come in (Hrangkhuma 1996, pp. 390–91). As the British spread out from India into Southeast Asia in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, this understanding between missionary and colonialmercantile endeavours was also carried into countries like Myanmar and Malaya. However, Christianity did not spread in Southeast Asia under coercion by the colonial governments. Certainly this did take place in certain instances, but this was usually the work of individual administrators rather than as a matter of concerted policy. The Dutch also had a reputation as much stricter and more interventionist colonial governors than the English, who after using military means to secure their dominance were often content to leave local customs and everyday life alone, so long as the peace and commerce of the colony was not disturbed; this difference in styles of governance inevitably also affected the ways in which Christianity was promoted. Nevertheless, the patterns of development of Christianity in Southeast Asia — the consistent and continuous growth in adherents throughout the later colonial era and after the end of colonialism, the clustering of conversions unevenly among different peoples and areas rather than uniformly and evenly, the early development of indigenous leadership — all suggest that Christianity on the whole was a willing rather than enforced phenomenon. The boost that was given to Christianity by colonialism in Southeast Asia largely consisted of establishing the kind of socio-political order in which the missionaries had the confidence to work and

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move, and which allowed the missionaries to participate in social transformation through educational, medical and welfare projects. Given the dominant role played by the British in Southeast Asia, it is hardly surprising that some of the earliest Protestant missions in Southeast Asia were carried out by English groups like the Anglican London Missionary Society, and the English Methodists and Baptists. The London Missionary Society established its “Ultra-Ganges Mission” (the name suggests the extent to which the English missionaries of the time thought of the work in Southeast Asia as an extension of the India mission) in Malacca in 1815 (Ho 1996, p. 262). In 1819, when the East India Company established their trading post in Singapore, the London Missionary Society transferred their base there from Malacca. The Society’s work in the early nineteenth century generally took the form of a chaplaincy to the English community, and there was then little impact to the Asian peoples of Malaya. In many ways, the Anglican missionaries considered Southeast Asia to be a less significant region than China, from which they were initially barred by the hostility of the Chinese; so it was not surprising that after 1842, when the Treaty of Nanking forced China to open up ports to British trade, the Ultra-Ganges Mission was transferred to Hong Kong, and the majority of English missionaries turned their efforts once again to working in China. It was only in the latter part of the nineteenth century that Malaya and other countries in Southeast Asia received a flourishing of interest from a number of different missionary organizations. In Myanmar, the Anglican Church established its presence from 1826, after the end of the First Anglo-Burmese war ceded territory in Lower Myanmar to the British. As in Malaya, the early Anglican missions ministered to the British army and civilian personnel in Myanmar. Arriving even earlier than the Anglicans

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were the English Baptists, who were the pioneering Protestant missionaries in East India (primarily in the Bengal area) in the late eighteenth century, and who extended their concerted mission efforts to the neighbouring country of Myanmar in 1813. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, a wave of Protestant missions arrived in Southeast Asia, partly fuelled by the new interest in missions on the part of American churches. The Presbyterians, who were one of the pioneering mission groups in West India (the region which was later to become Pakistan) in the middle of the nineteenth century and are still the largest single Protestant denomination in that country today, also sent missions to Malaya in 1851 and Myanmar in 1852; a Presbyterian church had been established in Singapore as early as 1843, by London Missionary Society missionaries who had declined to go to China after the latter’s doors were opened (Sng 1980, p. 49; Wong 1996, p. 291). British and American Methodists pushed out from their Asian bases (in Sri Lanka and Northern India, respectively) in the latter half of the nineteenth century, arrived in Myanmar in 1887 and 1879 respectively. The American Methodists, who were more expansionist-minded and had considerably more resources at their command than their British counterparts in this period, also extended their network to Malaya (starting in Singapore) in 1885, the Philippines in 1899, and Indonesia in 1905 (Goh 2003a, pp. 100, 125, 139). Later Protestant groups to arrive in various countries in Southeast Asia, generally from the early to middle part of the twentieth century, include the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Assembly of God, the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptists, Lutherans, Bible Presbyterians, and others. Thus by the early part of the twentieth century most of the countries of Southeast Asia had had Protestant missions established

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in them, although their impact depended considerably on the cultural and political conditions prevailing in each of those countries, and also on the resources committed to that country by the different missionary organizations. In some countries (such as India, China and Korea), seen as particularly desirable mission fields with the potential to yield large numbers of converts, the different missionary organizations had to observe what were known as “comity agreements” by which they chose different regions or territories in which to conduct their activities, although the agreements were not always strictly observed. To a certain extent, Protestant missions (unlike many of the earlier Catholic missions, with the exception of that in the Philippines and to a certain extent in Vietnam) owed their rapid penetration of many Asian countries to the colonial machinery which, if it did not actually welcome the presence of missionaries, did much to ensure the conditions of relative stability and security which made a lot of the missionary work possible. Missionary organizations, especially the Protestant missions whose arrival in Southeast Asia coincided with the era of industrialization and scientific progress in Europe, were instrumental in contributing to the modernization of many of the Southeast Asian nations in which they were active. Their contributions to education and healthcare were particularly strong. Both Catholic and Protestant missions placed considerable emphasis on education. The Catholic church, with its long tradition of classical scholarship (particularly in areas like philosophy, ethics and languages), and its emphasis on what has been called “contextual” education (one that trained the individual to think critically in the context of his or her society, the sitz em leben) was keen to promote its brand of education in the countries of Southeast Asia, making its mark particularly in

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the Philippines. Well-known Catholic universities in the Philippines today include the University of Santo Tomas (founded in 1611, the oldest existing university in Asia and one of the largest Catholic universities in the world) and the Ateneo de Manila (founded by Jesuit priests in 1859). More recently, Catholic universities have also been established in Thailand and Indonesia. The Protestant mission groups saw education as a means of bringing native children under Christian influence, if not for immediate conversion (which was often controversial and aroused outcry from parents, the public and even the students themselves), then as part of a longer-term influence and networking which, it was hoped, might eventually lead to conversion. In this they were often helped by the poor state of education in many of the countries of Southeast Asia, and by colonial governments which were not prepared to invest large sums of money and other resources in the basic education of native children. In addition to the Catholics, Protestant organizations like the Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians were particularly industrious in establishing comprehensive and integrated networks of educational institutions, often spanning the educational spectrum from pre-school to seminary or university, from simple village schools to colleges and high schools in major cities. In the countries of Southeast Asia which came under British control, mission schools became known for providing a progressive Anglophone education that would prove useful for the recipient’s career in government service, the professions and business. Alumni of these institutions who often went on to achieve prominence in government, the professions and business in turn furthered the fortunes and reputations of such schools through direct and indirect means. After education, the next area in which missionaries invested a considerable amount of their time and resources was healthcare.

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Once again, this was carried out largely to fill a gap between what colonial governments were able or prepared to provide, and the needs of the overwhelming majority of the poor living in the rural areas or slums in the cities. Catholic missions were the first to establish a variety of Western treatment and dispensary facilities in Southeast Asia, some as early as the sixteenth century, but these were typically smaller facilities (closer to the original sense of the hospitium, as a place where charitable hospitality was provided to those in need), and many were later taken over by non-Catholic agencies. Thus for example the San Lazaro Hospital in the Philippines, started in Intramuros in 1577 by a Spanish friar to serve as a dispensary, later upgraded to a hospital, but finally taken over by the Americans and then by the Philippine health service. Many of the modern and accredited Catholic hospitals operating in Southeast Asia today are of more recent provenance, established mostly in the twentieth century: these include the Saint Louis Hospital in Thailand, established 1898, Sint Carolus and Borromeus Hospitals in Indonesia, established in 1917 and 1921 respectively, and Mount Alvernia Hospital in Singapore, established in 1961. Protestant mission groups, in many cases backed by financial support and medical personnel provided by the American missions organizations which had sent them, started establishing medical facilities almost as soon as they arrived in most of the countries of Southeast Asia. Thus in the Philippines, for example, many of the main American Protestant denominations (including the Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians) sent missions in the period 1899 to 1902, immediately following the transfer of political power from Spain to the United States. By the first decade of the twentieth century a number of hospitals had been established, including Mosher Hall (presently St. Luke’s Hospital), established by the Episcopalians in 1903, and the

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Mary Johnston Hospital established by the Methodists in 1906. One of the Protestant groups whose contributions to medical care in Southeast Asia stands out, particularly considering the relatively small size of the denomination and its relatively late arrival in most of the countries of Southeast Asia, is the SeventhDay Adventists. American Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries established hospitals in Thailand (the Bangkok Mission Hospital in 1937, and the Phuket Adventist Hospital in the late 1940s), Malaysia (the Penang Adventist Hospital, established 1924) and Singapore (Youngberg Memorial Hospital, established in 1948, although this has since closed down). This despite the fact that, with only some 11 million adherents around the world, the Seventh-Day Adventists are one of the smaller denominations; by comparison, there are between 15 to 20 million Methodists and between 26 to 29 million Baptists in America alone (Adherents.com). Other kinds of social work carried out and social institutions established by Christian groups in Southeast Asia include various forms of dispensaries and medical facilities, including specialist treatment centres such as those for women and children, eye and skin clinics, and immunization programmes and medical facilities in less-accessible rural areas. In countries with large agricultural sectors such as Indonesia and the Philippines, which were also vulnerable to natural disasters such as droughts, floods, typhoons and volcanic eruptions, the mission organizations and churches were also quick to develop agricultural aid programmes which (among other things) inculcated new and improved agricultural practices, provided financial support, and formed a source of relief for rural communities in times of distress. Often they were also instrumental in developing rural medical, health education, dispensary and immunization programmes.

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Thus due to historical and political factors, as well as to the different resources available to the different missionary organizations, there were slightly different emphases and concentrations on the part of the different Christian denominations in Southeast Asia. The Philippines has become the Catholic stronghold of Southeast Asia, and the only country in Asia with a predominantly Christian population. Catholicism is also the dominant Christian denomination in Vietnam, with about 6.5 per cent of the population, outnumbering all other denominations put together (about 1.5 per cent). In both cases, the colonial history, dominated by a predominantly Catholic power (Spain and France, respectively), clearly had much to do with this development. In most other countries in Southeast Asia, Protestant Christians as a whole outnumber Catholics. The only country in Southeast Asia which has never come under European colonial control, Thailand, is also the country with one of the lowest percentages of Christian adherents (about 1.5 per cent of the population). On the other hand, a country like Cambodia, which had a complicated colonial past, today has about the same percentage of Christians as Thailand (just slightly more than one per cent Christians); this is because of the violence of its reaction to colonialism, and the long period of civil unrest from the 1960s to 1990, which resulted in the purging of much of the country’s religious past, including that of the Christian minority legacy. In Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, which were controlled by the predominantly Protestant colonial powers England and Holland, it is predictably the Protestant denominations, particularly the Anglicans, Methodists, and Lutherans which have been the main Christian groups. In such countries, the tendency over time has been for the proliferation of different denominations through

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the establishment of different missions as well as the growth of a variety of “independent” (i.e. of local origins) Protestant churches. This multiplication of different missions has generally tended to spur the development of varied and far-reaching social programmes and institutions, as the Christian organizations both collaborated and competed with each other in terms of community penetration, church planting in new areas, the establishment of new ministry areas, and of course the winning of converts. Despite these differences, what the various Christian missions to Southeast Asia had in common was an overall effect of social transformation in the movement to modern education on European-American models, social attitudes to women, cultural traditionalisms, and a whole range of welfare and relief work. In most cases Christian organizations provided aid and services to the community which the various colonial governments were unable or unwilling to provide. By targeting needy and marginal groups such as the poor and destitute, racial minorities, recent immigrants, women, and rural communities, Christian missionaries played a significant role in calling attention to the plight of these groups, and ultimately in fostering ideas of social integration and community-building. The work of Christian missionaries was not, of course, without its problems: these included objections and obstructions by indigenous and traditional religions in various countries, persecution by local authorities (particularly true of the Catholic priests who worked in the era prior to the main period of European colonialism), accusations that they were interfering with and diluting the cultures and traditional ways of local peoples, and other such conflicts and tensions. It is also difficult to measure the exact degree of the impact that Christianity has made in Southeast Asia: apart from the fact that statistics on religions are not always reliable for a variety of reasons (such as the definitions of

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adherents, problems of data collection, and opposition posed by governments hostile to religions other than the “official” one), Christianity arguably has a social impact which goes beyond merely the number of adherents in a particular country. In merely numerical terms, it is important to note that Christianity is a minority religion in all the countries of Southeast Asia except the Philippines, and indeed in some of these countries has nothing more than a tiny community of adherents. Yet against this fact, it is also important to recognize that Christianity brought (and continues to bring) a social effect that contributed widely to the educational, medical and social life of the countries of Southeast Asia, an effect which extended far beyond the ranks of those who actually converted to Christianity, and which may play a significant role in creating and predicting future social transformations of Southeast Asian countries in an age of globalization. In the last decades of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, the story of Christianity in Southeast Asia has mainly featured the development of “independent” (in various senses of the word) church movements which in many cases have been highly successful in attracting large congregations and taking on board new organizational strategies, liturgical forms and media. With the various nationalist movements and the coming-into-independence of many of the nations of Southeast Asia around the middle of the twentieth century, there also arose movements towards the creation of autonomous national churches in the various denominations. While these represented a significant move towards church leadership by local leaders, in the case of the older major denominations the national churches continue to be affiliated to their respective international denominational orders, and to walk in step with those orders in respect of liturgies, organizational nomenclature and structure,

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and collaborative projects at home and abroad. The last few decades of the twentieth century and the start of the twenty-first century, however, have been marked by the dynamic growth of independent churches which in various ways mark their separation from the older denominational connections, organizations and liturgies. In many cases these independent churches have been spectacularly successful in attracting large congregations, partly through the espousal of “Pentecostal” and “charismatic” teachings and doctrines, the use of contemporary music and media technologies, and the leadership of dynamic and energetic pastors who, while often trained in the established seminaries in the United States and elsewhere, have adapted their ministries to suit the needs and tastes of local peoples. These newer independent churches are not without controversies and problems — including accusations of being more concerned with numbers and finances than with spiritual matters per se, and of “diluting” the Gospel message and straying away from mainstream Christian doctrine in the push to attract members and build up a reputation. Nevertheless, they represent a new energy and direction in church developments in Southeast Asia, a new connecting structure which is not only a departure from the denominational connections which in many cases are still oriented towards the originating churches in American and Western Europe, but also a manifestation of a church willing to take on new liturgical forms, media and contextual factors. The start of the twenty-first century thus marks an era of exciting developments, new possibilities and social transformations for Christianity in Southeast Asia. While it is of course impossible to predict exactly what will transpire in time to come, an examination of Christianity in the major hubs of Southeast Asia — especially the Philippines, Singapore and

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Malaysia — offers some indication of developing trends in the church and its adherents, Christianity’s relationship with other religions, and the social impact of churches. This however needs to be balanced against the situation in other Southeast Asian countries where Christianity is for various reasons in a much more precarious position, where the conflicts and opposition encountered by the church are indicators of social tensions that are likely to continue in certain parts of the region.

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The Philippines

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Chapter 2

The Philippines The Philippines stands out as the only Asian country which has a predominantly Christian population. With Christians forming around 93 per cent of its population, the Philippines has a higher percentage of Christian adherents than most countries in North America and Europe, including its former colonial master Spain (which has less than 70 per cent of its population Christian). It seems ironic that the Christian faith, which was introduced to the Philippines in the Spanish conquest, and integrated into mainstream Filipino culture during the long period (375 years) of Spanish colonial control, should still be a vital part of the Filipino way of life even as it struggles against secularism and the growth of competing religions in Spain. This is evidence, among other things, of the way in which “religious nationalism” constitutes a crucial principle of the social, political and everyday life of the Philippines today, in a way which is no longer true of the former European colonial powers. Christianity in the Philippines is no dead colonial legacy, but continues to be a vital part of the national political life, as well as of the daily lives of individual citizens. It has also taken on forms (particularly in certain festivals, in the growth of Filipino independent churches, in evangelical strategies to indigenous groups) which have departed quite significantly from the colonial church. At the same time, this

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religious nationalism paradoxically does not preclude a tendency on the part of Filipino Christianity in general to continue to recognize and work in partnership with external authorities such as the Vatican, the international headquarters of the respective Protestant denominations, and other church-related organizations and connections. This combination of religious independence and collaboration is perhaps one of the reasons for the continuing vitality of Christianity in the Philippines. The islands of the Philippines were originally settled by seafarers of Malay stock. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Islam (which had earlier come to the islands of Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula) was introduced to the Philippines, beginning with the southwestern islands of Sulu and Mindanao which had the most contact with the Malay Archipelago. When Christianity entered the Philippines in the sixteenth century and gradually grew to become the dominant religion, it halted and then reversed the northward expansion of Islam; to this day, the southwest islands remain strongholds of Islam in the Philippines. About five per cent of the total population of the Philippines is Muslim. The Spanish campaign to conquer the Philippines began in 1565, with the expedition of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, and in the matter of less than a decade the islands were controlled by the Spanish, with the exception of the Muslim strongholds in the south. The Spanish appeared to take the task of spreading Christianity at least as seriously as that of conquering the islands, and Legazpi’s expedition included Catholic priests who were there to prevent the excesses of the conquistadors, and to ensure just treatment of the locals (Schumacher 1979, pp. 22–28). After the establishment of Spanish control over the Philippines, more priests — chiefly of the Augustinian, Franciscan, Jesuit and Dominican orders — arrived in the islands, and the process of the evangelization of the natives proceeded with great speed, with

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the result that less than fifty years after Legazpi’s arrival, most of the indigenous people had been baptized (Bautista 1996, p. 171). This rapid Christianization of the Philippines did have its problems — contemporary reports included accounts of forced baptism, the use of threats, and improper or inadequate religious instruction given to baptism candidates and converts — but was generally conducted with thoroughness and a genuine concern for the real spiritual conversion of the locals (Schumacher 1979). The enduring dominance of Catholicism in the Philippines up to the present day must itself bear some testimony to the effectiveness of the religious legacy of the Spanish colonizers. The Spanish were quite slow to develop local clergy for leadership positions in the church. Indeed, there was effectively no system of ordaining Filipino clergy for the first one and a half centuries of Spanish colonial rule, in large part because of racist attitudes on the part of the Spanish in which the Filipinos were perceived as “children” incapable of the higher responsibilities of ordained service. It was only in the early part of the eighteenth century that Filipinos were trained to be priests, and by the middle of the century there were records of a number of ordained Filipino priests in the Archdiocese of Manila (De la Costa 1969, pp. 82–86; Schumacher 1979, p. 199). It was also in the eighteenth century that a number of home-grown Catholic orders, such as the Beatas de la Compania de Jesus, were recognized and received official protection. Begun in Manila in the latter part of the seventeenth century by M. Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, the Beatas were an order of native women dedicated to lives of poverty and humble service; they were given official recognition by the Catholic church in 1732, and today are known as the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary. The Spanish priests had been pioneers in establishing educational institutions — notably the Jesuits, who established

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the College of Manila in 1596 and the College of San Jose in 1601, and the Dominicans who established the College of Santo Tomas in 1619, which is still in existence today — but were slow to extend the benefits of systematic education to the locals until the eighteenth century (Bautista 1996, p. 171). To a certain extent, the distance of the Philippines from Spain and any other Spanish colonial centre also contributed to the general inertia of the colonial government of the Philippines, and the stagnation in the integration of Catholicism into the everyday life of the Filipino people. By the middle of the nineteenth century the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines was in crisis, and this was also reflected in the religious life of the islands. The great geographical distance between Spain and the Philippines caused problems of colonial control, and meant that the Philippines had to come under the intermediate authority of another colony, New Spain (Mexico). In the nineteenth century, the Philippines moved from being an outpost on Spain’s China-New World trade route, to trading and interacting directly with Spain, Great Britain and the United States as a plantation economy (Bautista 1996, p. 172). As direct colonial control was weakening, the rise of a Filipino middle class and intelligentsia also led to growing dissatisfactions with and criticisms of various aspects of colonial government. The growth of Filipino Religious Nationalism dates from the latter part of the nineteenth century, when dissatisfaction with the general conduct of the colonial government was intertwined with a dissatisfaction with the Church’s attitude to and treatment of locals. Some of the main issues at stake in the religious politics of the time were the structuring of local education, the freedom of worship and opinion, controls over the property of friars, the rents charged by the Church to local farmers, and other issues

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in which the Church was seen as maintaining a “dead hand” which oppressed and restricted Filipino religious and socioeconomic life (Schumacher 1979, pp. 253–59). To have some sense of how badly out-of-step some of the church’s strictures were with the rapidly changing socio-economic conditions, it is enough to note that it was against the law of the Spanish colonizers for anyone but the clergy to own a bible. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, a number of local lay persons were imprisoned or exiled for having in their possession bibles or parts of it. This rigid and restrictive attitude on the part of the church ran in dramatic opposition to the rise of ilustrados (influential and well-educated Filipinos) and a wealthy agricultural class, the increasing agitation of the “seculars” or local priests, and the general increase in educational and socioeconomic resources among the Filipinos in the latter part of the nineteenth century (Majul 1969, pp. 153–55). This opposition came to a head in 1872 when three Filipino priests — José Burgos, Mariano Gomez, and Jacinto Zamora — were executed by the Spanish government on highly suspect charges that they had been instrumental in instigating the Cavite Mutiny, in which some 200 Filipino soldiers and arsenal workers had revolted against the oppressive treatment by their Spanish officers (Majul 1969, p. 155). The independence movement in the last decades of the nineteenth century also involved hostility against the Spanish friars who were increasingly seen as both symbols and mouthpieces of the colonial regime, and in the revolt of 1896 many friars were killed and others fled the country. Filipinos fought alongside the Americans in the 1898 Spanish-American war expecting to receive their independence as a reward, but in the 1898 Treaty of Paris the Philippines was ceded to America. With the advent of American control came a new phase of Christianity in the Philippines, characterized by formal Protestant

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missions. While there had been various forms of contact with Protestantism in earlier periods, these were by and large private or small-scale undertakings which had to work covertly in the face of the zealous Spanish safeguarding of the authority of the Catholic Church. The President of the United States, William McKinley, was a Methodist who spoke of the American duty to “Christianize” the Philippines, by which he meant the conversion to Protestant Christianity. Apart from Protestantism’s longstanding hostility to and suspicion of the Catholic Church, there was no doubt a kind of cultural imperialism at work which believed (implicitly or explicitly) that the establishment of a more strongly Protestant religious culture would have some beneficial effect on the American control of the islands. Certainly the various Protestant groups had little hesitation in sending formal missions to the Philippines: in the period 1899 to 1902, the Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, United Brethren, Disciples, and Congregationalists all established missions to the Philippines. These were followed a little later by the Christian Missionary Alliance in 1905 and the Seventh-Day Adventists in 1906 (Bautista 1996, p. 173). Despite the enthusiasm of these Protestant missions, Protestantism initially made little headway in the Philippines. Notwithstanding the conflicts that the Filipinos had had with the Spanish church, Catholicism had become so closely woven into the fabric of Filipino life and culture, that relatively few Filipinos were prepared to leave the familiar rituals of the Catholic church for the more austere Protestant forms. The Filipinos also mistrusted the American impulse to separate church and state, which they saw evidenced in the project to create mass secular education, in contrast to the parish-based and church-led educational model with which the overwhelming majority of the Filipinos were familiar. By 1939, Protestants constituted only 2.4

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per cent of the Philippine population, a proportion which changed little in the next three or four decades (Bautista 1996, p. 174). The period between the ceding of the Philippines to the Americans and the advent of World War II was also characterized by the rise of a Philippine religious nationalism which sought self-determination in the life and government of its churches. The episode of 1872 showed the extent to which the Filipino clergy were implicated in the political struggle for independence, and this continued in the last decades of the nineteenth century, with a number of the clergy speaking out against the Spanish colonial government and facing excommunication by the Vatican. One such clergyman was Gregorio Aglipay, an outspoken priest who had been involved in the Filipino struggle for independence against the Spanish, serving as military chaplain to the Filipino revolutionary army and working for the cause of the independent Philippine church, for which he was excommunicated by the Vatican. In 1902, when the movement towards an independent Philippine church was advanced through the declaration of the formation of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), Aglipay was nominated as one of the members of the church council. Although he initially demurred, wanting to explore all possibilities of coming to terms with the Vatican before breaking away altogether, he later became one of the leading Bishops of what came to be known as the “Aglipayan movement”. In the first decade or so of the IFI’s existence, there followed a series of confrontational measures which progressively widened the church’s split with the Vatican. These included the canonization of Filipino churchmen executed by the Spanish government, the adoption of new governing rules which replaced the Fundamental Epistles, the adoption of a new official Prayer Book and Ritual, and the claiming of church lands in the Philippines (although this was later reversed by the U.S. Supreme

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Court). This sharp acceleration in sentiments and actions of religious nationalism was also echoed by the Protestant churches in the Philippines. Thus the Methodists, for example — one of the earliest Protestant missions to be formally established in the Philippines — experienced a struggle for self-determination which in 1909 led to the formation of the breakaway group the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista en las Islas Filipinas (IEMELIF). The split arose among other things out of perceptions that the American Methodist leaders were not fast enough in developing Filipino leadership at the higher levels; but in many ways it has to be seen as being fuelled by the deep-seated Filipino desire for selfgovernment, including in ecclesiastical terms. One of the founding fathers of the IEMELIF was Nicolas Zamora, one of the Methodists’ earliest and most zealous native converts, and the great nephew of the Jacinto Zamora who was executed by the Spanish colonial government (Deats 1969, p. 336). Of the 30,000 or so Methodists in the Manila district, 1,500 or so left immediately to join the IEMELIF; most were older Tagalog-speaking Filipinos in whom the sentiments of religious nationalism were much stronger than in the younger, English-speaking members (Deats 1969, p. 336). The tide of religious nationalism moved less urgently in the churches in the Philippines after independence in 1946. Not only did the nation’s independence remove a considerable part of the desire for autonomy in religious affairs, but a series of internal schisms in the first few decades after 1946 also dissipated the organizational energies of the churches. In the IFI, a leadership struggle between Bishop Isabelo de los Reyes Jr. and Bishop Fonacier saw the latter leaving to form the Independent Church of Filipino Christians (ICFC) in 1946. The Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines survived World War II, schisms and internal splits to remain the dominant Christian denomination, and with the worldwide revival of Catholicism after Vatican II in

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1962–65, underwent a revival (Bautista 1996, p. 176). Today its adherents number around 51 million. The Aglipayan church has also endured trials (including further internal tensions and clashes with different government regimes over social problems of inequality and corruption) and even grown over the years, undergoing its own revival in the 1960s and 1970s, and today is an extensive organization with more than 5 million members. Catholics form about 67 per cent of all Christians in the Philippines. Protestant Christianity, after the initial period of very modest growth for the most part of the twentieth century, has in recent years grown to assume a slightly more significant position in the Philippine religious landscape. The older main Protestant groups like the Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists all in various ways found their progress in the Philippines hampered by the dominance of the Catholic Church, the religious nationalism which challenged foreign leadership of the Protestant churches, and the schismatic impulse which constantly threatened to divide the church organization. Perhaps significantly, some of the more successful Protestant groups in the Philippines (in terms of relative size and rate of growth) have not been the major denominations which entered the country the earliest, but rather the newer organizations with smaller world-wide followings and networks such as the Seventh-Day Adventists, and including groups considered “marginal” or “semi-Christian” in theology and teaching, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001, p. 521). These all have significant followings in the Philippines (in contrast to their slight presences in most of the other countries in Southeast Asia), rivalling and in many cases even eclipsing the main Protestant denominations. It may be that these “marginal” denominations are perceived as being less rigid in their organizational structure, liturgy and everyday life than the

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older denominations, and thus appealing more to the Filipino character and way of life. The Protestant share of Christianity in the Philippines now constitutes about 33 per cent (or about 30 per cent of the total population), although there is a pronounced degree of double affiliation, due to the fact that many Filipinos born into Catholic families may at some point affiliate themselves to other churches and denominations without formally severing their ties with the Catholic church (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001, p. 521). Of the Protestant Christians, independent groups form the most significant and fastest-growing portion, constituting more than 15 per cent of all Filipino Christians, which is second only to Catholicism. Such generalizations always threaten to ignore the particular conditions of individual churches, and it should not be assumed that Catholic and mainline Protestant churches in the Philippines are not dynamic or growing; yet the rapid growth and influence of independent churches in the Philippines cannot be ignored, and indicates some of the underlying realities of Christianity in that country. In the first place, the independent churches, with their self-determining structures and governance, appeal in obvious ways to the independent spirit of the Filipinos, escaping the factiousness and divisiveness experienced by many of the older denominations during the period of religious nationalism in the Philippines. By the same token, the independent churches were able to depict themselves as churches of the people, closely in tune with their everyday lives and needs, and less constrained or encumbered by elaborate structures or liturgies. In the second place, the independent churches, by and large established and developing in the latter part of the twentieth century, tend to place the predominant emphasis on the supernatural, including the works of miraculous healing, deliverance, conviction of sin, conversion and empowerment,

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consistent with the waves of “charismatic” spiritualism that has moved through churches around the world in this period. Thus, for example, the Jesus Miracle Crusade International Ministry (JMCIM) based in Quezon City, one of the largest and fastestgrowing independent churches in the Philippines, focuses its ministry (as its name suggests) chiefly on miraculous healing, both from physical disease and from the spiritual malaises manifesting themselves as substance abuse, marital and familial problems, and so on. With services taking the form of huge rallies (often held in a stadium or field), featuring testimonies from people who have received miraculous healing, and with its own radio programme, the Jesus Miracle Crusade has been able to attract millions of adherents throughout the Philippines. Another significant feature of Christianity in the Philippines is the strong presence of “marginal” groups (often referred to as “cults” or “sects”) which are perceived as deviating in some points of theology or teaching from orthodox Protestant Christianity. While many of these groups have only a limited or underground presence in other countries in Asia, where their activities are discouraged if not actually proscribed, in the Philippines theirs are among the larger congregations. Thus both the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (or Mormon Church) as well as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, while not nearly as large as independent churches like the Jesus Miracle Crusade, have congregations of several hundred thousands, rivalling in size or dwarfing major denominations such as the Methodists, Baptists and Anglicans (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001, p. 521). These groups are considered marginal chiefly because some aspect of their theology departs from the orthodox creed regarding the triune God or the simultaneously divine and human nature of Christ that Protestant main denominations agree on. Among “marginal” groups, the most prominent is the home-grown “Iglesia

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ni Cristo” (Church of Christ), which with its estimated 5 or 6 million adherents is even larger than the Jesus Miracle Crusade. Consisting in large part of converted Catholics, the Iglesia ni Cristo has spread to establish congregations elsewhere in the world, particularly in Hawaii and other parts of the United States where there are large Filipino communities. Christianity plays an important role in the national life of the Philippines, in large part because it plays such an important part in the everyday life of the majority of the Filipinos, who take their religion very seriously. Signs of this include the excitement and elaborate preparations involved in the celebration of many Christian festivals, including the feast days of various local patron saints, and of course extended Easter celebrations. One such uniquely Filipino ritual is the Cutud Sinakulo (passion play), reenacting the crucifixion of Christ involving processions of penitents flagellating themselves until bloody, and volunteers playing Christ actually being crucified (although not to the death); the festival in Cutud, in Pampanga province, has become something of a phenomenon, attracting the attention of the international media and tourist industries. In political terms as well, religion plays a significant role. The close relationship between religious and political feelings was exhibited in the Cavite episode where the colonial government was quick to retaliate against local priests as being instrumental to the mutiny, and in the fight for independence from the Americans in which cause several of the leaders who were later to be involved in the Aglipayan church were involved. Up to the present day, churches play a significant role in the political life of the country, particularly the larger churches who constitute a formidable force not only because of their large numbers of adherents, but also because of their spirit of social activism and the willingness of leaders and church members to take an active

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part in social movements. The American-inspired separation of church and state in the Philippines since 1898 has also fostered a spirit of freedom in which the churches have been able to enjoy not only freedom of worship but also of social expression (Bautista 1996, p. 191), although this has been tested on a few occasions in periods of martial law and autocratic government. The political significance of the churches in the Philippines was recently highlighted when President Gloria Arroyo’s bid for a full six-year term was boosted by the support of some of the large churches like the Jesus Miracle Crusade and the Iglesia ni Cristo, which are believed to vote virtually en bloc. In terms of everyday life, the churches play an important role in social welfare, education, medical aid and disaster relief. The Catholics have a traditional parish-based system of spiritual and social support, and have also played a strong role in the educational landscape: some of the oldest and best-known universities in the Philippines are Catholic institutions like the University of Santo Tomas (the oldest existing University in Asia, founded in 1611) and the Ateneo de Manila (founded in 1859). The Protestant churches, particularly the main denominations like the Methodists, Baptists and others, brought with them to the Philippines an ethos of social work, particularly in education, medicine and social aid. Many of the main Protestant denominations have the resources of a global denominational organization to aid them in their endeavours, particularly in fundraising; this has been particularly significant because of the general poverty among Filipinos, particularly in the rural areas, which are also prone to disasters like typhoons, floods and even volcanic eruptions. While the Philippines is dominated by Christianity to a greater extent than most countries in the world, this is not to say that it does not face problems of religious conflict. The country’s small

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(about 5 per cent) but sometimes vocal Muslim community, including certain fringe militant elements such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, poses challenges for religious harmony in the Philippines, a goal towards which the churches have a significant role to play. There is also a significant incidence of nominalism, in which people are born into Christian families but have nothing more than a nominal or token religious participation; this not only complicates the demographic accounting and religious landscape of the country, but also poses a problem to the churches in terms of retaining members and attracting new ones. Despite its uniquely Christian character within Southeast Asia, the Philippines has probably not played as significant a role in missionary work to other countries or the establishment of international Christian networks as might have been expected. Internal problems such as general poverty and the rich–poor divide, corruption, the lack of adequate infrastructural development, and the ongoing struggle with militant and terrorist groups, have played a significant part in curtailing the country’s logical role as the practical leader of Christian organizations, networks and dialogue groups in Southeast Asia and Asia as a whole. At present, the number of missionaries that the Philippines sends out is just about balanced by the number of missionaries that are sent to the Philippines (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001, p. 521). However, it should be noted that the high incidence of expatriate Filipinos — of professionals, domestic workers, musicians, technicians and others who work overseas — as well as emigration, have led to the creation of a number of churches overseas with predominantly Filipino congregations. This is a form of Christian networking and expansion which is significant in terms of numbers and geographical outreach, although it is largely intra-racial and intra-

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cultural in the community it serves. This aspect, together with the long and rich history of Christianity in the Philippines, the symbolic significance of being the only predominantly Christian country in Southeast Asia, and the general impact of Christianity in the everyday life of the Filipinos, make it one of the most noteworthy countries in the region in religious terms, and one of the hubs of Christianity.

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Chapter 3

Singapore Singapore, although one of the tiniest countries in the world, occupies a significant position in Southeast Asia, not only for its vaunted economic prosperity and governance, but also as one of the strongholds of Christianity in the region. Although the proportion of professed Christians is not very high — 14.6 per cent, according to the 2000 Census of Population — this is high relative to the proportion of Christians in most of the other countries in Southeast Asia. Furthermore, the statistical figure does not really capture the broader influence of Christianity in Singapore — the “social influence” of Christianity mediated through the country’s many and well-reputed “mission schools”, the close association of Christianity with middle-class identity (indicated in higher educational levels and correspondingly higher incomes and anglophone competence), and the economic and organizational cachet which is attached to Christian organizations based in Singapore. Founded in 1819 as a trading base and port for the British East India Company, Singapore was initially administered as one of three “Straits Settlements” (the others being the port of Malacca and the island of Penang, both in peninsular Malaysia), and then as part of Malaya until independence from British rule in 1957. In 1965 Singapore and Malaysia parted ways, in large part due to

35

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issues of racial politics (it was perceived, among other things, that Chinese-dominated Singapore would affect Malay political and social control of Malaysia), and the Republic of Singapore came into being. Although the original inhabitants of the island were Malay, the colonial administration’s policy of promoting Singapore as a free port and its recruitment of labourers for the rubber and tin industries in Malaya brought in a large number of Tamil and Chinese immigrants, changing the racial and cultural composition of the island significantly. The Chinese, in particular, attracted by prospects of making money in the region and fleeing the internal unrests and violence that plagued China from around the end of the nineteenth century onwards, came to Singapore in large numbers and by 1921 were the majority race in the island. Christianity was introduced to Singapore with the advent of colonial rule early in the nineteenth century, although it did not make an impact on Singapore society as a whole until near the end of the century. The first mission to Singapore took the form of the London Missionary Society’s Ultra Ganges Mission, established in Malacca in 1815 by William Milne, but transferred to Singapore in 1819 (Ho 1996, p. 263). As the name suggests, the Ultra Ganges Mission was meant to be the spearhead for the society’s missionary work east of India, of which the most lucrative mission field was China. The founder and spiritual head of the Ultra Ganges Mission, Robert Morrison, had gone to China in 1807 but found his work there hampered by Imperial hostility to foreigners in general, and had conceived of the Ultra Ganges Mission as an alternative (Sng 1980, p. 25). A large part of the mission’s work in the first few decades after Singapore’s founding was among the British community. The mission also operated a press which was active in printing and distributing religious material such as tracts, songbooks, and portions of Scripture (Sng 1980, p. 28). In 1842 China was forced by the first of the “unequal

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treaties” to open its doors to foreigners, and the London Missionary Society’s missionaries experienced a reawakening of their original call to minister in China. In 1843 the Ultra Ganges Mission was closed and its resources transferred to China. The work of the Anglicans in Singapore continued in their church ministry to the British community; some of the oldest churches in Singapore, including the landmark St. Andrew’s Cathedral (the first version of which was built in 1835), are Anglican. Through community ministries such as education, the Anglicans also managed to build significant congregations of local people from the latter half of the century onwards. A number of other missions were established in Singapore in the first few decades after its founding, including the Catholics in 1821, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1834, the church missionary society in 1837, and the Plymouth Brethren in 1857. The Catholics, in particular, had a sustained presence in Singapore, supported in part by the longer-established communities of Catholics in Malacca, Goa and Macau. While there was initially no Catholic jurisdiction over Singapore, by the late 1820s separate ecclesiastical jurisdictions — issuing from the Portuguese Catholics of Goa on the one hand, and on the French Catholics in Siam on the other — had been established in Singapore and were contesting each other. It was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century that these frictions between different Catholic factions in Singapore were fully resolved. The missionary presence in Singapore stepped up around the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, with the addition of groups like the American Methodists in 1885, the Seventh-Day Adventists in 1908, the Assemblies of God in 1928, the Salvation Army in 1935, and in the 1950s the Church of Christ, Southern Baptists, Lutherans, Bible Presbyterians, Finnish Pentecostal Mission and the Evangelical

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Free Church (Wong 1996, p. 292). This was the period of one of the characteristic features of Christianity in Singapore, the development of a particularly strong mission school system which was endorsed by the colonial government, generally accepted with enthusiasm by the local populace, and implemented with brisk efficiency by the mission organizations. The Catholics and Anglicans were the first to establish schools in Singapore, with the Catholic boys’ school St Joseph’s Institution founded in 1852, and the girls’ Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus founded in 1854. The London Missionary Society established the first girls’ school, St. Margaret’s School, in 1842, while the first Anglican school for boys, St Andrew’s School, was founded in 1862. These pioneering schools are all still functioning and occupy a distinguished position among Singapore schools. The educational ministry was a very effective way for the churches to bridge the initial divide between the British colonizers who naturally constituted the bulk of the early church congregations, and the large numbers of immigrant workers rapidly filling the island (of which the Chinese, who were by and large Buddhists or practitioners of traditional Chinese religious forms such as ancestor worship, formed the overwhelming majority). Mission schools in Singapore had a strong welfare impetus, in the desire to care for the children of poor immigrants, many of whom (at least in the early decades of Singapore’s founding) could not afford proper schooling. In the case of pioneering girls’ mission schools like St. Margaret’s, there was also the desire to improve the condition of women, who in immigrant families (particularly those of the Chinese) were seen as of less significance than male children and were usually strictly confined to a domestic role. The various educational missions of the different church groups in the latter part of the nineteenth century coincided with the colonial government’s attempts to

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reorganize the educational system after 1867 (when the Straits Settlements became self-governing, rather than coming under the colonial administration in India). Government officials in Singapore welcomed the mission schools as a means of broadening English-medium education to the masses at relatively low cost (Goh 2003b, pp. 33–34). For their part, the immigrant peoples were quick to see mission schools as an affordable means of enabling their children to acquire a valuable anglophone education which would stand them in good stead in terms of careers under the colonial government. The Chinese immigrants, in particular, were quick to see the commercial value of the brand of education the mission schools were offering their children. There were certainly a few initial problems, including the perception that the mission schools would insist on proselytizing their students and that this form of education would lead to a loss of “Chineseness”. Nevertheless, by the end of the nineteenth century mission schools were firmly established in the educational landscape of Singapore. The Methodists in particular, who came to Singapore much later (in 1885) than the Catholics and Anglicans, were nevertheless to play just as important a role in mission education. By 1886 they had established their first school, the AngloChinese School for boys, and by 1887 the Methodist Girls’ School had been established. These, like the pioneering Anglican and Catholic schools, are still very much in operation today, and like the other mission schools in Singapore generally share a reputation of being quality schools with (to varying degrees) heavy competition for entry. Through the educational missions and to a certain extent medical and social missions to the local peoples as well, Christianity in the latter part of the nineteenth century onwards was transformed from a religion predominantly of the European

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community, to one of the other races as well. Within Singapore’s metropolitan and commercial society, there were significantly less opportunities for the missionaries to make their impact and influence felt in terms of ministries employed more successfully in other Asian countries (such as poverty relief, disaster relief, the provision of basic medical services, and rural ministries). Immigrant self-help groups (such as the Chinese clan associations) together with the bustling trade of the Straits Settlement and immigrant thrift and hard work, ensured that there were generally less pressing social needs and thus fewer opportunities for the missionaries to offer aid. Yet the same immigrant attitudes of wanting to improve family fortunes and plan for a better life for the succeeding generations ensured that a good education remained a high priority, and gave the missionary organizations an effective means of extending their influence over the local peoples. The mission schools faced a number of constraints in their religious influence over their students: conversion to Christianity could not, of course, be either a condition of entry into the schools or occupy a central position in the curriculum, and students were free to opt out of chapel and other sessions involving Christian worship and instruction. Nevertheless, over the years the mission schools’ combination of educational excellence and a broader “moral influence” obviously derived from the Christian religion, played a significant role in establishing the place of the Christian religion in Singapore society. Today there are more than 60 mission schools in Singapore (of which the Catholic schools dominate, with 35), which more than hold their own even within Singapore’s competitive educational arena with its well-run government schools. With close ties to their respective denominational bodies and churches and strong alumni networks,

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these schools continue to function as effective channels of Christian influence in Singapore society. Although Christianity, with adherents constituting 14.6 per cent of the population, is still in a minority compared to the dominant religion of Buddhism (about 42 per cent), it is comparable in size to Islam (just under 15 per cent) and to those without religious affiliations (14.8 per cent), and significantly larger than Taoism/traditional Chinese beliefs (8.5 per cent) and Hinduism (4 per cent; Department of Statistics 2001). To a certain extent these proportions are regulated by the racial composition in Singapore, to which religion and culture often closely correspond (although not in an absolute way): the Malay community (which forms about 14 per cent of the population), for example, is almost entirely given to Islam and heavily resistant to conversion to other religions, while the dominance of the Chinese (who form 76.8 per cent of the population) helps explain the continuing dominance of Buddhism. In addition, Singapore’s Racial Harmony Act, passed to preserve racial and cultural harmony by prohibiting any action which may give offense to the adherents of any religion, also acts as a general deterrent against the more active forms of attempts to convert believers in other religions to Christianity. Despite these culturally- and racially-dictated religious affiliations, Christianity is still one of the fastest-growing religions in Singapore, growing 3.2 per cent between 1990 and 2000; this is second only to Buddhism, which grew 5.1 per cent in the same period (Department of Statistics 2001). It is also the religion with the strongest representation among the well-educated: more than 33 per cent of those with a university degree were Christians, compared to 23.6 per cent of Buddhists in the same educational category (Department of Statistics 2001).

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In affluent (its 2003 GNI per capita was US$21,230, well above that of its Southeast Asian neighbours) and class-conscious Singapore, religion also acquires class connotations, and in this respect Christianity inevitably has a strong association with middle-class status. This is all the more obvious because social stratification is quite obviously marked through factors like educational level, language and housing. The 2000 census of population also noted that Christianity is the dominant religion among those living in the most expensive category of private housing (which constitutes only about 20 per cent of the total housing pool, with the 80 per cent majority living in respectable albeit subsidized and less expensive government housing): in this category of householders, 34.3 per cent were Christian, while 30.1 per cent were Buddhists and 24.2 per cent professed no religion (Department of Statistics 2001). Similarly, among households which spoke English (the language associated with “cosmopolitan” social identities), Christianity was the dominant religion with 39.8 per cent, with Buddhism taking 24.8 per cent (Department of Statistics 2001). Christianity is often perceived in Singapore as the religion of English-speaking, middle-class cosmopolitans who studied at a good school (if not specifically a mission school), had the opportunity to study in a university (possibly an overseas one), and who are now in a professional or managerial position with a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. This popular image is certainly not true of all Christians in Singapore; however, census data suggests there is enough of a sociological basis to this widespread assumption. Like the early fears on the part of immigrant Chinese that sending their sons to a mission school would result in a certain loss of “Chineseness”, the contemporary perception of Christianity as the religion dominated by anglophone middle-class professionals is double-edged: on the

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one hand, it attracts those who desire that image, while on the other hand it repels those who perceive it as a sign of the “elitism” of Christianity (i.e. that only those of a similar social identity will be welcomed into the church’s social circle, while others will be looked down upon and subtly discouraged). In Singapore’s tightly-governed socio-political climate, there are fewer opportunities for the churches to play a socially active role, in contrast to places like Hong Kong and the Philippines where the churches often play a significant role in social activism, civil rights demonstrations, and support for political candidates. However, the churches in Singapore have closed ranks to voice opposition on certain key social issues, such as the recent discussions to build a casino in Singapore, and on issues like homosexuality and bioethics. The generally high income levels and state welfare mechanisms also mean that there is less scope for churches to relieve poverty, while disaster and agricultural relief are also unheard of. Apart from the mission schools, Singapore churches have also been active in healthcare ministries (such as Mount Alvernia hospital, founded in 1961 by the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood; the Assisi Home and Hospice, also run by the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood; the Bethany Methodist Nursing Home run by the Methodist Church in Singapore, among others). However, Singapore’s small size, socio-economic stability, the Religious Harmony Act and other such factors have in recent years directed the activities of the churches beyond Singapore’s shores. Singapore sends out more than 700 missionaries to 47 different countries (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001, p. 567). Many of the churches in Singapore have capitalized on Singapore’s wealth and good infrastructural facilities relative to many of its neighbouring countries, and have raised support to conduct medical missions, establish orphanages, and of course proselytize

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and try and convert locals and build churches in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and further afield in parts of India and China as well. Apart from the mission and social work conducted by Singapore churches in some surrounding countries, Singapore also has a significance as the regional headquarters of many international Christian associations, which follow their secular counterparts in choosing Singapore for its stability, strategic location, and religious tolerance. Some of the key international evangelical organizations with headquarters or regional offices in Singapore include the World Evangelical Fellowship, Youth for Christ, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, Asia Evangelistic Fellowship, Asian Outreach International, Operation Mobilization, OC International, Serving in Mission, and Youth with a Mission. Singapore’s reputation as a hub of Christianity in the region received a boost in the 1970s when well-known Christian leaders like Billy Graham and David Yong Gi Cho began to call Singapore the “Antioch of the East” — a reference to a biblical evangelical centre. Today it is still seen by Christian organizations as one of the logical places in Asia to base themselves, or to hold churchrelated international conferences and workshops. The thriving status of Christianity in Singapore is not without its problems and challenges. Internally, churches have to walk a fine balance between actively promoting and marketing the religion and doing good works on the one hand, and being sensitive not to do anything which might cause offense to believers of other religions under the Religious Harmony Act. The premium that the Singapore government places on stability and tolerance ensures that churches enjoy a greater degree of safety and privilege than in many other countries in the region, but it also means having to tailor their internal activities to suit

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this official policy. Singapore’s general prosperity means fewer opportunities for the churches to be involved in welfare ministries on the one hand, and a continuing challenge of confronting materialism, complacency and nominalism within the churches on the other hand. The work of the Singapore churches overseas is by and large in its nascent phase only, generally arising only in the last decade or two, and has not yet resulted in any major incidents. However, given Singapore’s need to maintain strong diplomatic relations with its neighbours, and the cultural and religious composition and sensitivies of these countries, the churches will have to exercise tact and caution as they expand their presence and activities overseas. At the same time, given Singapore’s strategic location and communications networks, its continued prosperity, and the prevailing climate of religious openness and tolerance, the country looks set to continue functioning as the de facto hub for Christian organizations and ministries in Southeast Asia and in the wider region.

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Chapter 4

Malaysia The story of Christianity in Malaysia is to a certain extent interwoven with that of Singapore, as the two countries were part of the same colonial administrative region before finally separating in 1965. The area of the Malay Peninsula, together with parts of the coastal region of the island of Borneo, which collectively make up the modern-day nation of Malaysia, had long been occupied by Malay fishermen, traders and agriculturalists when Hindu and Buddhist influences came to the region from the ninth century onwards (Ho 1996, p. 260). From the fourteenth century onwards, Islam became the dominant religion in the whole of the Malay archipelago, and became deeply ingrained into the Malay culture, identity and way of life. As with other parts of Southeast Asia, the Malay Peninsula (in particular, the northwestern part) had contact with the Eastern Church, probably in the seventh century, although little remains of this contact (Roxborogh 1992, p. 2). Portuguese traders brought the first enduring Christian presence when they captured and settled the port of Malacca on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula in 1511. As with other Portuguese settlements (such as in Macau and Goa), the Portuguese presence in Malacca consisted only of a small garrison, which was intended to guard the port rather than conquer and control a large territory in the hinterland. The result

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is that the Catholic influence introduced by the Portuguese did not have an extensive reach in the Peninsula, although it did establish an enduring community of Catholic Eurasians in and around Malacca itself. In the seventeenth century, trade rivals — the Dutch — established themselves in the region, ousting the Portuguese from Malacca in 1641. Political and religious reasons led the Dutch to discourage Catholicism and promote their own Reformed Protestantism instead (Roxborogh 1992, pp. 7–8). However, Dutch commercial and political energies were largely concentrated in Indonesia, particularly after the Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824, which carved out the respective areas of influence of the two colonial powers; this also meant that the Dutch had little lasting impact on Christianity in Malaysia. The Dutch-built Christ Church in Malacca, established in 1753, catered to Dutch worshippers, and was handed over to the Anglicans in 1838 (Ho 1996, p. 262). British influence in the Malay Peninsula grew progressively, beginning with the three “Straits Settlement” ports of Penang, Malacca and Singapore, and then in a series of treaties (in 1874, 1896, 1909 and 1914) with groups of Malay States extending to more and more of the Peninsula. The British “residency” system was intended to allow the colonial government to influence affairs in the Malay States, with the end of protecting their commercial interests, particularly in the lucrative tin and rubber industries, without having to incur a heavy administrative or political cost in terms of the direct control of territory. This in effect meant a policy of disturbing Malay customs and affairs as little as possible, with the consequence that the supremacy of Islam and the Malay language were left intact (Goh 2003b, p. 31). While Christian missionaries capitalized on British control of the Malay States to send missions, especially from the latter part of the nineteenth century onwards, in many ways their impact on

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both the religious and socio-educational landscapes was more circumscribed than in places like Singapore and Korea. As with Singapore, there was an initial interest in Malaya as both a mission field and gateway to the “Ultra Ganges” area, following the growth of British control over the region in the early nineteenth century onwards, and accordingly the London Missionary Society set up its Ultra-Ganges Mission in Malacca in 1815. William Milne, the friend and associate of Ultra-Ganges Mission founder Robert Morrison, also established the AngloChinese College in Malacca in 1818, with an aim of “the cultivation of Chinese and English literature, and the diffusion of Christianity, in the countries and islands which lie to the eastward of Pulau Penang” (cited in Sng 1980, p. 28). With the concentration of the early ministry largely to the British community, and the shift in the LMS focus to China after 1842, Protestant missions in Malaya in the first half of the nineteenth century generally proceeded slowly. The latter half of the nineteenth century saw the arrival of the Presbyterians in 1851, the Christian Brethren in 1860, the Basel Mission (Swiss Lutherans) in 1882, and the Methodists in 1885 (Ho 1996, p. 263). The early part of the twentieth century saw the arrival of more missionary groups, including the Evangelical Lutherans in 1907, the Seventh-Day Adventists in 1911, the Mar Thoma Church in 1926, the True Jesus Church in 1927, the Borneo Evangelical Mission in 1928, the Assemblies of God in 1935, and others subsequently (Ho 1996, p. 264). As in the case of other countries under colonial rule, the initial church ministries in Malaysia were to the colonizers themselves, in the form of chaplaincies to the British soldiers and churches with predominantly British congregations. It was only in the latter half of the nineteenth century that ministries among the local people began in earnest. The British policy of non-

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interference in matters of Malay customs and religion essentially meant that missionary efforts were specifically focused on Chinese and Indian immigrants. These were typically poor villagers from South India and South China who had been recruited to provide labour for the rubber and tin industries, and who put away what little money they earned to send to relatives in the motherland. The booming trade under the British, together with the colonial government’s policy of welcoming and even actively recruiting immigrant workers, meant that the racial and cultural profile of Malaya was rapidly changing as many settlers from India and China arrived. Many were happy to accept the missionaries’ offers of assistance in medical treatment, social relief and especially educational services. As in Singapore, the greatest impact of Christian missions in Malaysia was quite possibly in the field of education. While the missionaries were effectively barred from reaching out to the Malays (who were educated in religious schools, madrasahs, or in village schools, using the Malay language exclusively), they were effective in ministering to significant numbers of the Chinese and Indians, especially in introducing their children to anglophone education in the mission schools. Of course the immigrants also had secular community schools that taught in their respective languages; this was particularly true of the Chinese, who had Chinese-medium schools often sponsored and maintained by the clan associations and other community organizations. To a certain extent, the missionary influence radiated outward from the two Straits Settlements on the Peninsula, namely Malacca and Penang. As busy ports and market centres for the trade of the Malay States, they were the logical places for missionaries to reach out to a range of local peoples. Malacca, with its long history of European settlement, had a correspondingly rich history of missionary work. The Portuguese established the first mission

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school in Malaysia — the Malay word for school, sekolah, comes from the Portuguese word escola — in the middle of the sixteenth century, although this catered largely to Portuguese children. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, mission schools for native children began to be established. In this respect the island of Penang, which occupied a special role as a commercial hub and the unofficial headquarters of Chinese merchants, played a significant role. Penang Free School, the first English School to be established in Southeast Asia, was founded in 1816 by Reverend Sparke Hutchings, an Anglican clergyman; the school is still in operation today, and is considered one of the premier schools in Malaysia, producing a number of distinguished alumni. The de la Salle Brotherhood which was also responsible for founding some of the best Catholic schools in Singapore (including St Joseph’s Institution), established St. Xavier’s Institution in Penang in 1825. Other Catholic educational initiatives include those of the French Sisters of the Infant Jesus, who established a number of schools (all called “Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus”) in various locations such as Penang and Malacca, and the Italian order of Canossian sisters who established schools (also called “convents”) in Malacca, Segamat, Kluang, and Sungei Siput. In the late nineteenth century the Methodists arrived in Malaysia, and pursued their educational mission as enthusiastically as they did in Singapore. Starting from Penang, where they established the Methodist Boys’ School in 1891, the Methodists quickly established other schools in Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, Taiping, and elsewhere. Like the Penang Free School, premier schools such as the Methodist Boys’ School, Methodist Girls’ School, St. Xavier’s Institution, and others, have over the years built up a reputation as top schools which produce distinguished alumni in the fields of politics, business, the professions and in entertainment. Through their effective educational missions, the churches raised

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the social profile of Christianity among the local people, and established churches with Chinese and Indian congregations instead of exclusively European ones. Thus while British colonial rule by no means overturned the dominance of Islam and Malay culture in Malaya, it did establish conditions under which a significant local Christian community could develop. Today Christians form 9.2 per cent of the population, with Muslims at 58 per cent forming the bulk of the population (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001, p. 422). Many of the Chinese Malaysians (21.5 per cent of the total population) follow Buddhism or traditional Chinese practices such as ancestor worship, while many of the Indian Malaysian (5 per cent of the population) are Hindus (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001, p. 422). If these figures are compared with the broad racial composition of Malaysia (Bumiputras or indigenous peoples 58 per cent, Chinese 25.5 per cent, Indians 7 per cent), it can easily be surmised that hardly any Malays are Christians, while a significant number of both the Chinese and Indian populations (and some portion of the minority races) are part of the Christian community. Christianity has a stronger presence in the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, where the different racial composition and the less dominant position of Islamic traditionalism have permitted Christianity to establish a larger base among the local peoples. Missionary endeavours among the tribal peoples in the early twentieth century onwards often found a very receptive response, with mass conversions among particular tribes like the Ibans, Dayaks and others. Furthermore, many of the Chinese settlers in East Malaysia came as a result of Christian networks, for example the Foochow immigrants who arrived in Sarawak from 1901 onwards, who belonged to the Methodist church in Fujien province and were

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encouraged to come to East Malaysia by the Foochow Methodist community in Malaya (Goh 2003a, p. 116). The result is that Christians form a larger proportion of the population in Sabah and Sarawak (33 and 38 per cent respectively) than in West Malaysia. While the dominance of Islam in West Malaysia has played a constraining role in the spread and growth of Christianity, in parts of East Malaysia Christianity is growing rapidly, especially among independent tribal churches. This is not to say that Christians in East Malaysia have been free from religious conflicts: the state governments have at various times put pressure on Christians in Sabah and Sarawak, curtailing their activities and worship, and in particular urging Christian converts among the tribal people to re-convert to Islam. Nevertheless, the different racial profiles in East Malaysia have meant that to a certain extent, the claims of Islamic dominance in those states have been inherently circumscribed. With the coming of independence in 1957, Malaysia confirmed the official status of Islam and the privileged position of the bumiputeras in matters of language, education, politics, and everyday life. While the constitution permitted the freedom to practice other religions, it also allowed the individual states to pass laws to prohibit any attempt to preach any other religion to a Muslim, or to convert a Muslim to another religion. While Malaysia’s application of laws based on Islam is generally interpreted fairly moderately (certainly compared to more fundamentalist versions of Sharia law in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and elsewhere), the privileged position of Islam is protected by laws against “insulting” that religion in word or deed. The generality of this prohibition has a deterring function, and has been used not only to curb evangelical Christian activities domestically, but also to suppress discourses in the realm of

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media, public culture and education which might give offense, particularly to more conservative or fundamentalist Islamic groups in the country. While the churches are technically given autonomous functioning, they are in fact circumscribed in a number of ways. One of the most noticeable ways has been in the management of the mission schools; although these are nominally under the authority of the churches, they are not free to appoint principles and teachers of their choice but are obliged to accept postings made by the Ministry of Education. The dominance of nonChristian and specifically Muslim teachers in the mission schools effectively changes the cultural landscape of these schools, since everyday school activities and functions have to be conducted in ways which are sensitive to the feelings of these teachers. At the same time, mission schools are not beneficiaries of the same degree of government funding and support as the government schools. Mission schools which have continued to maintain high academic standards despite these obstacles, have nevertheless experienced a secularization which has changed their distinctive historical, cultural and religious character. Thus despite the similar origins of mission schools in Singapore and Malaysia, and the historical role played by these schools in bringing Christianity to local peoples, mission schools in Malaysia today are in much more of an etiolated condition than in Singapore. This is part of a vicious cycle in which Malaysian mission schools, unable to impart a Christian educational experience to their students, are also unable to build strong congregational and alumni networks that feed into the continued growth of churches and mission schools. Religious sensitivities are never far beneath the surface of everyday life in Malaysia, and are implicated in questions of language and culture as well. Thus certain Malay words with a

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specific religious reference (such as the words for “God”, “gospel”, “prophet” and “revelation”) are banned from use by non-Muslims in many of the Malaysian states; yet at the same time, the privileged position of the Malay language means that it is practically unavoidable for the churches to use such words in the course of their activities (Ho 1996, p. 266). Christian publications which are seen as potentially offensive to Islam are also banned: the government of Malaysia had even banned an Iban-language translation of the Bible, since it contained religious words similar to those used in the Malay language and might have given offense to or caused confusion to Muslims. The ban was only overturned in 2003, and only at the intervention of the thenActing Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Despite having to operate in this circumscribed cultural and political atmosphere, the churches in Malaysia continue to be active. Unlike the churches in many countries marked by fundamentalist Islamic beliefs, the churches in Malaysia are generally free from threats of violence and disruption of their own worship, and have been free to form associations to promote unity and cooperation within the faith. The more recent of these inter-denominational associations include the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Malaysia, (NECF), formed in 1983, and the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), formed in 1986 (Ho 1996, p. 267). Since their domestic evangelical activities have been circumscribed, many of the churches naturally focus their energies outwards, especially in collaborative missions within their respective denominational networks or with other churches in the region. As the majority of Christians in West Malaysia are of Chinese origin, and many continue to be fluent in Chinese languages, it is not surprising that many of these international collaborations also involve Chinese Christians in the diaspora. Thus, for example, many of the Methodist churches in Malaysia

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are active in the World Federation of Chinese Methodist Churches, working in partnership with Chinese Methodist Churches in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and elsewhere on missions and church-planting in countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere. Malaysian churches are also part of the worldwide Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelization (CCCOWE), which promotes the Christian faith among the Chinese diaspora; the 6th CCCOWE Congress was held in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in July 2001. Ironically, it is partly the straitened domestic situation which has pushed the churches in Malaysia to internationalize their activities and links. At the same time, the Malaysian government’s own push to make the nation a competitor for global capital investments, tourism and other sources of revenue, will inevitably bring a degree of socio-political openness, prosperity and transparency which will also benefit the churches. There are signs that the transition from the Mahathir era to the prime ministership of Abdullah Badawi will also bring a certain degree of liberalism which may curb some of the strongly pro-Islamic tendencies seen in the previous administration. Thus, despite the many significant obstacles facing Christianity in Malaysia, it is still a vital and growing religion which is poised to continue having a significant influence not just within the country but, through the global networks of its churches, in the region and beyond as well.

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Chapter 5

Indonesia Indonesia, with its huge size (covering almost 2 million square kilometres), insular geography (spread out over some 17,000 islands), large population and linguistic ethnic diversity, is an arena predisposed to religious diversity and fragmentation. Islam arrived in the Indonesian islands in the thirteenth century, and by the sixteenth century had become the dominant religion, but this did not completely supplant pockets of older religions and practices like Hinduism and animism, especially in the more remote regions far away from the power base of the island of Java. The wealth of cash crops in the islands, especially spices like pepper and nutmeg, attracted the interest of the European colonial powers, including the Portuguese in the sixteenth century and the British for a brief period in the nineteenth century. However, it was the Dutch who exerted the most protracted colonial influence: after seizing Ambon in the Moluccas in 1605, the Dutch gradually extended their control over the Indonesian islands, bringing into subjugation the rulers of the different Indonesian kingdoms, and making treaties with rival colonial powers like the British. As with the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia seems to have been visited by Christians from the Eastern Church, and some early Christian settlements on Sumatra and Java have been reported by various sources from the seventh to fifteenth centuries (Santoso 57

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1996, p. 315). The rise of Islam from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries also eclipsed these early Christian settlements. In the sixteenth century, the Portuguese brought Catholicism to parts of Indonesia; Francis Xavier’s ministry in the Moluccas in 1546–47 did much to reinforce the acceptance of the religion in the eastern part of the islands (Santoso 1996, p. 315). However, when the Dutch established their dominance over the islands in the seventeenth century, they were as keen to suppress the old enemy of Catholicism. The Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) administration of the Indonesian islands was primarily concerned with profit, and it was initially ineffectual in spreading the faith, while its determined championing of the Dutch Church prevented other denominational groups from working in the islands. It was only in the nineteenth century, after the VOC was nationalized and the brief period of British influence in the islands had given the freedom for different denominations to enter, that evangelistic activity increased (Santoso 1996, pp. 317–19). By the beginning of the twentieth century, there were a number of missionary groups, not merely Dutch but also American, German, Swiss, Australian, and others working in various parts of Indonesia. Several factors made the spread of Christianity difficult: the inaccessibility of many parts of Indonesia; the huge linguistic diversity which made it difficult to share the faith in many of the local languages; the dominance of Islam in most parts of the islands; and the fact that Christianity was long associated with the hated Dutch colonial rulers. In the earlier part of the twentieth century, a number of nationalist societies were organized to help in the fight for independence, and of these several (such as the Sarekat Dagang Islam and the Muhammadiyah) were explicitly Islamic, while other societies turned to communism; in either case, Christianity inevitably became associated with the colonial enemy in the struggle for independence. Despite these setbacks,

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Christianity grew to become the religion with the second largest number of adherents in Indonesia, after Islam. Much of the growth is due to mass conversions among minority (i.e. nonJavanese) groups such as the Bataks, Minahasa, Halmaheras and others. Christianity has also made inroads among the community of Indonesians of Chinese descent, who arrived at various times and have different degrees of assimilation into Indonesian culture (the terms totok and peranakan are used respectively to distinguish between more recent immigrants, and those who came earlier and have more or less assimilated into Indonesian culture). Due to geographical and linguistic separations, a large number of denominations (some 250) have arisen in Indonesia, many of them developing out of ethnic subgroupings within the main denomination. Even those under the Lutheran-Reformed denominational banner (which, due to the Dutch legacy, is the largest Christian denomination in Indonesia) are subdivided into distinct churches, such as the GMIT-W. Timor, the GMIMMinahasa, the GBI-Jakarta, the GPM-Maluku, and others under the “Reformed” denominational banner (Santoso 1996, p. 324; Johnstone and Mandryk 2001, pp. 338–51). Taken as a whole, the Lutheran and Reformed churches form the largest denominational bloc, which reflects the period of Dutch colonial control during which time missionary activities were largely confined to the state church. Catholics form a smaller proportion of Christians in Indonesia (about 2.7 per cent of the population) than in many other countries in Southeast Asia, in part due to the Dutch hostility to the Catholic Church. Membership in independent churches is also less significant in overall numerical terms when compared to a country like the Philippines, forming about 1.5 per cent of the population, compared to more than 9 per cent in the Philippines (Johnstone and Mandry 2001, pp. 339, 521); this may underline the contrast

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between the more independent-minded religion of the Filipinos, and the conservative legacy of Dutch Reformed Christianity in many of the Indonesian churches. Apart from the LutheranReformed churches, a small number of other Protestant denominations (Methodists, Baptists, Assemblies of God, SeventhDay Adventists and others) make up the approximately 7 per cent of the population that adheres to Protestant Christianity (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001, p. 339); together with Catholics, independent churches and “marginal” Christian groups, this brings the total Christian population to about 14 per cent. The figures for religious adherence are notoriously problematic in the case of Indonesia, due not only to the vast size of the nation, but also to the political sensitivities concerning religion (and in particular Islam), as well as the high incidence of nominalism and dual affiliation. Indonesia has maintained the state ideology of “Pancasila” since 1966, one of the five principles of which is “belief in one God”; while in theory this leaves room for considerable freedom of religion, in practice the overwhelming socio-political dominance of Islam clearly makes it the privileged religion. Islamic societies and parties hold considerable sociopolitical influence, especially on the central island of Java and in the capital of Jakarta; with their vast numbers of members who are prepared to vote and even demonstrate on behalf of their party, they confer upon their religious leaders the weight to influence top political decisions. Former Presidential hopeful Amien Rais, who was at one time leader of the Muhammadiyah group, and former Indonesian President Gus Dur, the chief of the Nahdlatul Ulama Islamic group (both of which have some 25–30 million members), amply demonstrate the huge political influence of Islam. In such a climate, the activities of other religions, and even data such as statistics on adherents, become highly sensitive; although the proportion of Muslims is estimated at around

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86–88 per cent of the population, this is likely to be a somewhat exaggerated figure. Not only does this downplay the adherence to other religions (and especially Christianity, the second largest religion in Indonesia), it also tends to overlook the high incidence of nominal Islam and the belief in animism and other religious forms such as the kebatinan mysticism which is very popular in Java and elsewhere (Sutrisnaatmaka 1995, pp. 51–52). In many of the remote outlying regions, in particular, Islam has had a much more tenuous hold than in the central regions and urban settings, and is often found in syncretic form with elements of Hinduism and animism. Other estimates that see Muslims as forming about 80 per cent of the population (Johnston and Mandryk 2001, p. 339; Tahalele 1998, p. 2) seem more realistic, under these circumstances. By the same token, however, it is likely that the figures for Christian adherents in Indonesia should also take into account nominalism and syncretism, so that the higher estimates (of about 16 per cent) should very likely be revised downwards to some 13–14 per cent. Clearly the position of Christianity in Indonesia depends a great deal on the place of Islam and its attitude to other religions. In this respect, it is unfortunate that one of the most significant factors affecting Christianity in Indonesia in recent years has been the persecution of Christians and the attacks on churches. One estimate, by the Indonesian Christian Communication Forum (ICCF), claims that more than 500 churches have been destroyed, with attendant loss of life, between the 1960s to the 1990s; since the periods of strong central government (especially under President Suharto) have not curbed violence against churches but instead seem to have encouraged or at least tolerated it, it is difficult not to believe the allegations that this violence is implicitly or explicitly encouraged by some government or military elements — a suspicion that is also held by some non-Christian

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observers (Tahalele 1998, p. 4, Asmarani 2003, p. A2, Freston 2001, p. 83). The fact that many of the Christians come from ethnic communities like the Chinese, Bataks, Minahasa, Dayaks, much smaller and socio-politically more marginal than the dominant Javanese and Sundanese, means that problems of ethnic tensions also exacerbate the persecution of Christians. The policy of transmigration of the Suharto era, in which communities were moved off the overpopulated central islands to outlying areas, often created new ethnic tensions in those areas, as well as the underlying problems of poverty and related social evils which have long plagued the nation, have contributed to the flare-up of ethnic and religious violence. Despite these serious problems, Christianity in Indonesia continues to grow, and to form a significant part of the socioreligious landscape of the nation. Mission schools in Indonesia arguably enjoy even more autonomy than those in Malaysia: although there is pressure for Indonesian mission schools to curtail Christian elements in their everyday activities, and recent legislation compels them to provide religious training for students in their own faith (effectively, in Islam), the autonomy of the mission schools with regard to matters like appointing teachers, setting the curriculum, fundraising, and relations with overseas partners in their denominational network, is respected by the 1945 Constitution. The existence of such denominational networks (Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal and others), and the support provided to Indonesian churches in the form of funding for social welfare and relief, missionaries, medical and educational expertise, and in other areas, has helped sustain the Indonesian churches even in the face of violent persecution. The continuing socio-economic problems in the country, and the likelihood of continuing opposition to the churches, suggest that Indonesia is unlikely to become a strong base for Christianity in

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the region, and a leader in international Christian dialogues and collaborations. In addition, the persistent challenges of geographical isolation and cultural/linguistic diversity posed by the more remote parts of Indonesia, mean that in the near future, the growth of Christianity is likely to come from within the existing ethnic communities which already have significant Christian communities, rather than spreading more evenly throughout the country. Nevertheless, Christianity continues to grow, with the support of churches in other countries, and to constitute a significant part of the religious picture in Indonesia.

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Christianity in the Other Countries of Southeast Asia

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Chapter 6

Christianity in the Other Countries of Southeast Asia: Brunei, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam Although Christianity for various reasons has developed less significantly in the other countries in Southeast Asia, in many cases there have been instances of local impact; furthermore, even in countries where Christianity has not become a major religion, its interaction with the other religions and with governance has interest for an understanding of the region as a whole. Of the other six countries in Southeast Asia, the two countries in which Christianity has made the largest impact are the former British colony and protectorate (respectively) of Myanmar and Brunei. This would once again reinforce the notion that the British colonial government played a significant role in the spread of Christianity in the region, if not in any overt attempt to propagate the religion, at least in the general sense of maintaining the rule of law conducive for missionary movements and activities, and in its tolerance of missionary efforts particularly in areas like 65

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education and social welfare. British policies to encourage trade and to bring in immigrant labour also had an impact on Christianity, since in many cases this resulted in a more mixed population that qualified the religious-cultural dominant, and created opportunities for missionaries to spread the Christian faith to some sectors of the populace.

Myanmar The British annexed Myanmar progressively via a series of treaties from 1826 to 1886, and governed it as a province of India for most of its colonial history, chiefly to prevent the warlike tribes in Burma (as it was then known) from disrupting British commercial activities in eastern India, but also to exploit Burma’s valuable natural resources such as teakwood. The Portuguese had introduced Catholicism to Burma in the sixteenth century, but this did not have a significant impact as the Portuguese did not establish any territorial control. However, Burma’s proximity to India also made it a logical extension to missionary endeavours in India, and from early in the nineteenth century, missionaries involved in India were already planning to cross over into the new mission field of Burma. The first Protestant missionaries in Burma, American Baptists Adinoram and Ann Judson, who arrived in 1813, had originally intended to serve in India, but became interested in Burma after they were turned out of India by the British East India Company. The fact that the pioneering Protestant missionaries in Burma were Baptists is also due to the fact that the eastern part of India (the Bengal area and the hill area to the north of it) had been the mission field dominated by Baptists since the late eighteenth century, and they naturally were one of the first groups to become interested in nearby Burma.

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After British control over Burma was established from 1826 onwards, more missionary groups began arriving, including the Anglicans, Presbyterians, and American and British Methodists. Although the lowlands of Lower Burma, which was the first to come under British control, was also the first to receive the Protestant missions of the nineteenth century, there was considerable resistance to the Christian faith on the part of the majority Burmese, in whose culture and everyday life Buddhism was very strongly entrenched. When the missionaries began to spread out into Upper Burma in the latter part of the nineteenth century, they found a somewhat warmer reception among the different tribes living in the hilly region, many of whom were in conflict with the Burmese majority. Some of these tribes converted to Christianity in large numbers in the earlier part of the twentieth century, with the result that today many tribes (such as the Chins, Kachins, Lisu and Lahu) are predominantly Christian, and large portions of other tribes like the Karens are also Christian (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001, p. 463). After Burma gained its independence in 1948, a number of the larger tribes like the Karens declared their independence from the Burmese nation. The fact that Buddhism is the dominant religion in Burma, while Christianity was more widely established among the hill tribes than among the Burmese, means that that civil tension also had a religious dimension to it. After the military coup of 1962 which established the State Law and Order Revolutionary Council (which later became the State Peace and Development Council, SPDC), foreign missionaries were expelled from Burma, and Buddhism became enshrined in the state ideology of the military junta. Today Christians form just under 9 per cent of the population of Myanmar (as the country came to be known from 1989 onwards), with Buddhists forming about 83 per cent of the population (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001,

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p. 462). Internal unrest and the armed struggle between the SPDC’s regime and the separatist tribes means that religion continues to be heavily politicized. Although Christians in Myanmar are technically free to worship, the government marginalizes the Christian community in socio-political terms, restricts the evangelical activities of the Christians, and even exerts pressure on some converts to re-convert to Buddhism. Christianity continues to grow fastest among the hill people in Upper Myanmar.

Brunei Brunei was under British influence from 1847, becoming a British protectorate in 1888 and coming under the British Residency system from 1906, and only achieving self-government in 1959. In many ways its religious climate is similar to that of Malaysia (and in particular, the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak which are Brunei’s neighbours), which had a somewhat similar colonial history. British influence left the privileged position of the Malays and of Islam untouched, but trade and the pull of Brunei’s oil-based wealth have resulted in significant communities of other races, in particular Chinese who constitute some 15 per cent of the population. There are also significant numbers of tribal people. Islam is the state religion, and its adherents constitute some 65 per cent of the population, but there is a significant Christian community, mostly made up of Chinese, Filipinos, and tribal people, and forming about 10 per cent of the overall population. As in Malaysia, virtually all ethnic Malays are Muslims, and a number of policies protect the privileged place of Islam: it is prohibited for non-Muslims to evangelize, all schools (including mission schools) are required to incorporate the teaching of

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Islam into their syllabus, there are bans on the import of Christian books and materials, and bureaucratic obstacles prevent the registering of new churches. In theory freedom of religion is permitted, but in practice there are strong pressures towards the Islamicization of the state and the marginalization of Christians. While Christianity is the second largest religion in Brunei, social and legal pressures act as a curb on worship (many Christians meet in homes rather than in churches) and on evangelism and growth. Despite these measures, evangelical activities still go on, albeit guardedly, and there is also cross-border Christian activity (such as training, rallies and camps) in neighbouring Sarawak, and involving especially tribal Christians.

Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam The remaining Southeast Asian countries — Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam — all have only marginal Christian communities, constituting less than 2 per cent of the population of each country. Although these countries are geographically and culturally very close, there are different reasons for Christianity’s halting growth in each country. Thailand, the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized, is the most open society and advanced economy of the four, and also has a vibrant tourist economy. There is freedom of religion, but the traditionalism of Thai culture, rooted in their veneration for the monarch and in the Buddhist religion with which he is closely associated, has proven resistant to the efforts of Christian missionaries. Christians form about 1.5 per cent of the population, whereas more than ninety per cent are Buddhist. The second largest religion in Thailand is Islam, whose adherents form about 5 per cent of the population, mostly in the south of the country bordering Malaysia.

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While there have long been mission schools in Thailand — the first Catholic schools were opened in Thailand in the seventeenth century, by French priests, and there are a number of Protestant schools as well — they have not had as much success in converting their Thai students to Christianity, and through them their families, as was the experience of the mission schools among immigrant peoples in the British-controlled countries in Southeast Asia. Thailand is open to other kinds of Christian ministry, including through hospitals, social work and urban relief, and there are missionaries from many countries (including the United States, South Korea, Australia and Canada) working there. Many of the converts to Christianity come from the minority hill tribes such as the Karens and Lahus, who (like in neighbouring Myanmar) have proven more receptive to Christianity. Cambodia, like Thailand, has for centuries had Buddhism as its national religion, but in its case the practice of Christianity was dramatically halted by the country’s descent into civil war from the 1960s. All forms of religious practice, clergy, and sites of worship were targeted by the Khmer Rouge in the mid to late 1970s. Catholic priests had come to Cambodia as early as the middle of the sixteenth century, and Protestant missionaries arrived in the 1920s; however, in 1965 most missionaries were expelled from the country, and civil unrest rocked the country from the 1960s through the 1980s. In 1990, Christianity became legal again in Cambodia, and since then Christians have been more free to worship, and the country has been fairly open to the work of missionaries. At present Christians form only about one per cent of the population of Cambodia. Laos and Vietnam are both communist countries which view Christianity (as well as other religions) with considerable suspicion. In both countries, Christians have been persecuted

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and churches closed down. In Laos, Christianity is particularly suspect because of its associations with rebellious hill tribes such as the Hmong, who in the past were allied with the French and Americans against the communists. Christianity is thus still regarded as a potentially subversive religion, and the churches come under government surveillance. Christians form less than 2 per cent of the population of Laos. Vietnam has a much larger Christian population, due in large part to the work of the priests during the long period of French control. Protestant missionaries from the Christian and Missionary Alliance began work in Vietnam in 1911. It is estimated that Christians form about 8 or 9 per cent of the population of Vietnam, but many are Christian in name only, restricted in their activities and cut off from the support and developmental aid of the international Christian community. The Vietnamese government permits open worship only to the “official” churches, whose activities are carefully scrutinized; other Christians worship in “underground” churches whose locations are kept secret by members.

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Chapter 7

Conclusion: Social, Political and Economic Considerations Concerning Christianity in Southeast Asia There is clearly a great range in terms of the strength of Christianity in the different countries in Southeast Asia. One need only consider the startling contrast between the Philippines, where Christianity is part of everyday life and plays a powerful sociopolitical role, and countries like Laos where Christians worship almost in secret and constitute a miniscule portion of the population. These differences might play a bigger role in the relationships between the countries in Southeast Asia, except that Christianity today is a minority religion in the region as a whole, which is dominated by Islam and Buddhism. Yet while nations are obviously keen to keep religious sensitivities out of their official dealings with each other, the fact that religion is so closely intertwined with socio-political forces means that changes in the religious landscape of the region may also exert pressure on domestic and international arrangements. Christianity, as the more recent arrival among religions in Southeast Asia, and the 73

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one with the greatest amount of input and influence from far-off foreign organizations, is the logical candidate to be regarded with suspicion as the agent of change and destabilization. Thus any consideration of Christianity in Southeast Asia, despite the relatively small number of Christians in most of the countries in this region, needs to consider a number of issues. The first is what might be called the cultural politics of Christianity in this region: the inevitable association of Christianity with European, North American (and to a lesser extent, anglophone Pacific) countries. Although developments over the latter part of the twentieth century, and especially in the last three decades or so, have moved Christianity away from merely being a colonial legacy to a religion with deep local involvement (for example, in the phenomenon of large and rapidly-growing independent churches, or in the rise of mission-sending countries in Southeast Asia), there is still the persistent conception of Christianity as being inextricably bound to the cultural and political beliefs of European, North American and other countries. America remains the largest missionary-sending country in the world by far, and many of the missionaries and Christian organizations working in Southeast Asia are based in the United States. Moreover, most of the foundations of Christianity in the region were laid by American churches (American Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, SeventhDay Adventists and others), so it is not surprising that many of the churches in Southeast Asia still have affiliations with counterparts in America. In addition to the Americans, the majority of missionaries and organizations working in Southeast Asia are based in France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, while the substantial numbers of Roman Catholics in the region of course heed the spiritual leadership of the Vatican. Of the countries in Southeast Asia, only the Philippines, Singapore, and to a lesser extent, Malaysia can be described as senders of

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missionaries to varying extents; thus in the region as a whole, Christian work must still be regarded as being driven by European, American and other distant foreign agencies. Certainly in countries where the Christian community has for various reasons yet to develop strong indigenous leadership, and in countries where poverty and other infrastructural problems pose significant challenges to local churches, a significant role continues to be played by foreign churches, missionaries, and international denominational networks. This foreign involvement is often viewed with suspicion, not only in Islamic countries like Malaysia and Brunei which are concerned with protecting Muslims against what is seen as aggressively proselytizing forces and material, but also in countries with ideological opposition to the “American” values that they associate with Christianity. Such is markedly the case in countries like Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and other countries with histories of conflicts in which America played a part. Most of these countries have expelled missionaries at various times in their recent history, and most of them continue to monitor and restrict the activities of Christians. In the case of many of the predominantly Buddhist and Muslim countries of Southeast Asia, all religious activities and developments assume political importance, since religion is so closely tied to the political power of the ruling regimes. Christianity will thus continue to be monitored closely in such countries, since its evangelical activities have the potential to change religious and political landscapes. From the point of view of foreign churches and Christian organizations, however, the treatment of Christians in each country is seen as an index of the country’s religious freedom, which in turn determines how the country’s regime is ranked on indices like the Persecution Index and Amnesty International’s rankings of countries’ human rights records. Countries like Myanmar and Laos regularly feature prominently in these rankings

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of countries with high degrees of persecution and human rights violations, in significant part because of their treatment of Christians and churches; in contrast, countries like Singapore and Malaysia regularly rank quite low in these indices. Christianlinked media and discussion forums which constantly publicize any persecution of Christians and churches in countries which are perceived to be intolerant to various degrees, thus feed into foreign perceptions of such countries and ultimately come to bear in matters of foreign relations, decisions on aid and funding, travel advisories, and other factors which affect the countries’ revenues and development. While such external aid and revenues are obviously less important to wealthier countries like Malaysia and Brunei, they are certainly significant to poorer countries like Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. It is likely that Christian-based discussion groups and their criteria will continue to play a significant part in the ways in which European and North American countries perceive the countries of Southeast Asia. Christianity also features significantly in the internal ethnic relations of many countries such as Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Brunei. While other religions such as Islam are also aligned with separatist peoples and groups (for example, the Moro people in Mindanao and other part of the Philippines, and the Rohingyas in Myanmar), Christianity’s pattern of growth in the region has aligned it even more prominently with a number of tribal peoples (such as the Karen, Lahu and Hmong in the hill areas of Indochina, and the Dayak, Iban and Batak in various parts of the Malay Archipelago) whose religious identities are contested by (and in turn contest) the national ideologies in which they operate. The fact that Christianity has also made significant inroads among the ethnic Chinese communities that have settled in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and elsewhere, is aptly reflected by Christian networks and organizations such as

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the Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelization and the World Federation of Chinese Methodist Churches. These ethnic striations of Christianity in various countries of Southeast Asia continue to exacerbate already problematic ethnic relations. As yet, evangelical Christianity has not posed significant problems to relations between countries in Southeast Asia. This is partly because countries like the Philippines and Singapore have only recently begun to send missionaries to other countries in the region, and in relatively small numbers (Singapore sends out around 700 missionaries each year, while the work of the majority of Filipino missionaries is within their own borders); and partly because such missionary work has so far been conducted with great sensitivity, and in the framework of such endeavours as medical and educational projects. Since internal sensitivities in a number of Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and others circumscribe the evangelical activities of Christians to a certain extent, the natural tendency in the longer run will be for churches in such countries to step up their missionary activities in some of the surrounding countries, particularly those countries in Indochina which have comparatively small Christian communities. Such activities will have to avoid disturbing the ethnic-religiouspolitical sensitivities in these countries, as well as to avoid giving offense by creating new relations based on perceived positions of superiority and patronage. Given the existing statistics of Christianity in the region, and the pattern of socio-political factors which are opposed to its growth, it is unlikely in the short to medium term that Christianity will grow fast enough to cause major socio-political problems, or problems in international relations in Southeast Asia. In the longer term, Christianity may prove to be a spark which either ignites certain local situations and provokes reactions by other religious and political groups; or else forges lasting networks and

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collaboration between Christian communities in different countries in the region that could further dialogues and understanding between communities and nations. The direction of developments will depend significantly on how local Christian leaders set the direction for collaboration with international Christian agencies. What is certain is that Christianity will continue to grow steadily in this region, fuelled by the considerable resources, strategies and commitment of the churches and organizations around the world.

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