Cambodian Perceptions, Part 2
This is installment number two of a three-part series of posts on perceptions that Cambodians have of America and her people. If you haven’t read part one, it would be best to read it first.
Many Cambodians think that:
Christianity is the state religion of America.
A state religion is a religion that is officially endorsed, supported, and protected by the secular government. Many times laws are written by the government to enforce the rules of that state religion. Many countries have a state religion. Britain, Greece, Cambodia, Israel, and nearly every Muslim nation have state religions. However, the United States does not have one. In fact, the first amendment to our Constitution was written to prevent this. This perception is comical to me as I see that very government becoming more hostile to Christians on an almost weekly basis.
To understand why many Cambodians believe this idea, we must again put on their glasses. In Cambodia the state religion is Buddhism. There is a Ministry of Cults and Religions that governs the religious aspects of society. It is also the part of government that grants permission for religious activities. We may think, “That’s crazy!” Yet, this is the norm in many places. So with that background, they assume that the U.S. has a state religion as well. And, since 79% of Americans are “Christians” (see part one), Christianity is it. It is believed that Christianity and the United States are intimately related.
This false assumption is probably the most damaging one in my opinion. This assumption basically equates Christianity with Buddhism. The idea is Buddhism is the religion of Cambodia; Christianity is the religion of America. So it may be said, “mine is as good as yours.” It doesn’t stop there though. Since Buddhism is the national religion, being a Cambodian and being a Buddhist are very intimately related. So much so that turning from Buddhism is considered by some as betraying one’s nation. Further, since Christianity is considered to be the state religion of America, “entering” that religion (how it is viewed) can be viewed as being unpatriotic. This is not true for every person, but happens often nevertheless.
The truth is that a person can be Christian and a Cambodian at the same time. Christianity is not and should not be tied in with any government. There is no Biblical basis for that. This error has caused a great deal of injustice and evil. Just as a Greek, a Roman, an Afghan, or an American a Cambodian can be a Christian without betraying his nation. The reason this is true is that Christianity has what I call a “pilgrim nature.” We have no continuing city, but seek one to come. We confess that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. The word stranger is synonymous with foreigner. We are to be foreigners no matter where we are. Our home is in heaven. The Holy Ghost through Peter exhorts us in this way by saying, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims (1 Pet. 2:11). So, no matter if my citizenship is in Pakistan, China, North Korea, Cambodia, or America, I can be a Christian without betraying my nation, because my faith does not demand allegiance to any country. But, I must ask, have we contributed to this perception?
Living in a country where Christianity is a very small minority, it is much easier to see this pilgrim nature of Bible Christianity. For those in the U.S. the danger is ever present to lose this pilgrim character of Bible Christianity. It is very easy to forget that those “Christians” of the 79% and we are not on the same team. It is easy to forget that Satan is still the god of this world, including the United States population. It is easy to become involved in righteous causes, because many of those causes are associated with the Christian religion.
While I am very grateful for the great American revivals that helped shaped the United States and Christianity therein (without which I would not be here), I would like you to consider the potential harm in referring to the United States as a “Christian nation.” Take a minute to think through this. First, if you said that to a Cambodian, then it is absolutely synonymous to the perception explained in this post. Cambodians say it sometimes, “Cambodia is a Buddhist nation.” When a person says that about America, they are adding fuel to this false perception that the national religion of the U.S. is Christianity. Second, this statement is a misrepresentation of Bible Christianity, which is pilgrim in nature, and cannot be associated with a nation. Third, is the U.S. a Christian nation? The Bible definition of a Christian is someone who has put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for their eternal life. This necessarily excludes many in Christian religions, like Roman Catholics, most Protestants, Mormons, etc. So, a Bible-believing person has to conclude that the U.S. is not Christian, for Christians comprise a pitifully small percentage of its people. Fourth, is the national religion of the United States Christianity? The answer is plainly no. So, in what way is the United States a “Christian nation?” According to the Bible, in no way. While it may be true that about 79% of Americans identify themselves a Christian, we don’t want Cambodians confuse that with the faith that we preach, which is the truth. Please understand how important this is. If America is a Christian nation, then there is some truth to the fact that when one believes on Christ he is betraying his nation for that of another. I am saddened to see the people I am trying to win confused by misconceptions like this, which are many times promoted by American Christians.
There is one more point on this. When Christians in Cambodia attempt to get Christians into places of authority, or bring about political or social change it is very often resented. Those Christians have forgotten the pilgrim nature of Bible Christianity. They are trying to turn Cambodian into a “Christian nation.” There is no Bible support for that at all. Further, this many times backfires at all Christians as the Buddhists in power seek squash these types of attempts, and in the process limit the freedoms of all Christians and make life more difficult for them. This unintended result is seen in America as well. This ought not to be.
By the grace of God, we teach people here that by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, they are trusting the one true and living God, the Maker of all nations. Oh what a blessing to see and know Cambodian people who have braved the ridicule of their countrymen and the accusations of betrayal of their nation, to know the true God! Oh that we could learn the lesson!! We teach that according to the Bible, they should serve the true God and lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour. The Cambodians can be the best citizens by following God’s word.
Stay tuned for the third and final installment of this three-part series. The last is probably the funniest.