Here you have it: the final installment of our three part series on perceptions that Cambodian people have of the United States and Christianity. This one should be the funniest.
Many Cambodians think that:
The U.S. government pays missionaries to come here and teach about Jesus Christ.
Now, that is funny. If there is anything that the United States government wants to avoid it is the perception that it is propagating a particular religion. Of course, we know that our government is becoming increasingly averse to things Christian. This, however, should not bother us so much because we that believe the Bible know that true Christianity is pilgrim in nature. We neither need nor want an endorsement from any government, be it the United States or any other.
In the first two parts of this series we saw that many Cambodians think that all Americans are Christians and that the national religion of America is Christianity. So it stands to reason that when Christian ministers come from America to Cambodia, they would be endorsed and supported by the government, just as the Buddhist monks doing something similar in the United States would have the sanction of the Cambodian government.
Hardly a day passes in which a Cambodian person does not have a question or statement for us regarding money. We are viewed as rich, though there are many, many Cambodians with more money than us. They ask how much our rent is, the cost of our power bill, how much we paid for our car, what our salary is, etc. Further, since America is a heaven of sorts to many here, and we are the U.S. government’s officially commissioned religious ambassadors, we probably get a big salary from our wealthy Uncle Sam. I laugh just thinking about that.
I will give one true story to illustrate. A missionary here needed a permission from the Ministry of Cults and Religions here. During that process, he was required to get a letter from the U.S. Embassy stating that he was a recognized missionary from the United States. So, knowing full well it was in no way, fashion, or form possible to get a statement like that from the Embassy, he made an appointment. When he arrived and was interviewed, the officer told him immediately that they could not do that. So instead he offered to give him a “self-stated affidavit.” This is basically an official piece of U.S. government paper stating that this missionary stated that he was a missionary in the presence of an officer of the U.S. Consulate. Read that again and you will see it means basically nothing. You see, the Ministry of Cults and Religions did not understand that this was not possible. (By the way, the missionary got his permission).
Brethren, the three essays in this series are humorous but at the same time serious. These ideas truly do affect individual’s reception to the Gospel of Christ. Many people will perish in the lake of fire due in part to these preconceived and false ideas. This is the very reason it is so important to have a right understanding of what the Bible teaches is the place of born again Christians in the world. I don’t expect to change the fact that many false religions name the name of Christ. But we that do belong to Him should do our best to obey His Word to fill our place as pilgrim-witnesses of the risen Christ.
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.
When I meet someone from another country, especially Europe, I oftentimes ask them questions about how they perceive America and Americans. I find this very interesting. Cambodians have numerous perceptions or assumptions about America and her citizens. I would like to share with you three in particular that have an effect on ministry in Cambodia, in hopes that you will find it interesting, humorous, and eye-opening. This post is the first of three installments in this series. I will examine one point per post. Just as a reminder, many of the things I will say in these posts apply just as well to many Asian and/or pagan nations, not just Cambodia. Also, these perceptions are true of many other western nations, like Canada, Britain, France, etc. OK, ready? Fasten your seat belts!
Many Cambodians think that:
All Americans are Christians.
This perception is very common. The rationale is very simple. If you put on the glasses of someone from an Asian country, you immediately see why they think this. In many Asian countries, there is a religion that is very predominant, sometimes claiming more than 95% of the population. In many ways, that religion is intertwined with the ethnic group. The statistical fact is that about 79% of Americans are “Christian.” This means that they belong to a religion within Christendom, be it Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, etc. The remaining 21% are mostly unaffiliated.
Now, we hear something like this and we laugh, because we know that the vast majority of Americans are not born again. Yes, they are part of a Christian religion, but yet void of eternal life, according to the Bible. Now, put the glasses on I mentioned above. Say you met a Cambodian on the street in the U.S. In the conversation you say, “You are from Cambodia, so you are Buddhist, right?” He replies, “Yes, I am.” You ask, “Aren’t like 95% of Cambodians Buddhist?” He replies, “Oh no! They are not real Buddhists. They are in the Buddhist religion, but they are not real Buddhists.” I would walk away scratching my head wondering what in the world the guy was talking about. Isn’t a Buddhist a Buddhist??? I mean, if you are go to the Buddhist temple, you are a Buddhist. Yet, this is how they see us many times. They do not understand that what we preach is not just a religion, but knowing the God of heaven, and is distinct from what the world calls “Christianity.” The great majority of Americans go to a church of some sort at some time during the year. They call themselves “Christian.” To the Cambodian, they are Christians. And so, this is 79% of Americans. So, looking at it from the perspective of their religion, it is easy to see how they come to this conclusion.
So, how does this practically affect the ministry of preaching and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ in Cambodia? Because Cambodians view their religion and nationality as very closely related, they sometimes consider those that believe on Christ as abandoning their people. To them, if you are Khmer you are Buddhist. If you are American you are Christian. The raw statistics back up this idea. They think that your religion and ethnic group are interrelated, just as they view their own. They don’t typically oppress those foreigners that are Christian simply because they acknowledge that in the same way that Khmers are Buddhist, foreigners are Christian. This is also true of even strict Muslim nations. It is when a Khmer becomes a Christian that problems arise. When a Khmer believes on the Lord, they are sometimes viewed as turning their back on the Khmer people, of which 95% are Buddhist, and joining with foreigners. There is a saying which is used to describe people that have become Christians: “kbat chiet,” which means “betraying one’s nation.”
This perception begets other issues as well. Consider these American things: American Idol, Britney Spears, Black Eyed Peas, Audio Adrenaline, Avatar, and the list could go on. These things are American, and therefore considered Christian, because after all, 79% of Americans are Christian. So, it is no wonder that in Cambodia and many other nations, there is a common belief that Christianity propagates all sorts of ungodliness and moral filth.
Let me give you a small example to finish. I was in a convenience store some time ago. The cashier knew me because I had been in there many times. So he asked me how many kids I had. I told him 5 and one on the way. Boy was he surprised! The reason he was surprised, he explained, was because he thought that foreigners believed it was bad to have more than 1 or 2 kids. Where in the world did he get that idea?? He probably heard that from the tree-hugging, God-hating, baby-aborting, population-controlling, atheistic infidels at UNESCO or another wacky, ultra-liberal, global, western organization. So, the assumption was that all white people believed that mess. So, combine that with the idea that white foreigners are Christian, you have a ready-made dish that says that Christianity teaches this stuff.
Now, we know that the devil has set up false Christian religions that are doing a very effective job of damning millions of souls to eternal fire. Cambodia is no exception. To a large degree these Christian religions are responsible for these perceptions, as they take the false gospel of political or social reform under the guise of Christianity. Yet, we endeavor to take the true Gospel and sound doctrine to those here and wade through the lies that the devil has used to blind men’s minds to keep them from the truth.
I have already exhausted my space for this point, yet there are so many other things to say. The next installment is very closely related to this one. So it is essential to understand this point, as it is foundational for the next. Stay tuned.