Christians in Myanmar are estimated to make up around 8.2% of the population, roughly 5.5% Protestant, 1.3% Roman Catholic, and the remainder members of independent churches. Of these groups, about 2.5% identify as Evangelicals and 2.1% as Pentecostals. Many of Myanmar’s Karen, Kachin, Chin, Karenni, Lahu, and Naga are Christian.
Many of these ethnic minorities had long been in conflict with Burmans, and they benefited under colonialism, and Christians largely supported the British during WWII. Christian and Muslim militias sometimes cooperated during the war as well. Rising literacy with the spread of mission education and Christian religious identity contributed to ethnic minorities’ unwillingness to accept Burman Buddhist rule following independence, though this would be negotiated differently by different ethnic groups. For some, like the Chin, who had long been treated as inferior for their animist beliefs, conversion to Christianity lent them a sense of being on equal footing with Burman Buddhists as inheritors of a global tradition. The Kachin’s armed rebellion against the state has been infused with Burmese Christian nationalism. Ethnoreligious antagonism has meant that Christians were less represented in protest movements opposing the military government; Christians did not participate in the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” protests alongside monks.
Christian ethnic minorities have faced significant discrimination in Myanmar. Christians have reported campaigns of forcible conversion to Buddhism, restrictions on church-building and religious organizing, forced labor conscription, and killings, torture, rape, abductions, and other acts of violence against Christians by the Burmese military.
Elizabeth Goh, “India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar,” Christianities in Asia, ed. Peter Phan (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), pp. 9-44.
Lian Sakhong, In Search of Chin Identity: A Study in Religion, Politics and Ethnic Identity in Burma (Copenhagen, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies: 2003).
“Myanmar,” World Christian Encyclopedia, 2nd. Ed., Vol. I, eds. David Barrett et. al. (Oxford, Oxford University Press: 2001).
Moshe Yegar, Between Integration and Secession: The Muslim Communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar (New York: Lexington Books, 2002).