Baptists write Obama about Burma

A letter from Baptist leaders raises concern about human-rights violations in advance of the president’s visit next week to Myanmar.

By Bob Allen

American Baptist leaders wrote President Obama Nov. 12, voicing human-rights concerns in advance of his scheduled Nov. 19 visit to Myanmar.

The Board of General Ministries of American Baptist Churches USA voted Nov. 10 to authorize ABC/USA General Secretary Roy Medley and President Ruth Clark to write the president in light of the denomination’s long ties to the Asian country also known as Burma.

Those ties date to 1813, when Adoniram and Ann Judson landed in Rangoon as the first American missionaries in the country. Baptists now constitute the largest Christian group in the country, with 1.5 million members convened in 18 language and regional Baptist conventions. American Baptists continue to support Burma through its International Ministries department and has helped more than 80,000 refugees from Burma settle in the United States since 2006.

While encouraged by some of the political reforms in Myanmar, including a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011, American Baptist leaders said they remain “gravely concerned” by human-rights violations, particularly against ethnic minorities.

The letter urged the president to raise issues in his meetings with political leaders, including armed attacks on civilians, military use of rape, torture, destruction of churches, forced displacement and killing of ethnic nationalities. It called for a nationwide ceasefire, the release of political prisoners and the establishment of meaningful peace talks.

The leaders also called on Myanmar to allow internally displaced people to return to their villages and land, the removal of landmines, and for those living outside of Burma as refugees to return to their native land.

“The minority people of Burma desire freedom, the right to self-determination and the right to live in peace within their country,” the leaders said. “Thus, any political and economic engagement without an end to the human rights abuses will be hollow. The minority citizens of Burma will continue to distrust the government.”

Copies of the letter were addressed to Hillary Clinton; Suzan Johnson Cook, an ordained Baptist minister who serves as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom; and Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.