Bleeding for justice

A journey to Myanmar during Lent sharpens the question of the nature of God’s redemptive mission.

By Molly T. Marshall

When in Myanmar, I have the opportunity to read local newspapers, at least those in English. These papers are not without political bias, but neither are ours. Established in 2013, Myanma Freedom offers a cautionary note to those overly optimistic about the gains of human rights in the nation. While cheered by certain gains, the stance of the paper is to draw attention to remaining challenges.

Last week the slight paper published an open letter from Myanmar/Burma Civil Society Organizations to the member states of the United Nation Human Rights Council. Writing in advance of their upcoming 25th regular session in Geneva, the Burma Partnership — the name given the aggregate CSOs — expressed its serious concerns about the lack of progress in the situation of human rights.

The letter urged this delegation of the U.N. to keep up pressure on the Myanmar government to make sure it continues with constitutional reforms, eases repressive legislation, stops land confiscation and ceases gross human rights abuses, particularly in the ethnic areas. Blood continues to flow as military units do battle with regional militias who want to protect their people from the brutality of rape or displacement.

Obviously, the government here wants full recognition among the nations and is weary of being singled out when the abuse of human rights is global. Some have criticized the United States for retaining long-term sanctions on Burma/Myanmar; however, others find that these measures have drawn attention to the plight of many.

A new concern arises from inter-communal violence as Buddhists and Muslims have been clashing in varied regions in the country. Unthinkable acts have transpired as radicalized Buddhists have burned mosques and families have been driven away from what had been peaceful coexistence with their neighbors. The best thinking is that a “third party” is stirring up this conflict to distract from other repressive moves, and armed conflict continues in remote areas. Persons are literally bleeding for justice.

The stated goal of the emerging democracy is transformation into a peaceful, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. The open letter urges the U.N. to retain a “Special Rapporteur” so as to highlight that all is not well here, even as westerners want to put a hopeful spin on the democratic aspirations of the “New Myanmar.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit, followed by the historic visit of President Obama a little over a year ago, did signal a new openness here.

The land is also bleeding as an ecological disaster looms. Inadequate sanitation systems, the addition of about 10,000 new autos a month in Yangon and habitual littering make the urban area barely livable for many. The present infrastructure cannot support the development deemed as “progress,” and residents glean little from the economic investments from South Korea, Thailand, China, India and, yes, America.  The people and the land are being bled.

The great rivers of the land are endangered, and the once abundant fishing industry is threatened by pollution. On a ride down the Yangon River the other evening, the opaque, yellow water signaled the cessation of the livelihood of men in small boats along the shore. Their care-worn, sun-darkened faces communicated a sense of desperation. The people and the land are being bled.

It is because of injustice that Jesus bled. Preaching a new social order got him killed by the most brutal form. Practicing a nonviolent way invited violence, which he absorbed rather than retaliate. Promising inclusion for the marginal made him seem dangerous, and he was scapegoated by oppressors.

Journeying here, especially during Lent, sharpens the question of the nature of God’s redemptive mission. Somehow the more esoteric descriptions of the trinitarian history of God with humanity seem less adequate as I peer into the eyes of street children and observe mothers begging for their infants. Leading a doctoral seminar on incarnational theology, which is my assignment at Myanmar Institute of Theology, dare not be a theoretical or abstract enterprise.

Thus, I return to the one who walked dusty roads like these. I return to the one who loved creation and used it as a demonstration of God’s providence for all. I return to the one who did not forget the poor, even when being courted by the wealthy.

I remember his promise that a great reversal is coming, and I desire to participate in his reign. Even so, I groan for those for whom justice seems so distant. I grieve at the growing disparity in resources and wonder how God will put it all to rights. God will not accomplish that without purposeful and aggressive participation by persons of good will, those who long for bleeding to stop.

I sincerely hope that the ultimate request of the open letter, the establishment of a U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Myanmar, comes to pass. It could illuminate ongoing abuse and help stanch the bleeding.

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