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Challenges, Problems, and Prospects of
Theological Education in Myanmar

Samuel Ngun Ling [1]

 

Historical Glimpses of Early Christian Presence in Myanmar

Myanmar had received religion-based education, namely, Buddhist monastery education as early as seven centuries before the introduction of Christian missionary education in the early twentieth centuries. Since 13th century A.D., Myanmar began to experience its earliest contact with Christian presence, most possibly of Nestorian Christians who accompanied the Tartar Chinese soldiers of Emperor Kublai Khan when they came to fight against the Burmans during the period of Bagan dynasties (1044-1287). These Nestorians seemed to be Christian artists as the painting of a Christian cross, painted with the Buddhist lotus in its middle on a brick wall inside King Kyansitta’s famous grotto in the ruined city of Bagan, has shown.[2]

It was thought that Christian presence in the 14th and 15th centuries was represented by the European (especially Portuguese, Dutch and Italian) merchants and adventurers who came to look for opportunities of merchandise in different parts of Myanmar.[3] The period from 16th to 18th centuries saw the complexities of foreign Christian presence, especially the so-called Feringhi (Bayingyis in Burmese), descendants of Portuguese merchant Phillip de Brito, a ruler of Syria, from 1600 to 1623, being intermingled with various economic issues and political intrusions.[4] Foreign Christians at this time were considered skillful in military and technical skills. They were kept under the care of the Roman Catholic priests, who later came to be engaged actively in military and technical services of the Burmese King as gunners and musketeers for centuries apparently until 1885 A.D. when the last Burmese Buddhist monarch, King Thibaw, was dethroned.[5]

Christian mission with formal missionary education came to Myanmar only with the coming of Protestant Christian missionaries, particularly the Baptist missionaries. Adoniram and Ann Judson were the first missionaries representing American Baptist who reached the Burmese soil on July 13, 1813. The Judsons had to labor for six years before they won the first convert, Maung Nau, to Christ in 1819. A year later, the first Baptist Church in Myanmar was founded in Burmese soil on March 4, 1820, with eleven members.[6] Other Protestant missions such as Anglican (1854), Methodist (1879, 1887) and Presbyterian (1956), with their educational enterprises, reached Myanmar in the middle and late periods of 19th century.[7] As churches began to flourish, the seeds of Christian missionary teachings and their schools’ education grew in strength and spread over different parts of Myanmar. The Anglican Church’s (renamed today as ‘The Church of the Province of Myanmar’) education mission under J. E. Marks started St. John’s School in 1863. The church also established the Holy Cross Theological Seminary in Yangon to provide theological education and training. The Methodist mission was divided into two, namely, the Lower Myanmar Methodist mission (Episcopal Methodist Church), which started in 1879, and the Upper Myanmar Methodist mission (Wesleyan Methodist Church), which started in 1887. Theological education was initiated through the Myanmar Theological College in Mandalay.[8] With missionaries’ teachings as the initial basis of theological education, significant developments in formation of theological thinking and practice have come to emerge as a new challenge to the already-existing Buddhist education that had been practiced for centuries under the guardianship of literate Buddhist monks and monarchs in olden Myanmar.

Encounter of Christian Missionary and Buddhist Monastery Education

Since the year 1885 when the last Burmese monarch, King Thibaw, was dethroned on 28 November, 1885, the whole lower Myanmar was subjected to the British rule while the upper Myanmar still survived in the hands of King Mindon (1853-1878). The British rulers in lower Myanmar made a clean sweep of the old monarchical system, abolishing not only the Buddhist court but also the Buddhist ecclesiastical commissions with their primate’s authorities, including many other traditional local institutions such as circle headmen.[9] Burmese people in lower Myanmar of that time feared that their centuries-old ways of lives, monastery education, and their Buddhist faith would swiftly disappear under the alien rule. These fears became intense when the British government refused to grant patronage to Buddhism and approval to the monastery schools, which served as the keystone of the Buddhist educational system. Some Buddhist monastery schools in lower Myanmar were replaced by the Christian missionary and Anglo-vernacular schools for which the Burmese Buddhists felt very painful.[10]

This replacement process began to take place right after the British abolished kingship, and disestablished the traditional patterns of the Buddhist community and monastery education. With the abolition of the highest Buddhist council (Sangha) and elimination of the legitimate status of Buddhism as an official religion, the traditional monarchical patterns of the Buddhist community and monastery education began to collapse. While such an institutional collapse meant a great achievement for the British colonialists who accordingly made an arrogant claim, "We have overthrown the king and destroyed all traces of the kingly rule. Naturally they looked upon this as the destruction of their nationality. Whether we have acted wisely history will decide." This endangered the very existence of Burmese Buddhists. Because such a dis-establishment of the Buddhist monarchical rule and monastery education system meant to Burmese Buddhists the total loss of their religio-national solidarity and destruction of their integrated social, cultural and political systems.[11] As a matter of fact, replacement of the Buddhist monastery education by the British and Christian missionary education caused painful feelings among Burmese Buddhists who then accused the Christian mission as part of a colonial movement. As a result, attacks on missionary education reached its nadir in 1930. That year, the Buddhist students at Cushing High School and Baptist Normal School in Yangon, and Methodist Boys’ High School in Mandalay went on strike, claiming that they were not allowed to go to Buddhist pagodas on special Buddhist holidays and were forced to attend Christian Bible classes.[12] On learning of this situation the Buddhist nationalists came to investigate the Christian mission, especially its educational work, with suspicion as part of the White men’s 3M-scheme (Merchant, Military and Mission) which was strongly supported by the British government and Christian missionaries, especially during the nationalist period in the 1930s.

From a different perspective, it could be said that Christian mission schools in the colonial period served as a bridge between minority ethnic Christians and majority Burmese Buddhists, helping the Buddhist community understand more about Christianity and Christian education. Nevertheless, it was during this colonial period that the encounter of Christian missionary and Buddhist monastery education reached its highest stage of confrontation even beyond religious control. Consequently, such confrontation became more and more intense, with the Buddhist nationalists causing a series of nationalist movements that finally led to the great achievement of Burma independence in 1948. After independence, anti-colonial sentiment of nationalist movements was translated into a stand severely critical of Western ‘neo-colonialism’ in which Christian mission continued to be suspect as a remnant of past colonialism. With Christianity viewed as a tool of Western domination, Myanmar Christians came to be suspected as pro-Western, thus, disloyal to the nation. Finally, the Christian missionary schools, hospitals, and properties were all nationalized in 1965 in order for a new revolutionary government under General Ne Win to create a centralized educational system under its control.[13]

Beginnings of Theological Formation in Myanmar

It is generally assumed that in the past decades, churches and Christians in Myanmar did theology through personal evangelism among the Christian congregations and within limited boundaries of the churches. At that stage, no formal process of theological construction existed and the only theology which the Myanmar churches did in this period was none other than what Walter Hollenweger called, "oral theology,"[14] a reproduction of missionary teachings that was made appropriate only to the pulpit ministry of the churches. Doing theology in such a manner was mainly due to the native Christians’ dependency on missionaries’ teachings and imported theologies that were not directly relevant to the unique Myanmar religio-cultural and socio-political realities. To be candid, patterns of theological formation until past four decades were simply reproductions or duplicates of the western Christian theologies. The textbooks, curricula, and teaching methodologies used in Bible schools and theological institutes of Myanmar were all patterned after the models of affiliated western seminaries. Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT), the oldest, largest, and highest theological seminary in the whole of Myanmar, which was founded in 1927, stands as a good example among others. Previously known to American Baptist Burma Mission as Willis and Orlinda Pierce Divinity College, MIT was affiliated first with the Northern Baptist Seminary at Chicago, United States, in its early formative years (1927-1938). Second affiliation was made with the Central Baptist Theological Seminary, in Kansas City, USA from 1955 until 1957. Since then, MIT was prepared to follow the same curriculum pattern (including subjects and teaching methodologies) of those affiliated western seminaries until 1990s.[15] A conclusion that can be drawn here is the fact that the initial stage of theological formation in Myanmar was almost out of context in terms of the nature and structure of its theological formation.

Development of Theological Formation

There are different opinions on how theological formation in Myanmar had developed through the churches’ activities and Christian thinking during the span of a century after the arrival of Christianity in Myanmar. According to one opinion based on a historical analysis, the historical setting of theological development in Myanmar could be divided into three periods.[16]

The first period is between 1819 and 1885, from the year when the first Burman was converted, Maung Nau (1819), under Adoniram Judson, the first Baptist missionary who arrived in 1813. No other missionaries came until the British annexation of Myanmar in 1885. During this period, Myanmar came under Buddhist monarchs, monks, and lay Buddhists who were almost ignorant about Christianity. Hence, when the first Anglo-Burmese war broke out in 1824, the Burmese Buddhist officials faced immense confusion related to the difference between Christian mission and colonial movement.

The second period is between 1885 and 1939, which saw the British annexation of Buddhist Myanmar (1885) and the outbreak of the Second World War (1939) during which colonialism and nationalism existed side by side along political line.

The third period saw independent Myanmar, with the growth of Christian churches, putting their new emphasis in the life and witness of the churches. All war experiences in this period compelled the churches and theological institutions to re-evaluate their doctrinal confessions and theological constructions in the light of their faith and life experiences through the turbulent time. According to Kyaw Than, all historical and political experiences which Myanmar went through during her pre-independent history were not void but were already parts of meaningful and initiated resources for theological formation in post-independent Myanmar. The analysis of Kyaw Than is, however, confined largely to Protestant Christianity, particularly that of the Baptist mission.

Another opinion is developed out of an analysis of peoples’ responses to Christianity on racial basis. According to this opinion, Myanmar is supposed to have experienced "two versions of Christianity",[17] the minority ethnic version and the majority Burman version. Emergence of these two versions of Christianity has caused problems for doing a common indigenous theology for culturally diversified churches in Myanmar. In other words, it is a challenging issue for the formation of effective and relevant theological education for all people (Burmese Buddhists and ethnic people) in Myanmar per se. The only way for overcoming the problem of the two versions of Christianity in Myanmar is to discover a common basis that would underlie the basic religiosity of both Buddhist Burmans and ethnic peoples.[18]

To reach a common basis, both Christian and Buddhist communities would need to have the third opinion, that is, to do a creative dialogue between them. While understanding ethnic Christianity is imperative for majority Buddhists, it is equally important for minority ethnic Christians to develop theological education that takes seriously the Buddhist problems and issues such as the Buddhist doctrines, worldviews, cultures and behaviors. These Buddhist-Christian issues and problems can be used as challenging resource materials for doing contextual theology in Myanmar. It is only with these resource materials that Myanmar Christians would be able to manufacture their own Myanmar theology and develop innovative methods of doing theology that is different in form and structure from the old models of Western missionaries.

Challenges

To produce a relevant and contextual theological education in Myanmar, Christian educators and theologians in Myanmar have to take seriously the realities of the whole Myanmar context. As Gutierrez said, "a theology which is not up-to-date, which does not link itself to historical praxis but rests content itself with worship and the formulation of right beliefs (doctrines) is false theology."[19] In order for a theology to be living and updated, it needs to face the hard realities and challenges of the context. Theology needs a daring courage in a context like Myanmar where fears and ambiguities of life prevail. The encountering realities and challenges of present Myanmar may be thus grouped into three parts as follows:

(1) Poverty and Health Crisis: Myanmar today is gearing up to move toward her own Burmese way to democracy and freedom. There is hope and expectation that the result of the ongoing National Convention held since 2003 will eventually lead to political stability, constitutional reforms, democratic freedom, and economic prosperity. Economically, Myanmar people are struggling hard for their basic necessities of life as many of them survive from hand to mouth. Rich and powerful people get richer and stronger while the poor masses and powerless get poorer and weaker. The Buddhists of Myanmar regard poverty as part of their fate or previous deeds (Kamma), which can be compensated in their next life. This Buddhist idea has somehow weakened the will of some people to overcome poverty and has forced them to look at poverty as something natural to all sentient beings. Poverty therefore stands out as a great challenge to the Christian theology and theological education in Myanmar.

Peoples in Myanmar need empowerment to see themselves as the subjects of their own transformation and to begin the struggle for liberation from poverty. Only when poverty is being uprooted or eradicated, will there emerge a just and peaceful environment. Health crisis, particularly the problem of HIV and AIDS that has increasingly become a pandemic in all parts of the world, is another crucial challenge not only for Christian theological education but also for the whole academic realms of human society. Myanmar, along with her neighboring Asian countries, experiences an increasing number of victims of such pandemic diseases, including drug addiction every year.

An official report of the United Nations’ World Food Program[20] reported that about 60% of Myanmar children are chronically malnourished. This is a major challenge to the present military regime’s economic policy in 2005. The UN relief agency was reported to have committed more funding for two projects of poverty alleviation at the cost of US$12 million that were launched in 2004 in northern Rakhine State and Magwe Division.[20] Christians and churches in Myanmar are challenged to help educate their people on preventing SARS, bird flu, malaria, polio, tuberculosis, cancer, and hypertension-related diseases; how to deal with their root causes, care for and counsel affected peoples, and support victims in their various needs.[22]

(2) Religious Pluralism: Another major challenge to theological education in Myanmar is the issue of religious and cultural pluralities. Myanmar comprises diverse faith traditions. These diverse faith traditions have enriched Myanmar Christian theology with peculiar religious insights and inspirations. Nevertheless, the missionaries’ traditional negative approach to other faiths, particularly towards Buddhism, has helped to shape the pattern of theological education in Myanmar. As an impact of the missionaries’ tradition, the previously common form of doing Christian theology and theological education in Myanmar has been largely confined to ecclesiology, proselytized form of mission, and maintenance model of church ministry. It is here at this point that the nature, structures and visions of theological education in Myanmar call for a new paradigm shift from the exclusive missionaries’ traditional form of education to an inclusive and multifaceted form of education.[23]

With regards to theological focus, it is also observed that theology and theological education in Myanmar pay less or even no attention to questions posed by multi-faith traditions (Buddhist, Christian, and others), their spiritual experiences and moral values. This means that the liberating spiritual values and moral virtues inherent in other religions and cultures have largely been ignored in the construction of Christian theology or in the theologizing process in Myanmar. Perhaps, casting a theological focus on the multiple issues of Myanmar would help theologians and theological educators to see the whole picture of the real situation of the poor and marginalized masses, whose languages, religious traditions, myths and folklore have served as primary sources of inspiration in their struggles for liberation and rights. A theology that is not heard through sounds of people-hood or voices of struggling peoples can end up being self-complacent.

Can Christians and theological educators speak loudly of quality theological education by ignoring the aforementioned multiple issues of life in Myanmar? How best can church leaders and theological educators foster appreciation and understanding of people of other faiths, especially adherents of the Buddhist faith, within the prevailing structures and curricula of theological education in Myanmar? These particular questions call for an overall rethinking and reformation of the whole structure and patterns of theological education in Myanmar especially in relation to its theological themes such as soteriology, ecclesiology, mission, Christian education and pastoral ministry.

(3) Ethnic Diversity: Ethnic diversity is a unique feature of Myanmar society, whose population is estimated to be between 50 and 52 million today. Dialectically counted, there are altogether 135 ethnic groups. Of those, eight major groups are Burman, Kayin, Kachin, Chin, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine and Shan. A linguistic survey shows that there may be more than two hundred sub-ethnic language groups in Myanmar.[24] This ethnic diversity, i.e. the amalgamated existence of multi-religious and multicultural diversities, demonstrates "the interwoven nature of a community life."[25] Such an amalgamated living of multi-religious and cultural diversities has often caused problems and challenges in building a community of peace or harmony between religious communities especially between minority Christians and majority Buddhists in Myanmar.[26]

Majority of the Christians in Myanmar comes from tribal/ethnic groups such as Karen Kachin, Chin, etc. Only a handful come from the ethnically Burman group which has a predominantly Buddhist background. In the past, ethnic Christians attempted to reconstruct missionaries’ traditional theology or to indigenize Christianity in Myanmar. But most of these attempts were concerned more with the form rather than the content of the gospel. For instance, the church’s activities such as presentations of biblical stories in ethnic cultural style of drama, dressing up of the ‘nativity scene’ in ethic costumes, use of ethnic musical instruments and melodies for Christian hymns and songs, were exemplary attempts to put the gospel wine into ethnic cultural wineskins. While it is important for ethnic Christians to employ such cultural forms for effective communication of the Christian gospel among them, it may not fit the situation of Burman Buddhists, as their context is radically different from the ethnic primal religious context. This means that the contents of the Buddhist context, especially the Buddhist understanding of life and death, selfhood, spirit, and ultimate reality have to be taken very seriously in doing Christian theology in Buddhist context.

The late Khin Maung Din, the unsung prominent Burmese theologian, strongly supported such an inclusive stand in articulating Burmese Christian theology. He pointedly claimed, "any construction of a Burmese Christian theology for today must take into account (i) The Christian understanding and experience of the Gospel; (ii) the religious experience and concepts of Buddhism and other oriental religions, and (iii) the social and political human realities of our times."[27] In the light of this hypothesis, any theological reflection made in Myanmar context needs to be an inclusive critical learning or theologizing not only from biblical, church traditions and theological sources but also from the non-biblical, non-church traditions, and non-theological sources. This kind of Christian thinking and theologizing, especially in dialogue with other faith traditions, particularly the Buddhist and primal faith traditions, may persist as a challenging theological task for the Myanmar churches and theological institutes in the future.

Problems

Theology should not be something that is done in the past and discontinued at the present. For doing theology is an ongoing process – a struggling spiritual journey into the rapidly moving time and changing realities of the context. Koyama’s statement is insightful when he said that we do not do contextual theology or contextualize theology but "contextualizing theology."[28] This theological insight helps us to underline that theology is a believer’s constant wrestling with the hard realities of life or with God in time and space, in which the complex interplay of problems, challenges and opportunities have always taken significant roles creatively and meaningfully. Doing theology is actually the task of every believing Christian. It should not be thought of as the work of ministers, pastors and theological educators alone. All Christians in whatever level (academic, church, etc.) should be enabled to do theology.

The fundamental problem of theological education in Myanmar is the fact that missionaries had trained Christians to think of doing theology and theological education only as a task of seminary teachers and students. Such a wrong perception on the nature of theological education has created an intellectual gap between the seminarians and lay people, and hence theology remains merely as the game of Christian intellectuals at the educational level. A step developed from this stage of understanding is the idea that theology has to do only with theologically trained people and not with ordinary Christians. The question is, what would theological education mean for communities outside the churches and theological institutions? Is not the whole process of theological education community-oriented rather than church or seminary-oriented? Hope S. Antone’s critical evaluation on theological education in Asia is an excellent attempt that calls for reformation of theological education in the whole of Asia.[29] According to her observation, there are three crucial points to be noted. They are: (i) theological education in Asia reflects a variety of mission orientations; (ii) theological education in Asia generally follows the western ‘specialist approach’, and (iii) in terms of methodology, theological education in Asia generally puts more emphasis on cognitive or intellectual development to the neglect of other aspects of human development.[30]

To limit the scope of my discussion in this section, I would like to highlight some problems that are related with teaching methodologies, theological resources, and political context of theological education in Myanmar.

Teaching Methodology: Quality education dropped in Myanmar since 1988 when the whole country faced a political turmoil with mass demonstration for democracy. Education at all levels from primary to university has been conducted by didactic or rote learning methods. Moral corruption in education, such as cheating, bribery and dishonesty among students and teachers, outdated teaching patterns, combined with poor instruction, inadequate textbooks, and restricted access to internet networks – these have resulted in poor quality education.[31]

As mentioned earlier, education and teaching methodology in Myanmar have been strongly influenced for centuries by the traditional Buddhist monastery teaching method known in Burmese as kyet-thu-yueh sa-an (meaning parrot learning method). The monk’s recital teaching method consists of teaching pupils to make oral response to or recite exactly what the monks or teachers taught or said. This kind of teaching methodology represents, in a sense, the monologue-style of teacher-student relationship in education. Pupils have no right to question but recite only the words, which the monks utter to them. Making a critical response or raising any question to the monk may be taken to mean an insult or sign of disrespect. Hence, students who do not submit themselves to this culture may be liable for certain action against them.[32]

The teaching methodology of the Christian theological education in Myanmar in the past was largely overshadowed by the teaching ideals and methods of Buddhist monastery education. Thus, most teachers of seminaries and Bible schools also became accustomed to the depository or banking method rather than participatory methods. The net result is that these traditional teaching methods do not seem to help students to be critical and creative.

Theological Resources: Lack of theological resources such as library and human resources including other technical materials is one of the major setbacks in promoting quality theological education in Myanmar. Most libraries in the seminaries, theological colleges and Bible schools in Myanmar are not fully equipped with adequate number of books in all theological disciplines such as biblical, systematic, feminist, ecological, historical and practical. Other reference books, periodicals, and theological and non-theological literatures are not sufficiently catalogued in the libraries of seminaries and theological institutes. A major problem facing the seminaries and theological institutes in Myanmar is that imports of religious books from abroad are severely restricted by the government and it is therefore impossible for theological institutes to upgrade or update their library resources.

A number of seminaries and Bible schools are desperately in need of updating their library resources in order to promote advanced and better theological education. Equally important is the faculty development of theological teachers in different fields for all the seminaries and theological institutes in Myanmar. Among the major obstacles to this particular demand is none other than the government’s restricted passport system for Christian scholars to go abroad either for further studies or for the purpose of attending Christian conferences and research seminars. Such restrictions have strongly discouraged Myanmar Christians and theological faculty in pursuit of higher education. The net result is a lack of adequate number of qualified professors and lecturers in various fields of theological disciplines in seminaries and theological institutes in Myanmar.

Political Context: Lack of freedom of publication, expression, and organization adds to the restrictions imposed on Christians, thus curbing their access to international communities. These three kinds of academic freedom are fundamental and imperative for the development of advanced theological education in Myanmar. Christians and other religious communities have often faced difficulties not only in publication of Christian literatures but also in constructing church centers, research centers, and in networking with other religious and non-religious organizations inside and outside Myanmar. Such political disturbances have often disrupted the visions and schemes of the Myanmar churches and Christian institutes.

With the need for more institutional resources and access to global networking, the Judson Research Center of the Myanmar Institute of Theology was established in July 2003. A timely response by MIT to the demand of the time and situation, it is the first academic research center of its kind in Myanmar. The Myanmar Theological Research Center, which is planned to be established by the Association for Theological Education in Myanmar (ATEM), is still underway. There is another privately established research center, the Dhamma Research Center, based in Taung-Kyi in upper Myanmar. Its present director is Ko Ko Naing, an ordained Christian minister who was previously a Buddhist monk.

Prospects

Christian theology is, as Douglas John Hall puts it, "what happens when the two stories - God’s story of the world and humanity’s ever changing account of itself and all things, meet."[33] There is no theology that is context-free or that happens in a historical vacuum. Theology emerges out of a series of life’s struggles, movements and experiences. It is "faith seeking" in any socio-cultural context, and is a "critical reflection on praxis"[34] in any socio-political movement or struggle of life. Doing Christian theology in Myanmar will have to integrate itself into two main religious-cultural contexts: (i) minority ethnic Christian context and (ii) majority non-Christian Buddhist context. Each of these contexts has creative historical resources to help produce a contextual theology that best fits the situation and relate itself to people of the context. I would like to make some proposals and suggestions for doing theology and teaching theological education in Myanmar.

First, doing theology in Myanmar should not ignore the historical significance of the encounter of Christianity and Buddhism – Christian-Buddhist dialogue, interrelations, mutual impacts and interactions. The subject of history is people. In fact, we cannot do contextual theology without referring to the historical and socio-political realities – peoples’ experiences, movements and suffering. No living theology can be developed without referring to the past history of the context. Myanmar history explicitly reflects the long struggles of people for liberation from three political domains: monarchy, colonialism, and militarism.

Second, doing theology in Myanmar should be concerned with the need to study current issues of Myanmar. These issues include economic poverty, religious freedom, gender, women and children, health, development and environment. Any theology that ignores such current issues of people and context would be misleading and incompetent. Doing theology from a perspective of struggles, experiences and visions of the minority ethnic people in Myanmar would be inevitably important for doing theology of liberation – wholeness that always embraces social, economic, cultural, political and ecological dimensions of life.

In conclusion, I would like to make some suggestions for future theological education in Myanmar.

First, patterns of theological education in Myanmar should be critically reconstructed in form and terms appropriate to both ethnic Christian and Buddhist communities. The imported western forms of theological education need to be remodeled to fit the Buddhist and ethnic contexts.

Second, as theology made in the west uses scientific, logical, and philosophical resources of the west; so also theology developed in Myanmar must seriously take into consideration Myanmar’s religious-cultural thought-forms so that ‘theology’ will make sense to the Myanmar ethnic and Buddhist people.

Third, theological education in Myanmar should take seriously into account the significance of ‘dialogue’ with peoples of different faith traditions, especially the Buddhist faith.

Fourth, any theological education developed in Myanmar must be liberating and not oppressive in terms of its academic impacts. The central focus should be to set at liberating the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, to heal the broken society, and to be in solidarity with the powerless and the poor in their struggles for justice, peace and freedom.

Fifth, theological education in Myanmar should enable local communities to discover their own dignity, rights, identity and help them to engage in new ways of doing theology out of their socio-political and religious-cultural experiences. To reach the above goals, there are three crucial steps to be taken:

(i) Teaching methodologies in seminaries and Bible schools in Myanmar need not be reproductive or imitative of the West. They need to be remodeled or reconstructed in forms and ideas relevant to Myanmar ethnic and Buddhist contexts.
(ii) Subjects in theological seminaries and Bible schools should be academic as well as issues-oriented. Subjects studied in the classes should reflect relevant experiences in life beyond the class and vice versa.
(iii) Aspects of theological themes and concepts studied in seminaries and Bible schools should be holistic, inclusive, and ecumenical. Usage of ideas, terminology and modes of expressions should be always non-offensive and tension-free.

Notes:

  1. Samuel Ngun Ling is currently a professor of systematic theology and director of the Judson Research Center at Myanmar Institute of Theology, Seminary Hill, Insein, Yangon, Myanmar.

  2. Ba Kin (Hanthawaddy), "Foreign Missionary Organizations in Burma" (Nain-ngan-chya Thathana-pyuh Athin-ahpweh mya in Burmese), (Rangoon: Hanthawaddy Press, 1963), 11. There is no clear evidence that this painting was painted by Nestorian Christian soldiers. The painting itself no longer exists to be observable.

  3. See J. S. Furnivall, "Europeans in Burma of the Fifteenth Century," in Journal of Burma Research Society, vol. XXIX (1939): 236-237. For more information, see Dorothy Woodman, The Making of Burma (London: Cresset Press, MCMLXII), 16 and D. G. E. Hall, "The Earliest English Contact with Burma," in Journal of Burma Research Society, vol. XVII (1927): I. G. E. Harvey, History of Burma (London: Longsman, Gree and Co., 1925), 98.

  4. G. E. Harvey, History of Burma (London: Longsman, Gree and Co., 1925), 186-187. See also Maung Htin Aung, A History of Burma (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), 137-139.

  5. Maung Kaung, "The Beginnings of Christian Missionary Education in Burma, 1600-1824," in Annual Report, given at the Education Department of the University of Rangoon (January 31, 1930), 63.

  6. Brian Stanley, The History of Baptist Missionary Society (1792-1992) (T & T Clark, 1992), 56. See also Victor San Lone, "The Fifteen Years of Crisis," (1960-1975), unpublished (M.Th. thesis: ATESEA, 1977), 9.

  7. Simon Pau Khan En, "Challenges and Opportunities for the Churches in Myanmar," an unpublished paper presented in the Bo Tree International Summer Seminar, July-August, 2005 held by the Myanmar Institute of Theology, Seminary Hill, Yangon, Myanmar. See also Alexander Mcleish, Christians Profess in Burma (London: World Dominion Press, 1929), 22-23.

  8. Ibid.,3-4

  9. John F. Cady, "Religion and Politics in Modern Burma," in The Far Eastern Quarterly, vol. XII (February 1953): 153.

  10. Maung Htin Aung, A History of Burma (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), 240.

  11. Stanley J. Tambiah, The Buddhist Saints of the Forest, the Cult of Amulets (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 316-317.

  12. Burma, "Report of the Administration of Burma, 1929-30" (Rangoon: Government Printing Office): vi-ix.

  13. See Tun Aung Chain, "The Christian-Buddhist Encounter in Myanmar," in Engagement, vol. I (December 2003), 10.

  14. W. J. Hollenweger, "Ecumenical Significance of Oral Christianity," in Ecumenical Review, Vol. 41, No.2 (April 1989), 261-262.

  15. Diamond Jubilee Historical Committee, "History of the MIT," in Myanmar Institute of Theology, Diamond Jubilee (1927-2002) published by Alin Ein Media Group for MIT (2002), 22-30.

  16. U Kyaw Than, "Theologizing for Selfhood and Service" in Asian Voices in Christian Theology, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1976), 57-62.

  17. Rev. Simon P. K. Enno, "Nat Worship: A Theological Locus in Myanmar," in Mission Matters, eds. Lynne Price, Juan Sepulveda & Graeme Smith (New York: Peter Lang, 1997), 171.

  18. Ibid.,169, 171.

  19. Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis Press, 1971), 6.

  20. The Myanmar Times, vol. 14, No. 279 (August 15-21, 2005), 3. Quoted a report of the news conference of James Morris, Head of UN Food Program, with BBC News in Bangkok and televised on August 5, 2005.

  21. Ibid.

  22. For further information, see Simon Pau Khan En, "HIV/AIDS: A Challenge to Theological Education," in RAYS, MIT Journal of Theology, vol. 6 (January 2005), 17.

  23. Samuel Ngun Ling, "Contextual Teaching Methodologies: Evaluation and Proposal for Myanmar Context," in Engagement, vol.1 (Judson Research Center, MIT, December 2004), 29

  24. Report of a Linguistic group, "Myanmar Language Varieties, Government Classification, Location and Status," based in MIT, Yangon, Myanmar (August 2003).

  25. Samuel Ngun Ling, "The Encounter of Missionary Christianity with Resurgent Buddhism in Post-colonial Myanmar," in Quest, vol. 2, no. 2 (November 2003), 63.

  26. Ibid., 64-65.

  27. Khin Maung Din, "Some Problems and Possibilities for Burmese Christian Theology Today," in Christianity and the Religions of the East: Models for A Dynamic Relationship, ed. Richard W. Rousseau, vol. II (Scranton, PA: Ridge Row Press, 1982), 78.

  28. See Kosuke Koyama, "New Heaven and New Earth: Theological Education for the New Millennium", a keynote address given at the General Assembly of ATESEA, 1997.

  29. Hope S. Antone, "Reclaiming Theological Education as Education for Life: Towards Innovative Methods in Theological Education," RAYS MIT Journal of Theology, vol. 5 (January 2004), 45-60.

  30. Ibid., 49-50.

  31. Samuel N. Lynn (Samuel Ngun Ling), "Voices of Minority Ethic Christians in Myanmar," in CTC Bulletin, vol. XVIII, No.2 – vol. XIX, No.2 (December 2002-August 2003), 15.

  32. Simon Pau Khan En, "Critical Problems Facing Theological Colleges in Myanmar," in Thamar Alin, Baptist Theological Journal, vol. IV (1999), 66.

  33. Douglas John Hall, Thinking the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 91.

  34. Gustavo Gutierrez, 6.

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eMail: fmu@cca.org.hk
HomePage: www.cca.org.hk