Despite Democracy, Christians in Bhutan Remain Underground

Open practice of faith could lead to more persecution, they fear.

THIMPHU, Bhutan, January 25 (CDN) — In this distant and isolated nation in the eastern Himalayas, known as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon,” almost everything looks uniformly Buddhist.

Most men and women in the landlocked country between India and China wear their national dress, and all the buildings – with their sloping walls, trefoil-shaped windows and pitched roofs – look alike, as if they were Buddhist monasteries.

There are no visible signs of Christians’ tiny presence, but they do exist. Christians, whose only official identity falls in the “others” category in the census, are estimated to range in number between 3,000 and 6,000. And they live out their Christian lives underground – no church buildings, Christian cemeteries or Christian bookstores are yet allowed.

Of Bhutan’s more than 670,000 people, 75 percent of them practice Buddhism, according to the 2005 census. Around 22 percent are Hindu, mostly of Nepali origin.

An absolute monarchy for over 100 years, Bhutan became a democratic, constitutional monarchy in March 2008, as per the wish of the former King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who served from 1972 to 2006. It has been nearly two years since democracy arrived in Druk Yul, as the country is known in its national language, Dzongkha. But little has changed for Christians.

If there is anything open about Christianity, it is the acknowledgement of Christians’ presence in the national press, which was born after the advent of democracy.

“A journalist telephoned and asked me if I was converting local people,” said a middle-aged pastor clad in Gho, the men’s national uniform, a knee-length gown woven with colorful wool. “I wondered how she got my phone number. Maybe a Christian friend of mine passed it on.”

The pastor requested anonymity – the same request that high government officials made, no matter how trivial the matters they divulged.

The pastor said he told the journalist he did not pay people to convert. “People choose to become Christians out of their own free will,” he said. “I am working within the constitution of the country.”

Still a Monarchy

Asked why the church remained underground in spite of a provision for religious freedom in the new constitution, the pastor replied, “Virtually, Bhutan is still a monarchy. The time is yet to come when we have the assurance of protection.”

His wife, wearing the ankle-length woollen skirt or Kira that is the national dress for women, smiled at what was perhaps a naïve question – the power of the monarchy is beyond question. By law all Bhutanese citizens wear the national dress in schools and certain public, government and religious places. Non-compliance can result in fines or imprisonment.

Asked what would happen if authorities found out about their underground church, the pastor said that before 2008 they would have been arrested because Christianity was banned.

“Even now, there will be serious repercussions,” he said. “What exactly will happen, I do not know. But no Christian worker will take the risk to find it out the hard way.”

To construct any building, Bhutanese citizens require a licence from the government.

“As far as the governance is concerned, the Royal Government of Bhutan is very caring,” he said. “We get free education and free medicine and hospitalization, and there is a sense of security because the crime rate is very low. But asking for a licence for a church is beyond our imagination as of now.”

The present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (selected in 2006 but not crowned until 2008) rules absolutely, said local Buddhists, though not with any regret.

“It’s democracy, but still not a democracy,” said a civil government employee requesting anonymity. “It’s the king who makes all important decisions.”

Asked about the Christian presence, he said Christianity grew even at a time when it was banned. “There are many secret Christians. They meet in secret locations for prayer.”

The clean-shaven, medium-built 31-year-old king, an avid soccer fan who studied at Phillips Academy and Wheaton College in Massachusetts in the United States and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, is seen as a progressive person but conservative in matters of religion and culture.

According to the new constitution, the king is the head of state, though the parliament has the power to impeach him by a two-thirds majority vote – a provision not likely to be used anytime in the future, according to popular sentiment.


Suggesting that Christian fears are warranted, a pastor from Pheuntsholing town near the India border explained that memories of a period of severe crackdown on underground churches were still fresh in the minds of local Christians.

“I was picked up from a house where I was conducting Sunday worship in Tsirang district in September 1995 and put in a prison,” said the pastor. “I was asked to leave the district with immediate effect, and I had to move to another location.”

His voice trembling as he spoke by telephone, he said, “Once the government discovers that you are a Christian, nothing will be free for you.”

The pastor said that although there are no violent attacks on Christians, they do face discrimination by the government and society.

According to the government-run weekly Kuensel of Nov. 4, 1992, the National Assembly banned Christianity in 1969 and in 1979. The edicts against Christians were said to have passed due to reports of conversions to Christianity in south Bhutan, inhabited mostly by people of Nepali origin.

In the early 1990s the government of Bhutan began a massive crackdown on Christians, mainly in southern parts, and intensified it towards the end of the decade.

The authorities identified Christians in government or business and took their signatures on a form pledging compliance with rules and regulations governing practice of religion. There were several reports, though unconfirmed, of violence against Christians by police and village heads during the period.

In April 2001, international media reported on persecution of Christians in Bhutan when police stormed churches on Palm Sunday to register Christians, many of who were detained and threatened.

Almost a decade later, the legal standing of the Christian minority under the new constitution remains unclear.

Ambiguous Laws

In May 2009, the national daily Bhutan Times quoted Interior Minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji as saying, “It was absolutely okay if people were born Christian … The constitution supports them. But it is unlawful to convert. If we get proof of proselytization in the country, we shall definitely take action.”

The newspaper noted that there are no official churches in Bhutan. “And most of the Sunday masses and gatherings are held in the homes of pastors and converts,” noted the daily, which occasionally criticizes government policies, though mildly and without taking aim at any particular official.

The new Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, drafted in 2005 and officially adopted in 2008, gives religious freedom to all the citizens of the country but also contains a virtual “anti-conversion law” as found in neighboring India.

The exotic, official website of the constitution – which displays the national emblem of two dragons and a lotus surmounted by a jewel symbolizing harmony between secular and religious powers and sovereignty of the nation – states that all Bhutanese citizens “shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” in Article 7.

But Article 7 adds: “No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.”

What the terms “coercion” and “inducement” mean is not clear. Whether “proselytization,” which the home minister recently suggested was illegal, means propagation of Christianity or conversion by “coercion or inducement,” is also left unclear.

The Supreme Court of Bhutan, whose judge appointments have yet to be completed and are not yet functional, is likely to have the prerogative to interpret the constitution.

What is unambiguous, however, is that the government of Bhutan will continue to preserve the uniform culture of the country, which, it maintains, is based on Buddhist values. Article 3 of the constitution says that “Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes among others the principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance,” and “it is the responsibility of religious institutions and personalities to promote the spiritual heritage of the country while also ensuring that religion remains separate from politics in Bhutan.”

Article 4 mandates the government to “endeavour to preserve, protect and promote the cultural heritage of the country,” adding that “parliament may enact such legislation as may be necessary to advance the cause of the cultural enrichment of Bhutanese society.”

According to Article 8, it is a fundamental duty of all citizens to “preserve, protect and respect the culture and heritage of the nation.”

“Apart from religious restrictions, we are happy to be in Bhutan,” said a pastor from Thimphu. “Look at the unrest India, China and Nepal have from time to time. We are happy and thankful to God for this nation.”

Report from Compass Direct News 


Carlos Ray “Chuck” Norris (born March 10, 1940) is an American martial artist, action star and television and film actor who is known for action roles such as Cordell Walker on WALKER, TEXAS RANGER and for his iconically tough image and roundhouse kick, reports Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST Ministries.

But, in an interview for ANS and Safe World’s IPTV News on Wednesday, February 11, 2009) at the 17th Annual Movieguide® Faith and Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, he revealed that he is now also a “Kung Fu” Christian.

With his second wife, Gena, at his side, Norris, who in 1968, was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Fighter of the Year, talked about how God came into his life and changed everything for him.

“You know,” he said, “when you try to do it without God in your life — which I tried for a lot of years in my film business and in the film world — and even though I was successful, I was very unhappy. I had a huge hole in my heart and once I met my wife and reestablished my faith in God and things turned around for me and made ‘WALKER’ more successful and made my life a lot happier.”

Norris then spoke about the difference knowing God can make in a person’s life.

“I’ve been on both sides of the road,” he said. “I’ve been there without God and I’ve been there with God and believe me it’s much more rewarding and fulfilling when God is on your side.”

Chuck Norris also spoke about how encouraged he is that so many family-friendly films are now on the market and were being honored by Movieguide® at their annual gala.

“I knew that if you got some good films up there that were faith-based, they would do well at the box office,” he said. “People are really hungry for that on television and in film. When FACING THE GIANTS came out, which was a low budget film that was made for a hundred-thousand dollars, it touched the hearts of a lot of people and it touched my heart. In fact, it’s one of my all time favorites.

“Then, when FIREPROOF came out, which was another low budget film and it did humongous numbers, it showed that if you have the right film and you touch the right spirit of the people, it’s going to do very well.”

I then asked Chuck Norris about what type of movies he would like to see come out of Hollywood that can lift the spirits of a world in such a mess.

“We need films of hope,” he said. “We need films that show we can accomplish anything if we have God on our side.”

He smiled when I asked him how he met Gena, “We met in Dallas twelve years ago and we have celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary last November,” he said as they held hands.

Gena cut in and said, “It’s been good,” and Chuck added, “It’s been really, really good.”


Bruce Lee

Chuck Norris then spoke about the role that Bruce Lee, who first met Chuck at a karate demonstration in 1964 in Long Beach, California, played in his life.

“Bruce actually was the one that started my career with THE GREEN HORNET back in the sixties and then when he passed away in 1972, I kind of took the mantle and started back in 1976 doing my films, but Bruce he was the force behind it all.”

In WAY OF THE DRAGON, Bruce Lee had Chuck Norris as his opponent in

the final death fight at the Coliseum in Rome, which is today considered one of Lee’s most legendary fight scenes.

Chuck Norris went on to say that one of the highlights of his long career took place at the Movieguide® Gala back in 1998 when he won the Epiphany award for the best Christian program of the previous year for the CBS series, WALKER, TEXAS RANGER.

“I think it was a shock to everybody in the room because we were competing against a film about Mother Theresa and also TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL,” he said. “Of course WALKER had the reputation as a violent show but the thing is we did some incredible Christian programming on it and it really touched a lot of people.

“In fact, our faith-based episodes were our highest rated shows. In fact, our first faith based episode was the first time WALKER broke the top ten show on the Saturday night network. So that was pretty incredible.”

So now, although Chuck Norris has achieved so much in his life, with numerous action feature films, and as a martial arts star, winning many championships including being a six-time undefeated World Professional Middle Weight Karate Champion, and teaching the martial arts to people like Steve McQueen, Bob Barker, Priscilla Presley and Donnie & Marie Osmond, he considers his greatest achievement is being a “Kung Fu” Christian; a true follower of Jesus Christ.

Report from the Christian Telegraph