On December 23, 2022, President Biden signed into law the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2023. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a modified version of the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability (BURMA) Act, passed in April 2022.
The BURMA Act states it is US policy to “continue to support the people of Burma in their struggle for democracy, human rights, and justice,” as well as to support the efforts of the National Unity Government (NUG), the Burmese civil disobedience movement, and other entities in Myanmar and in other countries to oppose the Burmese military and bring about an end to the military junta’s rule.
The section on sanctions provisions within the BURMA Act authorizes the president to impose sanctions on “the Myanmar oil and gas enterprise; any Burmese state-owned enterprise that is not operating in the industrial or extractive sectors; and significantly financially benefits the Burmese military.”
The Burma Refugee Commission, a joint effort coordinated by the American Baptist Churches of the USA (ABCUSA) Office of General Secretary, and the Burma Advocacy Group (BAG), a group of leaders from associations, churches, and community groups, acted together to advocate for the passage of the BURMA Act. The objective of the campaign was to collect and submit as many signatures as possible advocating for the passage of the bill.
The Burma Advocacy Group and the Burma Refugee Commission promoted the signature campaign by sharing the petitions with associated organizations.
The BAG said that the BURMA Act was the greatest opportunity to achieve: “an end to the human tragedy and crimes against humanity in Burma, an end to the brutal military dictatorship in Burma, and an opportunity to achieve a federal democracy in Burma for which the people of Burma have been giving their lives.”
Some of the associated organizations of the BAG include the Burmese American Community Institute, the Burmese Refugee Commission, the Chin Association of Maryland, the Chin Baptist Association North America, Myanmar Baptist Churches USA, as well as Karen Baptist Churches USA.
Rev. John Van Nun Tluang of Emmanuel Chin Baptist Church, a Burmese congregation from Columbus, Ohio, wrote letters with his congregation to Ohio's federal congressional delegation in support of the BURMA Act.
“The world are forgetting about Burma. We need humanitarian assistance. If they pass [the BURMA Act], it would be so helpful for us and all the people in Burma,” said reverend Tluang in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch. After advocacy efforts from Emmanuel Chin Baptist Church and many others, President Biden signed the BURMA Act into law.
Tluang and his congregants are Chin, a minority ethnic group from northwestern Myanmar. The Chins, who are over 85% Christian, are an ethnic nationality that live primarily in the ethnic state of Chin, Myanmar, which borders India. The large proportion of Christian Chins is often attributed to the U.S Christian missionaries who were living in Chin communities beginning in the early 19th century. Christian Chins are part of a religious minority, as Buddhists make up approximately 89% of the population in Myanmar. Meanwhile, Muslims make up approximately 4% and Christians make up 4%.
Around 1,000 former Chin refugees reside on the Far West Side of Columbus, Ohio. According to Rev. Van Nun Tluang, who emigrated from Myanmar’s Chin State to the United States in 2010, many former Chin refugees living in the greater Columbus area work in warehouses, meatpacking plants, and restaurants.
February 1, 2023, marked the second anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar. American Baptist Churches USA and the American Baptist Churches Burma Refugee Commission issued a call to prayer for Myanmar and a prayer service took place on January 31, 2023. American Baptists and their mission partners joined together as they set aside one hour to lift up prayers for the people of Myanmar via Zoom.
Efforts from Baptist churches, including majority Burmese congregations, played an important role in the passing of the BURMA Act. The BAG and the Burmese Refugee Commission’s campaign shows the power of organized political activism in American politics.
Bobby Kincaid is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a recent graduate from American University with a major in international relations with a focus on China and Taiwan.