This issue of Global Voice consists of an exclusive interview with
a leader of the Christian Church in Bhutan, who will remain
anonymous for security reasons. Bhutan is a small kingdom south of
China and north of India. The population is just over two million.
The nation is one of the most closed to foreigners in the world.
GV: How many Christians are there in Bhutan?
Answer: According to our own estimation we number about 3000. I
have seen estimates in the West of 10,000 but these are not
GV: How do you meet?
Answer: There are no official church buildings in Bhutan so we have
to meet in homes. The police know about us and problems arise
if there are many coming together in one home. Also, if we
share the gospel with someone that is not Christian we can be
arrested. Two brothers were sent to prison last week for three
years for showing the Jesus video in a non-believer’s home. A
boy attending the meeting informed the police.
GV: So how would you describe the government’s attitude to the
Answer: You can say we are ‘tolerated under strict control’. The
police can knock on the door any time. We are also
discriminated against when it comes to jobs, medical care and
education. If Christians are active in promoting the gospel we
are charged with ‘anti-national activity’.
GV: What about democracy?
Answer: That is an interesting question. Our king spoke last
December to the nation and said there will be democracy in
Bhutan in 2008. What’s interesting is that Buddhist monks had a
vision some 40 years ago that Bhutan will never have a fifth
king. The king we have now is the fourth. He strongly believes
what the leading monks are saying so it’s a very interesting
situation. I do not think that we will have ‘Western-style’
democracy but our own national version of ‘democracy’.
GV: How is the nation ruled today?
Answer: Bhutan is a Buddhist Kingdom where religion and state are
one, concentrated in the position of the king. He is just about
50 years old so he could be ruling for a long time. The king
rules through the Council of Ministers. As a very small sign of
growing democracy we now have ten ministers, whereas we
previously had only six. So this might be a small opening up.
There is a rotating system so that every minister serves as
Prime Minister for one year. There is a National Assembly but
we do not have a system where all Bhutanis vote like you do in
the West. There are special arrangements for deciding who will
be in the Assembly. Practically of course, everything is
controlled by the king and the leading monks.
GV: What about political parties?
Answer: No, we do not have any political parties. There was a party
in the late 1980s called the ‘Bhutan Peoples Party’ but today,
after a lot of arrests and difficulties, it no longer has any
role. My own understanding is that in two years we might have a
two party system. One party will be a ruling party and then
there would probably be an opposition party that could take
over if the ruling party was not doing a good job. Of course
the king would have a very strong influence in both parties. I
cannot foresee Bhutan having a system with more than two
GV: Why is the king talking about the year 2008?
Answer: Again, Buddhist monks play a role. They have predicted
that 2007 is not going to be a good year so no major decisions
will be taken during 2007. That is why 2008 is a believed to be
a better year to launch democracy.
GV: What influence do neighbouring countries have on Bhutan?
Answer: India is by far the most important and influential
neighbour. But we see negative things happening in India. There
is a lot of violence, criminality and suchlike. We also follow
very closely what is happening in Nepal. We now have a new
constitution that guarantees a very strong position for the
king in the future. The position of the king in Bhutan is much
stronger than in Nepal. But then again, in Bhutan the king is
much better and much closer to the people.
GV: So what sort of changes would the Church like to see in Bhutan?
Answer: The king is doing many good things for the nation and he is
supported by an overwhelming majority of the people. We have
peace in society and you do not see any violence in the streets
as you do in India. So for us Christians the most important
change in the future would be freedom of worship and for us to
be able to have our own church buildings. To put it simply: our
most hoped for change is for religious freedom.
GV: And how is the Church doing?
Answer: The Church is growing. We share the good news on a personal
level, one to one, and we train leaders and evangelists with
good results. I think the Church has a great future in Bhutan.