Remember Myanmar? A month ago, the Southeast Asian nation had a mere 111 cases of COVID-19 — and 54 of them had been contracted at religious gatherings, leading to the arrest of two Christian pastors for choosing to defy social distancing regulations.
One of those two men is David Lah, former pastor at Toronto Myanmar Christian Church, a Burmese man who holds Canadian citizenship. A spokesperson from Global Affairs Canada told CBC News that Lah “faces charges for allegedly organizing mass gatherings” in defiance of government regulations to halt the spread of COVID-19.
The Canadian consulate is in contact with him, but it’s not clear how much they can do for someone who’s decided they need to spread the Gospel at the expense of other people’s lives. If convicted, Lah and his associates could face up to three years in prison and a possible fine for violating Myanmar’s disaster management statutes.
Government ministers say the charges can proceed now that Lah has tested negative for COVID following a heavily-guarded 21-day quarantine.
That’s right: in addition to his legal trouble, Lah experienced the predictable natural consequences of his actions when he himself contracted COVID-19 as a result of his refusal to practice responsible social distancing. This happened after he preached that followers of Christ were exempt from the virus’ impact:
I can guarantee that [in] the church that goes by Jesus’ teachings, there will be no infection.
It’s tempting to laugh at the irony, but two of the people who attended gatherings of Lah’s current group, Dream Ministries International, are now dead. At least 20 other attendees tested positive for COVID-19. Lah even managed to infect a modern cultural icon: Myo Gyi, lead singer for Burmese rock band Iron Cross.
What’s more, while we might roll our eyes at Christians claiming persecution in Trump’s America, such claims carry a lot more validity in Myanmar, where Christians really do exist as a minority group. As Harvard Divinity School reports:
Christian ethnic minorities have faced significant discrimination in Myanmar. Christians have reported campaigns of forcible conversion to Buddhism, restrictions on church-building and religious organizing, forced labor conscription, and killings, torture, rape, abductions, and other acts of violence against Christians by the Burmese military.
Accordingly, Lah’s actions carry a deeper weight. Burmese Christians are disproportionately represented among the nation’s COVID-19 patients because of men like him, making Christians a likely scapegoat in a frightening and unstable moment. According to International Christian Concern, an advocacy group concerned with actual instances of anti-Christian persecution and violence:
Compared to its neighboring ASEAN countries, the country’s relatively low numbers — 144 cases and five deaths [at the end of April] — stand in stark contrast. Yet, among the first confirmed cases, many are Christians, and that has given the intolerant Buddhist groups an excuse to find faults and attack the religious minority in a Buddhist-majority country.
As of this past weekend, the number of confirmed cases in Myanmar has climbed to 181, including six fatalities.
(Screenshot via YouTube)