More than 200 participants from seven different religions joined a conference in Phnom Penh earlier this month, in an effort to better understand each other.
Leaders from the Anglican, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Lutheran and Muslim faiths gathered to discuss interfaith understanding and conflict resolution.
Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist, but it is home to people of many other faiths.
“We have to have tolerance among all religions and help build morality in society,” Min Khin, secretary of state for the Ministry of Religion, told VOA Khmer, quoting a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Though Cambodian Buddhists are generally tolerant of other faiths, Min Khin said, it remains unlawful for groups to use propaganda and improper coercion to convert others.
“It is prohibited to use money, food, and other materials to convince people to convert to another religion,” he said.
Christopher Lapel, a pastor for a Cambodian congregation of the Golden West Christian Church in Los Angeles, Calif., said participants of the April 3 conference adopted an action plan to promote interfaith understanding and conflict resolution.
“Cambodia gives freedom to its people to participate in other religions,” he said.
Keo Vimuth, an Abhidhamma teacher at Wat Damnak, in Siem Reap, said Christians visit people’s homes, knocking and saying, “The Lord has arrived.”
This was not always effective, he said.
“It’s not easy to convert Cambodian Buddhists who have had a deep belief in Buddha for many generations to another religion,” he said.
About 95 percent of Cambodians are Buddhist, 3 percent are Muslim, 1 percent are Christians, and another 1 percent comprise other faiths, he said.
“The rebirth of Khmer culture and society depends to a great extent on the renewal of Buddhist Sangha,” he said. “The Western concept of ‘church’ is meaningless in Cambodia.”
Meanwhile, new freedoms, the introduction of drugs and the sex industry, and much material assistance by the international donor community have brought great changes to Cambodia and, in the view of some, have seemed to help foster a growing climate of greed, corruption and moral and intellectual paralysis.