Hindu Vivek Kendra
Objections to conversions

An Israeli legislator, Shri Nissim Zvili, had sponsored an anti-proselytising bill. The CNN Networks (March 31, 1998, web posted at 23:23 GMT), reported that the move was dropped when 'representatives of 50 Christian evangelical groups agreed to make an unprecedented joint statement promising not to carry out missionary activity in Israel.' In the statement, the Christian groups say they 'rejoice in the presence of the Jewish people in this country of their ancestors' and agree to avoid 'activities which.... alienate them from their tradition and community.'

In Russia, a bill entitled "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" was passed. It gives official status to only the Russian Orthodox Church, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, and discriminates against hundreds of other faiths, including Roman Catholicism and Protestant sects. The bill clamps restrictions on many new religious groups, foreign as well as Russian, that came into existence in the mid- 1980s. (The Indian Express, June 26, 1998.)

In India, the anger against conversions is felt not only by the Hindutvavadis, but also by the whole Hindu samaj (society). A Christian activist who writes regularly on Christian issues in both communal and secular media, wrote in one of the former as follows:

So what is it that makes missionaries different, I wonder. I asked my Hindu husband and other Hindu friends - educated, perceptive adults - and I was shocked at the anger I uncovered. They just don't see Christians as Indians; they see us as an alien 'other', minions of a white, Christian world that is synonymous with spiritual and racial chauvinism. Our cathedrals, our culture, and our worships set us apart. Poland has shown us that the dividing line between spiritual and political control can be very fine. The red flag, however, is conversion. It rakes up old hurts of a colonial religion that not only cut off a people from their rich spiritual heritage and destroyed their cultural roots, but created pseudo-western Indians that looked down on the 'natives' and their 'superstitious', 'idol-worshipping' religion. (Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, "Martyrdom-The call for the new millennium", The Examiner, July 18, 1998.)

The Hindus that the activist talked to would perhaps not like to be identified as supporters of Hindutva. Moreover, as she says, they are "educated, perceptive adults".

In November 1998, in Nashik the political parties of all shades organised a protest march against conversion. The Christian converts in the tribal areas refused to partake in festivities which have been the tradition of the area. This refusal is part of the programme to wean themselves from the rest of the society. It is time that Christians and their apologists give serious thought to the reaction of the Hindu samaj to conversions.

Members of all religions take a serious view of conversions. In response to the activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), there has been an aggressive reaction from the Christians all over the world. In many ways, the methods followed by ISKCON mimicked the way the missionaries operated. At the same time, it has to be noted that the movement flourished without any state patronage, even from the country of the birth of its founder, Swami Prabhupada. He took his message to the people in the West, and he was accepted for spiritual reasons. It was the American converts who set up the organisation of ISKCON, and they provided the funding.

The aggressive nature of the Christian reaction to ISKCON can be gauged by the following advice that was rendered to the parents of children who became attracted to the movement:

Parents wishing to extricate their adult offspring from the anti-Christian context' of an organization like ISKCON can - if they've first exhausted all legal options, considered the risks and consulted with their pastor - perform Christian 'civil disobedience': disregard whatever laws (for example, kidnapping, false imprisonment, assault and battery) stand in the way, and rescue their son or daughter from the clutches of such a false, non-scriptural religion. (The Commission on Organizations: The 'New Religions', Brainwashing and Deprogramming, St. Louis: The Commission on Organizations, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, n.d., pp 4-5.)

The Christian churches in India have threatened violence against the programme of reconversions launched by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Rev V K Nuh, secretary of the Nagaland Baptist convention, said, "If someone tries to impose their faith, Christians in this region will not surrender. There will be a battle and we shall have no option. There will be a physical and religious war if attempts are made to propagate Hinduism by forceful means in the Northeast." Rev M D Oaugma, head of the Garo Baptist Convention of Meghalaya said, "It could be a threat to Christianity if we remain silent to the VHP's game plan of mass conversion. We shall have to fight, we shall have to resist." (Maharashtra Herald, July 11, 1998.)

Some of the aggressive Protestant sects are targeting not only non-Christians but also other Christian sects. During his visit to the Dominican Republic in South America in October 1992, Pope John Paul II said that he must protect his flock from the 'wolves' of evangelical Protestantism wooing Latin Americans away from the Roman Catholic Church. As shepherd to Latin America's 395 million Roman Catholics, the Pope said he must "take care of the sheep who have been put in my care and protect them from rapacious wolves." (Houston Chronicle, October 13, 1992.) The question to be asked of the Pope is if the Protestant missionaries are wolves in South America, do they not belong to the same category in India?

Actually, there is an irony here. The Pope is unhappy not because the Roman Catholics have stopped believing in Christ, but that they are doing it in another church as Protestants and under another set of priests. If the Pope can be unhappy of such a state of affairs, surely the non-Christians have a greater right to be unhappy when their members embrace Christianity.

This unhappiness of the Roman Catholics against the activities of the Protestants exists in India as well. Shri John Stackhouse reported as follows:

In the tribal belt, many Protestant churches use mass rallies and faith healing to draw potential converts. And there often are promises of education and jobs. "Those Protestants - Methodists, Pentecostals - have been baptising left, right and centre," said Bishop de Rosario (of Vadodara), who has lost many Roman Catholic villages to the new evangelical missions, which are the fastest-growing denomination in the adivasi region. "This has created some of the problem." (Jesus Christ: Persona Non-Grata in India?, Globe and Mail (USA), Nov 5, 1998)

There is a clear admission by the Roman Catholics in India that the Protestants, at least, are undertaking conversions by inducements, which has no spiritual merit. These inducements are given in South America, and on a visit to Brazil the Pope expressed his unhappiness.

(Pope John Paul II) exhorted his followers to crusade against fundamentalist religious sects that offer what (he) called 'false mirages' to growing numbers of Brazilians 'hungry for bread and justice'...... Brazil's bishops have reportedly concluded that as many as 600,000 Brazilians leave the Roman Catholic Church each year to join fundamentalist and evangelical Protestant sects, some of which offer mass healing and fund-raising sessions that anger Roman Catholic and Protestant fundamentalists alike. (Alan Cowell, Pope urges Brazilians to resist mirages of evangelists, New York Times, Oct 14, year not known.)

Conversions by fraud and inducements are the standard practice all over the world. In Mongolia, Shri Alexander Berzin, a research fellow at Columbia University, New York, said in an interview,

The missionaries come in guise of English teachers. They give money, computers to universities, scholarships to children of influential officials. They buy their way in. (Disrupting the faith?, Newsweek, Jan 13, 1997.)

Apart from being concerned about Roman Catholics leaving to join the Protestant sects, the present pope, John Paul II, is most unhappy when Christians adopting another religion. In the case of Hinduism and Buddhism, he has written in his book as follows:

"(I)t is not inappropriate to caution those Christians who enthusiastically welcome certain ideas originating in the religions of the Far East - for example, techniques and methods of meditation and ascetical practice. In some quarters these have become fashionable, and are accepted rather uncritically. First one should know one's own spiritual heritage well and consider whether it is right to set it aside lightly." (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Random House, 1994, pp 89-90.)

It would be appropriate to ask the Pope what moral right does he have to ask Hindus and Buddhists to set aside their own even longer spiritual heritage aside lightly and adopt Christianity. Moreover, given the fact that Christians in Christian countries are leaving the religion, it would also be appropriate to ask the Pope to explain to the others the spiritual merit of the system he is advocating. It would also be appropriate to ask the Christians why do they not concentrate on ensuring that their own flock does not desert them instead of trying to entice non-Christians.

In the West there is a great deal of disenchantment with Christianity as a spiritual guide. As per a report in a Roman Catholic weekly in India (The Examiner, July 18, 1998), out of the six million Roman Catholics in Austria, only 20% attend church regularly, and 40,000 are leaving the church every year. At this rate, by the year 2030, there will not be any Roman Catholics left in Austria. Another Christian weekly in India (India Currents, June 5-11, 1998) Rev Valson Thampu said that only 7% of the population in the United Kingdom are practising Christians.

The Sunday Times, (London, May 11, 1997) carries a report which says that by the year 2002, the number of Christians attending the Church of England services will be less than the Muslims going to mosques. Presently, only 850,000 Anglicans go to church. Out of a population of more than 50 million this is indeed a low figure.

The Times of India (July 27, 1998) carried an item with the heading "Sunday shopping hits Church visits in Europe". One wonders if the people went to churches only because they had nothing better to do, and not because they received any spiritual sustenance by their act. The report says, "For many Poles, going to the hyper-market or shopping mall is an entertaining way to spend time with the family."

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