Saturday, February 23, 2008

India - Persecution of Christians

We met a most remarkable Indian couple for dinner one of the last evenings we were in Delhi. We ate at the nicest restaurant I have yet seen in Delhi, although it was not expensive by Western standards.

India is like a keg, a powder keg, Vandar (as usual, a pseudonymn for protection) said in response to my question at the dinner table. I had asked what would the spiritual climate of India look like in five years. Vandar and his wife Omiya have labored for over 30 years in a church movement they started. Today, the growing movement has thousands of churches and workers spread over much of northern India. Its name would be familiar to many Indian Christians, but I will not write it here.

He elaborated. This keg could blow up at almost any time and try to consume Christianity. 15 years ago, Vandar said, the Hindus did not like us, but they did not hate us. Today, he said, they hate us. In the intervening years, the Hindus have become very jealous of the growth of Christianity. Never has the nation been so open to the spread of the Gospel. Many are being baptized.

That jealousy has increasingly taken a radical and violent turn. Vandar named two recent incidents in Orissa, an Indian state along the Bay of Bengal. In the first, about 1,200 homes in several villages were destroyed by radical Hindus. The point of the hatred: most of the villagers are Christians. Even the homes of the few Hindus there were not spared, because they sided with their Christian friends and neighbors in the villages.

“But didn’t the government do anything?” we asked.

The government did do something. It SAID it would do something and then didn’t. A Western government that says it will seek justice and take care of the victims will usually do what it says, even if imperfectly. To the Indian government, it seems, promises can be empty if most convenient. Not only has nothing been done to rebuild the homes of these hundreds now in bare tents in which they have lived for months, the churches of India are forbidden to help them.

“But surely the news media reported on this?” we asked.

The international media reported the initial story, but no more. The major publications in India blinked and hastily turned away when threatened by the radical Hindus. Politicians claimed inability to make the police seek justice.

Vandar also spoke of an anti-conversion law. It sounds nice: no one may attempt to convert another by inducement or threat. It sounds…so tolerant. The problem is that if you give your shirt to a beggar because of the love of Christ in your heart and tell him that Jesus loves him, then you have just induced him. If you warn him of Hell, you have just threatened him. If you tell him of Heaven to gladden his heart, you have just induced him. Six Indian states now have this statute on the books. People are in jail under these evil laws.

But still, the work goes on. New believers are constantly being baptized. I find myself humbled by the faith and persistence of these who labor in such incredibly hard and dangerous soil.

The question and ensuing discussion sobered our dinner conversation considerably. “What can we in the west do?” I asked.

“Tell the news media.”

There is more that we can do, of course, but India deserves condemnation in the court of world opinion for how it is treating its Christian minority.

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