Christians in New Zealand rally to reinstate Jesus’ name in parliament prayer

January 25, 2018 by  
Filed under lead story, newsletter-lead

New Zealand, January 25, 2018: Christians in New Zealand are planning to hold a rally outside the country’s Parliament building to urge the speaker of the House to reinstate the name of Jesus Christ in the Parliamentary prayer after it was removed last year.

“At the beginning of the new Parliament, on the first business day, it always begins with a prayer and the name of Jesus Christ was deleted from that prayer. Many of us have made submissions to Parliament to reinstate the prayer,” Pastor Rasik Ranchord of Abundant Life Church said in a statement on Wednesday.

Christians have said they will gather on Jan. 30 in Wellington at the Parliament building, when the House sits for the first time in the year.

Jesus for New Zealand spokesperson Pastor Ross Smith of Celebration Church Wellington explained that the gathering is not a protest, but a movement aimed at bringing believers together.

“We feel that the Church does not have a voice in this change and we are here to change that,” Smith said.

“Numbers speak to Parliament and this rally may be the only way to keep Jesus in the prayer, that is why we are calling for all Christians to be a part of this movement.”

The controversy stems from a decision announced in November, when Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard began using a new prayer at the start of every sessions that removed references to Jesus, and Queen Elizabeth.

While the original version of the prayer used the phrase “Jesus Christ our Lord,” and the new version still references “Almighty God,” Christ’s name is missing from the latest text.

Christianity has been on a major decline in the country, with national census data from 2013 revealing that less than half, or 48.9 percent of the population, identify themselves as Christians.

The country’s 37-year-old Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is an agnostic, and was sworn in at a non-religious ceremony in October. She’s also the youngest woman to lead the nation.

Ardern has said that she was raised as a Mormon, but left the LDS Church in her early 20s when she could not reconcile supporting her gay friends with the religion’s conservative positions on marriage.

Mullard meanwhile told rally organizers that he would consider their request to bring back Jesus’ name to the prayer over the holidays, but has not yet revealed his decision.

Pastor Merita Lau Young of Hosanna World Outreach Center said believers need to make it clear how important their faith is.

“We need to walk to the talk,” Young said. “Jesus is alive and well in our life and the community, Parliament and our nation Aotearoa need to know that.”

– christian post

Indian state’s data debunks myth about Christian conversions

January 25, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

India, January 25, 2018: People converting to Christianity remains nearly equal to the number of Christians leaving the religion in India’s western Maharashtra state, says government figures which negates claims that missioners attract thousands to Christianity.

In the past 43 months, 1,683 people have opted to change their religion in the state, said official figures. They include 1,166 Hindus, 263 Muslims, 165 Christians, 53 Buddhists, 16 Sikhs, nine Jains, four Neo-Buddhists and 11 others.

Of these 165 Christians, 100 became Hindus, 47 took up Islam, 11 became Buddhists, five adopted Jainism and two became followers of Sikhism.

In contrast, during the same period only 173 people joined to become Christians. While 138 Hindus joined Christian religion, 21 came from Islam and 14 from Buddhism and Jainism.

In April last year state legislative house discussed a plan to make a law restricting conversions, which media reports said was aimed at curbing conversion of Hindus by Christian missioners.

The state is yet to make such a law but similar laws exist in seven other states which criminalizes changing religion without informing government authorities.

Christians leaders say these laws target missionary activities as their work in the field of education and health care in the villages could be interpreted as “fraud, force or allurement.”

Contrary to impressions, a majority of Hindus in the state who chose to change their religion have adopted Islam, just as majority of Muslims preferred to convert to Hinduism, showed the data.

– ucan

Government, Police in India thwart threatened attacks on Christians

January 25, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

India, January 24, 2018: The Rev. Shaju Devassy was quietly attending to his work as director of a Catholic graduate college in central India on Dec. 30 when police showed up and told him a mob of angry Hindu protestors was on its way.

Police in Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh state held the 70-strong mob outside the gate of St. Mary’s Post Graduate College as long as they could, but the protestors managed to jump a boundary wall, and soon they surrounded Devassy at his church presbytery.

Threatening and reviling him, they accused him of being anti-national for refusing to let them worship the Mother India goddess (Aarti of Bharat Mata) at the Catholic institution.

“In menacing tones, they warned him that should he refuse to do the Aarti, they would garland him with the ‘garland of shoes [juthe ki mala],’” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told Morning Star News.

Another protestor questioned Devassy as to whether he knew Indian culture, the bishop said. “He asked the director, ‘Who is the goddess of education? Why is Saraswati Vandana [worship of goddess Saraswati] not being done in the college?’”

The mob told him that the worship of the Mother India goddess was to be performed as a sign of patriotism, the bishop said.

“As Indians, the activists claimed that they did not require permission from anyone and would perform it anywhere without anybody’s permission,” Mascarenhas said. “The leaders of the mob made it clear that many more would come again to the college campus on Jan. 4 and would not only perform Aarti but would force the director, Father Shaju, to do the same. Having imparted this ominous warning, the mob left the compound.”

‘Anti-National’ Accusation

As might be expected at an institution for which worship of anything but the Holy Trinity is idolatrous, the posters and the worship of the Mother India goddess are against school regulations.

This incident and the two large-scale, attempted attacks that followed came about after members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s student union wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (All Indian Student Council, or ABVP), captured all the posts on the student council last November, the bishop said. The ABVP is affiliated with the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Soon Devassy, who as director of the college for the past three years has not otherwise had such conflicts, found the hard-line Hindu students displaying a poster on campus with photos of the student council members around a picture of the goddess Bharat Mata. The ABVP put up two posters with photos of council members and a picture that they called Bharat Mata.

Devassy pointed out that this was done without permission and was against university regulations, and he gently requested they take the two posters down, Mascarenhas said. The students promised to remove the posters within three days, but when they failed to do so, the college administration had them removed.

On Dec. 29 Devassy received a phone call informing him that the ABVP members were running a Facebook campaign under the tag “Bharat Mata Ki Aarti” (Worship of Mother India goddess) describing college officials as anti-national.

“In the social media campaign, hatred was being promoted against the college with regard to Bharat Mata ki Aarti, describing the college authorities as anti-national,” Bishop Mascarenhas said. “The demand was that the Aarti of Bharat Mata be allowed in the college as an expression of nationalism.”

After the mob verbally attacked him the next day, Devassy reported it to the college chairman, diocese authorities and the Madhya Pradesh Regional Bishops’ Council. With their suggestions, he drafted a letter about the incident, and he and other representatives met with the Inspector General (IG) of Law and Order and other security officials in Bhopal and submitted a memorandum to them.

First Attack

On Jan. 4, more than 800 protestors gathered at the gate of the college and began to pressure police stationed there, trying to break through the barricades and enter the campus.

More than 300 officers were deployed at three Catholic institutions on the campus – the college, St. Mary’s Senior Secondary School and Senior Secondary Trinity Convent School, Vidisha. The protestors shouted slogans, threw stones and broke the barricades before performing the worship of the Mother India goddess in a temple opposite the college gate on a national highway, sources said.

At the same time, another group broke a side boundary wall onto the college campus, and police rushed to the area and stopped them from entering. Officers reportedly were forced to resort to baton charges and tear gas. At least three policemen were reported injured.

Tensions remained high for two hours at the main gate, and the mob slowly moved away after about 2:30 p.m. Police security remained till late at night.

“A copy of the letter issued by the SDM [Sub-Divisional Magistrate] to the college council secretary denying the permission to perform the Aarti was also received by the college management on Jan. 4, thus confirming that Fr. Shaju’s decision in refusing permission to do the Aarti on the 30th of December was correct,” Mascarenhas said.

Second Attack

After Hindu nationalists, including members of the Vishwa Sanatan Sangh, issued more threats of a massive attack, however, the protestors returned on Jan. 16 with an even larger crowd.

When the threats grew a few days beforehand, Mascarenhas immediately got in touch with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and appraised him of the highly volatile situation. The Madhya Pradesh Catholic Diocesan School’s Association filed a writ petition at the Jabalpur High Court seeking protection for their institutes in Vidisha.

With the federal home minister’s intervention and the state government’s action with the high court, the Madhya Pradesh government provided heavy security. A huge police force was deployed in and around the college, and several Hindu nationalist leaders were arrested as a precautionary measure on Jan. 15-16.

The Additional Attorney General of Madhya Pradesh on Jan. 15 gave assurance at the Jabalpur High Court that complete protection would be given to the college against the threatened Jan. 16 attack.

“It must be said that they kept their word,” Mascarenhas told Morning Star News. “More than 500 fully equipped police personnel were deployed for the protection of the college.”

The Superintendent of Police reportedly said 30 Hindu nationalists, including Updesh Rana, leader of Vishwa Sanatan Sangh, were arrested as they were heading for the college to perform the Hindu worship.

“With no leaders to coordinate, the action fizzled out and the situation went on peacefully,” said Mascarenhas, who was also grateful to the Union Home Minister and the Madhya Pradesh administration for intervening.

The security was a rare instance of federal and state help in a country increasingly marked by local officials colluding with Hindu extremists to persecute Christians. The 1,800-student college, where most students are Hindus, falls in the Assembly constituency of Vidisha, which was once represented by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. The Parliamentary representative is the current Union Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj. Thus Vidisha is considered a place of political significance, with events there deemed to have serious state and national level significance.

“I think the college has sent a signal to the whole of India that with the good will of the government and our political leaders, this country can maintain its tradition of peace and harmony and protect and strengthen its secular fabric,” Mascarenhas said.

The government intervention came in striking contrast to the hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, which has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.

– christian headlines

National Commission of Minorities calls for Christian univ on lines of BHU, AMU

January 25, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

New Delhi, January 25, 2018: The national commission for minorities has proposed setting up a “Christian university” on the lines of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

“The commission has made recommendation for setting up of a national Christian university. The university will meet the long pending demand of the community,” said chairman of the NCM Syed Hasan Rizvi.

While the structure of the university, and the norms for recruitment are not clear, the proposal is seen as an outreach by the minority body towards the Christian community.

Christian organisations have been demanding a fully government funded national university for the community which they point out has made significant contributions in the education sector.

The recommendation is in NCM’s annual report which will be tabled in Parliament, said Rizvi who did not share more information.

Addressing a conference on peace and cultural conservation, Rizvi appealed to the Christian community to come forward to avail benefits of several minority welfare schemes run by the government to fulfil PM Narendra Modi’s vision of “sabka saath, sabka ka vikas”.

Applauding the move, former chairman of UP minority commission Ashish Singh Massey said Christian organisations are running more than 23,000 schools and colleges across the country, but previous governments ignored the demand.

Bishop Collin C Theodore of the Lucknow Diocese Church of North India (CNI) highlighted the problems faced by the community, saying false cases are lodged with a motive to harass them. Bishop Phillip Masih of Methodist Church in India echoed similar sentiments.

The NCM chairman assured community leaders that the commission will take up issues raised by them and urged them to engage with the current government.

Outlining that there are Christian universities, but all are privately funded, Joseph Manipadam of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) reiterated the demand for setting up of a government funded Christian university.

– times of india

5 reasons why marriage is still an amazing idea

January 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Miscellaneous, newsletter-miscellaneous

Q: Is marriage an old and dying tradition?

A: According to some recent surveys, many Millennials are on the verge of believing that marriage is a lost art, rebelling with fear and anxiety against the idea of a permanent, life-long relationship with another human being.

Can we even handle marriage? According to Anthony D’Ambrosio, and his most recent article making huge waves around the internet, we can’t. He blames our lack of ability to handle marriage on five things: poor sex lives, financial burdens, social media, emotional disconnect, and our desire for attention.

While I absolutely agree that many of the things he mentioned play a huge role in attacking our marriages, and in fact ALL of our relationships, I firmly believe that we have everything we need to overcome life’s obstacles because were MADE for love and relationships by a God who made us in His image. We were made for commitment.

My heart breaks for the author of the above article, because I believe much of what he writes stems from his own wounds, hurts, and the pain of a failed marriage. Marriage may be hard, but the loss of a marriage is even harder. Nothing breaks hearts and turns worlds upside-down more than the loss of this kind of love.

But even with the claims that this generation cannot handle marriage, I for one, am not about to throw in the towel on the concept of marriage.

I’m not going to lie and pretend that marriage is an easy road, because it’s not. But nothing worthwhile comes “easy.” I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor, specializing in marriage and relationships, I always tell my marriage and pre-marriage couples that at some point, we ALL WANT OUT. Because we’re human, and there’s no one human being on earth that will give us everything we need. Marriage is work- but working on your marriage is the best work you will ever do. Here’s why:

1. Because marriage isn’t just about making us happier- it’s about making us better.

When we go into marriage with the idea that it is meant for our happiness, we will be disappointed every…single….time. There is no human being on earth that has the capability to bring that kind of joy into our lives, because they weren’t made to have that role in our lives.

Real marriage is not about being happy and fulfilled for the rest of our lives, it’s about becoming the best that we can be from this day forward. Only through the un-replicated commitment and intimacy of marriage do we have the opportunity for lifelong growth, maturity, selflessness, forgiveness, and grace as we learn to unconditionally love another flawed human being; seeing their realness, and loving them anyway.

But harder yet, we learn to receive that kind of love for ourselves. There is no greater love than one that’s unconditional. And no matter what our family background or story, I am thankful that Jesus models that kind of love for us every single day.

At the end of the day, marriage is not about ME…it’s about WE. It’s about learning to choose another person over ourselves- because by choosing them, we are choosing to become greater in humility, strength, forgiveness, and love. Marriage isn’t just about becoming happier- it’s about becoming better. But ironically, in becoming better, we often find that we’ve also become happier.

2. Because marriage is synonymous with commitment, and commitment is a choice.

Tim Keller says that “real love, the Bible says, instinctively desires permanence.” There is so much truth to that statement because deep down we are all made for life-long love. We have a deep desire to be known, and to be loved, for life. But when we simply follow our feelings into marriage, we can also follow our feelings right out of marriage. Just as quickly as you fall in love, you can fall out of love. Because feelings come, and feelings go, and those who build the foundation of their marriage on how they feel will certainly find their marriage crumbling. I choose to handle marriage because I know that my feelings are fickle, but my faith is not. My emotions may fail me, but my choices are always up to me. I choose to love, to trust, to forgive, and to remain. Because it’s far too easy to follow our hearts, but it takes courage to lead our hearts.

3. Because marriage forces us to take ownership of our choices.

In marriage, I am forced to come face to face with my stuff- from my past baggage, to the decision of the person I chose to marry, to my responses, reactions, attitudes and behaviors toward my spouse. Oftentimes in life we make choices but fail to take responsibility. But in marriage, there is another human being rubbing up against me at all times silently reminding me of those choices just by their presence in my life, and at times, that can cause friction. But that very same friction is what files down my rough edges, forcing me to take responsibility for my life. My choices no longer simply impact me, they impact my husband, and my children. Too many times in life we don’t want to take ownership of our stuff. It’s easy to dodge responsibility when there’s no one to call us out. We want a free pass and we blame everything on the other person. But marriage forces me to see that there are always two people involved, and we each have to take responsibility.

I am 100 times better than the person I was when we got married, because I have been sharpened and refined by the discipline of learning to take responsibility.

4. Because marriage, done right, brings the greatest blessings known to man.

Often times, we struggle so much committing to relationships because we haven’t ever taken the time to commit to ourselves. We get so caught up in trying to find the right one- that we LOSE ourselves and our God-given identity in the process. We’re plagued with confusion, doubt and guilt. And worst of all, we’re driven by fear: fear of commitment, fear of failure, fear of abandonment, and fear of being alone. And because of this, we end up in relationships that were never good for us to begin with. But understanding the kind of person who fits into our story, requires us to first understand our story.

Marriage can be done right, but it first requires us to answer some hard questions: Who are we, and where are we going? Where did we come from, and what parts of our lives are in need of healing? We go into relationships with so much baggage and pain to begin with, hoping that our pain will dissolve in the arms of another. But relationships can’t heal our wounds. Only we can, with God’s help. Knowing ourselves is the first step in knowing what we need in a relationship. Relationships CAN be done right, but it requires us to look in, to look out, and to look up. It requires us to see the bigger picture of who are, in order to have an idea of where we’re going…and who might be able to come along.

When we go into marriage with these truths in mind, we get to experience the joys of marriage along the way. We’re not there to simply RECEIVE from our spouse, but in fact, we’re freed to GIVE to our spouse. When we go into marriage with full hearts, we get to experience the ecstasy of REAL love. There is no greater joy than giving and receiving love out of our overflow, rather than out of our scarcity. There is no greater joy than being loved for who I am, not simply what I am bringing to the table. I choose marriage because even the hope of that kind of love is worth it every….single….day.

5. Because my marriage is so much bigger than you.

As a woman of faith, I realize that my marriage is not just about me. It’s so much bigger than me, and so much bigger than my husband. In marriage, you have the opportunity to learn so much about life, love, and God. There is a reason that God uses the analogy of marriage to describe his love for his people. It’s because in marriage we get a glimpse of a love that’s far bigger than us. Our deep love for one another reflects a universal need for love, for commitment, and for something and Someone greater than ourselves. Through marital love, we get a tiny glimpse of the great and unconditional love of God. Not only so, but my marriage is bigger than me because it impacts the world around me. There are many lives that are impacted by this one commitment between two people, most significantly the lives of our two precious children. At this stage of their lives, our marriage is the ONLY definition they get to see of love.

Not only do we owe it to ourselves to live a life worthy of love, but we owe it to them. We owe it to them because how we reflect the giving and receiving of love, will impact generations to come.

Marriage is beautiful. Marriage is sacred. And marriage is totally worth it. For this reason, no matter what obstacles come my way, I choose to handle marriage, and if at all possible- so should you. I have hope that this generation will catch a glimpse of the blessings and joys of marriage.

To the Millennials out there, I want to encourage you from the bottom of my heart: you CAN handle marriage. Because you were CREATED to handle marriage. And with your Creator, all things are possible…

– cross walk

Christian filmmakers ask appeals court to stop Minnesota from forcing them to film gay weddings

January 24, 2018 by  
Filed under lead story, newsletter-lead

U.S, January 23, 2018: A Christian couple who were told by Minnesota officials that they must film same-sex weddings despite their religious objections have appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Carl and Angel Larsen of Telescope Media Group appealed a lower court decision from last year which said they had to film same-sex weddings or face legal penalties.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm representing the Larsens, filed an opening brief last Friday arguing that Minnesota law violates the couple’s constitutional rights.

“The Larsens serve all people. They just cannot convey all messages. Because of their religious beliefs, they cannot celebrate any vision of marriage other than one between one man and one woman,” read the brief.

“At the same time, the Larsens’ faith requires them to use their talents to express messages that honor God. They want to do this by producing wedding films, publishing them online, and posting a statement explaining their religious views. But these plans are on hold because Minnesota will punish them if they post their statement or create wedding films consistent with their faith while declining to create wedding films promoting contrary views.”

ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco said in a statement released Monday that the state “shouldn’t threaten artists with fines and jail simply for living in accordance with their beliefs in the artistic marketplace.”

“Americans should have the freedom to disagree on significant matters of conscience, which is why everyone, regardless of their view of marriage, should support the Larsens,” added Tedesco.

“Government is supposed to be freedom’s greatest protector, not its greatest threat. That’s why we are asking the 8th Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision.”

In December 2016, the Larsens filed suit against the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s ban on sexual orientation discrimination, stating that the measure would force them to film same-sex weddings.

U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim ruled against the Larsens last September, arguing, among other things, that the law is “neutral” in its application and does not force businesses to convey a government message.

Judge Tunheim also concluded that while the law “does incidentally require wedding videographers to make videos they might not want to make,” these concerns are “immaterial.”

“First, speech-for-hire is commonly understood to reflect the views of the customer,” wrote Tunheim. “Thus, when a person views a wedding video, there is little danger that they would naturally attribute the video’s messages to the videographer.”

“Second, the Larsens can easily disclaim personal sponsorship of the messages depicted in the wedding videos they create for clients. For example, the Larsens could post language on their website stating that while they follow applicable law, and thus serve couples regardless of protected status, they are opposed to same-sex marriage.”

– christian post

Creeping fear: Not just Muslims, India is also failing its Christian minority

January 24, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

India, January 22, 2018: On the bare floor of a police lock-up in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, 32 priests and seminarians were forced to sit through a winter night last month, like criminals. They were detained after a Bajrang Dal mob attacked them, apparently for singing Christmas carols, burnt their car and thrashed them even at the police station. After their sleepless night, the police arrested one of the priests, charging him with “forced conversions”. The attackers were barely touched, in what has become the norm in such hate crimes. Around the same time, the Hindu Jagran Manch threatened the managements of Christian schools in Aligarh that if they celebrated Christmas with their students, they would do so at their “own risk”. Similar threats have been reported from other towns in Uttar Pradesh.

Like many Indians, my family has always celebrated Christmas for its message of cheer, goodwill and compassion with mistletoe and plum cake. But in these troubled times, even wishing Merry Christmas has become an intimation of protest. In a fast-mutating India where hatred and fear are being rapidly normalised, even singing carols and celebrating Christmas have become high-risk undertakings. So in December, I attended Christmas Mass as a token of both protest and solidarity.

India is becoming increasingly unsafe for its Muslim and Christian minorities. The World Watch List 2017 ranked India as the 15th most dangerous place to practise one’s minority faith, a sharp fall from the 31st place four years earlier. Muslims are facing vigilante attacks and targeted killings by the police. The even smaller Christian minority is enduring attacks on its places of worship, shrines, prayer services, priests and nuns. The United Christian Forum has recorded 216 such attacks in 2017, but the police have registered complaints in less than a quarter of the cases; the attackers have been arrested in even fewer. The four states of Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh account for over half of these cases. There have also been reports of social and economic boycott of Christian communities, and of them being denied work and access to water and electricity.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and other affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in India and around the world, have long propagated the noxious canard of a powerful foreign-funded evangelist campaign to convert low caste and impoverished Hindus and Adivasis to Christianity. This is used to manufacture popular resentment, even hatred, against this small, peaceable and progressive community, which erupts in hate attacks on missionaries, priests, nuns and shrines. By way of example, here is an extract from a pamphlet published by the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation in Texas, US, in 2015:

“In India, not only Christians celebrate, but many Hindus also participate or celebrate the Christmas without knowing what Christianity is all about, what the Christians think about Hindus, what the Bible says about the ‘idol worship’, how they destroyed so many civilizations, how they are converting Hindus and making them enemies of their own religion, how the money is flowing from foreign countries, how the Hindus were mercilessly tortured in Goa…They believe that Jesus gave them the right to deceive, convert, subjugate, conquer, and proselytize any nation or religion, by any and all possible means. They are entitled to such methods as allurement, fraud, coercion and violence in converting but they criticize Hindus even if they to talk about their atrocities of conversion…This is more evident in Southern States and especially in the Andhra Pradesh are. They convert the Hindus and make them their foot soldiers to destroy Hindu deities, step on them, and also tear up the pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

According to unofficial statistics, as many as 30 percent of Hindus in villages have got converted…”

Cultivating hatred

Hate propaganda, of course, has nothing to do with facts. India’s Christian population has not risen beyond 2.5% in the past several decades. How could this be the case if there was a concerted evangelist campaign to convert Hindus? It is instructive that Christians constitute such a tiny minority despite the fact that Christianity came to India nearly a thousand years before it spread in Europe and the country lived through two hundred years of British colonial rule.

In the words of the senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, the “entire conversion debate is dominated by the Hindu right whose political agenda is: (a) to declare the country and Indian civilisation as primarily, if not solely, a Hindu civilisation, (b) to insist that all past conversions over the centuries were induced by fear, fraud and opportunism, (c) to regard all past conversion as essentially suspect and (d) to pursue an intimidating policy to try and ensure that future conversions from Hinduism should not take place, and in any event, be minimised”.

Dhavan argues that the controversy over conversion is inextricably linked to the rise of political Hindutva, which he describes as “belligerent, apprehensive, uncompromising and vicious in its attitude…with plans, policies and programmes to attack and discipline all other faiths”.

He cites the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the murder of the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his young children, and the intimidation and killings of Christians and Muslims as part of the “policy of disciplining other faiths”, which includes “both a programme to impose fear on others as well as a legal policy to intimidate non-Hindu minorities through the processes of the law”.

In the bitter discussions about religious conversion, it is often forgotten that the Constitution took care to guarantee the rights of every individual to not just practise but also propagate their faith. As Dhavan points out, “Historically, India is a country of converts. There were conversions from Hinduism to Jainism, to Buddhism and to Islam and Christianity. Over time, all this had added a richness and uniqueness to India. Today, a Muslim or a Christian is a Muslim or a Christian, not a past Hindu. If people want to convert, they have the right to do so – without requiring the permission of the state or setting up a system whereby police officials and magistrates will be watching conversions under a system of conversion by surveillance.”

Denying freedom

The Constitution guards our right to follow any faith, including the right to abjure the faith. In the Constituent Assembly, M Rathnaswamy had suggested adding the word “propagate” to Article 25, which guarantees the right to practise and propagate religion. KM Munshi declared unambiguously that “under freedom of speech which the Constitution guarantees, it will be open to any religious community to persuade other people to join their faith”.

However, the Sangh Parivar never acquiesced to this Constitution guarantee. In their imagination, Hindus were being stolen from their community through money, fraud and coercion. Therefore, they and the devious missionaries who misled them needed to be continuously policed by a hawk-eyed state. Accordingly, anti-conversion laws were legislated in many states even though they run counter to the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. It is interesting that anti-conversion laws have mostly been passed by non-Congress governments. (Laws banning cow slaughter, in contrast, have been legislated mostly by Congress-ruled states despite the opposition of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to such laws.) Odisha passed an anti-conversion law under the Swatantra Party government in 1967; Madhya Pradesh under the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal coalition, which included the BJP’s forerunner Jan Sangh, in 1968; Gujarat and Chhattisgarh under the BJP in 2003 and 2006, respectively.

In Tamil Nadu, the J Jayalalithaa government passed an anti-conversion law in 2002 but repealed it two years later. The only Congress government to pass such a law was in Himachal Pradesh in 2006. Rajasthan passed an anti-conversion law in 2006, again under the BJP, but the governor refused to sign it. Arunachal Pradesh passed such a law in 1978 under the People’s Party of Arunachal, but it was never enforced. Most recently, the BJP government in Jharkhand passed a stringent anti-conversion law in 2017.

Although anti-conversion laws exist in many states, they are more actively used in states ruled by the BJP. Even though there have been few convictions under these laws, cases are registered almost every month. Clearly, the purpose is to punish by process. In today’s shrill anti-minority climate, these laws are used mainly to intimidate, stigmatise and, in some cases, criminalise the local Christian communities and clergy. In August last year, the Jharkhand government published full-page newspaper advertisements, with pictures of the chief minister and a misquote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, attacking religious conversion. On three occasions in 2017, Christian children travelling by train to Christian camps were taken into custody by the Railway Police in Madhya Pradesh on the grounds that they were being “kidnapped to be converted”.

On May 22 and 23, at least 71 children travelling to a summer Bible camp in Nagpur were detained with their adult caretakers; on June 3, a Catholic nun and four girls were detained at Satna railway station; on October 21, two adults and seven children going for Bible studies were detained, and not even allowed to meet their parents.

The Sangh considers Islam and Christianity to be foreign religions and their practitioners wanting in loyalty to both Hinduism and India, which for them are one. But as Gandhi pointed out, Islam and Christianity are as much Indian faiths as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. In the homes for former street girls and boys that my colleagues run, our children look forward to Christmas as they do to every festival, with equal fervour and anticipation. We tell them that Jesus was born a homeless child, yet grew to spread the message of compassion and love around the world. I am not a person of faith. But even so, Christmas and Eid are as much my festivals as Diwali, Holi and Gurpurab. I won’t allow anyone to take this away from me. I will fight for my right.

– scroll

Tamil Christians suspect foul play in pastor’s death

January 24, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Hyderabad, January 23, 2018: About 2,000 Christians blocked a busy road in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state on Jan. 22 demanding the arrest of four people they suspect were behind the death of a Christian pastor who was found hanging inside his home.

Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy, 43, who led an independent church in Adayachery village in Kanchipuram district, was found hanging from a rope on Jan. 20, a week after he complained to police of harassment from high-caste Hindus in his area.

Police inspector Amal Raj told ucanews.com that “prima facie it appears to be a case of suicide but we are looking at all possible angles.”

The unmarried pastor lived inside a one-room house close to the church. Women members of his church who came to clean the premises saw his door bolted from outside. They opened it and saw his body hanging.

Local Christian leaders including Pastor Immanuel Prabhakaran, who worked with the deceased pastor, told ucanews.com that the pastor faced stiff opposition from the high-caste Vanniyar group in the area.

They wanted the pastor to stop his mission activities involving lower-caste people, which they claimed polluted their area, Pastor Prabhakaran said.

“Not a single Sunday service in the past six months passed off peacefully without disturbance,” he said.

Lawyer Gini Immanuel, who helped Pastor Periyaswamy file complaints, told ucanews.com that the pastor had faced a series of problems.

“Once the church water supply was cut and the church’s roof was demolished. I intervened in the matter and represented the issue to the district authorities,” Immanuel said.

Christians have been protesting on a road in front of Chengalpattu government hospital, where the pastor’s body is being kept pending a mandatory post mortem to ascertain the cause of death.

Protesters are demanding police arrest four people, including village leaders, about whom Pastor Periyaswamy complained several times. The last complaint was made on Jan. 14.

They want a private doctor to join the team of medical experts conducting the post mortem, which they want to be videotaped in the presence of a judicial magistrate.

Reverend Joel Sekar of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches said Christians will continue the protest until arrests are made.

He said Christians are only seeking ways to ensure a fair post mortem and guarantee an impartial investigation.

Amos Paul, a friend of the deceased pastor, told ucanews.com that police are reluctant to arrest the suspects because they fear a sectarian backlash. “They say if the four are arrested, 10,000 will come out on the streets and there will be communal violence,” he said.

– ucan

Cardinal Alencherry confident of resolving land deal controversy soon

January 24, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Kottayam, January 22, 2018,: Facing allegations over a controversial land deal, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church Cardinal George Alencherry yesterday said all issues relating to it would be resolved soon.

“The issue will be resolved soon,” he said in his first public statement on the controversial land deal in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, in which the church allegedly suffered a huge financial loss.

Addressing a mass at a Church at nearby Kuravilangad on Jan 21, he thanked all those who gave him strength through their prayers

He urged them to continue with their prayers.

“There is no place for division among Christians. Certain things occur due to the shortcomings. That will be rectified,” Alencherry said.

The Cardinal’s statement came after a section of faithful of the Syro-Malabar Church accused Cardinal Alencherry, who is also Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, of selling prime land of the archdiocese in Kochi for “a very low price”.

They had alleged the role of land mafia in the sale of land in a “non-transparent manner”, violating even civil and canon laws.

Supporters of the Cardinal had dubbed the charges against the chief priest as a ‘misinformation campaign.’

The All India Catholic Almaya Forum had urged the priests to stop the campaign being carried out against the Cardinal.

They had alleged that a handful of priests were trying to defame the Syro-Malabar Church, having over 55 lakh followers and 35 dioceses.

The Presbyteral Council of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese had alleged that a commission appointed by the Archbishop to inquire into the land business had found serious violations of canon and civil laws.

According to the priests, the commission found that revenue from sale of 3.06 acres of the land in Kochi city was expected to fetch Rs 27 crore as per the understanding, but officially only Rs nine crore had been shown as sale proceeds.

They claimed that an amount of Rs 18 crore was ‘shrouded in mystery’ and remained unaccounted.

– malayala manorama

China Christians jailed for being members of an “evil cult”

January 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

China, January 24, 2018: Authorities near Lincang city in the southwestern Yunnan province jailed six Protestant Christians on 18 January for up to 13 years, accusing them of “using an evil cult to organize to undermine law enforcement.”

The Yun County People’s Court handed out a 13-year jail sentence to Ju Dianhong; 12 years to Liang Qin; and four years to Yang Shunxiang. Shorter sentences were given to Zhang Hongyan, Zi Huimei and Zhang Shaoca.

They were accused of being part of a controversial group called the Three Grades of Servants, which the government has been cracking down on. The accused have denied being members, and have said they will appeal the sentences. Almost 200 Christians in the province have been detained and falsely accused of being members of the group.

During her trial, Ju told the court: “I am a Protestant Christian believer, and I believe in Jesus. None of my evangelism has contravened any of the principles in the Bible, and my beliefs do not constitute an evil cult.”

Authorities are now turning their attentions to the detainees’ defence lawyers. Their licences to practice law will be subject to review on suspicion of “illegally” defending their clients.

– global christian news

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