January 14th, 2008 03:06 EST
GFA Leader Says Fringe Radicals Responsible for Persecution of Christians in India
Dr. K.P. Yohannan, founder and president of Gospel for Asia, says he is terribly disturbed by the increasing persecution of Christians in his homeland of India. And while it is evident that the rising tide of harassment and crimes against Christians is being carefully orchestrated by fundamentalist, nationalist religious groups, he says such behavior is not condoned by either Hinduism at large or by the vast majority of the Indian people.
"There is a lot of disturbing news coming out of India," Dr. Yohannan lamented, "a place where Christians and followers of other faiths have lived in peace together for centuries. Today, the Christians of India are being persecuted in ways that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable."
Dr. Yohannan cited the reports he has received in just the past few weeks:
In the state of Jharkhand, radical Hindus beat up a 14-year-old girl and her mother, dragged them from their home and forced them to bow down before a man-made idol in an effort to force the girl to recant her faith. This was in spite of the fact that the girl considered the claims of the Gospel for three years and had her parents' permission to become a Christian.
An estimated 2,000 tribal Christians are hiding out in the forests of Orissa state for fear of their lives after being threatened by anti-Christian fanatics.
At least 60 church buildings and hundreds of Christian homes have been destroyed. As a result, many believers are sleeping on piles of hay with only the clothes they were wearing when they escaped-- and temperatures are hovering around 50 degrees F (10o C).
A pastor was beaten, his head was shaved, he was paraded through the streets, forced to bow to an idol and had his home destroyed.
All of the Catholic churches in one district have been burned down or left as unusable skeletons of buildings, with all furniture and other items burned.
A 300-year-old Baptist church is said to be scheduled for attack next week, as are two villages that are 80 percent Christian.
"All of this is on top of dozens and dozens of reports over the past several months of increased persecution against Christians from across India, including the beating up of some of our seminary students and even our women missionaries," Dr. Yohannan said.
"Just the fact that these radicals are attacking women is a tremendously low thing that is totally unthinkable in normal Indian society. So the questions must be raised: 'Who are these radicals in the streets, who is behind this violence and lawlessness, and why are they doing what they are doing?' "
Dr. Yohannan laid out some answers.
"What the Christians in the West need to understand is that this recent violence is not just the result of random acts by local gangs. It is carefully planned by the leaders of a few extremely radical Hindu nationalist organizations that want to totally destroy the Church in India.
"Many of those who attack churches and Christians are not from the local village, but come from many miles away. Then they try to enlist local youths to join them, and the attack is on. But the problem is not really the local villagers, because they usually welcome our missionaries and appreciate what they are trying to do for them. Rather, it is the extremist political parties who are behind it and their street thugs who do the dirty work."
He cited a statement by the chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India that lays blame for the attacks at the feet of the radicals.
After visiting Orissa, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo presented a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in which he said the attacks against Christians were "undoubtedly premeditated" and "carried out by sectarian forces." Other bishops have been even more outspoken, naming the radical Hindu organizations they say planned the attacks.
One GFA regional leader said the violence in Orissa is part of a deliberate plan to break down the will of the Christians, cut them off from outside assistance and then, when they are left cold, hungry and alone, force them to deny Christ.
Dr. Yohannan went on explain why the radicals are attacking the poorest Christians.
"When we hear of these attacks, it is usually against Dalit or tribal Christians," he pointed out. "These are the Untouchables and others at the bottom of the caste system, and they have been held in slave-like conditions for more than 3,000 years. It is on the backs of these hopeless people that the upper castes have built their wealth, and their control is based on convincing the Dalits that they are sub-human, worth less than animals, and despised even by their gods.
"So when the Dalits and tribals hear the Good News that God loves them as much as any other person in the world, it is a radical message. They are responding by the thousands--and many in the upper castes are not happy at the prospect of losing their 'slaves.'
"To keep the Dalits in bondage, the radicals raise the argument that 'to be Indian is to be Hindu,' and that Christians are 'outsiders' who want to destroy India.
"Of course, the reality is that Christianity has been in India since the Apostle Thomas brought the Gospel to South India in the first century. And our Indian believers are as loyal to their Indian homeland as any Hindu or Muslim.
"The real problem for them, of course, is that millions of Dalits and others are responding to God's infinite love. And just as it did in New Testament days, that becomes an economic threat to some, and instills fear of change in others. And since they cannot fight God's Word and His love through peaceful persuasion, they resort to violence.
"Our response is to pray for those who persecute us, that they, too, will know the peace of love of Jesus Christ in their hearts. I ask that all Christians earnestly pray for the missionaries, pastors and others who are suffering at this time. And pray that the government of India--and the state governments--will act to end this violence and the prejudice against the Christians that fuels it."
Gospel for Asia is a mission organization sharing God's love through both words and actions in the most unreached regions of the 10/40 Window. GFA native missionaries share the Good News and disciple Christians through some 30,000 worship centers in 10 Asian nations.