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Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?



Imagine you’re poor and living in a rural area. Your child gets sick. You manage to transport her to a hospital or clinic. To your relief, the condition is treatable. But the cost of treatment is not just beyond your means, it’s beyond your imagining. However, says the kindly health care worker, you can get the treatment free of charge. All you have to do is renounce the centuries-old traditions of your people and convert to a foreign religion.

Such offers are being made to desperate people in the villages and tribal areas of India.

I just returned from a month in that country, to mark the Indian publication of my book, American Veda. In the 18 cities I visited, the most frequently mentioned topic was the shady tactics of certain missionaries.

Not all of them, mind you. Not the intrepid souls who work selflessly to help the poor, the afflicted, and the illiterate, in the spirit of their savior’s exhortation to serve “the least of these.” Such missionaries have been welcome in India for centuries, and the Hindus I spoke to are grateful for their good works. What is causing consternation and anger is a new breed of zealots, heavily financed by American fundamentalists, who seem driven to pile up numbers like door-to-door salesmen racking up commissions. Determined, fervent, and creative in pursuit of souls to save, they sound more like the snake-oil hucksters of legend than servants of Christ.

Targeting mainly the impoverished and uneducated, some of their tactics make the hospital bargain I described earlier look as reputable as ordering a book from Amazon. I was told of missionaries giving people temporary jobs in return for converting, and then threatening them with job loss — not to mention eternal damnation — if they reconvert to Hinduism. Families have apparently been torn apart because the converts are made to disassociate from the heathen.




I heard about missionaries who dress in orange robes to look like swamis. Gullible and desperate villagers are told that their traditional gods are actually corrupted versions of Christ; that the venerable saints and sages of India’s past were really Christians; that the three horizontal stripes traditionally drawn on the foreheads of Shiva devotees stand for the Holy Trinity; that the Upanishadic prayer that includes “Lead us from darkness to light” was meant as a cry for Jesus to save them.

A mother is sick? A father loses his source of income and can’t feed his family? The bus filled with youngsters suddenly “stalls” on a dangerous mountain road? Well, say the missionaries, try praying to your Hindu gods. Hmmm, imagine that: nothing changes. Well then, see what happens if you pray to Jesus. Wow! Lo and behold! The mother receives medicine. The father gets a one-day job that puts rice on the table. The bus engine starts again! If one prayer to Jesus produces miracles like those, imagine what converting will do!

I heard about people being told that their misfortune derives from their worship of Hindu deities, because the idols are really forms of the Devil; about village strongmen being paid to coerce conversions from other villagers; about women given a choice of walking a mile to haul water from their usual source or using the new well conveniently dug in front of a church. The price? Conversion, of course.

I don’t know if these egregious actions are commonplace or rarities. I do know that they are dishonorable. They’re about coercion, not spiritual conversion; extortion, not the exchange of ideas. And, if I may say so as a non-Christian, they are an affront to Jesus, whom every Hindu I’ve ever met regards as a holy man of the highest order if not an incarnation of God. I can’t help thinking that he would be as outraged by the deception being perpetrated in his name as he was about the moneylenders in the temple.

I told people in India that most American Christians would be appalled if they knew what was being done by their overly aggressive brethren.

So, what do you think, my Christian sisters and brothers? Is there some cosmic war for souls going on, in which anything goes? Or are there rules of engagement that civilized people should observe? What would Jesus say?

~ Phillip Goldberg, Interfaith Minister, author of ‘American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West’

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5 Responses to "Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?"

  1. Gopal  August 28, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Look at it from this angle – by wearing orange robes, by taking Shiva’s name, who is converting – they so-called zealots are converting themselves :).

    So, as far as India is concerned, Christianity in 100 years, will become a sect of Hinduism and/or vanish, much like how Jainism and Buddhism vanished…because you cannot remove the Hindutva within any Hindustani !!

    Reply
  2. Rangaesh Gadasalli  October 4, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    Lets us not forget what Pope John paul said after receiving salutations from all the faiths and their religious heads. he said that his primary goal of Vatican is to bring INDIA under the Bible belt. Sonia Gandhi did not want to be in India as she was a devoted catholic and she had also baptised both her chilldren with Italian Catholic names, This is evident from their passports. All this Rahul Gandhi, priyanka Gandhi is to fool the people of India and to hide their names of BIANCA, and RAUL VINCI. Now as per foreign missionary media, a million plus people are working for the church and for religious conversions. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh unde Reddy millions were converted with govt money and thousands of churches were built. Sonia was asked to stay in India and manage India behind the scene with international pro Vatican govts. India’s money was used to publicize her overseas. let us start more ekal vidyalayas and clinics adn provide health care in the tribal areas of Bihar, Asaam,orissa and other places. We have numbers and a cooperative govt. unless we make the impact of missionaries minimum, we can not relax. Send back all who want to help the missionaries after three months, every country does this, and cancels the Visas after three months. let us learn from others.

    Reply
  3. Sesha  October 15, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    I thinks it was been like that since the missionaries from west started entering in India, their aim was only on illiterate and ignorant people to convert and propagate Christianity in India as the literate people were not so easy to be converted because they know the truth or untruth. People who have a little bit of Viveka and Vichakshana jnana can realize what is truth and what is untruth.

    Reply
  4. Michael Smith  May 4, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Use Mother Teresa as an example. She was purported to have babtized the sick and dying in her charity hospitals without their consent before their passing. Sick. And she is being called a Saint?

    Reply
  5. Penuel  September 3, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Well put article Sanskrit. ….that is appalling testimony of supposed “missionariies” they obviously have their hearts in the wrong place or focus. They exhibit a lack of Grace and humanity (barbaric and dictatorial) Definitely NOT Christ like. GOD, Jesus respect humans choices and would never force themselves onto people but will LOVE THEM ANYWAY AND NO LESS THAN THEIR BELIEVERS.They Love the people in the whole World.

    As you asked….the answer is..”YES THERE ARE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT ” Clearly outlined in the bible and the KEY RULE is DO EVERYTHING OUT OF LOVE !! FULL OF GRACE and COMPASSION with RESPECT for every human brother sister and neighbours, totally respecting what they uphold and foundations of their belief and faith. Missionaries are encouraged to live with and among them and engage with them in all humulity and grace of GOD. Not condescending and judgemental but in Lover and Respect. What’s been described are people who obviously have great zeal but lack Godly wisdom and certainly Grace of God is not operating through them…I sincerely apologize for such misrepresentation of Christianity and distorted unchristian but serious breach of the Belief values…GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

    Reply

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