Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion? – Philip Goldberg

Phillip Goldberg“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.” – Philip Goldberg

India Crossed-Out! 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, Christian Devilfervent, 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.

Jesuit missionary in his Nashik church.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.

New Delhi 2011: Tribals protest against Christian missionaries who are destroying their identity and culture in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkand.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. I was tempted to wait until after Christmas to test that thesis, but I decided that this season of goodwill might be the ideal time. 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? – Hinduism Now! – 21 December 2013

» Philip Goldberg is a Public Speaker, Spiritual Coach and author of American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West. His website is here.

 

 

 

2 Responses

  1. Conversion is per say unethical whether by evangelists or by Vatican . When the pope goes around asking his flock to aggressively convert may be Christians think it is okay I really do not differentiate between them.Change should come from top.As head of Christianty,he should be held accountable.From what is hapening around Chennai’s coast closer to city,conversions are playing havoc,pitting cousins against other,enimity within family,and generally destroying unity amongst villagers.May the Pope read Bhagavad Gita .

  2. Indian Parliament House

    Rs 10,500 cr remitted by Christian missionaries: Why is opposition mum? – OneIndia Staff Writer – OneIndia – Thursday, December 11, 2014

    Now that the opposition has decided to bring up the issue of re-conversions, it would also do well if it debated at length the inflow of money amounting to Rs 10,500 crore that is pumped in every year to Christian missionaries to convert people. As has been noted by Phillip Goldberg, the author of American Veda it is not conversion but coercion that is taking this clearly driving the point that people are forced for the numbers and not for the faith.

    NGO MONEY

    In the year 2011 it was found by various agencies that an illicit in flow of money had come into India with an intent of ‎funding conversions. All this money landed into the coffers of various NGOs. There was a considerable amount of money which had no accounting and when the records were checked it was marked under the miscellaneous column.

    None of the NGOs had a suitable answer to this and barring a few protests by them they have still not been able to satisfy the agencies that this money was not used for conversions/stage managed protests or money laundering.

    A PROBE BY BANGALORE INITIATIVE FOR RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE

    The Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) had conducted a survey pertaining to religious conversions. It had found that there was an aggressive marketing strategy involved in conversions undertaken by evangelists.

    They had noted that there was very aggressive marketing by some missionaries and they were using unethical means to convert. They dole out incentives and force conversions not for the sake of religion but for their own benefits.

    ‎Tactics galore ‎Several reports relating to conversions suggest that the gullible are targeted. As Goldberg would say they are a new breed of zealots financed by the American fundamentalists. He also notes that some people are given jobs and told to convert.

    If they refuse then they are threatened with job loss. In other instances it was found that some of them dressed up as Swamis and approached gullible people and said their Hindu Gods were the corrupt version of Christ.

    BIGGEST DONORS ARE THE MISSIONARIES

    As per a report with the government the major donors to some of the NGOs in India are the Christian missionaries. ‎ An amount of Rs 10,500 crore has been remitted into the accounts of four NGOs notorious for conversions and in turn distributed to various conversion centres across the country the report states.

    The inflow of money was from the USA, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Spain and Italy, the report also noted.

    TOO MUCH MONEY AND CLOUT

    While speaking to one officer with the Intelligence Bureau he says that successive governments in the past have turned a blind eye. These missionaries have the money to shut the politician up.

    Moreover they make it look like a suo motu conversion thus dodging the law which clearly states that only forced conversions are punishable. Moreover the lure of money is so high that not too many come forward and complain.

    The IB officer also notes that for every 1,000 conversions there is one complaint. This is largely to do with the fact there is too much money at play and also these missionaries take advantage of extreme poverty conditions of people and play with their faith.

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