It’s a widespread firm notion among the resolute Hindu community that Christian missionaries in India have been converting people to Christianity under the guise of service. This accusation has now been leveled by the leadership of Hindu community against Mother Teresa – arguably the most popular face of contemporary Christianity.
Mother Teresa founded ‘Missionaries of Charity’ – a prominent Catholic social service organization that cares for the needy - children, sick, dying and destitute.
The Christian community in India is a meager minority. However, the minority status did not prevent Christians from establishing hospitals, schools & colleges, and care-homes for the needy.
Having said this, let us look beyond the allegation of conversion to establish a few undeniable facts.
First, the accusations highlight a definite need for these social services in the Indian context. Indians needed social care. Even today, a demand exists for proficient service organizations in India.
Second, in response to the need, the Christian missionaries and the Christian community in India established social service organizations. Notably, the allegations of the Hindu leadership have graciously granted the Christian missionaries the due recognition of blessing the needy Indians.
Significantly, the Indian community, notwithstanding religious persuasions, was benefited by these services. In other words, these service institutions, although established by Christian missionaries, served the needs of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists etc.
Third, these service organizations were government authorized ventures. They were established by the Christian missionaries after obtaining formal authorizations from the governing authorities.
Notably, the governing authorities in India were not a Christian majority at any given point in time. So, the majority Hindu community did allow the formation of these service ventures.
Finally, if the governing authorities had a compelling need to terminate these service institutions established by the Christian missionaries, they would have done so. Nothing could have prevented the government from terminating any institution. Hence, the continued existence of these institutions emphasizes their utmost credibility in their specific social service domain – healthcare, education etc.
So the following facts have been established:
1. There was a need for social services in the Indian society.
2. The Christian community catered to the need by establishing the required service institutions to bless the Indian community without any religious barriers.
3. These service institutions were government authorized ventures. The majority Hindu community allowed the formation of social service organizations founded by Christian missionaries.
4. The continued existence of these services emphasizes the credibility of these social service organizations in their specific service domain.
As a stark layman in Indian constitution, allow me to briefly address the subject of religious conversion in India by examining the background:
1. Indian constitution does seem to allow a person to practice and propagate his religion, for Article 25(1) of the Indian constitution states that “Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.” 1
2. In the past, this very article, albeit contextually, has been diversely interpreted to deny religious conversion e.g. Rev. Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (AIR 1977 SC 908). 2 In other words, “The Supreme Court has unequivocally declared that the right to propagate does not mean the right to convert.” 3
3. “Ghar Wapsi” (home-coming) is a reconversion drive undertaken by Hindu religious organizations. Media has widely reported this phenomenon, especially the recent statement that in the next 10 years 5 million Christians would be reconverted to Hinduism.4
Significantly, the Supreme Court of India, as a mark of approval of reconversion, has ruled that those reconverting to Hinduism from Christianity would be entitled to reservation benefits.5
4. Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, stated that “each person has an “undeniable right to retain or adopt” any faith.” 6 The Prime Minister has also condemned violence against any religion, “We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext, and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard” 7
In a nutshell, these background instances posit that…
A. …any Indian can freely practice any religion.
B. …any Indian can freely propagate his religion.
C. …Indians are treading murky ground, if they aim to convert people. Why? The aspect of conversion seems to firmly reside in a disputable realm. On one hand, it seems that people can freely convert based on their conscience, but on the other hand it seems that people should not convert. There seems to be no clarity, at least to a layman such as myself.
Now let us approach the aspect of conversion from a theological standpoint.
First, people born into a Christian home or a non-Christian home are not different. They are unbelievers, to begin with. Anybody who professes to be a Christian now was an unbeliever.
Every Christian, their earthly citizenship notwithstanding, is a converted Christian. An Indian, American, Chinese or an Arab could be born into a Christian home. Mere birth into a Christian home does not make anyone a Christian.
So nobody is a born-Christian. Christians can only be born-again Christians (John 3: 1-21). A person is born-again as a Christian when he/she consciously accepts the Lord Jesus as God and Savior.
Thus, a person could only be born-again into Christianity. A person is never a born-Christian. So every Christian is a converted Christian.
Second, true conversion happens only when man realizes his sinfulness and believes in the Lord Jesus, who through HIS perfect life, sacrifice, resurrection and ascension saved man from his/her sins. Thus the sinful man believes and loves the Lord Jesus.
Man loves God for who God is – it was God who assumed the form of man, died and resurrected to save man from his sins. Man who loves God to derive material benefits is, in essence, in love with material benefits. Such a man does not love God.
So a true conversion happens for spiritual reasons and not earthly reasons. Conversion into a religion for material benefits cannot be a true conversion.
Third, true conversion is an act of God who initiates people into Christian life (John 3: 8, 16: 8-11). I may provide reasons as to why I am a Christian and not a Hindu. Similarly, Mother Teresa may have provided reasons as to why she reckoned Christ as God or Christianity as the only true religion. That was her spiritual responsibility, as much as it is every Christian’s spiritual responsibility to offer reasons for the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3: 15).
It was virtually impossible for Mother Teresa to have converted anyone into Christianity. Neither can you or I convert anyone into Christianity. So Mother Teresa was not guilty of conversion. The Indian constitution does seem to allow a Christian to offer reasons for the hope he/she has in Christ.
Converting anyone into Christianity is an act initiated by God and not man. It is God who initiates people into Christian life. When God initiates, man merely repents and believes in God.
Finally, when true conversion occurs, the Christian loves God more than his own life. In other words, a truly converted Christian will not reject God even if his life is under threat or for the sake of material benefits. A Christian who truly converts and genuinely falls in love with God, if he/she remains in Christ, will not reject Christ.
A Christian who rejects Christ may have been a true Christian to begin with, but over a period of time, if he/she does not remain in Christ, then there is every possibility that he could reject Christ for the sake of the world. Those who remain in Christ cannot reject HIM under any circumstances be it pain, pleasure or persuasion.
So a program such as Ghar Wapsi could be successful against those Christians who do not remain in Christ. Those who do not remain in Christ would reject Christ when they encounter Ghar Wapsi.
Those who remain in Christ would not fear death; they would not fear man. Those who remain in Christ would love God over and above anything and everything. Those who remain in Christ would rather die in the name of Christ than live by rejecting Christ (Philippians 1: 20-21; cf. Galatians 2: 20).
Ghar Wapsi cannot succeed against Christians who remain in Christ.
Christians’ primary responsibility is to God and secondarily to man. While we respect and submit to our earthly rulers, we should, in gentleness and respect, offer many valid reasons for the hope we have in Christ.
As a good Christian, I assume, Mother Teresa would have offered her reasons for the hope she had in Christ. Offering reasons for the hope we have in Christ does not convert anyone, for conversion is initiated by God and not man.
This then is our sine qua non; we will, by being subject to public order, morality, health, and other provisions of Indian constitution, offer reasons for the hope we have in Christ. We will be good witnesses for Christ.
Since conversion is initiated by God and accepted by man, one man cannot convert another.
If we are to come in harm’s way for having been a good witness for Christ or for having offered the reasons for our hope in Christ, then so be it.
Daniel 3: 16-18 is as much a linchpin of Christianity as John 3:16. So I conclude with these verses, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3: 16-18, NIV).
And all God’s people said, “Amen.”