Hinduism influence increasing in U.S.

By September 14, 2007

USA (MNN/BP) — The United States' tie to technology in India may be the reason for the growing influence of Hinduism in the country. That's the message from the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, a sister ministry to the International Mission Board.

Evidence of this influence is the fact that a Hindu chaplain now has led prayers in the U.S. Senate, the California Senate, and the Nevada legislature. Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple in Reno, Nevada became the first Hindu to offer an official prayer in the U.S. Senate in July after praying in the Nevada State Assembly and the Nevada Senate earlier this year. On Aug. 27, he became the first Hindu to pray at the California Senate.

NSRK Ravi, director of the North American Mission Board's Evangelism Response Center and a former Hindu, told Baptist Press he had not heard of Zed before the chaplain prayed in the U.S. Senate. Ravi said Zed "has been a minor figure among the Indian Hindu community until recently."

But now Zed's followers are growing rapidly, and a group called Friends of Rajan Zed has been established in India with goals of "working to maximize human potential, promoting and preserving peace, and praying for humankind," according to the Reno Gazette-Journal Aug. 26. The group has asked Nevada's governor to declare July 12, the day Zed recited a prayer at the U.S. Senate, as Rajan Zed Day.

NAMB's Ravi said he's not sure whether Zed has a clear religious agenda behind leading prayers at American government institutions, but Ravi does believe Zed is using those open doors to show the growing Indian Hindu presence in the United States.

"Since the Johnson administration opened doors to non-European immigrants, Indians — especially Hindu Indians — immigrated in large numbers," Ravi told BP. "Current estimates range from 2.2 to 3 million Hindus in the United States. Those who come from India are the cream of the crop of Indian society, and they are highly educated and motivated individuals.

"Their influence is felt in the high-tech industry, hotel industry, financial field and medical field," Ravi said. "For the most part, immigrant Indian Hindus are nominal in their faith when they are in India; however, when they come to a new nation, they do practice their faith devotedly."

The United States is now home to more than 800 Hindu temples, Ravi said, and this summer a $19 million Hindu temple was dedicated in an Atlanta suburb.

"Second- and third-generation [Americans with ties to India] are not religious; they are becoming more materialists," Ravi added.

North American believers have a unique opportunity to reach out to an international population without having to go overseas. Pray that God would encourage Christians in the U.S. to reach out to this segment of their society.

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