India (MNN) — Christmas Day celebrations in Uttar Pradesh, India, have been taking center stage in the news.
Todd Nettleton is a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA. According to him, here’s why: “There has been a significant push over the last couple of weeks to reconvert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. They are particularly focusing on Christmas Day, promising large-scale re-conversion ceremonies.”
He references a series of leaflets distributed by members of the Hindu Nationalist Party. They were seeking donations for converting Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. “Among radical Hindus in India, this is a big fundraising push right now. They are raising money to facilitate this, raising to either offer to converts to get them to come back to Hinduism, or to support (what we might call) ‘Hindu missionaries.'” The pamphlets noted that it costs Rupees 2 lakh to convert a Christian and Rupees 5 lakh to convert a Muslim.
While some greeted the news warmly, police spotted the potential for trouble and banned the event, says Nettleton. “In some cases, the police are saying, ‘We are not going to allow this conversion/re-conversion ceremony. Nobody can be forced to change their religion.’ So, as we head into this Christmas season, there’s really a lot of potential for animosity.”
In fact, Bajrang Dal members in the area promised to hit the streets in protest if the police did not allow the ceremony. The group claims they’ve identified Muslims and Christians they’ll be targeting, arguing that Christians and Muslims happen to be descendants of converted Hindus. Therefore, a Hindu conversion would only be coming back to the fold.
The problem is: it’s causing so much ruckus that the government, in an effort to restore calm, suggested that perhaps all states should have anti-conversion laws. Nettleton disagrees. “That would potentially affect Christians, perhaps more than Hindus. The anti-conversion laws are typically used against Christian workers or missionaries who are spreading the Gospel, encouraging people to change from Hinduism or from Islam to follow Jesus Christ.”
Meanwhile, the Christian community has sought for additional security for their churches in the city. Early reports last week showed at least one group of Christmas carolers attacked and beaten. You might be thinking, ‘That’s one incident in a really big country.’ Nettleton counters, saying attacks on Christians and churches are so frequent during the Advent Season that it’s a daily occurrence.
Yet the Christmas story is highly relevant in the community. For the believer, it’s about the truth of what’s yet to come. “Christmas is a fabulous opportunity to share the story of Jesus Christ coming to earth. The purpose of His coming to earth was to purchase our salvation, so we can pray for those efforts to share that story during the Christmas season and [pray] that there will be a lot of fruit for the work that our Christian brothers and sisters are doing.”
As Christmas Day nears, Nettleton asks that we also pray “for safety for Christians who are there. Pray that they will be strengthened in their faith and protected by God.”