India (MNN) — For a country that claims to have religious freedom, India sure has been lacking.
In 1976, India enacted the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution, with the Preamble of the Constitution declaring that India is a secular nation. Despite this, the country has failed to be non-discriminatory of any other religion besides the majority religion — Hinduism.
India’s constitution prohibits religious discrimination and is supposed to emphasize legal equality of its citizens. However, there are other laws now restricting this freedom.
“It’s interesting that India’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and yet, at least six of the 29 states’ governments have implemented laws forbidding forceful conversions, and other states are considering them,” Voice of the Martyrs Canada’s Anthony Rhode explains.
“I guess the basic understanding that many have in India is that you are born in your religions. And to convert to another religion either by force or enticement or any other deceptive methods is not allowed.”
VOMC sees a problem with this view for a very big reason; who defines what conversions are forced and which are genuine? The state. And a lot of times, Hindu nationalists oppose the conversions of any Hindus to other religions. Yet in India, anyone can convert to Hinduism, and that’s okay by the government, just as long as no one turns away from it.
Thankfully, though, these conversion laws have not stopped Christians in India from sharing the Gospel.
“We see many bold Christians seeking to live out their faith in their communities. And then there are many of those who really have the understanding that we hold a cross-centered Gospel,” Rhode explains.
All Made Equal
At this point, the concern for religious freedom becomes more than a Christian concern. Part of the reason for the anti-conversion laws and legislation stems from politics and a desire to protect social structures. After all, another part of the thought in India behind the anti-conversion laws is that the freedom of conscience is incompatible with the freedom of convert.
Christianity challenges this thought by declaring that all humans are made in the image of God, therefore, no individual is worth more or less than the other. All people have rights, including the right to accept Jesus Christ.
“So Christians in particular should take this seriously and defend everybody’s religious liberty and religious freedom…we don’t do that to avoid possible suffering or to combat persecution. Nor do we do it at the expense of our evangelistic efforts. We continue to hold out the truth and to share the Gospel and realize with that, there could be consequences,” Rhode says.
“There are many in India who are seeking to bring the Gospel to those in their communities, to those in their country, and they realize to do so is going to be risky. To do so is going to require they be willing to face persecution. When they go and they reach out…they do so anticipating they will face opposition. And so they’re prepared.”
Will You Pray?
Please, pray for your Christian brothers and sisters in India. Often times Christians from the West feel the need to rescue their persecuted brothers and sisters. But Rhode says that’s not what persecuted Christians want or desire. Most often, persecuted Christians are not asking to be taken from their situations, but instead to be showered in prayers by their Christian family.
“It would do us well to remember our persecuted brothers and sisters,” Rhode shares. “And I think prayer is a key factor — praying for our brothers and sisters in India, praying that the Church in India would be united. Pray for frontline pastors and evangelists who are working in hostile environments.”
Also, pray for those who are persecuting Christians, whether it be the government or a neighbor, because they need the Gospel, too.