Nepal at a constitutional crossroad

By June 28, 2011

Nepal (MNN) — The re-write of Nepal's constitution is moving
forward at a glacier's pace. This week, leaders from the major political parties are
supposedly forming a subcommittee to hammer
out disputes as they relate to the restructuring.

Nepal's parliament missed a May 28 deadline two years after
being given a mandate to write a new constitution. They re-expressed commitment to prepare the
integrated draft of the new constitution by August 31.

However, one element of the new draft is causing great concern
amongst believers. Carl Moeller with Open Doors says, "Christians had been experiencing freedom
that they hadn't experienced in past years. Now, this seems to create an
additional level of legal constraint on
anyone who would convert from one religion to another." An attached bill is a kind of an
anti-conversion law, which Moeller says is "always going to particularly single
out Christianity."  

Since a full constitution won't be ready to implement by
August, the mandate has been simplified to hammering out a first draft for the
public to see. On June 23, officials
presented new penal codes that could see the return of a ban on religious
conversions. Many of the revisions were
to revamp outdated codes, but the timing is critical. "How this impacts the
formation of a new constitution is going to be very much on our radar
screen," notes Moeller, adding that "there are groups that are going to try to get in and create situations in the
writing of the constitution that are advantageous to them."

The new codes would effectively re-criminalize
evangelization and religious conversion. "Some of the Hindu extremists in that area–those that are far more
fundamentalist–are pushing these things forward. That's taken a lot of the
Christian community there by surprise."

The lack of a Constitution and the presence of a confused government lulled people into a false sense of
security. "Christians there have been
blindsided by this, but they are pushing forward to try to make their case
before these changes take place in the Constitution."

There is still a possibility that believers can turn the
situation around. "In any situation
where there's a protracted lack of governing authority like a constitutional
process, it becomes less and less respected as that process goes on, and
some of the direction of the new have
not yet been fully formed," Moeller says.  

Adding the revised penal codes as written would reverse the
secularism embraced by the Himalayan country in 2006. Moeller agrees. "Wherever we see these sorts of restrictive
laws, it puts a strain on evangelistic efforts."

Now that the anti-conversion vocabulary has been added back
into the conversation, it could change the definitions of ministry. In
speaking to a Nepalese Christian worker, Moeller says one of the greatest
challenges is already on their doorstep. "It's not necessarily just the passage of the
laws, but the change of the common dialogue to where any evangelistic efforts
are viewed as bribery against people."

In other words, an open dialogue that involves truth claims
about Christ will be viewed with suspicion. Any effort to meet both physical and spiritual needs puts a ministry at
risk. As a result, Moeller says, "People
are going to experience a lot of ‘chilling effect' when it comes to
evangelistic efforts."

However, the new codes are not yet set in stone. "We really have to consider what it means for
us to stand with them and to let our voice be heard to say, ‘This is the right
thing to do.'" Other than the August 28
deadline, there is little public information about the time frames of the
Constitutional re-work.    

Pray that the freedom to share the hope of faith in Christ
will remain established in this country.

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