Date: October 2, 2019
India (MNN) – Reinforcing the foundation beneath a national anti-conversion law, India now wants foreign staff members of nonprofits to sign affidavits promising they will not engage in religious conversion.
This latest move directly connects to the Foreigners Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which forced Compassion International out of India two years ago. Dr. David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, says it’s another step toward a Hindu-state India. “You’ve heard of blasphemy laws around the world? Anti-conversion laws are sort of the ‘kid sister’ to those. It sounds so good, like ‘we can’t be forcing people that convert,’ but what it means is people aren’t allowed to change their minds.”
The impact of the FCRA
The government has been tightening these already severe restrictions, with amendments to the FCRA in 2012, 2015, and 2019. Now, explains Curry, “If you’re doing a good deed in India for a poor person: you’re feeding a poor person in Delhi, or you’re feeding a poor person in Calcutta, and that person says,’ this is the love of Jesus. I want to understand that better’, now the person feeding that person… [could] go to jail.”
Curry does clarify that “we don’t exactly know what all the punishments are going to be, but you can be certain that those ministries are going to be stripped of whatever rights have to work in the country.”
The more significant concern is that interpreted changes will unleash a whole new wave of persecution against Christians. “Pastors will be arrested. We had hundreds of pastors who were held without trial in India last year; almost 700 in the last reporting period.”
Why is India acting now?
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), “(There are) 65 million Christians in India (are) now living with great uncertainty about what’s going to happen to them, to their churches, to their Christian schools, and so forth.”
Since 2014, efforts to fortify Hindu nationalism contributed to a 232% increase in reported incidents against Christians. “This is why India, even though it’s one of the friends of this country (geopolitically) is number ten on the World Watch List— that’s above Saudi Arabia,” Curry says.
What does this mean for faith-based Non-Government Organizations in India? First, “You have Hindus in India who experience and understand the theology and the person of Jesus and the teaching of the Bible, and they want to become followers of Jesus. Now, anybody who’s attached to that person can be attacked under the law is violating this anti-conversion law.”
Second, “We need to pray for the right people to speak up in our government and to be clear on what needs to happen.”
Christians have been a big part of India for generations, and the divisiveness created by these policies is distressing, adds Curry.
A call to action
When noting the challenges faced by ministries trying to comply with the FCRA and yet still fulfilling the Great Commission, he reminds us that while we can use our voices to demand change in the political realm, ultimately, this issue is one of spiritual import.
“Pastors are under tremendous pressure. We have to be praying for them; praying for those in prison. There are hundreds and hundreds of them right now, because they are Christians, and because they had a church, had a small group, or decided that they were going to have a backyard Bible School.
“Let’s pray for these people under tremendous pressure.”
Header photo courtesy of Open Doors USA