Christian bodies Debate over Conversion issue

New Delhi, India, March 15 - EFI and EGF, Delhi, jointly held a conference last Saturday, titled, "The Debate about Conversion" in the wake of the controversies relating to conversion issues that had emerged in different parts of the nation lately. Saturday's conference that addressed the issues of conversion and the challenges it posed to missions in India provided the ideal platform for the Christian community to debate, discuss and deliberate those issues, and may well be the first meaningful step taken in resolving it.

The keynote speaker did not hesitate to point out that conversion has always been a controversial issue in the History of the Church because it is inevitably bound up with power-relations.

"Conversion has always been a political issue because it affects our changing relationships," The keynote speaker said. "For example, the tribal, who are often the victims of the Hindu caste system, have rediscovered their identity and dignity through the Gospel and after accepting Jesus as their Lord but at the expense of earning the ire of those who are the main beneficiaries of this caste system and are keen on maintaining the status quo."

Hinting that those who oppose conversion may be assuming a role of colonial paternalism, The keynote speaker warned that those engaged in anti-conversion activities are the pawns of secularist tyrannical regime and encouraged the Christians to live a selfless life of serving others that would dispel many of the apprehensions of non-Christians. For, as he said, "self-transformation through the Gospel would lead to social transformation and self-discovery would lead to one engaging himself in a more meaningful democratic participation."

But the keynote speaker warned that if Christians in the Indian subcontinent are to gain the confidence of their non-Christian brethren, then there are several issues they must concern themselves with. "Engage yourself in evangelism and spreading the good news of the Gospel, not in proselytism," he advised. "Do not engage in cultural imperialism but rather allow the Gospel to touch the heart of the person and help him discover himself newly so that he can play a more meaningful role for the progress of the society."

Hinting that some churches and missions are mere pawns in the hands of right-wing American ideologists who fund them and decide their methodologies and mission techniques, The keynote speaker warned that one should not give in to fulfilling their vested interests but rather engage themselves in healthy activities of evangelism and social transformation by touching the heart and spirit of those who are seeking for the Lord.

Citing Matthew 7:12, The keynote speaker said that unethical forms of evangelism like widespread mission propaganda, healing crusades, self-proclaimed faith healers and T.V. evangelists have come a long way in taking away the focus from the Gospel and making those thirsting for the Word mere pawns in this world of show business.

"We do not need foreign missionaries who are only interested in planting one more branch of their Church and not in saving the spirits of the suffering," he suggested. "We need those who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause in the Gospel, understand and embrace our culture and sufferings and express solidarity with the voiceless millions."

"Do we truly understand the Bible ourselves?" he asked. "Are we allowing the Bible to become a tool in this world of marketing and showmanship?"

"Let us not be content in being mere Bibliolaters," The keynote speaker warned. “For the Gospel has to be communicated both through our lips as well as our lives."

"We have much to give to and receive from other cultures and traditions," he concluded. "Christian life is a life of serving others and lowering oneself. Let us share the Gospel through selfless service and by practicing love, charity and mercy. Let this be the only ecumenical venture we should look forward to."

The address was followed by an open question and answer session in which many participated by exchanging their views and opinions. Rev. Richard Howell, the General Secretary of EFI, attempted to answer some of the queries of the participants. Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao of Delhi Archdiocese, who was one of the many prominent participants of the conference, opined that meaningful dialogues such as this and cooperation amongst different communities are necessary to dispel the apprehensions of the non-Christians about Christian way of life and activities and pave the way for a more dynamic and progressive culture.

Truly, the only way of overcoming the feeling of being marginalized and rejected is not being tied down by the feeling of victimization but coming to the forefront, being a voice for the voiceless and safeguarding the rights of the oppressed. And, if we are to bear a witness to the Lord, let us not confine ourselves to being mere Bibliolaters that can cause one to focus on the letter of the law but miss the Spirit of the law but rather reveal, through the Gospel, its God intended purpose: love of God and fellow human beings. Let us not only know the Word of God well, but also know the God of the Word well.

- Christian Today Special Feature
(For the security reason, we didn't disclose the keynote speaker's name.)

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