The militant Hindu political party won big in India’s recent elections. Now the party’s vice chairman is calling for a law in Nepal to ban religious conversions. Hindus would just not be allowed, by law, to become Christians. This is already the case in Muslim countries.
The thought of banning thoughts and inner convictions seems very odd, as if a person could turn off what he or she believes by force of law. For Christians, especially Protestant Christians, religion is a matter of what a person believes. Other religions are about what a person is. If you are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or animist, your religion constitutes your cultural identity. To change your religion is to reject your family and to commit a kind of treason against your community. Christianity, on the contrary, is a faith for people of “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9), which is first manifested at Pentecost.
Sometimes Christianity can be reduced to a mere cultural religion, as in those who insist they are good Catholics while rejecting Catholic teachings, or Orthodox or Lutherans who cling to their church out of ethnic identity rather than belief, or Protestants who say, “My family has gone to this church for three generations, so how dare the pastor deny me Communion just because my boyfriend and I are living together.”
Conversely, many non-Christians assume that Christianity is just another cultural religion, so they resent attempts to “proseletyze” as an assault on their identity.
And yet, there is an element of identity as well as belief in Christianity, isn’t there? Someone who has been Baptized is a Christian, even if he or she is a fallen-away Christian, or a Christian who now follows Buddhism or some other religion, who needs to be brought back to saving faith.
The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India last month was followed by expressions of concern for Christians and other minorities because of the party’s links to violent Hindu nationalism.
Those fears have been further compounded by fresh reports that the BJP’s vice chairman told senior politicians in a recent unofficial visit to Nepal that religious conversions should be banned.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), BJP vice chairman Bhagat Singh Koshiyari called for an immediate and complete legal ban on conversions during his visit to the country from 30 May to 1 June.
He reportedly alleged that Western countries are assisting Nepal in converting Hindus to Christianity.