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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Body-Counts Have Become Big, Compelling Business

Arun Shourie
The Church had but to get established and it became obsessed with numbers -- with the number of souls it had, to use the term so favoured by churchmen, "harvested" for Jesus. Numbers remain its singular obsession today. The impulse is not just its own history in this regard. The impulse is not just its character -- it is, after all, primarily an organization, and therefore like all organizations it is obsessed with its market-share.

To a very large extent, the impulse is commercial. The Church is big business. Evangelization is big business. And this business depends on that "harvesting" of souls. You just have to scan American church publications, or those of Europe, to see that one of the main grounds on which believers are induced to donate funds to the church is that the money is needed for the harvesting work. But even in that there is now a problem.

In Europe as well as in the US, the Church is in serious trouble. Attendance in Rome itself has fallen to just three per cent of the number of nominal believers -- in Rome, the very seat of the Vatican. With this shriveling, has come another problem : the church has been having greater and greater difficulties in recruiting priests, nuns, and others to man the churches. The need for focusing on countries such as India has therefore tripled.

Missionary publications bear ample testimony to this focus : they are full of targets, of detailed plans, of marketing strategies by which the harvest here is to be multiplied : a church to be "planted" in every village, a Bible to be placed in every pair of hands, lists and characteristics of "people-groups" which are to be targetted -- women, scheduled castes, and, most of all, tribals; the beliefs and characteristics of each target-group which can be used to enter the group, the beliefs which are liable to be hindrances and how these may be transformed into aids.

"The majority Meiti are Hindu," notes Operation World, and points to what may be used to wean them away : "nationalism is lowering commitment to Hinduism". As a rule, evangelists denounce nationalism, how are they looking hopefully at nationalism among the Meiti?, you may wonder -- that is because, in this instance, by "nationalism" they mean feeling for the tribal identity as against their focusing on what they share with the rest of the country! Meghalaya : already 57 per cent Christian, focus has now to be on "the less reached" -- "Some of the smaller tribes -- notably the Hajong, Mikir and others -- have been less responsive and remain entrenched in their animism. The Hindu minority has been little affected by the gospel." Mizoram : already 85 per cent Christian; focus has to be on "the less reached" -- and there is a sign of hope, "The Buddhist Chakmas are being intensively evangelised by Mizo, and churches are multiplying," followed by the next target-group in bold type, "The Bangladeshi refugees and the Hindu population are needy." The beam of hope from Nagaland : "Missionary vision blossomed as a result of revival. Christians made a solemn covenant in 1980 to live for, and further, world evangelization. They are trusting God that 10,000 missionaries will be sent from Nagaland...." A minor footnote : Operation World is published by one of the most active missionary publication houses -- its name? Om Publishing, Carlisle, UK!

That name tells a larger tale. Missionary publications set out how the dress of the clergy, how the ambiance in churches, how Christian ritual are to be "indigenised" so that people do not continue to look upon the church as foreign. Stating that the Cardinal President of the Consilium, His Eminence Benno Cardinal Gut, has accepted the proposals of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of India, a circular of Archbishop D. Simon Lourdusamy informed churches in the country,

"(1) The posture during Mass, both for priests and the faithful may be adapted to local usage, that is sitting on the floor, standing and the like; footwear may also be removed.
(2) Genuflections may be replaced by the profound bow with the anjali hasta.
(3) A panchanga pranam by both priests and faithful can take place before the liturgy of the Word, as part of the Penitential rite, and at the conclusion of the Anaphora.
(4) Kissing of objects may be adapted to local customs, that is touching the object with one's fingers or palm of one's hand and bringing the hands to one's eyes or forehead.
(5) The kiss of peace could be given by the exchange of anjali hasta and/or the placing of the hands of the giver between the hands of the recipient.
(6) Incense could be made use of in liturgical services. The receptacle could be the simple incense bowl with handle.
(7) The vestments could be simplified. A single tunic-type chasuble with a stole (angavastra) could replace the traditional vestments of the Roman rite....
(8) The corporal could be replaced by a tray (thali or thamboola thattu)....
(9) Oil lamps could be used instead of candles.
(10) The preparatory rite of the Mass may include : ....(b) the welcome of the celebrant in the Indian way, e.g. with a single arati, washing of hands etc.; (c) lighting of the lamp....
(11) In the Offertory rite and at the conclusion of the Anaphora the Indian form of worship may be integrated, that is, double or triple arati of flowers, and/or incense, and/or light...."

An evangelical Internet site exults in how that ministry consciously avoids overturning the beliefs and practices of the target-peoples, how instead it ensures "deculturisation" over an extended period by introducing into their awareness what it terms "functional substitutes" for those beliefs and practices. So much so that it commends its own logo too on this ground! We have not replaced the lotus, "which is supposed to be the seat of the Indian gods," it reports, we have entrenched the Cross in it! While addressing the ignorant and illiterate in India this ministry will point to the lotus, while addressing the potential donor its selling-point is the opposite : "The inference is," the site informs that donor, "that the historical Christ and the Cross must ultimately take the seat of these mythological deities and thereby Christianity should become deeply rooted in the culture of India."

Even minor outfits garner literally millions through this harvesting business. Taken as a whole the enterprise is being conducted on a scale we just cannot imagine. As the late Ram Swarup had pointed out, even fifteen years ago, the Mission Handbook, North American Ministries Overseas had put the number of missionaries raking in the harvest at around a quarter million. Even then it had put the expenditure on such activity at around one and a half billion dollars. Of course, it had exhorted the faithful to dole out much more : "it costs money to stay in business," it had said with fetching frankness! One of the ways for these missionaries to get their flock to cough up money has been to paint our people and country in gory colours -- this has not changed one bit since the 19th century. Starving, sunk in superstition, crushed under the heels of high-caste Hindus, in the grip of Satan himself -- hence the urgent duty to save them, and for that send your donation to.... "The Indian sub-continent, with one billion people, is a living example of what happens when Satan rules the entire culture," Ram Swarup quoted from the Texas-based Gospel for Asia. "India is one vast purgatory in which millions of people.... are literally living a cosmic lie. Could Satan have devised a more perfect system for causing misery?"

Nothing gets the faithful to dip into their pockets as atrocity stories. Missionary publications and Internet sites are predictably full of these : "Christian suffering in India is the worst in India in 50 years," a site informed potential donors through the Internet in a dispatch by the Editors of Religion Today, dated 30 November, 1998 -- that is, even before the current series of fabrications began to be put out. "Mobs of religious fanatics have attacked churches and Christian schools, dispersed outdoor gospel meetings, and beaten evangelists in dozens of incidents this year," it proclaimed. "Oppression is widespread," it said, sourcing it to "a person with contacts." Churches have been burned, an orthodox school attacked for not teaching Sanskrit, tractors and crowbars used in attack.... Government deliberately taking no action.... Hence "the workers pray God for their protection. They 'take the threats before the Lord in fasting prayer and ask Him to protect them.' Christians have been beaten, tortured with razor blades, and thrown from a speeding train, and 6 to 12 per year are martyred, he said." Who said? The very same propagandist-editor who has been in the forefront of spreading concoctions like "Jhabua re-enacted in Jhajjar".

But not just atrocity stories -- if they were all, they could well drain potential donors of enthusiasm, "What's the use?," they could conclude. And so, triumph-in-face-of-atrocity, atrocity-as-a-reflection-of-triumph stories too : the same site, in the same story, "....Hundreds of tribal people in a section of northern India are becoming Christians through the efforts of evangelists" -- notice the unverifiable locale : "a section of northern India"! Next, "The area is known for violent tribal clashes" -- that to redouble the admiration for the evangelists : they are doing the Lord's work in spite of the risks the area poses. "'It is the greatest revival we know of at this time,' he said. 'You don't get this kind of revival without persecution, and bloodshed, and martyrdom. One comes with the other.'"

Conclusion : give because India is in the grip of Satan; give because with its billion people India represents such a vast opportunity to save souls for the Lord; give because Christians are being cut up with razor blades there; give because in spite of this, in fact because of this bloodshed, the harvest is multiplying by the hour.... And as in every advertising campaign, a certificate from a satisfied consumer! "Dr. Donald McGavran made the following observation about the ECI [the Evangelical Church of India]," notes a related site on Internet. "'The fascinating story of the unique church planting ministry of ECI in India must be told everywhere in the pessimistic missionary world. What Dr Sargunam and his colleagues have achieved during the last two decades affirms that the Lord of the harvest is at work in several parts of India. I have been in a few of these churches and watched the number of baptisms. I commend Christians everywhere to support and claim a share in this tremendous victory and help many more thousands to be discipled and Churches multiplied until Christ returns.'"

The site of AD2000 Mission informs donors, Vasanthraj Albert of the Church Growth Research Center in Madras, states, 'I believe that India today is on the map for the global church.' And Peter Wagner, coordinator for the AD2000 United Prayer Mobilization Network observes, 'Of all the nations in the world, India has the highest potential of fruitful investment of evangelistic effort at this time. It is the place to invest time, energy and resources.'"

Organizations upon organizations. Targets upon targets : for "200 people-groups", for "50 languages", for "50 urban areas", for "200 geographical districts." How their mouths water at the sight of "unreached peoples" : "Remarkably this [the unreached of India] is 30% of the world's unreached peoples. The goal is to plant churches in all the remaining 500,000 villages and several thousand unevangelised segments of the 300 largest cities in India. To achieve these goals, delegates have agreed to cooperate with the India Mission Association, which networks to place an evangelist in every postal code area."

"Calcutta is an amazing testimony to the power of prayer," the site of the AD2000 movement reports. An estimated 35 million focused on Calcutta one day, it says. This was followed by a month of on-site prayer. "That month of prayer enhanced the Mission Calcutta 2000 Network, whose aim is to establish a church in every one of the city's 93 postal zones by the end of the year 2000. Great progress has been made. Thirty zones that did not have a church now have one. Today only 30 other zones remain untouched."

And Calcutta isn't the only target, it says. "Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh is Hinduism's holiest city, with thousands of temples centering on the worship of Shiva, an idol whose symbol is the phallus. Many consider this city the very seat of Satan. Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges at Varanasi washes away all sins. A number of Christian workers took up the burden of prayer for this city and in prayer-walks boldly declared before the idols, 'You are not a living god.' One year later it was discovered that church planting works had opened up in sixty villages around Varanasi over that past year, with 300 baptisms reported." "An intensive training program has been implemented to teach people to practice intercession for the target units," it records. "An experienced prayer warrior from Africa, Dr Zachariah Fomum, has played a key role in this training for prayer.... India is ready and waiting."

One of the difficulties has been that India is "like an intricate mosaic," the site says. At last the barrier is being breached. "Much progress has been made in the last few years to 'spy out the land and its inhabitants' and to give an accurate and up-to-date picture of the challenges and the opportunities," it reports. "The Indian Missions Association, in partnership with Gospel for Asia, has researched and published very informative and accurate books on what has been done so far and the work yet to be done to complete the task of evangelization within India. They have defined the work according to language groups, PIN (Zip) codes, and unreached-people groups in the country...." The work of others is contributing to the same cause -- hence, the Anthropological Survey of India is completing and publishing its "People of India Project". Invaluably helpful data....

And that too testifies to God's plan! "Perhaps never before has this kind of information on India been so carefully surveyed, prepared, well-published and distributed. In this the North India-Hindi Belt is unique. We do not believe it is accidental. God is allowing us to 'spy out the land' that we might go in and claim both it and its inhabitants for Him."

A dozen things can be said of this nonsense. For the moment ponder just two :

* How does all this feverish harvesting compare with what the Supreme Court has laid down as the law of the country ?

* When the Church sets out to convert on such a scale, when its little agents go about "boldly declaring before the idols" their calumnies, is it at all possible that the targeted society will not react?

This obsession with body-counts is ruinous -- not the least for the church itself : it has already drained it of all spirituality, exactly as Gandhiji had warned it would. And even by itself it is bound to ignite a mighty reaction. But there is another feature which is even more certain to stoke reaction, an even mightier reaction than this obsession -- it is to this feature that we shall turn.

India Connect
March 16, 1999

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