The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

A Congress Date with Dubious Evangelist

January 28, 2005, 7:29 pm

By R. Balashankar
January 30, 2005

The Congress government under Dharam Singh in Karnataka made a spectacle of itself, going all out to make success of an evangelist’s three-day conversion programme in Bangalore. So blatant was the government’s interest in the programme that heads of 18 Hindu Mutts came together to condemn it and demand cancellation of the permission granted to Benny Hinn for his ‘Miracle Crusade.’

To expose the Benny jamboree, the entire Bangalore city observed bandh, protest march, and the police resorted to repression, lathi-charge and arrest. The shops in the city were closed, protesters pelted stones; the Chief Minister, however averred, “situation is under control”. What was the need for him to facilitate such a huge congregation at state expense to promote conversion in the country?

Coming right after the ban on the traditional Datta Jayanti celebrations and the tiranga case controversy, the blatant communalism of the government went beyond tolerable limits. Sri Vishvesha Thirtha Swamiji of the Pejawar Mutt said although Hinduism is the most tolerant religion, its leaders “cannot watch people with ulterior agenda (like Hinn) to entice gullible people into Christianity.” The heads of the Mutt saw the whole event as an exercise in mass conversions.

Benny Hinn is charged with much financial embezzlement. In fact, he is more known as an international fraud, trading in the name of religion, on the misery of illiterate poor. Several charges against him are being investigated and even his own former security director is fighting a court case against him; his own lawyers say that if the director reveals the financial secrets he knows, it could lead to Hinn’s organisation losing 90 per cent of its support.

It is not clear why the government is supporting this dubious character at the cost of antagonising the majority community. The proactivity of the Dharam Singh government forced people to conclude that he had received orders from party president Sonia Gandhi that at an official press conference he issued a statement denying her involvement.

The Karnataka government is giving him and his group VIP treatment. The spokesperson of the ‘Miracle Crusade’ Gul Kriplani has declared the event on January 21, 22, 23 will cover 230 acres of land that was levelled and graded for over 2.5 lakh chairs, with standing space provided for another 30 lakh people. The preparations, which have been on for almost six months now include building a huge dais to accommodate a choir of 1500 with 45 sets of platformed speakers and 45 screens that are 25-feet wide. 15000 ushers are being trained. All this would not have been possible without the government permission and collusion.

Some of Hinn’s stunts which were uncomfortable for the church to accept were his claim that God had given him spiritual knowledge, which was not there in the book - Bible, placing curses on people who opposed him and his pronouncements on the Holy Trinity of the Christians.

Hinn collected millions of dollars in name of building a 24-hour healing centre. Till 2002, not one brick had been laid and he claimed that the delay was because Jesus had asked him to do so. In one of his shows in 1999, he claimed that Jesus was going to appear in several places simultaneously and raised money for preparing for the visit.

Heads of 17 Hindu mutts in Karnataka appealed to the government to cancel permission given to Hinn for his Miracle Crusade. The Karnataka government had banned the Datta Jayanti celebrations and the Shobha Yatra on the ground that it would fan communal violence. Here again the dispute is between Hindus and Muslims, who have laid claim to a Sufi saint’s Samadhi in the vicinity. While several public figures, calling themselves secularists took out protest marches and street campaigns against the Shobha Yatra, and supporting the government, on Benny Hinn these people have had nothing to say.

The issue here is not Benny Hinn or his crusade. The issue is the attitude and actions of the government, taking religious sides. Hinn has already set up a permanent office of his church in Bangalore. And obviously intends to expand his territory. The centre as usual is playing the mum-game.

Benny Hinn is best known for his TV shows aired mainly in America. His book Good Morning, Holy Spirit was a run-away success. A preacher by profession, the Orthodox Church disowned him after he made several statements, which went against the policies and beliefs of the church. Hinn established his own group called Orlando Christian Church in 1983. He believes in aggressive campaigning in favour of Christianity and has declared himself the chosen one. This is Hinn’s second visit to India. His visit last year was to Mumbai.

Benny Hinn is a preacher, who has started his own Christian faith group. What has raised the hackles about his visit is the fact that the event has been advertised as a miracle cure session and a meet-Jesus opportunity. The organizers in India had even printed pamphlets condemning idol worship and other Hindu practices. The pamphlets were withdrawn much later under public pressure.

Born in 1953 in Israel to a Greek father and an Armenian mother, Hinn was brought up as a Greek orthodox. He claims that God appeared first when he was 11 and has been appearing to him ever since. He even claimed that god has cured him of a stuttering, however, his schoolmates do not recall him having had a stutter. He moved from Israel to Canada and then to America.

In 1999, Hinn made an announcement that the dead were going to come alive because of his prayers and urged people to cancel funeral services. In his TV and real shows Hinn says Jesus enters him and he does not remember what he had said.


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