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 22, 2005

HAF Disturbed by Reports of Proselytization by Tsunami Relief Agencies

HINDU AMERICAN FOUNDATION DISTURBED BY REPORTS OF PROSELYTIZATION BY TSUNAMI RELIEF AGENCIES

DATE: January 22, 2005

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is gravely concerned by various reports in the media that some faith-based organizations involved in tsunami relief work are actively engaged in the proselytization of victims of the disaster.

Following the devastating tsunamis that struck South and South East Asia and left more than 160,000 dead, relief groups, both secular and faith-based, from around the world, have rushed in to rebuild and rehabilitate affected communities. Though relief aid is desperately needed in the region, and most aid groups are sincere in their humanitarian efforts, reports from several media sources confirm that some evangelical organizations are expressly proselytizing to tsunami victims while distributing aid.

The Hindu American Foundation strongly opposes any effort to make disaster relief contingent on the political allegiance, religious affiliation or socio-economic status of victims. “In times like these, victims seek reassurance and comfort,” said Dr. Mihir Meghani, President of the Hindu American Foundation, an emergency physician, and a disaster management expert currently involved in relief efforts in Sri Lanka. He continued, “I know from my own experience with disaster victims that the worst thing for them is to be coerced into giving up their greatest source of strength – their faith.”

Several reports now indicate that some faith-based groups seek to establish infrastructure and a permanent presence for evangelical activity in the regions they ostensibly seek to serve. Over the last two weeks, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, Kansas City Star and Asia News International, among others, have reported on attempts by certain faith-based groups to convert local residents in ravaged communities to faiths alien to their own practice of Hinduism. In a most egregious case, a Virginia-based missionary agency abandoned relief efforts in Indonesia when their bid to airlift 300 Muslim orphans in Indonesia to raise them in a different faith was foiled by the government.

HAF condemns proselytization to vulnerable and desperate victims as a reprehensible exploitation that is a blow to the ideals of pluralism that HAF firmly supports.

“Charity is to generously give without expectation of anything in return,” said Pawan Deshpande, member of the Hindu American Foundation Executive Council. “HAF will closely monitor reports that some groups have agendas beyond simple altruism,” he added.

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