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 17, 2009

Guidelines for Christian Workers

Guidelines for Christian Workers

[This is an extract from a booklet “Anti Freedom of Faith Acts” published by Christian Institute of Management, 1359/1, 11street, Vallalar Colony, I Block, Anna Nagar (W), Chennai- 600 040, India. Email concern@eth.net]

The Tamil Nadu Act against freedom of faith necessitates that some guidelines are given to all the full-time Christian workers serving in the state. The following was drafted by a team of legal professionals, heads of churches, mission agencies and institutions. This draft was again corrected by very responsible Christian leaders. This can be used with further modification to suit your needs.

We are taking every democratically ordained means, like the legislature, judiciary and executive to defend our freedom of faith and defeat this Act. However, we should avoid negative communal approach. The communal antisocial forces today in India would like to see the Christians also take to a communal divide. We should not fall into the trap. The Church is called by God to be a prophetic voice for the entire nation and bring healing and blessing to all peoples under all circumstances.

Our response has to be positive to accept the situation, as God allowed, in His sovereign will – for the ultimate good of His church, even if it is through unpleasant circumstances. The Lord is in control of every situation. The Church in each century has faced some difficulties in some parts of the world. Ultimately the sufferings have resulted in blessing.

According to the Acts in Tamil Nadu, MP, Arunachal and Orissa, Christian “conversion” is understood as the act of baptism. “Abetting conversion” is understood as any step aiding or leading to baptism.

The Tamil Nadu Act by and large will be used by communal anti-social forces to make false complaints to harass genuine evangelistic ministries, even if such complaints finally cannot stand in the court. However, their purpose of harassment will be achieved till the court acquits. Therefore what are suggested below are steps not only to avoid legal action, but also to avoid illegal harassment from anti-social forces.

1. Outsider participation: If a seeker from some other faith or non faith wants to attend weekly church or weekly Christian meeting or weekly Bible study, he is completely free to do so. You are at full liberty to allow him to do so. If a minor wants to attend, he can do so except that he should not sign any statement or declaration of religious nature.

2. Baptism: When a person from some other faith or non-faith wants to take baptism, you need to do the following:

a. The seeker needs to attend regular instruction in the Christian faith for 3 months or more. File some document as evidence that he attended such instruction. One simple way is to enroll the seeker in Bible correspondence Course. His filled-up correspondence lesson sheets sent to either you or the Bible Correspondence Course Centre is sufficient evidence of his study.

b. If the seeker is an illiterate or half literate provide him/her oral instruction for 3 months and some recorded evidence must be maintained like signature/ thumb impression as to attending such instruction classes.

c. Obtain a Declaration from the seeker signed by a Notary Public, that he/ she after due study of the Christian teachings, is voluntarily seeking admission in the faith / church without coercion, force, fraud, allurement, etc.

d. After the baptism, as per the Act, file the Intimation with the appropriate judicial officer. Study thoroughly the Act as well as the Rules of the Act, which will be published soon. This Intimation Form will be available in any Government publications center. Otherwise write to Christian Institute of Management.

3. Group Baptism: Avoid large group baptism as this has caused harmful publicity and resulting difficulties even though the seekers were genuine. On the other hand, an individual may not have the courage to take baptism fearing violence or harassment from anti social forces. It may be advisable that, in the case of the weaker sections of the society, a whole family is given baptism together, so that they can endure persecution together.

4. Minors: Do not give baptism to a minor from non-Christian faith unless his/ her parents request in writing for the same. Minors (from other faiths) should not sign any religious statements, without the consent of parents. Follow also the instructions given in Point No. 2 above.

5. Witnesses: In the case of baptism of minors, women, dalits or tribals, as a safeguard against harassment from anti-social forces, obtain the signatures of four or more witnesses in their Declaration seeking baptism. In case of a minor or a woman, the written assent of her father/husband/ closest male relative is very advisable besides other witnesses. This is suggested because some witnesses can turn hostile subsequently due to threat or harassment by anti-social forces.

6. Hospital evangelism: We can continue hospital evangelism as before. Literature can be distributed to patients and cab be prayed for the sick. Our literature can proclaim the teachings of Christ but should not ask for a pledge. The literature can offer further study, Bible Correspondence Course etc. but should not seek a pledge.

You can pray in general for all the sick in mission hospitals. The hospital staff may start their work with public prayer for healing for all. No one can object to it because it is “practice of our faith” in Christian medical institutions. A patient or his relatives who do not want to partake in it have the freedom to abstain from attending it.

However, if you are visiting a Govternment hospital or a private hospital, use discretion in ministering to the patients there. We can pray for a patient only with his /her interest and consent.

When you do community health care in villages and slums, you can start your morning work with public prayer as this is part of our “faith practice”. Before doing the prayer, you must announce clearly that attending the prayer is optional for the villagers and those who want to abstain can do so.

7. Minority Institutions: Christian schools are minority institutions. Article 29 and 30 explicitly provide for practice of our faith in minority educational institutions. The phrase “institutions of their choice” interalia includes providing education along the lines of our minority religious identity. Therefore Christian schools can (and should) continue their morning song, prayer and Bible reading. However make sure that the songs, bible reading and prayer are devotional and of worship in content.

It must be announced in written form that the non-Christian children have liberty to be passive participants in the morning worship (not singing the song or saying the prayer, etc) Non-Christian children or parents who object to even passive participation in the morning worship have the option to join some other schools.

Christian schools can also have religious instruction classes but only outside the academic hours. However these classes are meant only for Christian children. Non-Christian children can attend Bible study classes in your school, only with the written consent of the parent/guardian.

8. Public Preaching: Preaching in public places, street preaching, tract distribution, etc. can continue as before but the crusade mindset must be avoided. More of songs and bhajans and the expounding of the teachings of Christ need to be done with more cultural and religious sensitivity. Criticising or condemning or comparing of other religious faiths or practices must be avoided.

9. Media: Television, radio, film and other mass media ministries can continue but with extraordinary cultural and social sensitivity, which is lacking today in many of our programmes.

10. Children ministries: In many rural, tribal and urban ministries children of all faiths eagerly attend our holistic children clubs/ literacy classes/ health clubs / Sunday schools, etc. They can continue to do so. However no child (from other faiths) should sign any religious declaration / pledge.

11. Orphanage / Children Homes / Christian Hostels: Taking care of orphans and poor is an explicit command given in the Bible. Therefore, under our Constitution this is practice of our religion. The orphan (and poor children) may be Christians as well as non-Christians. In case of non-Christian orphan/ destitute, you must obtain necessary permission for the child to be brought up in a Christian orphanage / children’s Home. Consult your lawyer on this or write to us. The child can undergo all the Christian disciplines of the orphanage/ children’s Home. However, the child (from other faith) should not write any religious declaration without parent / guardian’s written consent. See points no. 2,3,4, and 5.

12. Missions/ Social service / Development agencies: All your field workers can carry identity cards and also your organization’s policy statement. The statement must state besides other things that:

a. The social service is offered to only Christian poor (if that is your policy) and strictly confine to Christian poor only. OR

b. The service is offered to all poor irrespective of race, religion, etc.

c. You are a Christian agency, therefore you will “practice your religion in course of your service – like corporate prayer, Bible reading or worship”

d. No one is obliged to take part in the above “practice of our faith” unless they want to.

Consult your lawyer and draft necessary policy statement or contact CIM.

13. Public Relations: Wherever possible involve the local officers like the village chief, panchayat president, municipal councilor, MLA, police officer, etc in the inauguration or other functions of your social services. You must also participate as much as possible in all civic functions.

14. Venue of evangelistic meetings: Wherever feasible avoid holding evangelistic meetings in public grounds. Hold them in the church or Christian school ground. No one can object to a Christian evangelistic meeting being conducted in a Christian campus. But Christian celebrations like Yeshu Jayanthi or Easter or New Year can be conducted in public grounds. However, for evangelistic meeting for non- Christians (which is perceived rightly or wrongly as ‘ Conversion activity’) the most appropriate place is a Christian ground.

15. Literature: Pledge / declaration slip should be removed from all evangelistic literature. We are at liberty to appeal to the reader on the soundness of following Christ or His teachings but it is unwise, in the present context, to ask a reader / seeker to sign the pledge card.

Secondly, such literature may end up in the hands of minors and signing such a pledge (without the consent of parents) by the minor can raise problems.

All evangelistic literature meant for non - Christians should have Indian addresses and preferably Indian writers to avoid cultural insensitivity.

16. Cultural Sensitivity: We need to encourage more of culturally relevant modes of evangelism. We thank God for every form of effort by the universal church and God can use any method. However, in the context of the current communal sensitivity, we must weigh every one of our methods in presenting Christ to our fellow patriots.

17. Publicity: Some mega crusades with international have drawn unhealthy attention, with their out of proportion publicity material. More culturally suitable methods of evangelism need to be promoted in future.

Your e-mail, post and magazines in India and abroad are being read by others including the anti-social forces. Therefore use discretion in your publicity and reports as they can be misused against you.

18. Internationals: Use internationals, if need be, only in backup ministry like social, medical, educational, office or technical ministry but not in any front line evangelistic ministry. International can be used in spiritual ministry to Christians but not be used in evangelistic efforts meant for non -Christians. Internationals should not be taken to interior tribal areas or rural areas.

19. Vocabulary: We need to avoid all words of colonial era like “winning, warfare, strategy, convert, conversion”, etc. What we understand by these words is totally different from what the average non-Christian understands by them. Ask mature Christian leaders to read your literature before publishing.

20. Independent workers: There are many independent workers who need to relate to some network or fellowship. It is very important and urgent that they do so. This will serve double purpose. They will become accountable to some community of ministers in India. Secondly in time of need, harassment or opposition that community will stand behind them. If no network suits their kind of ministry, they can form their own network, bringing into it, all the ministries of their kind across the state.

Know your rights as a citizen. The booklets published by Indian Social Institute are invaluable guides in this respect. Consult responsible Christian leaders or write to us before taking any major steps in your work in relation to the above state Act.

If any one including the police makes any complaints, threats, or claim, insist that they make their complaint or case in writing. Do not respond to oral claims. Send CIM a copy of the complaints you receive. Consult your lawyer before responding to complaints.

We need to build up on our spiritual resources – increase our prayer efforts for the nation, for the Church and its mission, confess our own failings – especially in the area of Christian brotherhood and cultural sensitivity. Thereby we will overcome every obstacle.

You may find the above Guidelines useful till all the States Acts against freedom of faith are eliminated.

Tamilnadu Grievance Cell for Freedom of Faith.

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