Lingayats Targeted for Conversion

To Lingayats, perhaps this is old news.  To those in the U.S. or married to Lingayats this may come as a shock.  I knew I was shocked and angered to discover that Lingayats are being specifically targeted by American Evangelicals for conversion.


 Satya is not shocked at all.  He’s heard of Christian missionaries settling near his home. He says that some people are initially tolerant of missionaries, until they discover that the missionaries are trying to convert them.  Then there are reactions such as the missionary being ignored, beat up, or of people converting for material benefits. 


Satya has a lot of patience.  This spring we attended Mass with my family and the priest was talking in his homily about the importance of worshipping only one god.  My family all cringed, but Satya was unconcerned.  He’s heard it all before and I guess it rolls off of him pretty easily by now. 


We both do not have a problem with Christians-I am Catholic after all, and he has attended Mass with my family a few times.  Satya grew up in a very tolerant and diverse environment-he has Christian and Muslim friends he’s known for years.  He attended a school founded by German missionaries.  It is the conversion part we both have issues with.  To me it is insulting and condescending.  Lingayats are not lost people without a history or culture nor are they immoral.  Satya and my in laws are extremely intelligent, kind, tolerant, and spiritual people. 


 My own view is that everyone should be left to their own devices.  The best witness to a religion is being a good person.  If anyone is going to convert in our relationship it will likely be me because I do not agree with the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church and I think that Lingayats know better how to live in a multicultural world.  If people ask, then tell them about your religion.  Do not manipulate people or bribe them.


Missionaries can destabilize an area and put their believers in danger.  If the missionaries or their followers anger a group of Hindus or Muslims then the Hindus and Muslims could persecute the followers.  The missionaries leave to return to their homelands and the local converts are left to face the wrath of their neighbors.  It also fuels the fire of the Hindu and Muslim fundamentalist groups. 




Baptist Press   This article is of Baptists bragging about their success converting Lingayats.


Joshua Project   This website shows which groups around the world are being actively targeted by Evangelicals.  Not only is it offensive, some of their information is blatantly wrong and/or condescending.  One of the links they list to learn more about Lingayats is

Here is what they say about Lingayats and the arts “Although Lingayats in past centuries were noted for their religious poetry and philosophical writings, today the chief arts are the singing and playing of hymns. There is no marked ability shown in the visual arts.” Who judges that?  How?

And about Medicine, “Lingayat priests (called ayya or swami) are also astrologers and medicine men, often dispensing herbal remedies to sick villagers. This is a useful craft for them to possess, rather than a learned profession.”  This is despite the fact that Satya’s family has numerous doctors and dentists.  The site makes Lingayats sound like a primitive tribe complete with witch doctors rather than a group of people part of the modern world. 



Here is a website of Indian Christians trying to evangelize Karnataka.  I do have some sympathy for their cause because they are trying to help people few are willing or able to, namely street kids and eunuchs.  Also, these are Indian Christians trying to evangelize other Indians.  Still, I’m uncomfortable.  I don’t think it is a tragedy that the number of Christians is falling in Karnataka.  Christianity won’t solve Karnataka’s challenges.  Neither do I think that Hinduism created those challenges.  This website has false claims such as that thanks to missionaries Kannada is a written language and its people speak English thus allowing them to compete with the rest of the world.  Kannada has been a written language for hundreds of years.  The people of Karnataka know English because India was a British colony.






This blog records acts of persecution against Christians in India.  Although it does do an important job of recording some injustices, I do wonder about the full back story of the incidents.  What was the situation like before the attacks?  Were the Christians providing a peaceful witness by being good people, or were they using questionable tactics to gain converts?  Were they in a location that wanted their presence? How long had the Christians been in the area-hundreds of years, or just a few? There is no excuse for violence, but usually there is a reason.




So where does this all leave us?  Would more education in U.S. schools about geography, languages, and cultures help?  Will the conversion laws in India be effective while still allowing those who genuinely feel the need to convert, convert?  How do we show tolerance towards those who themselves are intolerant? 




10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. evenshine
    Sep 15, 2008 @ 14:19:27

    This is interesting…I agree with you about hyper-fundamentalist evangelism, but I think we’d have to agree that sharing one’s faith with someone else (under specific circumstances, of course) can’t be all bad. The means of evangelism should be under question, not the existence or necessity of. As a Catholic it’s something your church teaches.
    Can I ask how you plan to deal with the religion issue with your kids?
    Thanks for the post! I am enjoying your blog.


  2. minnesotameetskarnataka
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 13:35:28

    I do agree that having a conversation about religious beliefs and practices is fine. I think the existence and necessity can be questioned too. Why do Muslims and Christians feel it is so important to evangelize and other religions like Hinduism do not?

    Satya and I agreed that we would mostly raise them Hindu/Lingayat. I would like them baptized, which is something I can’t quite explain. I plan on reading them stories of the Bible and of the Catholic saints and he wants them to know about Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses.

    Talking with Satya has changed my views on missionaries and evangelism. I think he feels like Hindus are “under seige” a bit by Muslims and Christians wanting to convert Hindus.


  3. Evenshine
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 14:46:56

    Hey min, thanks for the response. I think the answer to your question is that in Islam and Christianity, it’s an explicit command (see Matthew 28:19). There’s no such command in Hinduism. As far as baptism is concerned, I can understand what you’re saying. Sometimes we want the things we had as children for our own children, not to mention the fact that the Catholic church requires it of any Catholic parent.
    I understand Satya’s viewpoint, and readily agree that “missionary” has a bad connotation! My best to you both as you work this out…it’s a tough journey, but absolutely worth it!


  4. minnesotameetskarnataka
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 15:48:21

    Hi Evenshine,

    Yes, I know it is a command. Why, though? The reason has probably more to do with culture or how those religions came to be than with God.


  5. Geetha
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 11:36:10

    Hey there, I am a Lingayat married to a Protestant. I chanced upon this site when seaching for Lingayats in Karnataka. I like what I read, I have come across many people like us and we all go through this.

    Good luck for whatever you want to acheive.


  6. evenshine
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 12:30:55

    Hey Minnie- I’d be interested to hear your reasoning. I guess my question would be- is religion exclusively cultural? I would hope not-it’s much better if it’s, like you said, a personal choice. And to answer your question- it’s a command because of love. Christ, the world, love. Love means sharing what is most valuable, most life-changing, with another person. Christ is my center, my focus, that which moves me, truth. Why not share that with someone else?


  7. minnesotameetskarnataka
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 14:16:35

    @ Geetha: Welcome!

    @ Evenshine: Great question…is religion exclusively cultural? I don’t think it is easy to separate the two. Religion affects decision making and what a person values. Exclusively cultural? No, because in any religion there is a wide spectrum of viewpoints.

    I agree, love does involve a lot of sharing (sometimes more than I expected : )

    What makes me uncomfortable is coercion, control, and the whiff of superiority. Wouldn’t you think it insulting if people from across the world targeted your religious/ethnic group for conversion? Or if people from across the world landed in your village, created divisions, and then left?


  8. evenshine
    Sep 21, 2008 @ 17:03:13

    “What makes me uncomfortable is coercion, control, and the whiff of superiority. ”

    YES. Which is what I was saying before- the *means* should be under question, not the goal.

    “Wouldn’t you think it insulting if people from across the world targeted your religious/ethnic group for conversion? Or if people from across the world landed in your village, created divisions, and then left?”

    Of course. The article, however, talks about Indian Christians. The “white man mission” has been seen for the failure that it is. Many more missions organizations now take the position of training local leaders to relate to their peers. As for divisions, I think they will exist no matter what- I’m not sure there’s such a thing as homogeneous cultures any more (perhaps remote tribes).
    Interesting conversation! Looking forward to further posts!


  9. Ram T
    Mar 06, 2009 @ 05:22:44

    Interesting blog and discussion.. Am very happy to see your blog.. especially as a Hindu (and I use the word loosely) Indian guy married to a white Christian American girl.

    I see many cross cultural experiences essentially the same.. we all, it seems tread the same path. My wife loves indian culture – the food, language, traditions and cloths. She already has a collection of Sarees.
    And I love her mid western sensibilities, her eternal optimism and that she can make happy me with a smile and a touch. She is a killer with Indian food.

    I’m really thrilled to see others in such multi ethnic and multi religious marriages. It warms my heart. But I do wonder if anyone else has been through the kind of gut wrenching soul searching and serious introspection that characterized my initial days in our relationship. I had to examine my values – face some ugly truths.

    More to the point.. as a Hindu.. I do see serious systematic problems in Hinduism that have been carried forward because India and by extension Hinduism was and has been until very recently a very closed society. We did not marry outside our caste, let alone outside our religion, forget marrying a foreigner from another land. It closed the religion and society off to new ideas and ideals. Only now are we marrying into other cultures and only now are we questioning our values. Frankly I’m happy to see I’m not alone on this journey. If anyone here thinks religions or belief systems don’t evolve… please, please stop reading now, what I have to say won’t make sense and will hurt your feelings.

    I enjoyed reading much of your blog.. it’s very relatable and entertaining… until I ran into this piece.

    My wife is Christian.. in a loose, non Church going bordering on the atheist manner. She has a very strong sense of right and wrong, she is also sensitive to racism and discrimination. Before she met me, she’d taken some Asian studies and comparative religions classes. She knew what she was getting into and was no stranger to my religion. She’s challenged me and called me out on many occasions… especially my religious and cultural beliefs. We have some interesting conversations. I’m hindu but now I think I’m an atheist at times, if that is even possible.. I’d love to be a full time atheist… someday.

    If ever I get into an multi cultural or religious discussion.. I talk my religion (Hinduism) up and present it in the best possible light… even though as you will see I have serious issues with it. I don’t ever bag on my religion because I have to live with it, but for your blog, I’ll do what I haven’t ever done before – I’ll bag on it.

    Before we get there.. 90% of Christians in India are untouchable converts and the % of Christians in India is falling.

    So here it is, from one New wannabe convert to Atheism to a New wannbe convert to Hinduism.

    I’m hindu and come from a large land owning caste, my folks back home are proud and very traditional hindus. I know a lot about what I write, because my folks back home employ of lot of them (for next to nothing) as farm hands or daily wage labor in our fields.

    I think you’ve been more than unfair to Christians and Conversions in India. You also show a remarkable bias against Christianity and Indian Christians and by extension one of the poorest and most discriminated people on earth – the untouchables.

    Is it because you are simply unaware or because you plan on adopting the religion of their persecutors. I wonder?

    As mentioned earlier – a full 90% of Indian Christians are former untouchables.
    It’s not possible to talk about conversions in India without talking about untouchables in Hinduism… An assault on Christianity is in reality an assault on these – escapees from Hinduism caste system. How dare they convert and be subservient no more? How dare they ask for decent wages? Let’s kill them all.

    Having said that.. I, a hindu whole heartedly am in for missionaries continuing their work and converting every untouchable they can find. The Govt can’t help them, the hindus (including my dear family) hate them.. there is no money in helping them. The missionaries want their soul’s in exchange for education and health care – So be it. I think it’s fantastic! Let the missionaries build hospitals, schools and give the untouchables dignity that Hinduism denies them. What’s the problem here? I love that US money goes to build infrastructure in my improvised country. Shouldn’t the farm hands have education and health care? Are they not human?

    Your husband went to a mission school, I did too and let me tell you the missionaries did not convert me. It was the best education we could find in 200 miles.

    You of course love the religion you’ve married into and in that love you (appear to) have lost your moral compass. You (appear to) speak and parrot lines from radical hindu groups that want to wipe out every other religion from India. Buddhism was wiped out eons ago.

    For the hard liners it’s unthinkable that Hinduism be exposed for what it really is.. a system of subjugation and exploitation that’s lasted 3000 years. (Here’s where my atheism really kicks in) No other religion instutionlized slavery like Hinduism did. Christianity and Islam with their message of equality are a direct threat to Hindusims central tenant – the caste system. It upsets the apple cart.. especially if the untouchables take up Christianity. You have to rob a people of their dignity if you want them to serve you.. if they have dignity, the slaves will revolt.

    From your blog ” Missionaries can destabilize an area and put their believers in danger “
    Would you have said the same for the freedom riders too? Destabilize? Really?
    It’s amazing that someone who’s had all the advantages the US offers can rationalize with denying what little can be sent to those that don’t have any.

    You seem to have taken a stand against freedom of religion too.. one of which entails being able to spread and preach your religion to who so ever will listen. You also seem to have a thing against free speech.. hey I can call whoever whatever I want… here in the US, but not so in India.. eh? Sounds specious? It is.

    Let me elaborate: Almost all missionary work is directed towards the untouchables. What if missionaries have plans to convert everyone and everything? Religion is fluidic and dynamic. Missionaries built more schools and hospitals than the Govt. Of India until recently. Much of “missionary” work is directed towards providing services for the very poor. Mother Teresa was a missionary.. that should clue you in.

    The population of Christians in India is falling.. not increasing. A couple of months ago over 40,000 of them (untouchable converts) were driven from their thatched mud homes, many were killed some burnt alive by hindu extremist mobs. None of them were converting anyone… they were piss poor eating dirt kinda Christians.

    So welcome to my religion and my world of morally and ethically bankrupt fellow Hindus. Your blog indicates that you seem to have picked up old world prejudices and rationales quite well.

    On a personal note, have you ever considered how your husband’s family would have reacted if you were black?

    I know how mine would have – They’d disown me. I’d not be able to take my wife and daughter to India. That’s India and Hinduism for you.

    Hinduism is great if you are a high caste hindu.. It’ll be the death of you.. if you are low caste or an untouchable, same as sucks to be black in segregated America.

    It took me 15 years from when I first realized all was not right with my religious and cultural beliefs to when I could admit to myself openly. I still have problems admitting it in person.. on the internet, as I write this, I now realize I’m quite a brave heart and can ramble on.

    I’m sorry for being for being blunt and bagging on you.. I was enjoying your blog till I ran into this piece.

    I think you made some good points in your comment.

    This post is a post that I do think requires some revision and more thought. In the interest of showing my journey of filtering ideas and thoughts and the interest of honesty I’ll keep it up for now. I look at it as a pendulum–when I was a kid I was a devout Catholic kid who looked through everything through a very rigid lens. Now, in trying to learn more about my husband’s faith I’ve swung perhaps too hard the other way. In time it will even out.

    Would his parents have cared if I was black? I honestly do not know. They lived through the late ’60s and early ’70s in Florida and were often treated like black people so that experience has made them more open-minded. I think for their family and for mine, culture and values and perhaps to some extent, class trump race.

    Were there not always Hindus who tried to help others and social justice/change movements? They did not just come in with Western influence.

    I think what irritates my husband is how the West tries to portray India as always being poor and backwards. Having grown up in a religious Catholic household and reading missionary magazines I’d never really heard the other side of it. Only when I was a teenager and adult did I hear about the atrocities committed by missionaries-how the Portugese forcefully converted people in Goa, or what the Spanish did to the peoples of Central and South America.

    I didn’t know that about such a large percentage of converts being untouchables. Clearly, I have some more reading and learning to do. When I saw that website that lists groups that have been evangelized and saw my husband’s group on their I saw red. They aren’t untouchables.

    As for the high caste Hindus, I haven’t had any contact with them. My husband tells a story about his dying grandfather making a pilgrimage to a temple in either Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu and being denied entry because he wasn’t part of the higher caste.

    You are right, free speech is precious for everyone.


  10. Ram T
    Mar 06, 2009 @ 21:20:14

    Your pendulum analogy is spot on…I commend you on talking about this difficult issue. The great thing about it is that you are willing to take an honest look and ask some uncomfortable but serious questions, not everyone has the courage to do so.

    I think you should leave the post as is.. perhaps add amendments as time goes by… it’ll be interesting to take a look at it say 10 years from now.

    How would, say the addition of a child change your views… will you take to your husband’s religion with more fervor or dig deeper into your own?
    My daughter’s birth made me introspective and I refused to indoctrine my child into a religion I consider deeply flawed, cruel and spiritually dishonest.
    How can I teach my daughter about a religion that discriminates against those considered low born? Why are some people by birth unclean?
    The irony is that, I am brown in essentially a white country and certain (fringe) groups here in the US, would consider me an outsider and inferior. You mentioned that your inlaws too faced discrimination in the South in the mid 60’s and 70’s. I hope you see the hypocrisy of my (religious) beliefs and the untenable position it puts me in.

    Incidentally, you and I are travelling the same journey from opposite ends. I from hinduism and you from catholicism. Both of us experience some guilt over our religious beliefs.. especially the treatment of our fellow humans by our respective religions. Your guilt it seems is over catholicisms behavior in the last couple of centuries. I on the other hand am appalled at hinduism current state of inequity and the deep intellectual dishonesty of my fellow hindus.

    We could have an interesting conversation if you keep posting.

    More on Conversions: It took me sometime to realize the fallacy of seeing conversions through an East-West prism.
    Christianity reached India before it reached Europe. The christians in India are hardly “agents of the west”. Are the Yoga studios and various temples in US the agents of hinduism or of India?
    On a personal note are you too now an agent of hinduism?
    Of course not, that’s rubbish.

    East-West polarization is used by hindu hardliners to skirt, circumvent, and deflect any criticism of hinduism and their own exploitation of the poor and those they consider unclean. It’s just a ploy to play the victim and not fess up to anything. Hardliners (hindu, christian or muslim) everywhere have a vested interest in maintaining status quo. They’ve worked themselves into a position of power. They tend to be the ones that lose the most when things change.

    I know this because I’m talking about my immediate family and folks, their reluctance to see any sort of advancement among whom they consider – the servants. The direct threat to our way of life in India are the Christian missionaries who’ve opened a primary school near the bad part of the village. Now “their” children can recite the ABC’s.. up until now the exclusive privilege of “our” children.
    My folks will give you every religious justification they can find to keep “them” in “their” place – The Gods want them to suffer in this life for the sins in their previous life.

    I don’t know how the birth of a child will affect things.

    For some reason, I do what the hypothetical child baptized. Weird, I know but there it is. The rice eating and hair cutting ceremonies seem ok too.

    We have been lax in trying to search out a Catholic church to attend. We went to one when we were with my family last spring and had to sit through an uncomfortable homily about how worshipping one god is the only way. My brother is gay too, which complicates things as well.

    Hinduism is more appealing because there isn’t somebody making those pronouncements who is supposed to speak for all Hindus.

    As for the caste part of Hinduism, Lingayats don’t believe in it. I don’t have it clearly in my head whether Lingayats are just another caste or if they are a different religion. Maybe I’ll write a post on that to get a better understanding…All different castes joined the Lingayat movement. We wouldn’t perpetuate the ideas about being unclean because of birth because neither of us has that belief or grew up with that belief.

    Yes, I can see that the both of us have a lot in common even if we are coming at the issue from different angles. You feel uncomfortable raising your child as a Hindu out of fear your child will pick up prejudices and that is the reason I’d feel uncomfortable raising my hypothetical child as a Catholic.


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