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 www.everyculture.com.
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?