BJP think tank convenor Balbir K Punj wrote a scathing attack on Christian evangelism. The article titled Evangelists are playing long-term chess game appeared in both The Deccan Chronicle and The Asian Age on November 7 2008. In this rebuttal article, Jerry Thomas finds that Balbir K Punj’s article not only makes factual errors but also misrepresents facts and makes hasty generalization.
In this rebuttal, I will not answer those charges that are raised against specific ministries, e.g. Joshua Project, Paul Dinakaran, Joyce Meyer Ministry etc as I think they need to at least issue a press release clarifying things to ‘scholars’ like Balbir K Punj. However, I will try within my means to answer general charges against evangelism. For the sake of clarity I have sorted his article based on his five main accusations and will answer those one by one. Charge 1 by Balbir K Punj: The following is a verbatim reproduction from the article ‘Evangelists are playing long-term chess game’. "The entire problem began because New Life was attracting poor people in distress and challenging their shallow faith by offering money and property to convert," was how Father Austin Menezes of Melagres Church of Mangalore recently described the work of the New Life Fellowship Trust whose actions recently provoked violence in Karnataka's largest port city. In reality, such an abrasive approach to evangelism was at the core of a popular outrage against the trust. Notice that Father Menezes has no qualms describing the belief of poor people as "shallow" although he may not agree with New Life's action plan. But if New Life was "offering money and property to convert" it is not entirely out of place with the Church's well-established stratagem to lure people to Christ. It is empirically as integral to the strategy of the Church as conversion is integral to Christianity itself. It becomes a media event only when there is a short circuit.
India has a long history of Hindu-Muslim riots but little record of Hindu-Christian violence. Thus violence in Kandhamal and Mangalore would appear extraordinary. The devil lies in details, but the national media conveniently locates it in the RSS, VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Actually, it is evangelism that provokes a violent reaction from local people.My Response:
- Procedural Mistake in Raising These Charges: I would like to point out that if Father Menezes has made these remarks against the New Life Assembly, he along with Balbir K Punj should produce evidence and register a case against New Life Assembly of Mangalore. In fact, if it is proven that any Christian has indulged in “offering money and property to convert”; we will surely disassociate with such a Christian and have no sympathy with him/her.
- Evidence though Limited Contradicts the Charges: Further it does not matter what Father Menezes, or Balbir K Punj or even Mahatma Gandhi thought about the faith of poor and dalits (Gandhi equated their intellect to that of cows). The question is about the evidence. I would also like to point out that NDTV had done interviews with a few converts in Mangalore. Details of the program are here: NDTV 24 X 7, Faith under Fire, Ground Zero Mangalore, telecasted on September 21, 2008. Similarly a few conversion stories from Kandhamal were reported in Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 36, Dated Sept 13, 2008. In this program, I saw live interviews with a few converts of Mangalore and what I saw was totally contradictory to what this author presented in this article.
Here is summary of one such story: Sunil was once a goonda beating up the people. As he continued his lifestyle of harassing and torturing people, he became severely ill. He was not healed by the medicines. Then he was told to pray to Jesus who could heal him. Sunil prayed and he was healed. Now he is a pastor giving shelter and serving to the mentally disabled and physically disfigured people.
So the evidence what we have and the charges that are raised are contradicting each other. This is cited not to rule out any instances of conversion by allurement. But there is a legal procedure to deal with those and if proved would never have the support of Christian community. Therefore it is a hasty generalization to cite stray incidents, if any, and present those as the pattern of evangelization.
The question is- has not Balbir K Punj seen the NDTV program? It is highly probable that he has seen it as he is the convener of the BJP think tank. Why did he choose to ignore the evidence and go with an irresponsible charge? Deception? We leave that decision to the readers.
- Blurring the Distinction Between Allurement and Charity- Confusion or Misrepresentation? Further, Balbir K Punj wrote “It is empirically as integral to the strategy of the Church as conversion is integral to Christianity itself”. I do not know what Balbir K Punj meant by this. If he meant that “offering money and property to convert” is an integral strategy, we request him to produce evidence from the Bible. Empty charges can be raised by anyone. Unless you produce evidence we cannot answer you and we have to ignore this as another deception from Balbir.
However, if he meant that charity is integral to a Christian life, then we will agree with him. Faith without works is dead. In fact we will give him evidence for that from the Holy Bible.
James 2: 14-17: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
In fact, I can understand the difficulty of a mind molded by Manu the law giver to comprehend this Biblical verse and make a difference between charity and allurement.
Let me give you two quotes, so that it is easier for you to understand. While describing about his conversion experience in his speech titled “A Politics of Conscience" at Hartford, Connecticut, President Elect Barack Obama said how he started working along with Church in Chicago among the poor neighborhoods and then heard about Jesus Christ and accepted Jesus as his savior.
Obama did not convert because of charity work. He came to Church because of her good works. But he converted because he heard the voice of Jesus. In his own words, he said “I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me”. This is a difference that must be applied to conversion stories in India too.
It is this explanation, the unyielding conviction, the unforgettable encounter with the savior as expressed by Obama and echoed by millions, the only reason for the life transforming step of conversion. To hold one guilty until proven innocent is a travesty of justice. To hold one innocent until proven guilty is what justice demands.
In fact, this alternate and distinct explanation is consistent with what Jesus said.
John 10:27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
In fact it is not that this is such a difficult explanation to understand. Babasaheb Ambedkar while answering similar charges by Gandhiji wrote:
“That Untouchables are no better than a cow is a statement which only an ignoramus, or an arrogant person, can venture to make. It is arrant nonsense. Mr. Gandhi dares to make it because he has come to regard himself as so great a man that the ignorant masses will not question his declarations and the dishonest intelligentsia will uphold him in whatever he says. Strangest part of his argument lies in wishing to share the material things the Christian Missions can provide. He is prepared to share their spiritual treasures provided the Missionaries invite him to share their material treasures "without obligation".* (What he minds is an exchange.) It is difficult to understand why Mr. Gandhi argues that services rendered by the Missionaries are baits or temptations, and that the conversions are therefore conversions of convenience. Why is it not possible to believe that these services by Missionaries indicate that service to suffering humanity is for Christians an essential requirement of their religion? Would that be a wrong view of the process by which a person is drawn towards Christianity? Only a prejudiced mind would say. Yes” (Emphasis added).
In other words, if a person gets converted for money, he is not a Christian. If a person hears the voice of Christ and gets converted, he is a true Christian.
Of course, Ambedkar’s mind was not molded by the laws of Manu. Probably because of that he understood the concept better.
But I will give you one more reason why these poor people (mostly Dalits) cannot be considered as converts for money.
- How Will One Explain Dalits Refusing to Reconvert Even When Threatened With Death? If poor and Dalit were converted to Christian faith due to money and property, they should be readily “reconverting” to Hinduism when their own life is threatened. However, the stories of numerous Dalits giving up their life, and their little property for their Christian faith thoroughly falsifies Balbir’s untrue and irresponsible charges against them.
On August 26, 2008, according to Sabrang Communications (secular organization which publishes the human rights magazine Combat Communalism) which chronicled the persecution in Orissa, your organization went to a Dalit Christian in Gajapati at Mukundapur village. They threatened him and told him to renounce Jesus Christ and embrace Hinduism. But this Dalit Christian whom you think has been converted to Christianity because of force and allurement refused to renounce Jesus Christ. Then your organization burned him alive. Still you want to say that these poor Christians are converted because of money and property?
Charge 2 by Balbir K Punj:
The following is a verbatim reproduction from the article ‘Evangelists are playing long-term chess game’.
“Evangelism, or bringing heathens to Christian faith, might sound a throwback to the colonial era, if not the Middle Ages. Yet we have to countenance it (like we have to countenance jihad, a 7th century Arabic concept) in the independent India of the 21st century. Money and flab, it is said, show even if you try to hide them. Just surf through television channels and you will find the evangelical flab. Let alone dedicated evangelical channels, evangelical capsules of Joyce Meyer and Paul Dinakaran occupy time slots on most private channels. No wonder this has come about in the last four years of the UPA government. How else could DD Punjabi/Jalandhar, DD NE/Guwahati or DD Malayalam – national carriers of a secular country – show explicit evangelical content by Joyce Meyer, neatly dubbed and subtitled in the language of those channels? What the MoU is between the soldiers of Christ and the I&B ministry of a "secular" government needs to be investigated.
The Church in India claims that the demographic share of Christians in India has declined to 2.5 per cent. Is such a vast tele-gospel project meant to serve the needs of this miniscule community? Census 2001, however, shows an abnormally steep rise in the Christian population in various states (Goa and Kerala are surprising exceptions) between 1991 and 2001.”
Our Response 2:
As I said at the beginning, I would not be responding to charges against specific ministries but only those charges which directed against Christians in general.
- Meaning of the Word Heathen and Evangelism:
If by using words like ‘heathen’ Balbir K Punj’s intention is to evoke some disgusting feelings in the readers, then it surely works with ignorant readers. A learned person knows that every religion has the concept of the other. There is an outcaste and Mleccha in Hinduism, there is a Kafir for Islam and there is a heathen/gentile in Christian faith too. Interestingly the treatment meted out to outcaste and the view of Mleccha was the worst among all religions. Outcaste was humiliated in the worst form in history and Mleccha was considered as one unworthy of any dignity and salvation. Unlike the Mleccha and the outcaste, a heathen, according to the Bible, is also made the very image of God, equally fallen in human nature and has equal access to salvation through Jesus Christ. One may ask – if there is no difference between heathen and a Christian in human nature and dignity, then what is the difference between both? The difference is in their religious worldview that they hold. At a worldview level, when even one of the worldviews claims exclusivity, all of the worldviews cannot be true. Logic dictates that either that particular worldview alone is false, or that particular worldview alone is true, or all worldviews are false. In fact, it becomes the responsibility of the person who knows the truth to share with it others. That is evangelism. It is the sharing of the truth with those who are yet to find it with love and care.
- Treatment of Mleccha in Hinduism and Balbir K Punj’s Article as Evidence:
However, in contrast to the heathen/gentile, the view and treatment of an outcaste and Mleccha surely evokes disgust and has no place in any civilized society. They were never considered as equally created (therefore no equal value) and are not considered as worthy of equal treatment. In fact Balbir K Punj article itself is an evidence for this. Is there any situation when a Hindu woman can be raped and paraded naked and a man burnt alive? If the answer is no, then why does Balbir K Punj think that his arguments even if they were correct (which is not the case) somehow justify the rape of a Christian woman or parading a man naked or burning a man alive? This is because he thinks that the Dalit and Mleccha need not be treated equally. This Dharma has no place in any civilized society. Yet we have to countenance it (like we have to countenance jihad, a 7th century Arabic concept) in the independent India of the 21st century.
- Who Lied about Census: Factual Error and Clever Tactics:
Balbir K Punj deceives yet again when he states that “The Church in India claims that the demographic share of Christians in India has declined to 2.5 per cent”. Balbir then argues that “Census 2001, however, shows an abnormally steep rise in the Christian population in various states (Goa and Kerala are surprising exceptions) between 1991 and 2001.” Notice, he does not tell us what that abnormally steep rise is. After making such a statement, he immediately turns his attention to British rule lest we may ask some questions.
However, let us stop and ask whether there is any contradiction between the statement of Church and census of India. One can access the Census 2001 in the government of India website www.censusindia.gov.in and select Population by religious communities. The total number of persons in all religious communities is 1,028,610,328. The total number of persons in Christian faith is 24,080,016. Therefore the percentage of Christians is 2.341%.
In fact, I have taken this argument not to prove either increase or decrease in Christian population. I think that argument is irrelevant to the question of conversion. If Christians become 23% from 2.3%, or even 100%, there is nothing wrong in that. I will argue that in the next charge raised by Balbir K Punj.
It is for us to see who practices deception.
- History of Liberation: Untold Story of Evangelicals in India:
In fact, Balbir K Punj may never want us to remember that history of evangelical Christians in India is also a history of liberating Dalits, pleading the cause of widows and defending the poor. While stories of William Carey, Pandita Ramabia etc are well-known, one may not know much about a Dalit in Andhra Pradesh and the Baptist Missionary Rev. Clough. Therefore I give that. It happened in Andhra Pradesh where Peraiya, a Dalit came forward to get baptized. Later due to the work of this Dalit, Rev. Clough baptized literally thousands who came forward by their own will This caused a huge uproar among the upper castes. The same Rev Clough took up the Dalit cause in court, fought for them and won. In a way, that was one of the first major Dalit liberation movements in India recorded in golden letters. Next time, Balbir K Punj, when you try to equate evangelism with colonialism, remember these stories too.
Charge 3 by Balbir K Punj
The following is a verbatim reproduction from the article ‘Evangelists are playing long-term chess game’.
“The British rule was farthest from theocracy but it offered a certain leeway to evangelical clout. "In the 10 years, 1921-1931, the population of India has increased by 10 per cent; the Christian Church has increased by 32 per cent. The Church has doubled its number in the 20th century. Christian work is being carried on in every province, and in almost all the larger Indian states," wrote Stephen Neill, warden of the Diocesan Theological College, Tinnevelly, in his 1936 book Builders of the Indian Church. But independent India has outdone it all. The Northeast, where evangelical penetration was least during British rule, has become almost wholly Christian during independent India.”
1. Is Demography Always Sacrosanct or Just Against Christians?
There is nothing wrong in increase or decline in demographics of any community. I will show that Balbir K Punj himself believes in it. When land was allotted to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, in Jammu & Kashmir, Muslims opposed it by saying that it would change the demographic
s of Kashmir. Did Balbir K Punj and his party (BJP) support the argument of Muslims or opposed it? Raj Thackeray opposes the migrants from Bihar in Mumbai as that also would change the demographics. Does Balbir K Punj and his party (the BJP) support the argument the arguments of Raj Thackeray?
It is prejudiced audacity on the part of writers like Balbir K Punj to raise such arguments and I leave it with the contempt that it deserves.
Charge 4 by Balbir K Punj
The following is a verbatim reproduction from the article ‘Evangelists are playing long-term chess game’.
“Christian missionaries are viewed as people who have done wonderful work in the field of education, health and philology. Orientalist and humanist Reverend James Long (1814-1887) of Calcutta was such a revered name. But recently I was shocked to read in his book Handbook of Bengal Mission, (1948) in connection with the Church of England, what this illustrious scholar of Sanskrit, Bengali and Persian had to say on the Himalayas that Hindus view as the abode of gods: "Every valley has its spirit and every hill its demon, and the heaven-springing pinnacles of snow are tin; temples of gods of terror and vengeance, who must be appeased by painful pilgrimages… Many had recruited their exhausted spirits, reinvigorated their bodily powers by breathing the pure air of the rugged Himalaya fastnesses, and indulged their curiosity by penetrating into these magnificent regions; but few thought of the moral darkness and deformity that reign in those regions of natural light and beauty".
James Long's period, i.e. 19th century, was also the time when many non-evangelical Western Orientalists did great work to exhume India's heritage through philology, archaeology and numismatics. But James Long's evangelical streak exposes his essential antipathy to heathen India despite his excellent mannerism. If it had happened to Long, today's short-brained evangelists would scarcely be immune. In the 19th century, the ecclesiastical career still attracted many brilliant minds in the West. But in the 21st century, when there are so many white-collar career opportunities, only those who can't make it elsewhere join the evangelical brigade. Today's evangelists are not qualified to join Microsoft, Intel or NASA. It is only the Church, ironically built in the name of Nazarene, which seems flushed with money to offer them a career. Look at the Joshua Project (www.joshuaproject.net) that aims at "Christianisation of India".”
- Balbir vs. Reverend James and Swami Dayanand: Balbir K Punj somehow assumes that Reverend James Long’s theological view will diminish his contributions in other areas. If such is the case, then Hindu reformers who had similar views about Hinduism and other religions should be treated in the same manner (of course, equal treatment for Mleccha is too much to ask). I quote Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayanand from his book Satyarth Prakash:
Mark! It is written in the Devi Bhagvat Purana that a goddess named Shri, the mistress of Shripur, was the author of the universe. She also created Brahma, Vishnu and Mahadeva. She willed and then rubbed her hands and lo! There was a blister out of which Brahma was born. The goddess asked him to marry her. Brahma replied, "Thou ar my mother, therefore, it does not behove me to marry thee." This enraged the mother goddess and she reduced her son to ashes. She again rubbed her hands and produced another son in the same way. She named him Vishnu. The same proposal was made to him with the like result. He too was reduced to ashes.
A third son was brought into being in the same way. She named him Mahadeva and made a proposal of marriage to him. Mahadeva replied, " I cannot marry thee, unless thou art metamorphosed into a different woman." She did the needful. Then Mahadeva asked her, "What do these two heaps of ashes signify?" The goddess replied, "These are the mortal remains of thy brothers. They did not obey my orders and were therefore reduced to ashes." Mahadeva replied, "What shall I alone do? Bring them to life again and produce two other girls and let the three of us marry the three of them." The goddess did what was asked of her and thus the three couples were married. What a shame! The fellows did not marry their mother but married their own sisters!!! Can this action be regarded morally justifiable?
These are words of a Hindu reformer about Hinduism. Are you shocked Mr. Balbir K Punj? In fact Swami Dayanand similarly wrote against Christians and Muslims too.
In fact, as I have already shown in my booklet- Pseudo Universalism of Hinduism, there are worst (more shocking) views about Hindu gods in Puranas itself.
- Who is Short-Brained?
I was initially taken back by the accusation of evangelists being ‘short-brained’, which is in very poor taste by a learned man. But I was soon reconciled to the fact that it is that very seed, that perversely ingenious Brahmin mind that did not hesitate to divide even the very intrinsic value of a human being thousands of years ago, based on caste, race, sex etc, that today mocks its discriminations based on assumed intellect! It should suffice me to say just this; you don’t have to be a genius to understand that it is the message and its source that are weighed and seldom the messenger. It is the message that reflects the source and defines the messenger and not the other way round. Sir, your message betrays not just your intellect, but gives out the stench of your prejudice and tarnishes the very thing that you seek to represent and defend! Just for the record- Ken Costa, former of Vice-chairman of UBS Investment Bank and currently Chairman of Lazard International is also the Chairman of Alpha International, which promotes the Alpha course – an introduction to the Christian faith. Similar is the profile of Prabhu Guptara.
Mahakavi Dr. T. A Kurien who wrote Mahakavya in Hindi, Yisu Charit Manas (life of Jesus Christ, which according to Dr. Lakshminarayana Dhube, Professor at Sagar Hindi University is the first Hindi Mahakavya in 1000 years) is also an evangelist.
While I do not think that educational background is necessary for one to be a spiritual teacher, and I wi
ll not evaluate a person’s spirituality with his/her educational qualification, I would like to ask the educational profile of Mata Amritanandamayi (stopped at primary level ?). Hindus must think whether they should entertain a writer like Balbir K Punj.
Charge 5 of Balbir K Punj:
“The evangelists are playing a long-term chess game in India. How evangelists dupe people is exemplified by the story of Italian Robert di Nobili, who came to India in 1605. His story is related by Charles Henry Robinson, a top missionary, in his 1915 book History of Christian Missions. "Having determined to make himself an Indian, in order he might win the Indians, he adopted the dress and the sacred thread of a Brahmin, and painted sandalwood on his forehead… He called himself a raja from Rome and eventually produced a new veda, which he himself had forged, in support of his teaching. He kept aloof from men belonging to low castes and only allowed the Brahmins, or men of high caste, to have access to him. The principle which underlay his action was sanctioned by a papal bull in 1623 which declared that "out of compassion for human weakness, Nobili's converts are permitted to retain the plait of hair, the brahminical thread, the sandalwood sign on the forehead, and the customary ablutions of their caste". Christian missionaries turned their eyes to tribals and Dalits only after they failed to cut much ice with the upper castes. Their love for India has proved to be more dangerous than their hate. India must wake up to these ecclesiastical commandos who make deception their chief weapon.”
- Difference between a Short Brained Writer and a Scholar:
In fact, it can be readily admitted that what Robert di Nobili did was a grievous sin. However, to hold one incident at a particular time in the past against an entire community of 21st century is the work of a short-brained writer. I would like Balbir K Punj to read the work of Babasaheb Ambedkar Essays on Untouchables and Untouchability: Religious. Babasaheb Ambedkar too quotes the incident of Robert di Nobili. However, Ambedkar, a genius par excellence unlike Balbir K Punj, quotes this in perspective. Ambedkar goes on to ask the attitude of Lutheran Missions, then the protestant missions. He evaluates them and notes that likes of Robert Di Nobili were practicing against his own Holy Scripture – an incompatible practice with the Biblical faith. That is how a scholar evaluates. Probably it is too much to ask from Balbir K Punj.
- Truth and Deception: Now, evangelists would make deception their main weapon only if they worship a deceiver. If they practice deception and worship God who is the Truth, then they will be inconsistent like Robert Di Nobili to their own faith. Since Balbir K Punj raised the issue of deception, let me quote both the Holy Bible and Bhagavad Gita to see who has the greater probability of practicing deception.
About Jesus Christ: Jesus himself says "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14: 6). And of course, this was without any deceit or corruption as the the Holy Bible says "who committed no sin nor was deceit found in His mouth" (1 Peter 2:22). Or "and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
About Sree Krishna: Krishna himself says in Bhagavad Gita "of deceivers, I am the gambling, I am the glory of the glorious, I am the victory, enterprise and the nobility of noble" (Bhagavad Gita 10:36).
Now, you decidewho has the greater probability of practicing deception.
Note: If you like the rebuttal, forward this article to Christian ministries and your friends who might be disturbed by the misrepresentations of Balbir K Punj.