Increasing Violence Triggers Reaction From Church Leaders
SANTA ANA, CA (July 23, 2003) - Given the climate of increasing violence against Christians and other religious minorities and recent laws that infringe their constitutional rights, church leaders in India have expressed regret over the United States government's refusal to designate India a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC), according to a report from Compass Direct.
Last March, officials of the Bush administration published a list of CPCs, citing Burma (Myanmar), China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan for severe religious freedom violations, but left off several other nations where Christians suffer.
"We never said there is religious persecution in India, but there have been a number of attacks on Christian institutions," said Donald D'Souza, head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, in criticizing the U.S. decision.. "We expect the government to do more so that minorities can feel safe and secure in the country."
Compass Direct reported Indian leaders are not the only ones of the opinion that conditions in the country warrant a CPC designation. In May, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported that it was "deeply disappointed that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell did not designate India, Pakistan, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam" as CPCs.
"Since 1998, there have been hundreds of attacks on Christian leaders, worshippers, and churches throughout India," the report stated. The USCIRF advises the U.S. President, Secretary of State and Congress on matters of global religious freedom.
In September 2002, the USCIRF asked Powell to place India in the category of "egregious religious freedom violators." The Commission also urged Powell's deputy, Richard Armitage, to take up the matter with New Delhi.
According to Compass, the USCIRF said it was "increasingly concerned about abuses of religious freedom in India, including the communal violence and killings that took place in Gujarat last year." The panel expressed particular concern over Christians and other minorities periodically subjected to severe violence in a democracy, with those responsible rarely held to account.
Referring to the Anti-conversion Bill passed by the Gujarat state government, the USCIRF said that such a law "inhibits the ability of persons in Gujarat to exercise their internationally recognized right to adopt a religion free from coercion."
"The increase in persecution in India is troubling," says Jerry Dykstra, Media Relations Coordinator at Open Doors USA. "Christians are increasingly becoming targets of violent attacks. And the passing of the Anti-conversion Bill by Gujarat state is an ominous sign. There is a possibility that legislation like that could be passed in other states. We need to lift up India in our prayers¦that Christians in that country stand firm in the face of persecution."
Open Doors with Brother Andrew is helping Christian pastors, leaders and other believers by conducting "Standing Strong Through the Storm" seminars in India. In the seminars, teachers give students the tools they need to stand against persecution.
Dykstra adds: "Nearly 50 years experience in ministry with the persecuted church has given Open Doors a unique perspective on what it means for Christians to face and live under religious persecution. Our 'Standing Strong Through the Storm' seminars share the experiences of others who have undergone similar conditions and have survived. Biblical principles combined with real-life stories of contemporary believers bring a great deal of encouragement to Christians facing persecution for the first time, as in India."
An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide suffer persecution for their faith in Christ, with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination for being Christian. Open Doors, founded in 1955 by Brother Andrew, author of the bestselling book, "God's Smuggler," seeks to serve and strengthen the Persecuted Church in the world's most difficult areas through training, literature distribution, community development and personal encouragement. To partner with Open Doors call 949-752-6600, go to its USA web site at www.opendoorsusa.org or write Open Doors with Brother Andrew, PO Box 27001, Santa Ana, CA 92799.