Orissa: Media messages from imported evangelists fuel inter-religious conflict
Media messages from imported evangelists fuel inter-religious conflict in Indian state By Kristine Greenaway
Toronto, 21 March (WACC) - Media ministries are aggravating tensions between Hindus and Christians in the Indian state of Orissa says an Indian communications specialist.
"Missionaries from South India are involved in 'spiritual warfare' using the media and Christian networks," says Professor Pradip Thomas of the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Queensland, Australia.
Citing the exponential growth of Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches in India over the past two decades, Thomas says the presence of external evangelists in the northern Indian state of Orissa has definitely contributed to the rise in militant anti-conversion efforts by Hindu organisations such as the Vishwas Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal.
"A large number of the foot soldiers (missionaries)involved in conversion activities are from Kerala and Tamil Nadu," says Thomas. "They are involved in church planting, setting up Bible schools, preaching, and using the media and Christian networks."
Thomas notes in particular the evangelists' use of the media for conversion of Hindus to Christianty which has accentuated tension between converts and non-converts within families and within communities and has led to conflict with militant Hindu organizations.
Professor Thomas will address communicators from around the world at the forth coming Congress 2008 to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, 6-10 October, 2008. This is WACC's fourth global Congress on communication. The theme of the Congress is Communication is Peace: Building viable communities
In December 2007, a violent confrontation in Orissa's Kandhamal district between Christians and members of a Hindu group opposed to conversion set off a wave of retaliation which resulted in extensive damage to Christian property.
Evangelizing organizations such as the Gospel for Asia, funded in large part by Christians in the United States States of Amercia, have focused their attention in the past 15 years on reaching people in the "10/40 Window" - the area north of the equator from 10 degrees to 40 degrees that runs between North Africa and China.This area - also referred to by pentecostal mission organizations as the "resistant belt" - has 97% of the world's non-Christians. Northern India has more "unreached people" than any other part of the world.
"Today we have the great privilege of helping them them come to know Jesus," K.P. Yohannan, the founder of the Gospel for Asia, writes on the organization's website.
Media are key to the Indian-born, American-trained evangelist's mission of conversion. Visitors to the Gospel for Asia website are urged to donate to film and radio ministries which are "reaching out to India's 300 million Dalits ('Untouchables') through personal evangelism, radio programs, Gospel literature and much more."
The website's donations page highlights the impact of the organization's film ministry through its Indian-made film of the life of Jesus, "Man of Mercy", and claims that "already tens of thousands have given their lives to Christ as a result of watching this film."Thousands more have converted because of radio programming produced in their own language, also according to information on the website which says, "People who are exposed to the Gospel through radio tend to be more receptive to native missionaries when they visit.""Native missionaries" is the term used for missionaries born in India though not necessarily in the region where they work.
With the rise in religious intolerance fuelled by Hindu fundamentalists and Christian evangelists, there are growing fears that freedom of religion in India is under attack. In a statement released in December 2007, Human Rights Watch urged both Hindu and Christian leaders to work toward peaceful reconciliation, warning that India's secular identity is at risk.
Kristine Greenaway is Programme Manager with special responsibility for WACC's 2008 Congress. She has been active in WACC since the late 1980's when she was appointed to the NARA-WACC executive, served a term as vice-president for the region and was elected to the (former) Central Committee. She was a member of the evaluation and planning team appointed at the time of the WACC Congress in Mexico. She is a Canadian who has been active in the ecumenical movement having served with the World Council of Churches as Director of Communication. She speaks English, French and Spanish and has worked as a freelance journalist and television producer.