November 16, 1999
Subj: Further observations regarding the "conversion conversation"
From: Randy Kluver
I must say I am a bit surprised by the shrill tone of the responses of Professors Cook and Rosser to the conversion issue in India. I daresay their own language of "insidious", "subversive", "predatory" actions of the Southern Baptist prayer guide is not less inflammatory than the metaphors in the aforementioned prayer guide. The language used by the Baptists is no more radical than that used by Jesus himself, nor is it unique or exclusive to Christians. Rather, all religions have an element of this, although it might not be as visible as this one document has become. The Christians, in order to be true to their own commitments, are obliged to view the world as Jesus did. That includes conversion. The Dalai Lama himself has stated that his mission in the west is to convert Westerners to the Dharma. Should we protest this also?
I must say I am also quite confused as to why Professor Rosser in particular is so upset by the idea of Bangladeshi Hindus converting. Perhaps it is because of the very issues that she mentions that they find hope in the Christian gospel. Might it be that the anti-Christian/conversion dialogue itself is no more than a political issue shrewdly manufactured by the RSS and BJP in order to shore up its own majority in a machiavellian fashion. The issue of conversion has certainly not destabilized any element of Indian society as far as I can see. The number of Christians in India is still so tiny that they pose no threat to the Hindu majority. If one reads the excerpts fromt he prayer guide that is reprinted on the web page Professor Rosser posted, one cannot but notice that there is no evil intent on the part of the Southern Baptists. Rather, they are trying to provoke love and compassion for Indians, calling attention to the issues of endemic poverty, disease, and poverty among these groups, within the context of their own faith. It is a prayer guide, not a military strategy! If only we could get peoples of the world to pray for one another, we might have more peace, not less. It seems to me that this issue has already provoked far more passion among H-Asia readers than the violent, unconscionable murder of the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, who had dedicated his life in ministry to lepers.
Ultimately, a religion is a world view, with a set of ethics, values, etc. I cannot accept any argument, particularly from Westerners, who argue that these worldviews should not be subject to critical scrutiny, even from outsiders. Just as I am not offended when Lee Kuan Yew criticizes American views of democracy, I don't see why academics should be offended when Christians critique the values and worldviews of others, and invite the same kind of scrutiny. It is particularly perplexing when the converts themselves are seen as some sort of helpless pawns in a great power game between religions, who must be protected by those of us with greater wisdom. If the missionaries provide options, and the converts choose them, what harm does that do to the world? The prayer booklet specifically states that "the Hindus worship deities that are not Gods," hence, darkness. It is a truth claim, subject to debate. Why should Western academics seek to stifle that debate?
I also wonder why Professor Rosser is concerned about the Christians among Muslims in nations where conversion is prohibited. Should she not be more concerned about the use of state force to enforce religious belief, than the incredibly small number of Christians who seek to provide an alternative understanding of God?
Randy Kluver Asian Studies Program/Communication Studies Oklahoma City University 2501 N. Blackwelder, OKC, OK 73106 USA (405) 521-5096 phone (405) 557-6001 fax firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed. note: I too have wondered about the degree to which sensitivities about critiques of one religious tradition against another appear to be concerned to criticize some critiques and not speak to others. From a position of looking at the world system, I would imagine that the Southern Baptists would find themselves rather closely aligned with many Hindus and Muslims in relation to the secular capitalist world popular culture. One H-ASIA member who asked to not have his views posted to the list asked me if some of us really had problems with our relations to religion in the West, rather than the East? To that I had no ready reply.
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