Disturbing news from India. The explosive growth of Christianity is causing panic in some circles. Coupled to this is the desire of the President and his government to return India to a Hindu nation. The latest attempt to stop the growth of the church has Christian missionaries and local pastors and church leaders concerned.
International Christian Concern (ICC) explains the latest challenge to religious freedom: “the Jharkhand Assembly, a state legislative body in north-eastern India, passed the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill-2017, also known as "Jharkhand Dharma Swatantra Adhiniyam," on Saturday, August 12. The bill will now be sent to the governor, following whose approval it would go to the president for final assent. The bill was passed by the BJP-led government despite significant opposition from religious groups, civil society, and the tribal groups across Jharkhand.”
While it is called a Freedom of Religion Bill, it is everything but. It is aimed at stopping people from making a choice to change religions and even more concerning, it is aimed at legally prosecuting those who share their faith and win others to Christ. Even though the bill is aimed at all religions (including Islam) it will have a severe effect on those proclaiming the Gospel.
“Section 3 of the law states, "No person shall attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person abet any such conversion." Punishment under this bill would include imprisonment of up to three years, a fine of 50,000 Rupees, or both. In cases where a minor, a woman, or a person from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities were involved, the prison sentence would increase to four years and the fine to 100,000 Rupees.
Although similar laws exist in six other states in India, those governments have not defined the terms "inducement," "coercion," "force," or "fraud" in the context of religious conversions. Due to this legal ambiguity, these laws have been widely abused by radical Hindu nationalist groups to harass and intimidate Christians while claiming to be under the auspices of state law.
"The anti-conversion law will ruin the lives and the witness of the church," a local pastor in Ranchi, who wished to remain anonymous, told ICC. "The BJP, having the power both at the national level and the state, wants to implement its Hindutva ideology. This bill will further divide the people of Jharkhand, particularly divide the tribal people who lived in unity for ages."”
Urgent prayer is called for, especially as Harvesters is seeing such explosive growth in church planting. This law will only embolden those who attack Christians. Persecution is already a huge problem in India, but this could lead to far more attacks and would have the complicity of the officials. Christians may face both physical violence and then be prosecuted by the courts for sharing the Name of Jesus.
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