While Hindus comprise over 80 percent of India’s population compared to just 2.3 percent who are Christians, Hindu groups have waged a war on Christians that has only increased in recent years. The passage of “anti-conversion laws,” mob attacks against pastors and congregations, arrests and imprisonment, and indifference to violence or even tacit approval by government officials and the police all characterize the treatment of Christians in what is supposed to be the world’s most populous democracy.
Alarmingly, this intolerance of those who refuse to adopt or follow society’s accepted and approved orthodoxy could be a preview for dissidents in the West.
According to some Christian groups, 2021 was a historic year for Christian persecution in India. The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA) said that at least 761 incidents, including lynchings, beatings, and armed attacks against Christians (including pregnant women), took place in the country last year. FIACONA Chairman John Prabhudoss said, “The year 2021 has proven to be the most violent year for Christians in India.”
FIACONA estimates that the number is much higher because some violence has gone unreported. A survey showed that in states controlled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, 72 percent of Christians believe police won’t protect them or their property. FIACONA’s report says,
“The higher courts in India have been passing judgments favoring views of the political establishments rather than based on legal merits of the cases. Many recent judgments have made some wonder if the integrity of the high courts is compromised. Common citizens of India, especially the religious minorities, observe and feel that the governments led by BJP are implementing the majoritarian ideology, namely ‘Hindutva.’”
For Christians, 2022 has shown no signs of improvement. Last month, 30 Christians were imprisoned in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Authorities often use anti-conversion laws as a pretext for targeting, harassing, and jailing Christians. Eleven Indian states now have anti-conversion laws, which are ostensibly intended to prevent Christians from evangelizing or forcing their views on non-Christians. However, the laws are also used to prevent Christians from conducting any form of religious exercise, including Sunday worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and even charitable outreach.
On May 31, a mob broke into a pastor’s home, dragged him into the street, and beat him before handing him over to the authorities. The police arrested the pastor — but looked the other way on the unlawful violence perpetrated by his assailants.
A local Christian said, “We have arrived at a critical juncture, where practicing faith of our choice is equated as crime and punished accordingly. We need to be alert and prepared to face the challenge; almost every pastor and leader is targeted in UP. These are the testing times.”
Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, said, “India’s anti-conversion laws are not a means to protect religious freedom, but rather a mechanism for the government to oppress and punish religious minorities.” He added, “India claims to be the world’s largest democracy, yet shamelessly violates human rights. We pray for the continued resilience of the Indian Church and for the injustice to come to an end.”
Meanwhile, the Indian government called accusations of mistreatment “bias.”
To radicals in the Indian government, the existence of Christians threaten them. Anti-conversion laws are an attempt to stop people from breaking with the accepted orthodoxy as well as to portray Christians as villains who impose their views on others. Authorities ignore the violence of mobs who target Christians because they agree with the mobs.
This violence is persecution that Christians in the West rarely, if ever, experience. Yet there is a common theme between India and Western democracies, including countries in Europe and North America: the effort to portray Christians as “hateful” and “threatening” and to increasingly normalize the idea that they should be harassed and their religious expression suppressed and even shut down.
One of the most alarming cases happened earlier this year in Finland, when Paivi Rasanen, a Christian Member of Parliament, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola were arrested and charged with ethnic agitation, a hate crime, for publishing a book on biblical teachings regarding sexuality, a book that was published long before Finland changed its “hate speech” laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The incident is paralleled in other European countries with hate speech laws, which make it a crime to express the Bible’s teachings on sexuality.
In Canada, Bill C-4 is an anti-conversion therapy law that “bans any practice, treatment, or service aimed at helping a person accept their biological sex or to be heterosexual. Many Christians are concerned that simply sharing the biblical view of sex will be criminalized, as could be counseling someone in a formal or informal setting to accept their biological sex or leave a homosexual lifestyle.”
And increasingly in the U.S., expressing Bible-based views online that question LGBT orthodoxy in particular (though this is hardly the only issue) can result in bans from social media giants, as well as accusations of using hateful or harmful speech, termination from a job, or significant financial consequences.
Anti-discrimination laws like the Virginia Values Act, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination, among others, make practicing biblical beliefs or expressing Christian teaching something that is to be punished, if not by jail time then certainly by fines or civil damages. Under these laws, Christian business owners and artists are forced to perform services that violate their religious beliefs and are dictated as to what they can say on their own websites or how they can use their business. All of these laws are built on the premise that Christian expression is violence against others.
Congress is also trying to codify this type of legislation at a national level with the Equality Act. It would update the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gender identity and sexual orientation, but it also expands the definition of public accommodation to be so broad that it would almost certainly include churches and Christian organizations.
Essentially, this bill, if passed, would make it illegal for Christian organizations to live according to their convictions. Christian organizations could be barred from discriminating in hiring, so churches, for example, would be forced to hire a person whose beliefs were opposed to their own. The law would also require religious organizations to allow transgenders to use the bathroom of their choice and allow biological men in women’s spaces such as battered women’s shelters and rehab facilities.
Already, this type of future can be seen in the government’s actions against Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission (UGM), which was sued after it refused to retain the services of a bisexual lawyer because his active homosexual relationship went against its Christian beliefs. The Washington State Supreme Court, in a shocking decision, ruled that UGM could not apply its religious beliefs to non-ministerial staff. The non-profit charity, which serves the homeless, has petitioned the Supreme Court for relief, but without intervention, UGM officials say they will have no choice but to close up shop.
As UGM’s petition to the Supreme Court warned, “Non-discrimination law’s capacity to ‘destroy the freedom of Americans to practice their religions’ is no longer hypothetical; it is a reality.”
It’s hard to fathom that something like this could be happening America, but Christians should not be surprised. In John 16:1-4, Jesus paints a picture of what faithful Christians should expect from the world around them. He says:
“These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.”
Jesus was warning His disciples what would happen once He left. Christians were promised that the world would hate us because it first hated Him, and many times, persecutors believe they are doing good by harming us. In this country we have been blessed with freedom of religion, and there have been some recent decisions by the Supreme Court that have upheld that freedom.
Yet as we have seen, our inalienable rights, granted to us by God, especially religious liberty, is being eroded. Why? Because a society that is increasingly turning away from God has begun to accept that Christian beliefs are harmful. A good example is the fact that the Department of Defense granted almost no religious exemptions to the COVID vaccine — even when submitted by a chaplain, no less — and actually punished and interrogated the religious beliefs of those who did apply. And it’s not just the military: The D.C. government denied a religious exemption to a Catholic nun who is also a physician.
Christians must stand up and defend the right to say and believe as we choose, as so many brave individuals, charities, and churches have done, so that future generations can continue to freely share and live out their beliefs. If we don’t we could one day end up like Christians in India, accused of being so “violent” and “harmful to society” that we will be forced to choose between worshipping, evangelizing, or gathering together for prayer and being shut down by the government or attacked by the mob.
If you don’t believe that we could one day arrive at that juncture, stop and ask yourself this: Did you ever think we’d be where we are right now in America?