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Kinnamon: U.S. Christians stand solidly
New York, October 13, 2008 -- Christians make up two percent of the population of India, and for the past 10 months they have been subject to violent attacks at the hands of Hindus.
"This persecution of Christians in India must stop!" declared National Council of Churches General Secretary Michael Kinnamon at rally of the National Association of Indian Christians near United Nations headquarters in New York. "We in the United States stand with you in this time of anxiety and suffering. You are not alone!"
Kinnamon, who has taught at the United Theological College in Bangalore, India, and has other close ties to the world's most populous democracy, added his voice last week to that of Pope Benedict XVI and other powerful Christians around the world who condemned the violence.
Even if he had no ties with India, Kinnamon said, he believed it was important to stand in solidarity with Indian Christians. "As the apostle Paul has written, when one part of the body of Christ suffers, all suffer together with it. And beyond that, the gospel of God’s gracious love for all people calls us to stand against injustice, to stand against the denial of human rights, regardless of the victim’s religion."
The most recent spate of violence against Christians began August 23 when a popular Hindu leader was brutally murdered. Law enforcement authorities say Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed by political radicals, but many Hindus have blamed Christians for the crime.
According to Somini Sengupta in the New York Times, animosities between two indigenous groups in India’s state of Orissa have sparked the outbreaks. The Panas were converted to Christianity by Roman Catholic and Pentecostal missionaries, while the Kandhas – followers of Swami Laxmanananda – turned to Hindu practices. Resentments between the groups intensified as the Christian Panas were favored for government jobs.
The Times reports that tensions “exploded with a fury since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda.” Now roaming bands of Hindus confront Christians in their villages, burning their bibles and threatening to burn their houses if they don’t convert to Hinduism.
Kinnamon noted that India's constitution guarantees religious freedom, and the nation has a long tradition of religious tolerance. "Religious extremism does not belong to the soul of India," he said. "Let us today say No! to such extremism. Let us say No! to the persecution of any neighbors. And let us stand firmly in support of those who suffer, including our sisters and brothers in the Indian church."
The full text of Kinnamon's statement follows:
Those of us gathered here certainly know the facts. Since Christmas Eve of last year, dozens of Christians in India have been killed and thousands have lost their homes, especially in Orissa and Karnataka, in what has become the strongest wave of anti-Christian violence to hit that great country in recent years. Christian-run schools and clinics, as well as church buildings, have been destroyed.
My purpose in being here is to join my voice with all of yours in saying to the world: This persecution of Christians in India must stop! And in saying to Indian Christians: We in the United States stand with you in this time of anxiety and suffering. You are not alone!
My personal ties to India are quite deep. I have taught on two occasions at the United Theological College in Bangalore, have worked closely with Indian church leaders while on the staff of the World Council of Churches, and (most importantly) have a daughter, Anna-Kapila, now 26 years old, who was born in an ashram in Mumbai. I am also pleased to note that the National Council of Churches in the USA, of which I am now general secretary, has two member communions with Indian roots: The Mar Thoma Church and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
But even if I had no direct ties to India, it would be important to be here – because, as the apostle Paul has written, when one part of the body of Christ suffers, all suffer together with it. And beyond that, the gospel of God’s gracious love for all people calls us to stand against injustice, to stand against the denial of human rights, regardless of the victim’s religion.
American Christians who look like me often think that we have been responsible for bringing Christianity to places like South Asia. This, of course, is nonsense. When my ancestors were worshipping other gods in northern Europe, Christians in India were already confessing Jesus Christ and seeking to follow him. Christianity is not a recent implant in India; it is a valued part of the religious mosaic that is India, a valued contributor to the whole of Indian society. Children of different religions have been taught in Christian schools. People of different religions have been healed in Christian hospitals. And hope and peace have been proclaimed in Christian sanctuaries. Thanks be to God!
Before ending, I want to emphasize a point with which I am sure you agree. The persecution of Christians in India should not be seen as an interfaith struggle. Although some Hindus have been afraid to speak out, others have actively, publicly defended Christian neighbors. The problem we face, in India and other countries, is religious fundamentalism or extremism – whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian. This could be an opportunity to build interfaith bridges, especially if we resolve to stand with Hindus or Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis, whenever and wherever they are in need.
India has a great tradition of religious tolerance, as well as a constitution that guarantees religious freedom in a secular, democratic state. Religious extremism does not belong to the soul of India. Let us today say No! to such extremism. Let us say No! to the persecution of any neighbors. And let us stand firmly in support of those who suffer, including our sisters and brothers in the Indian church.
See Indian Christian Forum for more information.
NCC News contact: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228, NCCnews@ncccusa.org
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