India's Christians ask: What would Gandhi do?

St. Thomas brought the faith to the subcontinent in 52 a.d. and Gandhi called for peace and plurality -- but persecution is growing.

BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor

 

What would Gandhi do?

Hindu extremists recently dragged several new Christian converts from their homes in Assam, India, beat them and threatened them for five hours, trying to get them to renounce Jesus. When finally released, the shaken converts did not go home, but instead sought comfort in the homes of fellow Christians, who stayed up all night praying with them, counseling them and praising God.

Christians praising God in India

Praising God? That is an odd response when fanatics have promised to return the next day – with an ultimatum to give up one’s beliefs or die. Yet, incredibly, these Christians in India take very seriously the words of Christianity’s Apostle Paul – who warned of such persecution – and also the counsel of the founder of modern India, Mohandas Gandhi: “Fear of death makes us devoid both of valor and faith. For want of valor is want of faith.”

On another occasion, the leader who many Indians refer to reverently as “Gandhiji” or “Gandhi the Great” said: “Where love is, there God is also.”

Mohandas K. Gandhi

They also take very seriously Matthew 5:11-12, in which Jesus says His followers are to consider themselves greatly blessed when people insult, persecute and falsely say all kinds of evil against them because of their faith in Him.

Of India’s 23 million Christians, 2.7 million live in four states where Christian persecution is increasingly common: Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – however, this incident is particularly disturbing because it took place in the state of Assam.

The next day, the extremists made good on their threats and returned. They searched for the Christians from home to home in the village, then beat them publicly – this time vowing to attack local churches and kill the converts’ Christian friends, who are not foreign missionaries but Indian neighbors and co-workers.

The oldest church in India, said to have been founded by the Apostle Thomas.

Christianity is India’s third-largest religion. The faith was brought to the subcontinent by the Apostle Thomas, who arrived in Kerala in 52 a.d. to spread the Gospel. Christianity was well-rooted in India by the 3rd century, even before it spread to some nations of Europe.

Nevertheless, the majority religion is Hinduism. In the recent incidents, extremists offered a simple solution: the Christian converts could return to Hinduism by participating in a ceremony at a local temple.

Following Gandhi's example, the new Christians refused. “Religion is a matter of the heart,” he once proclaimed. “No physical inconvenience can warrant abandonment of one’s own religion.”

He also wrote: “Are creeds such simple things like the clothes which a

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