FaithWorld

Rare spotlight on U.S. Baptist drive to convert Hindus

December 5, 2007

Indian Christians carry cross on Good Friday near Cochin, 25 March 2005On the world religion scene, one interesting trend concerns the growing number of Christian missionaries seeking to convert people in developing countries. Many are evangelicals from the United States or South Korea, often trying to convert Muslims. We usually hear about them when their work creates tension or leads to a diplomatic incident. It’s rare to see a lengthy report on what a mission is actually doing and how it is received.

The Commercial Appeal daily in Memphis, Tennessee has just published a fascinating report on a mission to convert Hindus in India that is sponsored by a hometown Baptist church. Bellevue Baptist in Memphis spends $5.5 million each year for missionary work around the world. The Commercial Appeal’s Trevor Aaronson visited the National Training Institute for Village Evangelism in Hyderabad, which Bellevue supports, to see what it does on the ground. These missions can be controversial. In several Indian states, Hindu nationalists have protested against missionary work and passed laws banning conversion from one religion to another. World churches are working on a code of conduct to help spread their faith without antagonising other religions.

Aaronson’s article is a zoom-lens look at one mission, its problems, its links to its American donors and the reactions of the Hindu nationalists. He presents the mission warts and all, which has sparked off a lively debate on the paper’s Web site. As Daniel Pulliam over at GetReligion notes, this is “an impressive journalistic endeavor for a local newspaper … the activities of churches often go uncovered, particularly missionary work.”

Do you think Christian churches should seek converts like this? Can a code of conduct help avoid tensions with other faiths?

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