Somnath Temple in Gujarat, India

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Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas

Part 4: The inevitable consequences

(Excerpts from Arun Shourie's book with similar title)

Conversions have [therefore] been going on for 2000 years. They have been proclaimed to be an essential element of Christianity, a duty of every Christian. They have become one of the principal preoccupations – in some case, as with the evangelists, the principal business – of the Church.

An incredibly vast organisation has been built up, and incredibly huge resources are expended to save souls. It costs “145 billion dollars to operate global Christianity,” records a book on evangelization. The Church commands four million full-time Christian workers, it runs 13000 major libraries, it publishes 22000 periodicals, it publishes four billion tracts a year, it operates 1800 Christian radio and TV stations. It runs 1500 universities, and 930 research centres. It has a quarter of a million foreign missionaries; and over four hundred institutions to train them. And those are figures from a book published in 1989 – since then there has been the surge in Eastern Europe and Russia .

All the numbers are indeed impressive. Europe and North America are almost wholly Christian. Ninety-seven percent of the population of Latin America , ninety-two percent of Philippines , thirty-six percent of Africa , thirty-two percent of South Korea is Christian.

Are they – either the continents or the converts – closer to the spiritual? Is their conduct better? Such were the questions that Gandhiji asked the missionaries about the ones they had converted in India . The questions are as telling in regard to converts the world over.

The preoccupation has recoiled on the Church itself. The life of Jesus was first replaced by the Church. The Church has since been swamped by what one participant during the recess after the Pune meeting called “the numbers game”. Notice the language of the Mission Handbook, North American Ministries Overseas , published in 1986: “Today,” it says, “the most fruitful ministries are carried by more than 100,000 pastors, evangelists and preachers. Full-time Indian missionaries from organised societies increased from 420 in 1973 to 2,941 societies in 1983. These missionaries have seen remarkable growth in northern India , in places such as Bihar , Orissa, West Bengal, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab , Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim. In Western India , Christian workers estimate that two new worship groups are formed every week through indigenous missionary effort. The Indian Evangelist Team has set a goal of 2,000 new churches by the year 2000. In Tamilnadu, the India Church Growth Mission hopes to plant 1,000 churches in unreached villages.” Sounds more like the Planning Commission, if not the Pentagon, than like Jesus.

Similarly, the very first thing that the report of the Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India […] focuses on is not the depth of the spiritual search, it is not the way the Christian doctrine is being affected by new developments in science or even Biblical studies, it is “Trends in Numerical Conversions.” […]

In chasing numbers the missionaries, to use Gandhiji’s words, became just “vendor of goods”. And they came to adopt the usual techniques of vendors: the exaggerations common in advertising wares, targeting the section that would be most susceptible, targeting them at times when thy would be most vulnerable, or receptive if you will, using not jus dialogue but allurement of violence.

There are volumes upon volumes that document the way the Church has spread by violence – in North and South America , in Asia . The sudden jumps in the number of adherents during famines and other privations testify to the use to which such times were put. Swami Vivekananda admonished the missionaries in the harshest language for the means they were using, for the use to which they were putting the people’s despair: his Complete Works are full of his extreme fury on these counts. Ram Swarup cites India and its Missions, an official Catholic publication issued in 1923. It discusses the “Spiritual Advantages of Famine and Cholera” under, as he points out, the very heading! It quotes the report of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry to his superiors in Europe : “The famine has wrought miracles. The catechumenates are filling, baptismal water flows in streams, and starving little tots fly in masses to heaven.” “A hospital is a ready-made congregation,” the publication says. “There is no need to go into the highways and hedges and compel them ‘to come in’. They send each other.” Gandhiji noticed these tendencies and warned the missionaries about the consequences – about how, pursuing numbers, they were debasing the great example of Jesus; about how, having come to use schools and hospitals as instruments, they were using “material inducements” and “dangl(ing) earthly paradises in front of them (Harijans in this case) mak(ing) promises to them which they can never keep”; about how conversions by “modern methods” “has nowadays become a business like any other” – recalling in the context “a missionary report saying how much it cost per head to convert and then presenting a budget for the ‘next harvest’.

He was driven to pain and anguish by all this. A Polish student brought a photograph to Gandhiji and asked him to autograph it. There is a school run by Catholic Fathers, the student explained, “I shall help the school from the proceeds of the sale of this photograph.” Returning the photograph without signing it, Mahadev Desai records in his Diary, Gandhiji said, “Ah, that is a different story. You do not expect me to support the Fathers in their mission of conversion? You know what they do?” “And with this he told him…,” records Mahadev Desai, “the story of the so-called conversions in the vicinity of Tiruchengodu, the desecration and demolition of the Hindu temple, how he (Gandhiji) had been requested by the International Fellowship of Faiths to forbear writing anything about the episode as they were trying to intervene, how ultimately even the intervention of that body composed mainly of Christians had failed, and how he was permitted to write about it in Harijan. He, however, had deliberately refrained from writing, in order not to exacerbate feeling on the matter [see footnote]. If the Harijans had awakened to matters of the spirit and had acquired the ability to assess these things, Gandhiji told the student, “I would bless them for voluntarily embracing Christianity.” But that is not what was happening. He went on to recall how the weakness of his own son had been used by persons to convert him to Islam. “The young man could see the deep pain with which Gandhiji was speaking,” Mahadev Desai records. “He did not press him to give the autograph and took his leave.”

By: Arun Shourie

Footnote: What the incidence was can be gleaned from the conversation Gandhiji had a while earlier with a missionary nurse: […] “The other day a missionary descended on a famine area with money in his pocket, distributed it among the famine-stricken, converted them to his fold, took charge of their temple and demolished it. This is outrageous. The temple could not belong to the converted, and it could not belong to the Christian missionary. But this friend goes and gets it demolished at the hands of the very men who only a little while ago believed that God was there” (Collected Works, Volume 61, pp. 46-47)

The first part: The need for a rational discussion

The second part: Is missionary work really that noble?

The third part: Mahatma Gandhi's conversation with a missionary

The fourth part: The inevitable consequences

The fifth part : Mahatma Gandhi's recommendations for missionaries

Also see: A review of "Missionaries in India" by C.J..S. Wallia on

Copyright: Arun Shourie 1994

Excerpted from: Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas, pp. 13-17. Published by HarperCollins Publishers India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 1994. Price: Rs. 295.

Note: These excerpts are provided here for informative purpose and to present a very interesting view point of one of the most articulate and prolific author in independent India. IndiaWorld on the Net has no commercial motives whatsoever in publishing these excerpts. Further, no guarantee can be taken for eithter textual or factual correctness of the provided text. Readers are advised to consult the original as well as other authoritative sources of information to ascertain authenticity.

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