Despite escalating persecution, clergy warn issue gets
little attention in America
“The great moral evil that will be remembered in the year 2022 is the persecution of the millions of Christians in India,” declared Fr. Steve Macias, a priest in the Reformed Episcopal Church, as he joined fellow clergy-members to raise awareness about the escalating persecution of Indian Christians. “The religious persecution that many Christians refuse to look at, refuse to pay attention to, refuse to stand up for, refuse to be advocates for.”
Six clergy and one lay-leader representing seven different churches and ministries from five separate traditions — Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical, Lutheran, and Pentecostal — attended the 24 February event hosted by Bethel Lutheran in Roseville, CA. Pastor Eric Eurén of Riverside Christian Church noted that, when he raises the issue of Indian Christian persecution with colleagues, “many of them are shocked to hear that there is Christian persecution going on in India.” Yet, referencing India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Pastor Paul Sunkari of Indian Christian Church of Sacramento explained, “The persecution has increased four-fold since the time when BJP has taken over the country, and it’s going to increase more, and it’s continuing.”
Father Joshua Lickter of the Anglican Church in North America recalled how his congregation helped organize a vigil for Pastor Sultan Masih after he was assassinated outside his Punjab, India church in 2017.
“There’s a hurricane-level right now cultural storm that’s brewing in India, and it’s one that could potentially decimate the Indian Christian population,” said Lickter. “Things were bad when Pastor Masih was killed. I mean, the situation wasn’t exactly ideal in India at that time. But since then, things have gotten so much worse…. Extreme religious leaders in India right now are advocating, they’re telling their people to go out and harm Christians, burn churches, degrade their religious icons, do all kinds of horrible, atrocious things.”
Eurén described how, because his father owned a jewelry company that did extensive business in India, it gave him a chance from a young age to become familiar with the country and its people. “I know that the India of the 1980s, 1990s is very different from the India of today,” he said. “My experience is, from the people suffering persecution, their number one request is for prayer. That is often followed by the comment: ‘Why are none of our brothers and sisters in Christ in America talking about what’s going on in India?’”
The general lack of awareness was highlighted in opening remarks by Pieter Friedrich, a freelance journalist who set the stage by describing how the rise of Hindu nationalism has impacted Indian Christians. “Persecution of Indian Christians is skyrocketing, but we here in America generally remain not only unaware of the severity of the situation, but are all too often — especially as American Christians — totally ignorant of the reality that there is even any persecution occurring at all,” said Friedrich. Describing how the persecution is perpetrated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or its affiliates, he noted that the BJP is the political wing of the RSS. The RSS, he said, is a paramilitary with historical links to the fascist movements of Europe. The organization believes that only Hindus have a birthright to Indian citizenship and views Christians as well as Muslims as “traitors” because they choose not to be Hindus.
“This is the ideology of the paramilitary whose political wing, the BJP, has been in complete control of India since 2014,” warned Friedrich. “Every year since 2014, the total number of violent incidents reported against Indian Christians has increased, reaching an all-time high in 2021 of 505 attacks.” Adding that most of these were mob attacks, he pointed to how Open Doors USA, a nonprofit monitoring persecution of Christians around the world, has ranked India as the 10th most dangerous country in which to be a Christian every year since 2019.
“Notably, while there are nine other countries where persecution of Christians does rank higher, India has three distinguishing factors from them all,” explained Friedrich. “First, it is the only legitimate, officially secular democracy on the list; second, as the second-most populated country in the world, its population is more than twice that of all the other nine combined; third, it is the only country which is an ally of the United States.”
“There is a difference between a Christian in the United States and a Christian in India,” said Macias. “We have the use of our freedom to advocate for those who have no voice. We have the use of our freedom to speak for those who are silenced by violence, by economic oppression, by political movements that would like to see them either not worship or not live in their nation.”
He continued: “The reason why I am here today is because what we are recognizing is a great evil: the persecution of religious minorities, specifically the Christians who are being attacked, and mobbed, beaten, and robbed because of their religious affiliation. We have a responsibility to contend against such evil…. Not only are we to see it, recognize it, hear it, but we are to make no peace with oppression. Make no peace. As a Christian, I pray this wholeheartedly: make no peace with oppression, make no peace with those who hold the idea that Hindu is the faith of all people, make no peace with those who say that their political nationalism must be oppressive towards all people, make no peace with the oppression that says we cannot fully express who we are.”
“We never felt threatened because of the religion,” said Sunkari about growing up in India. “We never felt constrained to express who we are as Christians.” Lamenting that “those good old days have gone,” he explained, “Looking at the past eight years or so, whenever I hear the news about persecution, I feel sad, I feel agitated, I feel I need to do something about it. But it is primarily not because I’m an Indian, because I was born and raised in India. That is one of the reasons. But primarily, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.”
“We are all connected with Christ as head,” concluded Sunkari. “We are one body. If my pinky gets hurt, my whole body notices it. Suffers. So if one person somewhere in India gets hurt, we should feel it, because we are all connected as one body in Christ. It is my humble request and appeal to all of you to educate people about what is going on and expose these militant organizations.” Calling for international attention to the issue, he added, “We need to have advocacy. We need to raise our voice, and we need to bring it up. This is where the American Church comes into play.”
The theme uniting the speeches by all clergy was a consensus both that the American Church knows very little about the persecution of their brothers and sisters in India as well as that there’s a duty for them to begin learning about, praying for, and speaking about it.
Pastor Wally Magdangal of Christians in Crisis delivered a powerful testimony about how, after 11 years leading the largest underground church in Saudi Arabia, he was arrested and sentenced to death in 1992 only to be miraculously given a reprieve at the last minute. “I’m alive today, I live in the most prosperous, most freedom-loving people on the planet Earth, all because of prayers,” declared Magdangal. “During my incarceration, I was sentenced to die, I was on death row, I was tortured every day, but at the closing of my days approaching to the day of execution, there was a global prayer network. It started in Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s secret followers of Christ were our number one prayer partners. They were praying for my freedom. For my release from the death sentence.”
Yet Magdangal had strong words for the Church in America. “I traveled all over the fifty states,” he said. “My message was only one: Jesus Christ and the persecuted Church. I tell you this, less than one percent were interested. Mind you, I drew big crowds — anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 in America — and yet nobody came back to us to support the persecuted Church.” Noting that God works through prayers, he concluded, “The increase of persecution is simply the fact and the reality that not many care and pray for Christians in crisis situations. That’s the simple truth.”
“Prayer is the fundamental, the first thing that we should do when it comes to this news of persecution,” said Sunkari. He was echoed by Lickter, who stated, “We need to pray faithfully for the persecuted Church in India. And more than that, we need to educate our colleagues and our parishioners…. We need to get the word out so that people realize what’s happening in India right now.”
“The members of the body in India that are facing persecution are equally as important as any other member of the body of Christ in America, and when one member of the body is suffering, all the members of the body are affected,” exhorted Eurén. “We need to have the same compassion, love, tenderness, zeal for each other that we have for other members in our own families, our blood relatives. That is the level that we should be praying for, and speaking up, and letting other people know about the persecution that’s going on in India. So that is my calling and request of you: to actively engage in prayer.”
Carmon Conover, a local marriage and family therapist, emceed the event. “I can’t image the trauma lived by those faithful Christians who have experienced this persecution or witnessed it happening to their brothers and sisters in Christ,” she said. “I am trained to use many interventions to relieve the suffering of my clients. The most powerful intervention, however, and this is confirmed by many studies of the efficacy of therapeutic interventions, is being a witness to their story and sitting with them as they tell it. The power of being seen is one of the most effective things we can offer to those who suffer.”
Speaking directly to the Church in India, Lickter stated, “If there are any Indian Christians who hear me right now, I want you to know that you’re not suffering alone. We hear you, we’re praying for you, and we’re standing in solidarity with you.”
“It’s been wonderful to hear the various perspectives on what’s happening in India tonight,” he added. “It’s been educational. It’s also been a little bit emotional. And I’m just thrilled that there are people willing to gather and to speak up about this. Our numbers might seem small tonight, but, you know, Jesus started with 12, right, and the entire world was ultimately impacted by those 12 people. So don’t lament our smallness in numbers. Let’s take action together, let’s be faithful in prayer, and let’s lean upon the Lord and trust that He will take care of the situation and multiply awareness. And we can be agents that He will use to bring about change.”
“Persecuted Christians matter to God,” said Magdangal. “If they matter to Him, they should matter to us.” He concluded, “I pray to God that this will grow in momentum. What you started tonight, I pray to God that this will be used by the Lord to recruit more Christians to pray for our brothers and sisters from India. We’re talking about one nation, but there are many throughout the world.”
Pastor Carolyn Brodt of Bethel Lutheran, who provided the venue, noted how happy she was at the opportunity to host a “clergy event for solidarity with the persecuted Church in India.” Brother Sam Benet of New Testament Church closed the event in prayer, specifically praying for the “extremists,” the RSS, and the BJP, an echo of Lickter’s opening prayer, in which he asked that God would not only “encourage the persecuted Church” in India” but also “change the hearts of those leading the persecution.”
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.