Wednesday, June 24

Missionary Activity

This proselytising habit amongst several religions, primarily Christianity frequently gets people into trouble. And some of these chaps dont listen. The Vatican agreed not to proselytise in Israel. I quote:

After meeting the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, and praying at the Western Wall on Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI arrived for a historic meeting with the chief rabbis at Heichal Shlomo, next to the capital's Great Synagogue, and agreed that the Catholic Church will cease all missionary activity among Jews.

In his welcoming address, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger thanked the pope for his announcement, calling it an "historic agreement and, "for us, an immensely important message."

Now, why on earth dont they listen in the other parts of the world? If they can stop doing this silly sod thing in Israel, perhaps they should listen in a variety of places ranging from Afghanistan, India and Yemen. See what happened in Yemen with these German missionaries.

Officials from the Foreign Ministry in Berlin believe that the Germans kidnapped in Yemen were abducted because of their missionary activities. Local Muslims had threatened one of the group and told him to stop proselytizing -- a warning the German ignored. The German Christians kidnapped recently in Yemen were probably the victims of an act of revenge, SPIEGEL has learned. According to information obtained from the German Foreign Ministry's crisis task force responsible for the case, a dispute took place in Saada a few months ago related to missionary activities by one of the Germans. German investigators also found missionary tracts in the belongings of the two German nurses believed to have been shot by their kidnappers, Rita S. and Anita G. from Lemgo in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Here’s the previous case with South Korean Missionaries in Afghanistan:

The Taliban's abduction of 23 South Korean Christian missionaries in Afghanistan last week has put South Korea's evangelical fervor under a microscope. Despite its long-standing shamanist, Buddhist and Confucian roots, South Korea has about 12,000 missionaries in 173 countries, second only to the United States. Today, almost half of South Korea's population is Christian. The hostages, members of Saemmul Church from Bundang, near Seoul, appear to have been somewhat naive. They were traveling from Kabul to Kandahar on one of the most dangerous routes in Afghanistan. Photos of some of the missionaries, mostly women in their 20s and 30s, have surfaced on the Internet; they are seen giddily posing in front of the government sign at Seoul's Incheon International Airport warning about the dangers of travel to Afghanistan.

This is not the first time South Korean missionaries have endangered themselves by entering war zones to gain converts. In April 2004, seven missionaries were kidnapped in Iraq (they were released within hours). In June that year, Kim Sun-il, a 33-year-old translator who had hoped to do missionary work in Iraq, was taken hostage and beheaded. Last summer, more than 1,000 Korean Christians, including many children, entered Kabul for a peace rally, only to be deported. Proselytizing is illegal in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has threatened to kill missionaries; yet South Korean Christians can't seem to take no for an answer.

Its not just the Muslims who are upset with this, its the Hindu’s who are up in arms as well in India. There are several websites concentrating on this. Here’s one. Here’s a recent story around a rather convoluted set of circumstances around conversions.

Suspected Maoists killed a senior Hindu leader and four others in a remote eastern Indian village, an attack that police said may be linked to a controversy over religious conversions in the area.

Armed men raided a Hindu school in Orissa's rural Kandhamal district on Saturday and killed five people, including an octogenarian leader linked to India's main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The remote, forested region is a hotbed of religious tensions between hardline Hindus who accuse Christian priests of bribing poor tribespeople and low-caste Hindus to change their faith. Christian groups say lower-caste Hindus who convert do so willingly to escape the highly stratified and oppressive Hindu caste system.

Tensions came to a head on Christmas Eve last year when fights broke out in which one person was killed and churches and temples were damaged. Police say by attacking Hindus the Maoists were trying to garner support among the region's poor tribes, most of which had converted to Christianity.

"There are instances where the rebels have threatened Hindu temples here," said Satish Gajbhiye, a senior police official. The murdered Hindu leader was leading a local campaign to reconvert Hindus and tribal people from Christianity. Saturday's killings have sparked tension in the area with hundreds of Hindus blocking roads and stopping trains. Thousands of policemen were deployed to maintain peace. Reports said one church was burned down by Hindu crowds.

Now, I ask you, this is a bit of an issue. With the geopolitical situation as is, do you really want to do conversions and poke people? If the Pope can stop conversions in Israel, how about (at least for the Catholic Church) stop doing so for rest of the world? An interesting research paper (First Conversion and Second Conversion in Nigeria Author: Gilliland, Dean S., Source: Mission Studies, Volume 7, Number 1, 1990 , pp. 131-150(20)) came to my attention about Nigeria and I quote from the conclusions:

1. In the past twenty years conversions to Christianity have been greatly accelerated in Northern Nigeria among the heterogeneous com- munities. These are primary conversions from traditional religion and from societies that have been erroneously classified as Muslim by virtue of their political history.

2. The conversions in the South, which we call second conversion, have resulted in great numbers of people giving active allegiance to a variety of churches and movements, most of which have no mission history. The greatest number of conversions take place in pentecostal type churches which demonstrate an openness to African culture, and in the various branches of the Aladura churches.

3. Because of the cultural and geographical situation in Nigeria, combined with policies of the colonial administration, the division between the North and the South has always been pronounced. One result was that the Northern minority groups who have been converting in large numbers to Christianity had only superficial recognition by Christians in the South. The Southern people who resided in the North transplanted their own ethnic churches, thus hardening the division. An analysis of these two separate phenomena shows a clear differentiation in cause and structure.

4. The two conversion streams have been brought together (though just in the beginning stages) by the realization that by their combined forces they could alter the political course of the nation. The South needs the North for a coalition that could bring in a non-Muslim government in 1992. The North has discovered that ethnic interests are divisive and that together they can take charge of their own destiny. '

5. In the short range, the stimulus which this combined force of new Christianity is providing will generate even more conversions both in the North and South. As the government assesses the meaning of the recent middle belt local elections, which showed a consensus for Chris- tianity, care will be taken to balance the interests of Muslims and Christians in current affairs. This also means that Christians will have an active and aggressive role in all deliberations relating to the new government.

6. At the deeper level, theological questions of conversion have to be faced. If this paper has given the impression that the spiritual aspect of conversion is not important or can be overlooked, such was not the intention. If the incentives for conversion in this highly charged context are not carefully thought through, revitalization of the old religion and discovery of a new religion can become secularized and materialistic. The consequences of this, in the long run, would be counterproductive. For example, ethnocentrism has long plagued the nation. There is now the potential for this revitalized Christianity to bring reconciliation andwork for a spiritual unity between the ethnic groups. If this is not being done, along with the recent moves for political unity, once the political goals are realized and Christians are in power, they would face again the same divisiveness and ethnic self-interest which traditionally kept them apart. This would destroy any gains made up to this point.

7. The Christian Association of Nigeria at present has a highly religious nature, but the impelling force behind it is the unification of Christians to compete with Muslim structures. The objective is to pro- vide a means for Christians of all persuasions, worldviews or theologies to speak with one voice in shaping government policies vis-a-vis Islam. There are signs that C.A.N. is becoming a purely political movement. A number of candidates in the recent local elections used C.A.N. as their political platform. C.A.N. could become the Christian counterpart to Jama'atu Nasril Islam, an organization which seeks for cooperation between all Muslims, regardless of the different tarikas, for the advance- ment of Islam on all fronts. Should C.A.N. follow this model its useful- ness as a positive agency for the continued trend in Christian conversion would be diminished.

Take a look at the journal and look at the articles. Here’s something about Cameroon. I quote the  abstract:

This article seeks to shed light on a much-debated question in the history
of mission and anthropology: What is the nature of religious conversion?
The rough archive studies of the literature produced by the Norwegian missionaries
in northern Cameroon from 1943 to 1960 the author shows how the
missionaries interpreted religious conversion. The missionary discourse on
conversion was biased in a specific theological and cultural environment, yet
it was open for negotiations with the encountered population. The missionaries
used biblical images to describe conversion to Christianity that were
coherent with the cultural practices of both the missionaries and the groups
that accepted the message of the missionaries in order to describe conversion
to Christianity. Biblical images that corresponded with the cultural practice of
groups that did not accept the missionaries are, however, absent from the
material. A Western Protestant discourse presented spiritual and social oppression,
ignorance, sickness, and lack of moral behaviour as obstacles the Africans
had to be liberated from in order to be converted to Christianity. The missionaries,
lacking knowledge about the social and religious organisation of
traditional society, interpreted the “spiritual oppression” as “heathendom,”
and interpreted it according to their own theological paradigm. The reactions
of the local population to this civilising mission made the missionaries modify
their approach in order for their project to fit the agency of the new Christians
in northern Cameroon.

Take a look at this free article. “The Wrong Kind of Missionary, Author: Peterlin, Davorin, : Mission Studies, Volume 12, Number 1, 1995 , pp. 164-174(11)”. Warning, this isn't very complimentary towards the Missionaries.

Now despite me being a free speech nut, I have to admit that I am now very nervous around this issue of conversions. This almost always creates problems of law and order, arises accusations of colonisation and the like. We have seen conversions before in our human history and almost without exception, this wasn't all hunky dory as one makes out. And almost all religions have done it.

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