- Matthew Castro
A Growing Saffron Storm
By Matthew Castro
Yesterday concluded the largest democratic election in history as India’s Prime Minster Narendra Modi won reelection. Eric Bellman from the WSJ wrote, “India has wrapped up the largest election in the history of democracy.” More than 600 million votes were cast over 39 days. Modi is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which now has 303 seats in the 543 seat parliament. With a growing majority in Indian politics, the BJP and Modi have a new mandate from the people to reshape modern India as the nation continues to assert itself on the world stage.
While many are celebrating in India as Modi and his BJP hold on to power for the next four years, the news is a bleak trend for minority groups in India. Modi and his BJP are the Hindu populist party. They hold strong nationalistic and Hindu religious views in a nation that is extremely diverse. Modi has promised to push for laws that restrict the practices of other religions. He made a campaign promise to ban the slaughter of cows, which are a sacred animal in the Hindu religion. However, this would hurt the economy that supports many poor and Muslim families. He also promised to end any special treatment of Muslims, which make up about 14% of the population. One top BJP official referred to Muslim immigrants as termites. The concerning trend in India is the restriction of minority views, which would include Christianity.
India is around 80% Hindu. Modi and BJP are fanning a Hindu nationalist firestorm that has birthed movements like the Hindutva. The Hindutva is a movement of Hindu extremists, who believe that all Indians must be Hindu. John Dayal, who is Catholic activist in India, said, “Hindutva can be as violent as radical Islam.” The election of Modi and his party has empowered the Hindutva and others to persecuate Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and other religious minorities. Since 2014, the issue of Christian persecution in India has grown. Last year the advocacy group, Open Doors, reported more than 12,000 Christians were attacked by Hindu nationalists. Dayal citing violent disruption of private Christian meetings said, “Where two or three are gathered, the policeman is there long before Jesus is.” With growing power, Christians will continue to be attacked as Hindu nationalists are embolden by the current politics in India.
Christianity Today reported in 2016 that best estimates identify around 25 to 60 million Christians in India. There are 1 billion Hindus in a country of 1.25 billion. Hindus out number Christians by such a large number that the growing Hindu nationalism trend is concerning for the Indian church. Dayal said, “The government will say it’s only 1 percent causing problems, but 1 percent of 1 billion Hindus is 10 million lunatics.” Christianity is growing among the tribal and low-cast citizens of India. Pastors are being trained among these groups to minister to many congregations across India. Yet, a growing threat looks to restrict, persecute, and stunt the growth of the church in India.
As the saffron storm grows, the church in India is unifying together to endure persecution. Christian leaders in Mumbai said, “We can’t be free of persecution, because the government has a wrong conception of what we Christians are about. We are not anti-India. In fact, we are the only community who prays for our government and our leaders.” Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus, reached India, and bought the gospel to the people of the province of Chennai. Christianity is not from Europe or America, but the apostles themselves brought it to the nation of India. Yet, with growing persecution, the church is unified and encouraged by God’s work. Vivian Fernandez, lead pastor of Maharashtra Baptist Society (MBS) in Mumbai, said, “Like the early church in Acts, persecution helps the church to grow spiritually and to expand. The early church was married to persecution, prison, and poverty. Now we are married to prosperity, personality, and popularity. What is hindering the church is not from outside–it is from inside. People can come and throw stones, then they go. But it is the people inside doing bad things that can destroy the church.” The American church can learn from our Indian brothers and sisters about unity and dependence on God’s will, love, and wisdom in the midst of tribulation. Threats that the Bible overwhelmingly warns the church against come typically from inside the church than the outside. Our fear is not the government’s hatred of the church, but the sin and unfaithfulness located in our hearts.
If you are reading this right now, take a moment to pray for the Christians in India. Pray for pastors and missionaries, who are risking their health and well being, to bring the gospel to the people in India. They are hated by many. Christ said to his disciples that the world will hate them, because they hated Christ. God cares for his church in the midst of difficulty, and he permits times of persecution to teach and strengthen his church. We can trust God in difficulty, because he is sovereign over difficulty, and his love and wisdom is always given to his people. God works through political elections to accomplish his sovereign will. We can praise him for his work even though we do no understand fully what he is doing in the present. However, we do know he is Lord of nations and rulers. He will permit a growing threat on his church for his greater glory.