By Robin Thomson
Parliament is stalled as the opposition demands statements over ‘Hindu conversions’. Twitter is full of attacks on ‘Christian conversions’. The BJP has called for laws to prevent ‘forced conversions’. What is going on?
Conversion has always been sensitive. Changing one’s faith, in any direction, can be deeply unsettling and disruptive, both for those making the decision and for the community around them.
Some see it as a rejection of culture, family and community. How can a person change the religion they were born into? ‘Changing your religion is the greatest sin on earth. It is like changing your mother.’
Others assume a hidden agenda – for example providing health or education to exploit or manipulate the poor (who are frequently perceived as gullible and easily persuaded).
We are not talking here about conversion by force, inducement or fraud. No responsible religious leader, from any background, supports that. Allegations abound, on all sides, but there is little hard evidence. If allegations can be proved, such practices must be condemned out of hand.
Faith must be a matter of inner belief. The right to religious freedom must be upheld. But it should not infringe others’ rights nor harm society. Nobody should be pressurised in any way. Those who seek to share their faith must make sure that their methods do not create unnecessary disruption. Respect for others’ faith and culture is fundamental.
We urgently need a clear statement of ethical guidelines on this issue. If India’s political and religious leaders can have the honesty to affirm this freedom and restrain any who abuse it, they can clear the current tensions and relieve the concerns of ordinary people. That is, if they want to.
However, the basic question to ask is not ‘Should a person change their religion?’ but ‘How do I find God?’
Whatever our religious background, few of us have been completely sincere in our efforts to seek God. We struggle to do what is right, because we lack the spiritual and moral strength to do it. We need someone to lead us to a relationship with the living God.
This is not about religion or culture or community. It is about God seeking us and our response to his seeking. This is not a ‘change of religion’. It is a ‘change of heart and mind’.