A Conversation on Conversion

“India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith”—U.S. President Barack Obama

In his speech in New Delhi, U.S. President Obama called for more religious freedom in India at a time when all religious minorities are becoming increasingly concerned for their safety.

In his comments, it can’t be said Obama overstepped any boundaries because he was simply quoting our own constitution. But while the constitution gives us the freedom to “profess, practice and propagate” our faith, the Bible tells Christians how to do it—with gentleness and respect.

Here’s a few things Indian Christians may have to think about when it comes to the way we propagate our faith.

Lose the Moral High Ground

Jesus was harsh with the self-righteous and gracious with the outcast. He spoke bluntly to the religious and graciously to the non-religious. He spoke generously of the unorthodox and poorly of the morally self-confident.

Today, it seems that we are gracious with the self-righteous and harsh with the outcast. We speak bluntly to the non-religious and graciously to each other. We speak poorly of the unorthodox and generously of the morally self-confident.

The Gospel is like a great song that’s being covered by some awful musicians. The lyrics are similar to the songwriter’s version but something is wrong with the tone, the beat and the rhythm of its poor imitations.

There’s nothing attractive about self-righteous people because there’s nothing Christ-like about self-righteousness.

In his book The Reason for God, Timothy Keller says, “Think of people you consider fanatical. They’re overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian, it’s because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, emphatic, forgiving, or understanding—as Christ was…What strikes us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.”

Lose the Right to be Offended

When the Gospel takes root in the heart of a person, it sets you free from the offence that comes with an insult and turns your heart away from fearing what people may think of you. It makes you more confident and more humble at the same time.

When we are captivated by the Gospel, it gives us a heart that can listen to offensive things without being offended because we trust in someone who carried our offences to the cross.

It’s ironic to be defensive about Someone who refused to defend Himself. Jesus pleaded forgiveness for those who called for His crucifixion, warned us of being persecuted and commanded us to love our persecutors.

To have the right to propagate your faith does not come with the freedom to propagate it poorly.

It’s embarrassing to see a Christian getting angry while arguing the love of God and it’s unnerving to see a believer condemning their critics while revealing the word of God.

But it’s intriguing to see the Gospel fleshed out in the life of a person who forgives when they ought to be angry, remains peaceful when they ought to be anxious and goes the way of grace when they ought to be offended.

Question the Calls to be Converted

A short while ago, I gave a lecture to students at a college in New Delhi on a brief introduction to Christianity. During the time of questions that followed, I was asked about conversion. I affirmed the reality of coercive conversion by some Christians but reasoned that it was inconsistent with Christianity.

Coercive conversion is a contradiction in terms. Jesus gave people the invitation to follow Him and the freedom to crucify Him.

When Indians go wrong, we have the constitution to correct us. When Christians go wrong, we have the Bible to confront us. Coercive Christians are as unconstitutional to the Bible as lawless Indians are to the nation.

But a Christian who speaks of his faith with anyone who will listen to him is no less constitutional than an Indian who shares his political opinions with people who disagree with them.

I find the narrative of conversion odd because it uses conversion to question conversion. It wants to convert Christianity from being an outgoing faith into a private one; and the constitution from being a reasonable one into an intolerant one.

It’s a call for both Christianity and the constitution to be converted and it should be questioned—not simply because we are faithful Christians but because we are loyal Indians.

I am a Christian and I am an Indian and I see no competition between the two. My Christian faith gives me the command to be a better citizen and my Indian identity gives me the urge to be a better Christian.

The real challenge for Christians today is to honour the freedom the constitution guarantees us with the responsibility that the Bible gives us.

If we are more concerned with the constitution than we are transformed by the love of Christ, we may become more arrogant than we are loving and more stubborn than we are gracious. Then it will not matter whether we have the freedom to propagate our faith because we will have already lost the essence of it.

Image Credit: Joe Crimmings

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