AHAD Condemns Southern Baptist Diwali Booklet
Publication: The Guardian
Author: James Meek, Religious Affairs Editor
Publication Date: Nov. 2, 1999
US Baptists pray for ‘Satan’s Hindu slaves’
Just weeks after outraging US Jewish leaders with a booklet aimed at converting Jews to Christianity, the country’s biggest Protestant denomination has done it again with a campaign to convert “900 million people lost in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism”.
The latest campaign by the Southern Baptist Congregation’s international mission board is timed to coincide with the Hindu festival of Diwali, which begins today.
There are concerns that it may further poison relations between Christians and Hindus in India during the Pope’s visit this week. Violence against Christians by Hindu extremists has increased this year, with the attackers justifying themselves by accusing missionaries of aggressive conversion tactics.
The Southern Baptists’ new booklet can be downloaded from the internet, making it instantly available worldwide. Much of it is taken up with suggested prayers for worshippers at the Baptists’ 40,000 churches. One suggestion, referring to the Bhojpuri, a Hindu people in India: “Pray that Christians will risk persecution and even death in order to share the Gospel message with the Bhojpuri.”
It describes Bombay as “a city of spiritual darkness. Eight out of every 10 people are Hindu, slaves bound by fear and tradition to false gods and goddesses.”
Of Calcutta, the booklet says: “Satan has retained his hold on Calcutta through Kali and other gods and goddesses of Hinduism.”
The international mission board is the largest US missionary organisation outside the Roman Catholic church, with more than 4,800 missionaries around the world.
Mark Kelly, a spokesman for the board, said: “Nobody at this end was aware of the Pope’s visit months and months ago when this was planned. There’s no such thing as a good time to publish something like this because there are always tensions in India.”
He denied that the Diwali booklet was hostile to Hindus. “To be held in Satan’s power is a different thing from being Satan’s ally,” he said. “There’s nothing in there which says that Hindus are in league with Satan. While we regret people taking offence at the way it’s worded, it does accurately describe what we see as the spiritual condition of people lost without Jesus.”
The booklet has already provoked condemnation from the organisation American Hindus Against Defamation, which earlier this year successfully campaigned against what it saw as a blasphemous treatment of a Hindu theme in the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut.