7 legal and constitutional things which every servant of the Lord must know

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Upon watching various secular and extremist TV new channels as well as by my personal experience, I observed that the first and foremost allegation which is framed against Christian preachers is – “forced religious conversion” or “religious conversion by promoting superstitions” or “religious conversion by luring people”.

Such people who oppose Christian faith, allege faith-miracles as propaganda, love of God and promises of the Bible as allurement, praying for the poor and downtrodden as force and overall Christianity as fraudulent practise. They have an unfounded fear created in them by politicians and fundamentalists about converting the whole India into a Christian country.

This is true that in 800 years of muslim king’s rule in India, India was not converted to Islam and in 200 years of British rule, India was not converted to Christianity. However, all of a sudden, such a  propaganda has been spread and narrative established that the majority religion Hinduism is in danger. Owing to this, a rage has been aroused in the hindu extremists as well as mild anger stimulated in the learned class of hindus. Extremists would go around demolishing minority institutions and hitting, smashing or threatening Christian preachers whereas the learned majority would give it only a silent approval. Few voices are heard against such religious extremism, but it is so marginal that it would not help.

But is this true that Christians or the Bible promotes religious conversion in any way?

No!

The folly is that many of these fundamentalists do not realise that Christianity is not, only as old as earthly dwelling of Jesus Christ. The roots of this Abrahamic faith goes 4000 years beyond Jesus’ earthly ministry. Bible starts from the creation of the whole universe and is applicable until today. Nowhere in the 66 books of the Bible does it talk about religious conversion. Bible does not endorse ‘religious conversion’ and therefore no true disciple of Jesus Christ is in favour of it.

In fact, I am personally against ‘religious conversion’ and probably majority of the Christian preachers are. I am born hindu and do not have any intentions to convert my legal religious identity. My faith in Lord Jesus Christ is my fundamental right and I will follow him and his commandments written in his Holy Word – The Bible to the point of death, so that I may live eternally.

But then, when almost all Christian organisations are against or indifferent to the practise of religious conversion, why do fundamentalists and secular news channels see it as religious conversion. What are the legal aspects that you need to keep in mind while serving the Lord. Lets ponder on some legal and constitutional things to keep in mind so that you may avoid unwanted persecution or handle it well when it comes along:

Constitution of India, in its preamble says,

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation; IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this 26th day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.”

We can always remember that constitution of India gives us the mind of the people who made this nation. Our country is a secular democratic country and therefore there is no state religion of the country. None of the religion are promoted or derogated by the law. The law is supreme in the country and there is absolutely no one above the law. Justice, liberty, equality and brotherhood are the key elements of the preamble.

Therefore, if all what you do while serving the Lord is in line with these key elements, you are doing a good service to the nation too. You can thus call yourself a patriot – which you are. This should give you confidence that you have the liberty to do all legally acceptable things, there is equality before law and so you cannot be treated unfairly, justice shall always prevail as long as you continue to promote brotherhood, love and unity among all caste, creed and class of the society – as is the teaching of the Bible.

Part III of the Indian Constitution, starting from Article 12 to Article 35, tells us about our fundamental rights as citizens of India. You may not be able to use them outrightly in front of the mad mob or even civil defence authorities, you can still be confident of your rights. Therefore, pay attention to the following:

  • Article 14 and 15 talks about Right to Equality, which means the law will not discriminate against you on the basis of your religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth etc.
  • Article 19 gives us Right to Freedom, which includes our freedom of press, freedom of speech, freedom to form associations, assemble peaceably for all societal purposes except not for any anti-national cause. The subclause gives the right to the government to stop such assembly only if it affects public order.
  • Article 20 states that unless you have violated some law, you cannot be arrested. This is the reason, the mob which comes against a church or pastor brings false allegations of violation of some law – the easiest one in which is converting somebody’s religion by force or fraudulent means.
  • Article 21 candidly states that no person shall be deprived of his life or liberty (except according to the procedure established by the law).
  • Under Article 22, it is mentioned that once arrested (even on false grounds), you have the right to inform your dear ones about your arrest and also to consult a legal practitioner. Police need to produce you to a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest. Even in the worst case of preventive detention, no one can be kept in custody beyond 3 months, whatsoever. In any case, one has all the right to ask the grounds on which he is arrested.
  • The most important article for the servants of God is Article 25 – Right to Freedom of Religion. It says that subject to public order, morality and health, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and THE RIGHT TO FREELY PROFESS, PRACTISE AND PROPAGATE RELIGION. This article along with article 26 gives us right to
    • establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes,
    • manage its own affairs in matters of religion,
    • to own and acquire movable and immovable property

The Religious Freedom Bill passed by the Rajasthan Assembly in 2008, aimed at banning forcible religious conversions, was returned by the Union government in November 2017, as it deviated from the national policy. Therefore there is no such law in Rajasthan at the moment. Central government has not passed any such law but few states have passed law against forcible religious conversions by fraudulent means. As long as you are not using force, alluring and fraudulent means while professing and propagating your faith, you are on the right path.

Apart from understanding the above constitutional rights available to every Indian citizen, including Christian pastors and preachers, there are 7 things which we must keep in mind to avoid much hassles.

  1. You rights prevail upto your nose and the right of the next person starts from where his nose is. Advocate Vivek, former government attorney, in a workshop for pastors and Christian workers, said that it means, you have right only for yourself and as soon as the rights of other person are violated by any of your word, gesture or action, you are liable to the law. Therefore, we must be careful in preaching that no derogatory terms are used for other religions, faiths, their practises, idols etc. Jesus also had idolators in his times. There were gentiles who worshipped their own gods and had their own religious practises. Jesus never spoke anything against them. He rather praised his Father in heaven and taught about the sin, repentance, forgiveness, obedience, holiness and kingdom of God.  Jesus never talked about conversion. Jesus and apostles are our example in Christian conduct and preaching. Let the Bible stay our foundation and love, compassion and prayers our means.
  2. Know your rights and be vigilant. It is a good idea to keep CCTV vigilance around your building if possible. In the worst case scenario, where the humble fellowship is conducted, mobile cameras can be used to record any unwanted events and produce along with the testimony of eyewitnesses and victims of mob violence. You may like to record your messages so that you may produce a testimony against false allegations. Jesus taught not to be offensive but did not discourage us from being defensive. Its alright to protect yourself and not let the calamity fall on you because of our foolishness so that we take glory in our persecution later. Let’s remember that we have to be clever as serpent and humble/harmless as dove in dealing life situations.
  3. Keep a good relationship with your neighbours. Jesus gave us the greatest commandment to love God and love our neighbour. We are called to love all including our enemies. India is a democratic country and therefore when a larger crowd gives testimony for or against somebody, it is taken as important evidence in our judiciary and government machinery. If our neighbour speaks well of us, where we live, it will certainly give us edge in the time of such events.
  4. Keep all your records right. Usually, the problem starts small but when it lands in the judicial process, it entangles every aspect of your life. Therefore, keeping all your records right is very important. You must pay taxes wherever needed, pay the bills on time, audit the documents of your registered society annually, file the return as directed by the law, keep affidavits wherever possible of free-will and maintain all records of financial transactions honestly. Bible teaches us that the one who is faithful in small shall be given bigger things. Keeping the law of the land is part of Christian testimony that every individual believer, servant of God and the church associations/societies must adhere to it.
  5. Pray continually so that you will not fall in any temptation. Stay confident in the Lord that if you pray continually, God will always be in control. When we see all around that fundamentalists and nationalists are creating havoc, we must not keep silent and wait for such calamity to befall us. Rather join in prayer individually, with your family, with your church, with churches in your city and people of same faith all around. Prayers can prevent the mishaps. However, if such testing is from the Lord, your spirit shall be already strengthened in prayer to endure persecution and shine for the glory of God.
  6. Stay prepared to live and die for Christ. Paul was stopped by his people from going to Jerusalem but he said that not only he was willing to be bound for Christ but even die (Acts 21:13). Persecution is part of Church history and is integral part of our faith life. We cannot avoid it totally. I can recall that when such persecution arose in our village, our fellowship grew stronger and came closer. Blood of the martyr is the seed of the Church. We cannot be afraid. We are not afraid. It is privilege for us to be bound in chains, jailed or even killed for the kingdom of God. Let’s rejoice if such times come.
  7. Therefore, stay in touch with legal aid foundations who work for persecuted ones. While it is wise to stay away from legal suits and proceedings as far as possible because in India, more than the justice, it is the time taken in bringing the justice which kills. It is a commonly known fact that in India, person dies but case remains. We must work in legal boundaries and maintain the testimony of law-abiding citizens; however, in the worst and unexpected times, when even falsely we are faced with such a legal battle, instead of handling it by ourselves, it is better to take help of experts.

It is a good idea to stay in touch with such legal experts, who wish to help the persecuted church. A person may take a pill from the Chemist but it will never substitute a doctor. We cannot defend our cause so well as much as an expert can. Having said that, all above points will help you as a first-aid and make you confident that you are not alone and that law is not against you, while few foes may be.

Read more about this subject: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/explained-question-of-conversion/

Image courtesy: http://prospect.org/article/little-known-force-behind-hobby-lobby-contraception-case (Copyright)

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