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On conversion (a letter) - The Times of India

Allwyn Fernandes ()
July 21, 1998

Title: On conversion (a letter)
Author: Allwyn Fernandes
Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 21, 1998

This refers to the interview with Bishop Thomas Dabre
(onversion is a spiritual phenomenon and thus voluntary July
3) where the new bishop says that ruth has to be asserted. In
truth there is no tension=94. The interview raises several issues.

Do the new bishop's assertions apply only to conversions to
Catholicism from other faiths? Will he adopt the same attitude
with regard to Catholics who migrate to the new Christian sects
or the "house church" movements which they find more meaningful
and relevant than church rituals, or even to other faiths like
Buddhism? Why does the church which insists on its constitutional
right to convert people of other faiths, deny the same right to
those who try to win over its own members in the marketplace of
religious ideas? Why are they being accused from pulpits of
heep stealing" with "foreign funds"?

Constitutional rights notwithstanding, the question of conversion
in a pluralistic, democratic society needs a closer, more open-
minded approach. Democratic rights are not exercised in a vacuum.
Due concern has to be shown to the concerns of others and the
social situation. The church cannot deny that in the past it has
exercised its rights in a manner that violated the "Do unto
others as you would have them do unto you" teaching of Jesus
himself If indeed conversion is a voluntary process, why are
unbaptised children of Catholics who have married those from
other communities denied admissions to Catholic schools? Is this
not a subtle form of coercion to ensure that the church wins in
the numbers game?

There is also the question of to what extent conversion has
benefited the Dalits and tribals who make up 70 per cent of the
Christian community in India. If indeed conversion is a
"spiritual phenomenon," why have the 30 per cent upper caste
Christians failed to accept the newcomers to the faith as equals?
Is it not a fact that the church has been forced to take up the
cause of reservations for Christian Dalits only because they are
threatening to return to Hinduism in Andhra Pradesh and to Islam
in Tamil Nadu? Would church interests therefore not be better
served by concentrating at least for the present on uplifting the
converts it has already made, rather than seeking to get new ones
to assert its constitutional rights?

These matters are not allowed to be debated in church fora or in
newspapers. Any discussion is stifled by quoting the Gospel
command to "Go forth and baptise all nations", ignoring the fact
that "nation" was understood differently 2000 years ago. Bishops
also reserve the right to decide what is best for the community
and speak for it before secular fora without consultation with
lay persons. There is a rethinking on this and other issues in
the community and the media would do well to represent their
views also rather than let the bishops, new or old, speak as if
they are the fountainhead of all wisdom.

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