Believers should be sensitive and respectful to other religions
Stabroek News
October 22, 2001

Dear Editor,

As a born-again, evangelical Christian I am deeply saddened, ashamed and disgusted by Emile Mervin's comments and insinuations on Hinduism and Hindus in his letter to the Guyana Chronicle on 12.10.01. Mr. Mervin's use of Bible scripture is not only misused and misquoted; it is disrespectful, insensitive and harmful, and exposes himself as a self-righteous clod with Pharisaical outbursts.

Mr. Emile refers to Matthew 28:18 (Then, Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me") and instructs Mr. DeFreitas to note from this verse that the Bible teaches Christians "how to make disciples or Christians of other peoples ...regardless of the peoples' race or religious persuasions". It is clear this verse says absolutely nothing of the sort. Matthew 28:18-20 is the Great Commission; it does not reflect the simplistic commentary that Mr. Emile uttered. That passage refers to making disciples of Christ. That is not one and the same thing as "how to make Christians of other peoples". The latter statement sounds like it is a conversion factory or bakery in which the baker takes bread dough and makes it into a cake.

"Making disciples" of Christ does not mean assuming another form of religion or giving one a religious label. The description of followers of Christ was not given the label "Christian" until Acts 11 when it occurred in the city of Antioch. What were the followers before that called? And what were they called in other locations apart from Antioch at that time?

There are many disciples of Christ in Israel, India and other places who prefer not to bear the label "Christian" even though that is exactly what they are - followers of Christ. They prefer to avoid that label because of political, cultural and religious connotations. They might not be Christian in name, but Christian at heart.

Adopting the label "Christian" may get one somewhere religiously but not necessarily spiritually. The disciples in Antioch were given the name "Christian" because their lives reflected that of Christ. I know of many Hindus who have resembled disciples of Christ while Christians appear to be sons of Satan. Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, comes to mind, when he was flabbergasted by the mindset of Christians who blatantly discriminated against people because of their race. He had read about Jesus and his teachings in the Bible and was therefore dumbfounded with their attitudes towards humanity especially since they claim to be disciples of Christ. He confounded the world the way he handled problems as he had implemented many of Christ's principles.

I find Mr. Emile's second quotation somewhat puzzling as I try to gauge the purpose of that (out of text) quotation. The text, Romans 1:21-23 states "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles". These verses are preceded by verse 18 which refers to the "they" in the context as those who are "godless" and who are "wicked"; that could refer to Christians!

I would like to remind Mr. Emile that Hindus are not the only ones that have "images" (icons) and who worship idols. Christians often pay homage to icons in churches, in their homes, on the road side, etc. More significantly, Ephesians 5:5 states, "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God". One does not have to have a physical icon to worship an idol; the "immoral, impure or greedy person" is just as much an idolater!

Mr. Emile needs to take time to study Paul's experience and response in Acts 17 with the religious Greeks who had built an altar "To An Unknown God". Though Paul was distressed to see that city full of idols, he did not issue any statement of condemnation. Instead, he complimented them for their religiousness. He was patient and kind, and used their circumstances and context to point out what he experienced as the truth.

Mr. Emile alluded that forced conversion has never been an issue in the history of Christianity. However, Emperor Constantine imposed Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century A.D. A few hundred years after that Christians mounted a war in their crusade against Moslems and coerced captors to convert to Christianity. One therefore has to be on guard and work arduously to preserve religious freedom and religious expression.

Mr. Emile has the gall to enunciate that Christians have a relationship with God and non-Christians do not. Does one think that toting a Bible in hand, going to church, or quoting Bible verses mean that one has a relationship with God, or is it a mere ritual? The way to distinguish who has a relationship with God and who just goes through a ritual is to look to see if the fruit of the Spirit is evident in one's life (Galations 5:21-22). For not all who say, "Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of God" (Matthew 7:21).

I would suggest that Mr. Emile takes time to read the Vedas, the Bhavagad Gita, the Koran and other literature. And he should not only read but also study the Bible while being mindful of the grace of God. And he should ask God for love and grace and pray with earnestness for those who are different that they may experience this love and grace. This is exactly what the apostle Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, where he wanted to identify with a people group so that he could gain their favour.

The same Bible that institutes the Great Commission also rebukes the self-righteousness of people (found in Matthew 23:23-33). Indeed, Jesus' harshest admonitions were reserved for the religious people whereas he exhibited grace and love to those who were without. The religious people were aghast that Jesus dared to eat, drink and have a good time with "sinners".

To my Hindu, Moslem and other friends, I apologise to you for the crassness, ignorance and disrespect my fellow Christians have thrown in your face. Please do not let this turn you off from the teachings of Christ. Do not look to Christians to appreciate the Christian faith; rather, look to Christ and his purpose for coming on earth and his life and teachings. I do understand your hurt, outrage and anger as a result of the contempt shown to your culture, background and religion. I can empathize with you as I have experienced those identical feelings.

Yours faithfully,

Devanand Bhagwan