Authentic Indian religion or a Western import?
Christianity came to India in two main periods: the
first century missionary activity of Thomas, the
disciple of Jesus, and the Western missionary
activity from 1500 to 1975. Today there are about 27
million Christians in India, nearly the total
population of Canada.
large community represents less than three percent
of the total population of India.
came to India in response to famine and poverty.
People who came to faith were frequently put out of
their own communities with no place to go but to the
mission. Many children were orphaned by famine and
they also became dependent on the mission. One
mission in the 1930s reported that 80 percent of
their converts were financially dependent on the
mission. These factors removed the converts from
their own culture. They became strangers in their
own land. These new Christians were perceived as
giving allegiance to a foreign land and culture. A
pastor related that a tribal person came to him and
said, “I have cut my hair and put on long
trousers. What else do I have to do to be a
Christians in society
India, which is 83 percent Hindu, is a country of
minorities, with 180 million Muslims, 70 million
tribal people, 60 million Sikhs and uncounted
millions of others. Each of these groups represents
a potential voting block in India’s democracy.
However, Christians are not in significant numbers
to be catered to by the national politicians.
in India are discriminated against in certain
government programs. The government has a program of
reservations for jobs and university education. This
program gives preference to people of the lower
castes and those below caste. To qualify for these
benefits, applicants must state their caste origin.
Christians, having denounced caste, are unable to do
this. Yet many Christians come from the very groups
for whom these programs were devised. This
represents a major loss to these people struggling
for education and jobs.
jobs are widely sought and highly valued. The
perception of many Christians is that they do not
have an equal opportunity for these jobs and
subsequent promotions. On the other hand, some
Christians benefit by being perceived as more
honest, resulting in more rapid promotions.
minority status, Christians are seen as leaders in
medical care and education. This reflects the
emphasis of many foreign missions. There are
disproportionately more Christian doctors and nurses
compared to the general population. It is estimated
that more than 30 percent of the nurses in India are
Christian. The quality of medical care and education
in Christian institutions is believed to be higher
than that available through government institutions.
in India: north vs. south
Indians concede that the conditions for Christians
in the south differ from the north. Christians in
the north go about their business quietly. The
programs of some churches appear to be aimed at
survival more than an open involvement in the larger
community. One church leader in the south said,
“To be Christian in the north means Western
clothes, speaking English and eating beef. In the
south Christians are part of the fabric of society.
We have always been here.”
in southern India date their origins back to the
landing of Thomas on their shores. Thomas
established churches throughout southern India.
Catholic missionaries came in 1505 with Vasco de
Gama and instituted changes including penance,
prayers for the dead and the confessional. Two
hundred years later church leaders became aware of
their history though the help of British
a reform movement started from within the church.
These reforms represent a return to the original
tenets of the church prior to 1600. Southern
Christians have a strong sense of continuity from
the first century to the present. Their liturgy is
2000 years old. Members are happy to be known as
part of the church.
is a strong lay movement. Since government workers
are required to retire at age 55, an impressive
amount of social work is done by lay members of the
church in India is a mosaic of places where the
church is thriving and places where it is merely
surviving. Christians face the future with caution
of persecution, and hope in a loving God.