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RCSS Policy Studies 5

New Evangelical Movements and Conflicts in South Asia

Sri Lanka and Nepal in Perspective


Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction:Evangelism or Fundamentalism?

Chapter 2: Roots in the United States and Some Significant Successes in Asia

Chapter 3: Parameters of the Situation in Sri Lanka

Chapter 4: Parameters of the Situation in Nepal

Chapter 5: The Activities of Christian Evangelical Groups, and the Possibility of Conflict and
Violence in South Asia?
Bibliography
CHAPTER 1: Introduction: Evangelism or Fundamentalism?

Religion has been a major component in routine life in South Asia for a considerable period of
time.Similarly, it has also been a major player in politics and conflict formation as well as a
source for mass mobilization for socio-culturally and politically motivated millenarian or
revivalist movements in the region. In India, a sense of distrust between Hindus and Muslims has
become steadily institutionalized since the partition. The primaryreason for the creation of
Bangladesh and Pakistan had been the religious differences between the populations in these
areas and what constitutes India today.In Sri Lanka, Hinduism and Buddhism are primary
markers in the cultural and ethnic identities of Sinhalas and Tamils.Such differences in identities
play a major role in perpetuating the on going ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, particularly due to the
manner in which such identities areperceived and represented in popular belief and conservative
academic discourse.While the mere differences in cultural identities were not the cause of the
inter-ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, the religious differences between the two groups have been
manifestly used by nationalistand chauvinist politicians among both groups for sectarian
purposes.

What is evident from such realities is that religion is a major factor in South Asian society and
politics, and one could argue that it has thepotential for conflict formation and intensification as
the case of the politics of RSS has amply demonstrated in India. It is clear that the status and
dynamics of religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam and their role in politics in South
Asia have been extensively investigated by anthropologists and political scientists.It is also clear
that in comparison, the role of Christianity in the study of religion and politics of South Asia has
been largely neglected.This is particularly the case when it comes to the dynamics of Christian
groups active in South Asia since relatively recent times, as opposed to Christianities which
arrived in the region during European colonial expansion, often with the direct or indirect
sponsorship of the rulers. Moreover as Bayly observes, South Asia’s distinctive manifestations of
Christianity have been overlooked in “debates about the rise of large scale fundamentalist
movements in the nations of the subcontinent” (Bayly 1994 726).

What I hope to achieve in the following analysis is to place in context the socio-political role
played by emerging new Christian groups specifically in Sri Lanka and Nepal, and to assess their
impact as a catalyst for conflict formation in these two countries as well as the region.In doing so
however, I would also be looking at comparative material from India,particularly from Kerala
and TamilNadu in South India as well as material from South Korea and the Philippines.

As I have noted earlier, the dynamics of a variety of Christianities (eg., Roman Catholicism,
Methodists, St. Thomas Christians in Kerala etc.) in the politics and religiosity of South Asia
have not been adequatelydocumented compared to the attention given to Hinduism, Islam
andBuddhism in the anthropology of South Asia.While historical analyses of the origins,
changes, and the expansion of these conventional Christianities -- which have been in the region
since the beginning of the European colonial period, if not since much earlier -- do exist, their
role in politics and the nature of influence they exert in national or regional politics or network
formation are under-investigated. This is certainly the case for Sri Lanka and Nepal except for
brief historical analyses of missionary activities between the 17th and early 20th centuries and
intermittent journalistic interventions at specific moments in recent time -- such as the
“conversion row” in Sri Lanka and Nepal in the late 1980s and 1990s.

However, over the last five decades, but more clearly and specifically in the last decade or so,
parts of South Asia such as Sri Lanka, and Nepal, have witnessed a rapid and relatively large
influx of new Christian denominations based in Europe, North America and to a certain extent
East Asia as well. In addition, a similar situation prevails in Taiwan, South Korea, Mongolia and
parts of Thailand as well as parts of South America. For some time now there has been a
reasonable output of scholarly andpopulist material from these areas dealing with the dynamics
and politics of such new Christianities. Some of this material will be used for comparative
purposes. On the other hand, one of the main goals of the present analysis would be to
investigate the nature of the politics of religious conversions adopted by these groups, and the
impact it has on inter-religious relations, and in general the socio-political climate in Sri Lanka
and Nepal. In the light of these findings and comparative analyses, the regional consequences of
these religious dynamics will also be assessed.

It is also clear that much of the debate on the emerging religiouspluralism in general, and
specific contexts of conversions into evangelical Christianities in particular, are camouflaged and
often lost and diffused in acrimonious accusations and counter-accusations of those involved.
This is particularly the case in Nepal and Sri Lanka. This is another reason why an investigation
of this nature is necessary. Moreover, it is hoped that this analysis will contribute to the growing
literature on religious dynamics in general and Christianities in particular, while it will also make
a more visible contribution to the relative lack of knowledge on evangelical Christianities in
South Asia.

Locating New Christianities in South Asia:

Evangelism or Fundamentalism?

It seems to me that prior to proceding with this analysis it is essential -- as much as possible -- to
clarify certain conceptual and terminological issues that have emerged and will continue to
emerge in the study ofcontemporary religion in South Asia as well as elsewhere. The kinds of
Christian groups that would be focused on in this study generally fall into the category of what I
have provisionally called evangelical groups in the sense that there is a significant emphasis on
all of these groups in spreading their respective faiths which also include a serious emphasis
onconversions, and the overall primacy of the Bible. At the same time, scholars have also used
the words Charismatics and Pentecostals to describe some of these same evangelical groups
(Frykenberg 1994, Ammerman 1994, Bayly 1994).The literature on evangelical activity is
replete with such terminology, often without making much terminological clarification or
differentiation. On the other hand, many of these groups are also referred to as fundamentalist
groups, particularly in popular discourse, but also increasingly in academic discourse as well.

The use of the word “fundamentalism” in popular discourse is clearly the case in Sri Lanka
where all new Christian evangelical groups arereferred to as such in both Sinhala and English by
their opponents. But that word is almost never used by these groups themselves in the self-
descriptions of their movements and their activities except with specific andtechnical
clarifications. Thus, only a few evangelical groups in Sri Lanka such as the Worldwide Church
of God and the Ceylon Every Home Crusade did refer to themselves as fundamentalist, implying
merely the primacy of the Bible as the ultimate word on their worship.Similarly,
Hindus,Buddhists and Catholics in Nepal who spoke to me in English referred to the new
evangelical groups in their midst as fundamentalists, which was used in a clearly articulated
negative idiom.But once again, those who belonged to such groups did not use that word, but
instead depended on words such as the faithful, Christians, and evangelicals to refer to
themselves. In the context outlined above and until definitional and conceptual problems are
ironed out, I will refer to such groups simply as evangelical groups.

But it should be clear that there is a certain degree of urgency in the need to clarify and iron out
these conceptual issues as much as possible since the word “fundamentalism” is becoming more
and more important in contemporary scholarship dealing with Christianity.Such an activity
would be a prelude to this analysis because in the rhetoric of local debates and the confusion of
the academic discourse internationally, the meanings of the word “fundamentalism” have often
changed. Moreover, since recent times it has also been vested with much negative socio-cultural
andemotional value in popular discourse in South Asia as well as in North America and Europe.
Such an outcome would also impact upon the process of analysis in a study of this nature unless
the politics and the rhetoric of the terminology are somehow unraveled.

It has generally been accepted that the word “fundamentalism” was originally used to describe
certain North American Protestant groups in the 1920 (Stirrat and Henkel 1996: 1, Ammerman
1994: 13-14).According to Ammerman, people from Protestant denominations who were initially
called fundamentalists in the American context, mobilized themselves in the 1920s to “do battle
royal for the fundamentals of the faith,” and their battles were waged against what they saw as
degenerations within their own denominations and the American school system (Ammerman
1994: 14). This was essentially a conservative religious crusade to defendorthodox beliefs about
the Bible, and also to revive what they perceived as traditional American virtues and ways of life
(Ammerman 1994: 13-14).They also organized campaigns against religious liberalism in
churches and the teaching of Darwinian evolutionism in schools(Ammerman 1994: 13-14). But
their attempts to establish rhetorical and institutional control in both of the above areas failed
(Ammerman 1994: 13-14). But as we would see later, such defeats were merely short term
obstacles, since in the long run, they proved to be rather resilient groups with an international
outreach potential.Many of the evangelical groups currently operating in Sri Lanka and Nepal
have their roots in the religious dynamics of Protestant “fundamentalism” in North America.

Frykenberg suggests that there were three historically distinct events or phases which marked the
emergence of the word fundamentalism, and certain changes in the meanings attached to the
word (1994: 592). The first of these is the emergence of a theological movement within
American religion with a strong emphasis on rationality, intellect and scientificity which first
coined the word. Second, it was used to describe a latter movement which was strongly
moralistic, pietistic if not emotional, and anti-intellectual.It was a political movement against
“godlessness” and “worldliness” which “marked the struggles between modernity and more
orthodoxtradition” (Frykenberg 1994: 592). This is also the phase described by Ammerman as
outlined above. Finally, according to Frykenberg, the word “fundamentalism” was used in a
negative and pejorative idiom by the counter-movement of cultural modernists which included
elements from the secular media, academia, as well as theologically liberal and modernist
branches of religion in the west (1994: 592). In this latter sense the cultural modernists used the
term to describe, mark and caricature everyone they perceived as “religious obscurantists or
archaic relics of medieval superstition” (Frykenberg 1994: 592).

Clearly, it is in the latter negative and pejorative sense that the word is commonly used in
popular usage today. Moreover, the word and itsassociation to American and Christian religion
has considerably shifted from the American context to other parts of the world and is currently
most often used to describe and mark non-Christian religious movements such as radical
offshoots of Islam or Hinduism. In this meaning, such movements are often seen as violent,
disruptive, irrational and so on. If one takes Frykenberg’s essayAccounting for Fundamentalisms
in South Asia: Ideologies and Institutions in Historical Perspective(1994) as well as Stirrat and
Henkel’s monograph Fundamentalism and Development (1996) the word “fundamentalism” is
most often used to describe and refer to non Christian religious movements, particularly Islamic,
Hindu and Buddhist movements.

Given the nature of this confusion one is immediately confronted with the problem of identifying
what is a fundamentalist movement and what is not.One also needs to place in context whether
academic definitions of fundamentalism overlap with popular and journalistic definitions or
whether they do not.It is also important to ask the question whether the movements generally
described as evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal are also necessarily fundamentalist or
whether these words are mutually interchangeable. Stirrat and Henkel suggest as a practical
definition, thatfundamentalism can be defined “as a process of selective retrieval, embellishment,
and construction of ‘essentials’ or ‘fundamentals’ of a religious tradition for halting the erosion
of traditional society and fighting back against the encroachments of secular modernity” (Stirrat
and Henkel 1996). In dealing with the emergence of new Christianities in South Asia,
andparticularly in Sri Lanka and Nepal, certain aspects of this definitionimmediately run into a
number of problems. For instance, in the case of Nepal and Sri Lanka all of these new Christian
groups trace their origins to areas outside of those countries, and often exterior to the region as
well. That place of origin may be in Western Europe, North America, Australia or South Korea.
That is where much of the funding for their activities comes from, that is where certain aspects of
their ritual styles come from, and that is also where their organization structure and top leaders
come from. That is also where the head offices of most movements are located.So in such a
situation, if these new evangelical Christian groups are to be considered fundamentalist, then
notions such as halting the erosion oftraditional society embedded in Stirrat’s and Henkel’s
definition would make no sense. In fact, such a definition, would more specifically and more
readily accommodate fundamentalist movements that have emerged from within those societies
(eg., RSS in India), including the ones that may emerge in opposition to the new Christian
groups we are interested in here.

I would argue, that the reason for the obvious lapse in the abovedefinition is due to the
formulators’ overemphasis on non-Christian groups (eg., Hindu groups in India) as opposed to
Christian groups.I would suggest that as far as new evangelical groups in Nepal and Sri Lanka
areconcerned, despite their conservative attitude to issues of religion, particularly to conversions,
they are very much modern in other aspects. A sense of being “modern” in the popular sense can
be detected in realms such as dress, religious rituals, church structures, organizational and
communications networks as well as modes of operation such as the emphasis on “development”
initiatives or projects as in the case of Nepal. In a certain sense, that kind of modernity in popular
perception may verge on being foreign.In this context, rather than attempting to halt the erosion
ofculture and specific values of “traditional” society, what many of these groups preach is
constructed within an idiom of universality. Thus rather than preaching the erosion of Nepali or
Sinhala values, they would more likely talk about the erosion of human values and fear of
god.Such a universalist preaching idiom and outlook is all the more practical in the context of the
ethno-cultural mosaic of South Asia where the emphasis on certaincultural values typical of one
group may alienate others, and thus impose serious hindrances and obstacles upon the collective
evangelical project.

On the other hand, such groups also do not hesitate to critique aspects of “traditional society”
such as idol worship which is such a fundamental aspect of many South Asian religions (eg.,
Buddhism, Hinduism) andbelief systems.Such critiques of course come in much the same form
as similar critiques from the missionaries of the more established denominations in the region
during the European colonial period. Here, rather than attempting to arrest the erosion of
“traditional” values and practices, the emphasis would be on the clear condemnation and
dismantling of such cultural constructs.

In the light of the problems raised above, it is perhaps useful to refer to the definition of
“fundamentalism” presented by Marty and Appleby where they have removed culture and
tradition, specific content and context from the concept of fundamentalism, and have formulated
what one may call a metaphysical ideal of fundamentalism which simply refers to one specific
kind of religious idealism (Marty and Appleby 1991: 814-842). In their ideal model Marty and
Appleby refer to fundamentalism as an irreducable basis for communal and personal identity
which in its most extreme forms encourage separation of true believers from non believers or
outsiders (Marty and Appleby 1991: 814-842). Moreover, taken in this sense they also suggest
that fundamentalisms posses a “dramatic eschatology” through which moments in history could
be matched to sacred truths, texts, and traditions which would legitimize the movements
themselves, their ideologies and their leaders (Marty and Appleby 1991: 814-842). Thus here
there is an emphasis on the importance of texts, particularly holy scriptures such as the Bible. I
would suggest that within the terms of this abstract definition most Christian evangelical groups
and other non Christian “fundamentalist”groups currently operating in South Asia could be
accommodated, mostly due to its removal of culture specific content as well as due to its rather
extensive scope.

Brouwer et. al, referring specifically to new Christian fundamentalisms suggest a number of
identification markers.First, they suggest that such beliefs entail a personal “born again”
relationship between thebeliever and Jesus (Brouwer et. al 1996: 3). According to them, this
relationship means that believers should convert others as part of the global evangelical mission
(Brouwer et. al 1996: 3). Second, in terms of fundamentalist belief, God’s word is accessible to
the believers in the form of the text of the Bible, which should be adequatefor an understanding
of the world. The Bible should also be a manual for good living, and the messagecontained
within theBible is considered “literally inerrant” (Brouwer et. al 1996: 3). According to
Brouwer et. al, a final defining feature offundamentalist movements should be a tendency to
“look for miraculous, God-centered interpretations of history, usually under the banner of
biblical millennialism and dispensationalism” (Brouwer et. al 1996: 4). The basis of millennialist
belief is that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent, and that his thousand year rule on earth
will follow soon afterwards (Brouwer et. al 1996: 4). Dispensationalism, on the other hand refer
to a complex “form of alternative historical study that is derived solely from a closed and
intricate system of biblical sources and references” which have been developed over a period of
about 200 years to reinforce millennialist beliefs and predications (Brouwer et. al 1996: 4).

Frykenberg argues that most South Asian fundamentalist groups can be identified as such on the
basis of certain key “foundational” and“functional” features that can be found within those
groups (Frykenberg 1994: 592-593). Even though it appears that Frykenberg has overemphasized
non-Christian groups in South Asia in his general construction of the meaning of
fundamentalism, it seems to me that many of the features he has identified as key elements in
South Asian fundamentalist groups are also applicable to new Christian evangelical groups
operating in the same region.Frykenberg further suggests that an analysis of these features allows
one to determine how “fundamentalist” (that is the degree of fundamentalism) a given group is,
as well as to trace their origins and development (Frykenberg 1994: 593). According to him,
these features constitute a “procedure to determine how extreme and militant or moderate a
movement is, how benign or malignant, how non violent or violent, how quietistic or aggressive,
how authoritarian or egalitarian its ideologies or institutional structures are, how “this worldly”
or “otherworldly” a movement is (Frykenberg 1994: 593). He identifies five key elements as
foundational features of South Asian fundamentalist movements. These include the following:

1. The Truth,

2. The Messenger,

3. The Community,

4. The Destiny and,

5. The Evil.

The truth is the central doctrine or the corpus of doctrine which constitute of the group’s core
world-view.The truth can be objectified in sacred texts or in a sacred code, and its “role is
definitive and its authorityprofound, if not final” (Frykenberg 1994: 593). The truth can be
variously referred to as the Word, the Gospel, the Revelation, the Law and so on (Frykenberg
1994: 593).

Frykenberg defines the messenger as the person who “embodies or personifies the Truth and is
the original person who conveyed it” (Frykenberg 1994: 593).The messenger can be referred to
as the Teacher, the Leader, the Preacher, the Guru, the Master, the Enlightened One, etc
(Frykenberg 1994: 593). He further suggests that the message and the messenger are very closely
associated, and in combination they can be seen as the Living Word (Frykenberg 1994: 593).
Often the messenger is a charismatic personality who can inject to followers a sense of
excitement, expectation and urgency (Frykenberg 1994: 593). More importantly, “the contagion
ignited by his influence brings about radical conversion (Frykenberg 1994: 593). The messenger
also “inspires awe, if notdevotion, reverence and submission” (Frykenberg 1994: 593).

The third foundational feature identified by Frykenberg is theCommunity (Frykenberg 1994:


594). The community is perceived as a select and special group of individuals who constitute of
the true believers. They can be referred to as the Chosen, the Elect, the People, the Church, the
Brotherhood, the Fellowship and so on (Frykenberg 1994: 594). Thesignificance in the concept
of community is that it demarcates the insiders and outsiders in particularly clear ways.In fact,
the words used to refer to a specific community often constitute of “insider” perspectives and
self-definitions of the groups and their relationship to the exterior world.This sense of stark
dualityalso allows members of a given community to make clear distinctions between True and
False, Believers and Unbelievers, the Children of God and Heathens, the Good and the Evil and
so on (Frykenberg 1994: 594).

The fourth foundational feature Frykenberg associates with South Asian fundamentalist
movements is the Destiny (Frykenberg 1994: 594). The destiny is a belief or certainty of a
utopian future. Members of the movement would believe that the future belongs only to the
selected few such as themselves. Destiny may be seen as “imminent, immediate, and attainable,
or it may be delayed inexplicably or mysteriously” (Frykenberg 1994: 594). Depending on what
kind of group one is dealing with, destiny may not come until after Apocalypse or Armageddon.
Moreover, destiny is clearly seen as worth reaching because it is perceived as a place or
existence where peace and harmony prevails, and where relationships never break or fail
(Frykenberg 1994: 594).

The fifth foundational element identified by Frykenberg is the Evil (Frykenberg 1994: 595). The
evil is seen as the kind of corruption, danger and pollution that can come from the outside world
or sometimes from within the groups themselves (Frykenberg 1994: 595). Some groups may
encourage the faithful to undertake a holy war (eg., Crusade, Mission, Jihad etc.) to eliminate
obvious external enemies who represent the evil (Frykenberg 1994: 595).

In addition to the five foundational elements identified above, Frykenberg also identifies three
functional elements that can be seen in fundamentalist groups.These are:

1. Radical conversion

2. Revivalism

3. Separatism

Conversions are a significant marker of evangelical Christianity in South Asia, a phenomenon


clearly seen in both Sri Lanka and Nepal.Frykenberg suggests that each movement that is
considered fundamentalist is situated within a tradition of radical conversion. In other words,
such groupsdemand a drastic and clear reaction against what is perceived as evil (Frykenberg
1994: 595). Framed within these terms, radical conversions entail an awareness of evil within the
individual or individuals who converted or within the society at large. At the same time this also
signals “a transformation from one condition or state of being, from one outlook, world-view or
way of life, to another” (Frykenberg 1994: 595).Often, this means that a change in religious
institutional affiliation also takes place. It is mostly through that change that the conversions into
evangelical groups in South Asia most clearly manifest themselves. In general, such conversions
lead to changes in personal identity, as well as changes in ideology and socio-political action
coupled with a complete re-orientation of emotional and intellectual status of a person
(Frykenberg 1994: 595-596).

What is equally important is that processes of radical conversion, along with the changes in
ideological, institutional and emotional positions they entail, can lead to social and political
reactions from the unconverted, which can also be in the form of violence. Such opposition to
conversions, in varying degrees has beenreported from both Nepal and Sri Lanka as this analysis
will later place in context. On the other hand, such opposition tends to increase due to yet
another feature of radical conversions. That is, the propensity of evangelical or what is more
generally called fundamentalist groups to encourage a proliferation of conversions, which is
usually achieved through the commitment and activity of individuals alreadyconverted. The idea
behind such conversions of course is to expand the community of “true believers” (Frykenberg
1994: 596).

The second functional feature identified by Frykenberg is revivalism or re-conversion (1994:


596).Revivalism has been described as a strategy for “restoring vitality to what has become
moribund” (Frykenberg 1994: 596). Revivalism within a particular movement has to be placed in
acontext where there is belief in impermanence, and thus it becomes obligatory for true believers
to spread the message of truth in every generation or at every moment in time when dangers of
impermanence are believed to have set in within a movement. In short, revivalism is a
mechanism of fighting back in situations of real or perceived regression of a movement.

The third functional feature of South Asian fundamentalism identified by Frykenberg is


separatism (1994: 596). Separatism can also mean exclusivism, but not necessarily so. This
means that those who haveconverted to a religious group that can be called fundamentalist,
usually entertain ideas of alienation from all “outsiders” or non-believers. In a context of
separatism, outsiders are seen as “attacking, undermining or threatening ‘things that matter’”
(Frykenberg 1994: 596). Frykenberg summarizes the connection between these functional
features in thefollowing manner:

“If radical conversion has enabled commitment or entry into a particular conversionist or
fundamentalist perspective, and into the tradition it was generating, and if revivalism pertained
the renewal within such a tradition, militant alienation and separatism have been a stance toward
all those forces perceived to be outside that tradition, forces that have been seen as dangerous
and subversive” (1994: 596)

Thus far I have attempted to survey a cross section of existing literature and to place in
perspective some of the identifying features of fundamentalist groups in South Asia -- Christian
or otherwise. These features are common to most groups identified by scholars as fundamentalist
within or outside Christian traditions. The next question one must ask at this stage is what kind
of groups would be called evangelicals or evangelists? Are they the same as fundamentalists? In
a technical sense evangelicalism began in the middle decades of the 18th century as areform
movement within Protestant denominations. Although there were links with earlier reform
movements, it was after the conversion of individuals such as George Whitefield, John Wesley
and Charles Wesley in England and the First Great Awakening in America (1730-60) that a
movement distinctly known as evangelicalism emerged (Soper 1994: 37). These early
evangelicals began a movement to revitalize the churches in America and England. Since that
time, evangelicalism in this sense has had considerable influence and impact on existing
denominations such as Baptist, Anglican and Congregational churches (Soper 1994: 37). The
influence of this variety of Christianity grew in the 19th century because “its optimistic and
affirming theology attracted adherents who were not served by the Calvinist orthodoxy of the
day,” which had insisted that no one could be assured of his salvation (Soper 1994: 37). By
contrast, evangelicals emphasized that individuals are free to accept salvation through personal
conversion at any time (Soper 1994: 37).

Soper has briefly defined who evangelicals are in the following words:

“Evangelicals are Protestant Christians who emphasizesalvation by faith in the atoning death of
Jesus Christ through personal conversion and the authority of scripture in matters of faith and
Christian practice” (Soper 1994: 38).

Soper also identifies three significant aspects of evangelical belief from their statements of faith.
These include a belief in the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death on the cross, a deep respect for
the authority of the Bible as the infallible Word of God, and an emphasis on integrating religious
beliefs and social conduct (Soper 1994: 38).Similarly important for evangelicals is the emphasis
placed on ‘the eternal consequences’ for individuals who do not accept Christ’s sacrificial death
(Soper 1994: 38).In this scheme of things evangelicals also emphasize the need for the
conversion of sinners to faith in Jesus Christ (Soper 1994: 38). According to Soper, the major
theological conviction of evangelicalism is salvation through faith in Christ, and it is this
conviction that serves as the content or medium for conversions (Soper 1994: 40). The serious
emphasis placed on conversions by evangelicals also creates a clear demarcation between those
who have experienced this life changing event, and those who have not, or the stark
differentiation between the saved and the unsaved (Soper 1994: 41).Soper has argued that in the
context of this structure of beliefs, evangelicals are more likely than non-evangelicals to engage
in proselytizing or joinorganizations whose primary goal is the promotion of the Christian faith
(Soper 1994: 50).

The question to ask now is whether what I have provisionally identified as evangelical groups
with reference to contemporary Christianity in South Asia, and what has been described above
with more detail as evangelicals can be subsumed within the category of fundamentalist groups
as defined and described earlier. At the same time it would also be helpful at this point to ponder
whether the words Charismatics or Pentecostals mean more or less the same as fundamentalists
or evangelicals. I would suggest that technically, groups that emphasize the inerrancy of
the Bible and the need to convert, which also feature other attributes we havediscussed above in
our discussion on fundamentalism, can be described as fundamentalist groups. On the other
hand, it would be obvious that many of these features are also present in those groups that have
been identified as evangelical groups. Thus many of the new Christian groups engaged in
evangelical activity in South Asia today can be technically calledfundamentalist groups. At the
same time, it seems to me that they can also be called evangelical groups given the divergence of
meanings in thescholarly literature discussed above. Most of these groups also generallybelong
to non-Catholic Protestant denominations, even though scholars such as Bayly also refer to
Catholic fundamentalism in South India (Bayly 1994).Charismatics on the other hand, are groups
in which charismatic church leadership is emphasized and is an important feature. Often such
groups also believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, and other fundamentalist beliefs.

The other question that needs clarification now is whether Pentecostals are fundamentalists.
Pentecostal churches initially emerged in the United States, and in the early 20th century they
were labeled as “wild sects” by more exclusive Baptist and Presbyterian churches. At that time
most members of the Pentecostal churches were poor and marginalizedindividuals (Brouwer et.
al 1996: 4-5). Moreover, Pentecostals believe in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit while
emphasizing such things as prophecy, talking in tongues, healing, and miraculous experiences
for individual believers (Brouwer et. al 1996: 4-5). Thus while retaining these beliefs,
Pentecostals have adopted other features of contemporary Christianfundamentalism such as the
inerrancy of the Bible, creationism, and millennialist dispensationalism (Brouwer et. al 1996: 4-
5). In this manner, while Pentecostalism technically refers to broad denominational category
within Christianity, many Pentecostals are also fundamentalists in the technical sense of the
word.Moreover,scholars have pointed out that the evangelical or fundamentalist expansion in
countries such as South Korea was spearheaded by Pentecostal Churches (Brouweret. al 1996: 4-
5).

Finally, as Brouwer et. al have pointed out, new Christian fundamentalists are best defined by
more inclusive criteria of belief such as those we have discussed earlier since “little can be
gainedfrom a sectarian, interior point of view” in the context of “globalizing evangelical culture”
(Brouwer et. al 1996: 4). In this sense, in the remainder of this text I would use the word
“fundamentalist” and “fundamentalism” in the technical sense referred to above, particularly
when quoting from scholarly sources where those words are currently used quite
widely.Moreover, in an attempt to distance the emotions vested in the word “fundamentalism”
from this analysis, the word “evangelical” and “evangelism” will be used in general discussions
even though these words would also refer to groups referred to as fundamentalist in the literature
and their activities. The point is that, in the final analysis, it is very difficult to clearly
differentiate between the meanings of the words fundamentalism and evangelism in both popular
and academic discourses.

Identifying Types of Conversion

Already in this discussion I have referred to the importance of conversion in evangelical activity.
It seems to me that given the significance of this idea, I should at this point elaborate what is
meant by conversion in both abstract and real terms. One of the underlying preconditions
ofglobal Christian evangelism is its stress on conversion. The importance placed on conversions
by evangelical groups in Nepal and Sri Lanka will become apparent in latter chapters when I
discuss specific cases from these two countries. In the case of both Nepal and Sri Lanka,
conversion is one of the most dominant, and also politically extremely controversial andsensitive
issues in contemporary religious dynamics involving evangelical Christianity.

The word conversion could mean a number of things in differentsituations. According to Rambo,
the use of the word could mean “simple change from the absence of a faith system to a faith
commitment, from religious affiliation from one faith system to another, or from one orientation
to another within a single faith system” (Rambo 1993: 2). In the Sri Lankan and Nepali contexts,
the second and third kinds of conversions identified above can be seen quite clearly in
conversions to evangelical Christianity. In so far as conversions of Buddhists and Hindus in both
Nepal and Sri Lanka are concerned, what involves is the radical departure from one religious
affiliation to another. On the other hand, the conversions of Sri Lankan Catholics and other
Christians of main stream churches to new evangelical groups signal a conversion from one
orientation to another within a single faith system.

Beyond these general observations of what is meant by conversion, numerous technical


definitions have also been used to contextualize the process. In the Judeo-Christian tradition,
conversion means a radical call to “reject evil and embrace a relationship with God through
faith” (Rambo 1993: 5). Commentators such as A.D. Nock make sharp distinctionsbetween
Christian and Jewish conversions on the one hand, and the kind of conversion that took place in
what he calls the “ancient pagan world” on the other. For him, Christian and Jewish conversion
is “radical, complete, and decisive, while pagan religious change is merely ‘adhesion’ to a
person’s life (quoted in Rambo 1993: 5).

Talking about types of conversion Rambo refers to five ideal types based on the question how far
a person has to go in order to be considered a convert (Rambo 1993: 13).These are:

1. Apostasy or defection means a repudiation of a religious tradition or its beliefs by former


members, but does not necessarily involve theacceptance of a “new religious perspective but
often indicates adoption of a nonreligious system of values” (Rambo 1993: 13).

2. Intensification refers to a “revitalized commitment to a faith with which the convert has had a
previous affiliation” (Rambo 1993: 13).

3. Affiliation marks the movement of “an individual or group from no or minimal religious
commitment to full involvement with an institution or community of faith”(Rambo 1993: 13).

4. Institutional transition refers to a situation where an individual or group makes a transition


from one “community to another within a major tradition” (Rambo 1993: 13).

5. Tradition transition is a “movement of an individual or a group from one major religious


tradition to another”(Rambo 1993: 13).

While in some instances, there are tendencies of overlapping between and among these
categories, they are useful in understanding the dynamics of conversions in an abstract
manner.On the other hand, both in Nepal and Sri Lanka, the clearest category of conversion, in
terms of the above typology is “tradition transition” in which individuals convert from Hinduism
or Buddhism to some form of evangelical Christianity. Lofland and Skonovd have also attempted
to categorize varieties of conversion in terms of what they call “conversion motifs” (quoted in
Rambo 1993: 14-15).It is an attempt to define different experiences which make each type
ofconversion distinctive(quoted in Rambo 1993: 14-15).According to them, varied perceptions
and descriptions of conversions do not simply result from different theoretical orientations, and
thus should involve descriptions of qualities that would indicate the substantial differences in
conversion experiences (quoted in Rambo 1993: 14-15).Lofland and Skonovd identify six
conversion motifs:

1. Intellectual conversion: Here an individual seeks knowledge about religious or spiritual


matters through books, media, and other such means, which do not involve any significant
process of social contact with persons who may have access to such knowledge (quoted in
Rambo 1993: 14-15).

2.Mystical conversion: To many, this kind of conversion is the proto-typical conversion which
involves a sudden and traumatic burst of insight consequent to experiencing “visions,” “voices,”
and other such phenomena (quoted in Rambo 1993: 14-15).

3. Experimental conversion: Here an individual actively exploresavailable religious options prior


to actual conversion (quoted in Rambo 1993: 14-15). As Rambo points out, many groups
encourage this process by adopting a quasi-scientific stand, where potential converts are
encouraged to take nothing on faith, but on conviction (Rambo 1993: 14-15). What is important
to remember is that within this kind of paradigm numeroussupport systems, inclusive of
literature, ritual and institutional networks would be in place to “convince” the potential convert.
Experimental conversion is typical of social contexts, where a variety of religious options are
widely and easily available and accessible.

4.Affectional conversion: In affectional conversions interpersonal bonds play an important role in


the process of conversion. In this conversion process, it is imperative that an individual directly
experience being “loved, nurtured, and affirmed by a group and its leaders” (quoted in Rambo
1993: 15).

5. Revivalism: In this kind of conversion, crowd conformity is used to induce certain kind of
behavior. In other words, “individuals are emotionally aroused and new beliefs and behaviors are
promoted by pressures exerted” (quoted in Rambo 1993: 15). While this kind of
conversionprocess was more common in the 19th century than in the 20th, many evangelical
groups do use mass rallies with emotionally powerful music and preaching.While these
processes are common in the US, by comparison in Nepal and Sri Lanka, some mass rallies have
been organized mostly as healing rituals in which conversion potential has not been very
effective.

6. Coercive conversion: Lofland and Skonovd believe that coercive conversion is relatively rare
in the contemporary world. In terms of this conversion process, coerciveness can be determined
on the intensity of pressures exerted upon a person to conform, participate and confess. In this
process, deprivation of sleep and food may assure that a person does not have the will not to
surrender to a group’s ideology and submissivelife-style (quoted in Rambo 1993: 16). Coercive
conversion as a specificcategory, is more commonly seen in cults which are relatively removed
from mainstream society.

As in the typology presented by Rambo earlier, in Lofland’s and Skonovd’s conversion motifs
too, there are situations of overlap andcontradictions despite their ability to identify different
conversion experiences as distinct experiential categories.For instance, many individuals who
may have converted to a specific religion through what Lofland and Skonovd have identified as
intellectual conversion, in their own narratives may stress mystical conversion -- in the form of
voices, revelations, dreams and so on. Thus a young man in his mid twenties living in the
southern Sri Lankan district of Hambantota stressed that his conversion was due to revelations
from God which came to him through dreams. Nevertheless, the man who was deeply distressed
as a result of his father’s disappearance and related trauma during the extensive period of
political violence in southern Sri Lanka during the late 1980s, had “studied” many Bibletracts
and other literature published in Sinhala by the Assemblies of God and Ceylon Every Home
Crusade. He came upon the literature in his village through some individuals who distributed
them, and later by mail, when he requested them. This particular case seems to be a situation of
what Lofland and Skonovd call intellectual conversion, even though it is represented in the idiom
of mystical conversion by the person who converted.

On the other hand, intellectual conversion may be a useful strategy to adopt in a country such as
Sri Lanka where the rate of adult literacy is hovering just over 90% (RCSS 1998: 8).Evangelical
groups operating in Sri Lanka have clearly recognized this potential, and many of them have thus
translated Bible tracts and other literature into Sinhala and Tamil as have they trained pastors and
other workers to preach in those languages.Such literature is also easily accessible through mail.
Often it is also free of charge. Moreover, given the nature of this potential, there are a number of
groups specifically interested in generating and distributing literature, particularly by mail.
Comparatively, given the low rate of adult literacy in Nepal, which is about 27.0% (RCSS 1998:
8), the emphasisplaced on intellectual conversion by evangelical groups working in that country
is not very pronounced. Even then, the production of Christian literature in local languages is
considered an important venture by some groups specifically focussing their attention on such
activities.As one Neplai Christian worker observed:

“Nepal may not be a literate society at the moment. But the printed word will be very important
in assuring that the Gospel reaches every home in this country in the next century. We have to
prepare ahead of time. That is why we are spending money and time in translating and printing
the word of God in local languages.”

Given the large religious market place that exists in both Nepal and Sri Lanka, one could expect
people to literally shop around for the kind of religion and set of ritual practices that suite their
specific needs. That is ideally, in both of these countries, experimental conversion rates should
be quite high. But if people’s narratives of conversions are any indication, that does not seem to
be the case. People do not shop around for their spiritual needs, but different packages of
spirituality are offered to them by those who market them. One reason for people’s apparent
reluctance to go out and seek the spiritual satisfaction they need, except within alternative
conventional practices, is perhaps located in the serious social censure that would be applied
against them in the event of actual conversion or even in the process of searching. In both Sri
Lanka and Nepal, many narratives of conversions constantly referred to the fear of social
censure, and other consequences in the event of conversion. Moreover, the ability to shop around
for one’s religious needs can take place if prevailing socio-political and legal conditions allow
relative free mobility in the religious sphere. Societal approval of conversions in both Nepal and
Sri Lanka is not favorable. Yet the legal and constitutional conditions for conversions in Sri
Lanka have been quite good for a considerable period of time while such freedoms have been
severely restricted in Nepal.

Moreover, the kind of quasi-scientific and seemingly open and flexible attitude towards
conversions ideally implied in experimental conversions are also in short supply in reality.
Again, the conversion process asobserved in Nepal and Sri Lanka does not allow such flexibility.
In that context, beliefs are not to be experimented with. They are to be accepted because they are
presented as the only valid truth claim available. In a situation of contest and competition,
religious doctrines are more likely to be dogmatic with very little room for freedom of choice to
operate. In comparison to experimental conversions, affectional conversion are more common in
both countries. For instance, many individuals I have talked to in Kathmandu and in many parts
of Sri Lanka often narrate how they experienced a sense of belonging and being loved once they
were affiliated with an evangelical group.That affiliation is represented not merely in the
paradigm of God’s love for the individual but also in terms of the concern for the individual
shown by leaders of the groups as well as fellow adherents.Thus in the investigation of religious
dynamics in Sri Lanka and Nepal, affectional conversion is a more useful analytical category.

Revivalism in the sense of mass rallies and crowd conformity do not appear to be a successful
means of conversion in Nepal and Sri Lanka.But large rallies have been utilized by evangelical
groups in both countries, which have functioned more like healing rituals than conversion
camps.Coercive conversion, in the sense of sleep and food deprivation are not reported from
either Sri Lanka or Nepal. But other kinds of coercions are reported from both places. For
instance, some of the narratives suggest that consequent to conversion, religiosity must be quite
manifest in order to acquire further benefits -- spiritual or material.This aspect of conversions
will be analyzed later in the chapters dealing with the expansion of the evangelical movement in
the two countries.

In the context of the discussion thus far, I would like to make some provisional observations
relatively abstract form about conversion narratives or people’s stories about conversions. That
is, stories about why they converted, and why they think others converted. Conversion narratives
are important components of the overall evangelical project. In the long run, such narratives
cease to become merely the personal experience of an individual. Often they enter into the realm
of the public, through which religious explanations and justifications for conversions are
offered.In the same manner such narratives also become a means through which other
conversions may be affected. Thus pastors in the collective evangelical movement in both Nepal
and Sri Lanka often refer to their personalexperiences of conversions in private and public
discourse in a bid to personally appeal to possible converts.It was within this context that a
foreign worker attached to a health-care project coordinated by theInternational Nepal
Fellowship observed:

“It is important to share one’s personal spiritual experiences with those among whom one works.
Simply referring to casesreported in the Bible or elsewhere can be very distant from the people
we are trying to reach. The villagers we try to reach must feel a certain closeness to the word of
God and theexperiences of accepting God’s word. That is why many of us talk of our own
experiences.They may be spiritual experiences in our own countries or in this country --- We
always encourage our Neplai brothers and sisters to share their experiences with their
countrymen in their own languages.”

It was in a similar context that a Sri Lankan pastor with the Assemblies of God observed:

“When I preach, whenever possible I talk about the spiritual experiences of my own and those of
the people that the congregation or the group I talk to, know about. It is easier for them to relate
to such experiences. The gospel has to be introduced with reference to actual experiences.”

Booth has suggested that narratives are fundamental to fundamentalisms (1995: 369). As he
observes, stories or narratives are important in the sense that they “united tellers and listeners in
an embrace of a shared ‘world’” (Booth 1995: 369).To Booth these stories are of central
importance in understanding and comparing different kinds of fundamentalisms.As he observes:

“Ask fundamentalists to explain their beliefs and they’ll almost always tell you a story of a
conversion experience, either their own or someone else’s, or a story of the founding of the
world or the establishment of the one true church -- a story with a beginning, middle and an end”
(Booth 1995: 370).

Conversion narratives taken in this sense has a logical sequence formulated with extreme clarity.
Without clarity, their utility in convincing or explaining to others the experience would not be
effective. This also mean that such narratives are not open for debate or questioning. They have
to be taken as something that is given and something that is true. This lack of space for different
interpretations or for doubt comes from the fact that such narratives are either part of a holy text
or because it is a story that “really” happened to someone. Any space for doubt would also
weaken the utility of the narratives in the overall evangelical or fundamentalist project. Within
this scheme of things, almost always conversion narratives are presented as true experiences, and
not as fantasies or allegories.Booth suggests that “there is a dearth of fictional works by or for
fundamentalists” (1995: 371).

I have referred to conversion narratives emanating from people who have converted or secondary
narratives from holy scriptures or religious tracts presented by evangelical workers. But
narratives about conversions do not come merely from texts, people who have converted or those
sympathetic to the cause.Yet another category of counter narratives about conversions come
from people who observe conversions. For instance, the narratives about why certain individuals
converted, come from friends, kin and neighbors. Of course, conversion narratives are not
merely the prerogative of evangelicalor Christian fundamentalist groups. They are common to all
religious groups with a fundamentalist strategy, which also include an emphasis on conversion.
Taken in this sense, conversion narratives by evangelicals are an important aspect of the overall
evangelical project in Nepal and Sri Lanka.Similarly, narratives about conversions coming from
those who have not converted are also significant since they often outline the reservations,
suspicions, fears and other such attitudes held by those who have not yet entered into the
evangelical fold. Such narratives also indicate the kind of cleavages that may exist in society as a
result of evangelical activity or in response to such activity, and may also indicate where and
how conflict may occur. Thus all these kinds ofconversions, would be taken into account to
assess the reasons forconversions in Nepal and Sri Lanka as well as to ascertain the way in which
these narratives become part of the evangelical rhetoric.

In general, the contents of conversion narratives and counternarratives in Sri Lanka and Nepal
are quite similar to each other. Selected conversion narratives from the two countries will be
presented andanalyzed in the chapters detailing the expansion of evangelical activities in Nepal
and Sri Lanka, and the politics and rhetoric of conversions.
Evangelical Movements in Context: Roots in the United States and Some Significant
Successes in Asia
The Markers of a Genealogy: Politics of Religion in the United States

In their recent book Exporting the American Gospel: Global Christian Fundamentalism,
Brouwer et. al have observed that“A new kind of Christian fundamentalism, once thought to be
unique to the United States, is spreading across the globe.A transnational religious culture is
meeting a common need in the mega-cities of the developing world, in the slums which surround
them, and in the outlying agricultural districts as well” (1996: 1).Similarly, as pointed out by
Caplan, by 1986 well over half the 38, 000 US personnel in Protestant missions overseas were
associated withfundamentalist organizations (Caplan 1995: 96-97).Together these groups had
access to an operating budget of over US$ 500 million (Caplan 1995: 97). Moreover,
Ammerman has suggested that such fundamentalists also tended to see “American military and
economic might as guarantors of their ability to evangelize the world” (quoted in Caplan 1995:
97).In the context of these observations, I would suggest that the growth and expansion of
evangelical Christian groups in South Asia must at a certain level be located in the manner in
which such groups initially originated in the United States from where many such groups still
operate out of, or in the very least are affiliated to church groups in that country. This however
does not mean that all such groups are invariably linked to mother organizations in the United
States. But it is clear that in the case of both Nepal and Sri Lanka, many of the new evangelical
churches and para-church organizations which have recently emerged, trace their origins to
churches and organizations in the United States or receive a substantial portion of their funds
through sources in the US. On the other hand, similar organizations or funds for such
organizations have also come to South Asia from countries such as England, Australia, South
Korea, Finland, Japan,Sweden, the Netherlands, and so on.

Irrespective of this linkage, Bayly has argued that “because the nation states of South Asia are
heterogeneous societies containing large numbers of interacting religious communities,
confessional groupings, and caste groups, it is a mistake to look for “outsiders”as the prime
organizers or inspiration for fundamentalist movements” (Bayly 1994: 727).Surely, one can
accept this argument in relation to the rise of Hindu and Islamicmilitancy in India and Pakistan
as well as the emergence of similarlymilitant strains of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Such
manifestations have, and often will, lead to the establishment of fundamentalist groups. On the
other hand, the local roots of some of the better known “fundamentalist” manifestations of
Catholicism have also been documented by writers such as Bayly (1994: 726-763).In explaining
militant manifestations of religion or fundamentalisms in this sense, one could agree with Bayly
when she argues that “South Asia’s experience of contemporary fundamentalist movements can
only be understood as a product of conflicts emanating from within its own complex regional
societies” (Bayly 1994: 727).As we would see later, the popularization of evangelical
Christianities in other parts of Asia such as in South Korea and the Philippines also has to be
understood in such acontext.But the situation with regard to the expansion of evangelical
movements in Nepal and Sri Lanka suggess a different scenario, where one has to often look for
outsiders as initiators and inspirations for such groups contrary to the advice offered by Bayly
above. Nevertheless, such exterior initiation in the form of extending financial and other support
as well as inspiration can only work in the long run if local conditions, including leadership, are
conducive for such movements to thrive. It is then in looking for such exterior initiation and
motivation in the expansion of new evangelical movements in Nepal and Sri Lanka, that the role
of American based groups come into prominence.

Many of the conservative evangelical groups that operate in South Asia todaytrace their origins
to a specific period in American history. Their predecessors emerged in the United States around
the turn of the 20th century, and attempted to lead campaigns in defense of orthodox beliefs of
the Bible along with what they perceived as traditional virtues and ways of life (Ammerman
1994: 13-14). While these beliefs were widely shared by many in the US throughout the 19th
century, it was only in the beginning of the present century that some religious leaders and lay
persons began to seriously entertain ideas that such virtues and ways of life were in decline and
under threat of extinction. It was in such a context th
Evangelism in Context: Parameters of the Situation in Sri Lanka
hristianity in Sri Lanka: A Brief Historical Outline

In the strictest sense of the word, Sri Lankan society is a multi-religious society, and has been so
for a considerable period of time, despite Sinhala nationalist interpretations, which often claim
that Sri Lanka had been a Sinhala and Buddhist society for a very long period of time. In
contemporary Sri Lanka, the composition of various religious groups is distributed in the
following percentages according to the 1981 census. Of the total population, Buddhists account
for 69.30% while Hindus account for 15.48%.Muslims make up for 7.55% of the population
while Roman Catholics and other Christians account for 7.61%.Of this 7.61, the majority are
Catholics.

Given my interests in the dynamics of new evangelical groups, it would not be possible or
necessary to deal with in detail the nature of religious pluralism in Sri Lanka.But it would be
useful to briefly outline theexpansion of the Christian presence in Sri Lanka since the time of
early contact.This is particularly necessary because the memories of early missionary activity,
which still constitute an important component of the historical memory and consciousness of the
people, continue to influence in significant ways the manner in which people deal with, and
perceive Christians. In addition to the worship of specific local and regional deities, Buddhism
and Hinduism consisted the main religious currents in Sri Lanka until the arrival of the
Portuguese in the 16th century.With the arrival of the Portuguese, the Catholic Church also
arrived in the country under the protection of Portuguese colonial rule. The Portuguese were
particularly aggressive in establishing and spreading Catholicism in Sri Lanka, which has led
many to describe the Portuguese missionary project with words, ‘with a sword in one hand
a Bible in the other’ (Stirrat 1992: 14). Today, one of the most enduring legacies of the
Portuguese period is Catholicism, which is still the most dominant variety of Christianity inthe
country.Since the time of Portuguese rule, Roman Catholicism thrived in the coastal areas of the
country wherePortuguese rule was concentrated.

But since the defeat of the Portuguese by the Dutch in mid seventeenth century, the fortunes of
Catholicism waned somewhat until the end of Dutch power in the late eighteenth century.In so
far as Catholics are concerned, Dutch rule was a ‘period of persecution’ and a ‘time of trials’
(Stirrat 1992: 14).But even during this period of persecution, Catholic religious activism was
kept alive due to the work of the Oratorian missionaries from Goa, who irrespective of Dutch
persecution continued to come to Sri Lanka to preach the gospel (Stirrat 1992: 14).This period
also marked the rise of Protestant Christianity in Sri Lanka under the patronage of the Dutch
rulers.The Dutch Reformed Church is the most obvious legacy of that period.

The British victory over the Dutch in coastal areas of Sri Lanka in 1796, and the subjugation of
the entire country in 1815 marked the beginning of the last phase of Christianity in Sri Lanka
under colonial rule.The first professional British Christian to arrive in Sri Lanka was James
Cordiner at the invitation of Governor Frederic North to serve as the Chaplain to the British
garrison based in Colombo and as principal for all the schools in British ruled areas of the
country (Harris 1995: 10).But as far as Cordiner was concerned, he was not part of any
missionary organization, was paid by the colonial state, and did not see proselytizing as his main
mission in the country (Harris 1995: 10). The first real missionaries to come from England were
dispatched by the London Missionary Society formed in 1795 by sections of the British church
influenced by Calvinist ideas. However, as Harris has pointed out, the influence or impact of the
LMS missionaries who worked with the Dutch reformed Church was not very substantial(Harris
1995: 10). In comparison, Baptists, Wesleyan Methodists and Anglicans of the Church
Missionary Society became much more influential and aggressive proselytizers in Buddhist
majority areas of the country(Harris 1995: 10).

As far as the Catholics are concerned, British colonial rule also marked a new phase of Catholic
revival in the country since the last decade of the 18th century. Not only did the British tolerate
the Catholic Church as opposed to the Dutch, but they also officially recognized the church
which allowed the church to engage in religious activities openly. Both Catholics and other
Christian denominations also became active in the field of education, in which sphere the
Catholics had a particular edge until the nationalization of many of their schools by the
government in the early 1960s.

The Legal and Constitutional Context of Religious

Dynamics in Sri Lanka

As we would see later in this analysis, the legal and constitutional framework dealing with
religious dynamics in Nepal as opposed to Sri Lanka, has been quite restrictive for a considerable
period of time. Such a situation, coupled with Nepal’s general isolation from the rest of the world
up to the 1950s made missionary activities quite difficult. Compared to this situation, Sri Lanka
presents a different scenario. For one thing, as outlined in the previous section, Sri Lanka had
been exposed to European colonialism directly since the 16th century, and through them, had
been exposed to a variety of Christianities. Thus by the time the country gained independence
from Britain in 1948, Catholics and various Protestant denominations constituted a well
established and powerful religious spectrum in the country, even though they occupied a
minority status in terms of numbers. But given the tradition of European colonialism and
domination for such a long time, Christianity in general enjoyed a preeminent position in
colonial society and power structures. On the other hand, the early constitutions drafted under
colonial British supervision did not give space for legal discrimination against any religious
group while these documents also did not recognize any kind of favored status for Buddhism,
Hinduism or Islam.As we know, these three religious traditions had been established in the
country for a historically much longer period of time, than any of the Christian denominations.
Thus, the 1948 Constitution of Ceylon makes no specific references to Buddhism or any other
religion. It does however, refer to rights of religious belief and worshipin section 29 (2). Section
29 (1) states that “--- Parliament shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good
government of the Island” (The Constitution of Ceylon 1948: 22).With reference to this clause,
section 29 (2) stipulates that no such law shall:

“(a) prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion; or


(b) make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictionsto
which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; or
(c) confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantagewhich is
not conferred on persons of other communities or religions; or
(d) alter the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing
authority of that body: Provided that, in any case where a religious body is
incorporated by law, no such alteration shall be made except at the request of the
governing authority that body” (The Constitution of Ceylon 1948: 22).

Jennings, in a commentary on this particular section of the 1948 constitution has suggested that it
“was designed to meet the fears of some of the political leaders that there would be
discrimination according to religion or race” (Jennings 1953: 76).What is clear is that the 1948
constitution not only does not give room for preferential treatment for any religion, but also
keeps room for religious mobility since no specific restrictions are placed upon conversions.
However, by the time the 1972 and 1978 constitutions are enforced, this general scenario has
changed considerably. In so far as rights of religion are concerned, there is no substantive
difference between the 1972 and the 1978 constitutions. Both give preeminence to Buddhism
while guaranteeing the rights of other religions as well.The 1978Constitution of the Democratic
Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, in Chapter 2, Article 9 stipulates that:

“The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall
be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha sasana, while assuring to all religions
the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14 (1) (e)” (Constitution of the Democratic Socialist
Republic of Sri Lanka 1978: 5).

Article 10 (Chapter 3) referred to above states that:

“Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom
to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice” (Constitution of the Democratic Socialist
Republic of Sri Lanka 1978: 6).

Similarly, Article 14 (e) (Chapter 3) of the 1978 constitution stipulates that every citizen is
entitled to:

“the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to
manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching” (Constitution of the
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka 1978: 6).

The most manifest change from the 1948 to the 1978 constitution is the foremost position given
to Buddhism in the latter. Even then, articles 10 and 14 (e) of the same constitution give a wide
array of freedoms in so far as religious mobility is concerned. Thus in practical terms the special
position enjoyed by Buddhism makes very little difference. What does make a difference is that
the state is bound by the constitution to foster and protect Buddhism while it is not bound to
extend the same privileges to other religions.Nevertheless, Articles 10 and 14 (e) also give the
rights to convert, engage in one’s religious practices publicly and privately, inclusive of teaching.
This clearly includes the right to engage in overt evangelical action.Thus, it is clear that up to
now, the Sri Lankan constitution (1978 constitution is still valid) guarantees the freedom of
religious mobility, and thus legally speaking, evangelical groups face not hurdles in carrying out
their activities.This is a very different situation from the Nepali context as we would see later on.

Furthermore, this relative freedom of religious mobility has been carried on to the draft of the
new constitution that the incumbent People’s Alliance government is currently attempting to fine
tune.In fact, the contents and the implications of the clauses dealing with religion in the draft
proposals have hardly changed from the 1978 constitution.For instance, in terms of Article 7 (1),
Buddhism still continues to be placed on a pre-eminent position, “while giving adequate
protection to all religions and guaranteeing to every person the rights and freedoms granted by
paragraphs (1) and (3) of Article 15 (The Government’s Proposals for Constitutional Reforms
1997: 3). In addition however, in Article 7 (2) the state also gives an undertaking to “consult the
Supreme Council, recognized by the Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers in charge of the subject
of Buddha sasana, in measures taken for the protection and fostering of the Buddhasasana” (The
Government’s Proposals for Constitutional Reforms 1997: 3). So in the draft proposals a body
representing institutional Buddhism has a say in what kind of action should be taken to foster and
protect Buddhism. Such rights are not guaranteed to any other religion in the proposals.

On the other hand, the freedoms granted in terms of paragraphs (1) and (3) of Article 15 in the
proposals are exactly the same as the rights guaranteed in Articles 10 and 14 (e) of the 1978
constitution. The only difference is that male centric words in the relevant Articles of the 1978
constitution have been replaced by gender neutral terms [eg., formulations such as ‘adopt a
religion or belief ofhis choice’ has been replaced by formulations such as ‘adopt a religion or
belief of the person’s choice] (The Government’s Proposals for Constitutional Reforms 1997:
7).

From the discussion above, it should be obvious that there are no real hurdles placed in terms of
legal or constitutional frameworks that would impede a person’s religious mobility or the
activities of evangelical groups.On the other hand, despite this relative freedom of religious
thought and practice, many non-Buddhist groups have felt a sense of discrimination on the basis
of the special place offered to Buddhism from the 1972 constitution onwards.This however, is an
emotional position rather than a situation that has arisen on the basis of felt discrimination in real
terms. Nevertheless, some evangelical groups recently protested against the provisions governing
religious freedoms in the government’s draft proposals for the new constitution. The December
1997/January 1998 issue ofDirection published by the Ceylon Every Home Crusade noted that a
day of prayer was organized on 8th November 1997 by the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka
and the Christian Consultation of Sri Lanka during which, “the deletion of the restrictive clauses
on minority religions in the draft constitution” was considered for prayer (Dec 1997-Jan 1998:
12).

On the other hand, there has been much protest against evangelical groups and their activities
from a number of sources. Such opposition from Buddhist, Hindu and some mainstream Catholic
groups has been quite pronounced since the 1980s, in the context of the expansion of
theevangelical presence in Sri Lanka. But it is acredit to post independent Sri Lankan
governments to maintain the existing religious freedoms in the constitution in the face of such
serious opposition, particularly fromBuddhist interest groups. Thus far, the present Sri Lankan
government has also resisted demands for legal restrictions on conversions, and havecontinued to
grant rather wide rights of religion despite the entrenched and preeminent position given to
Buddhism in the draft proposals of 1997.Thus the legal and constitutional conditions with
reference to religion should be one of the contexts in which the expansion of evangelical
activities in Sri Lanka should be placed and analyzed.

The Expansion of Evangelical Christianity in Sri Lanka:

The Politics and the Rhetoric

Up to the time ofindependence 1948, the religious scenario in Sri Lanka was dominated by
interactions and dynamics between the majority Buddhists and Hindus, Muslims, Catholics and
other Christian denominations such as Methodists, Baptists, and so on. However, what is also
important is the nature of conflicts between these groups of Christiandenominations as a whole
and particularly Buddhists and Hindus in the country. I would suggest that the dynamics of those
early conflicts, and the manner in which those conflicts are registered in popular perception and
memory, have much to do with the way Buddhists and Hindus view Christians in general, and
articulate the concerns regarding the activity of new evangelical groups today.However, the
emergence of new Christian evangelical groups in Sri Lanka has seriously altered the picture of
religious pluralism and dynamics in Sri Lanka. The exact number of these groups is difficult to
estimate since there is no central registration system mandated by the government, and also due
to the absence of an umbrella organization under which these groups are organized. While
umbrella organizations do exist, they do not represent the entire spectrum of evangelical activity
in Sri Lanka. While many organizations do have cross cutting alliances based on theological
affinities as well as due to strategic necessity, many others work on their own. Some of these
groups have been in operation in Sri Lanka since the 1970s, and more so since the 1980s. Some
however, have been in operation for much longer.For instance, the Assembly of God has been
active in the country for fifty years. It is however since the mid 1980s and early 1990s that their
activities have become more visible, and in the case of some, somewhat aggressive as well.
Evangelical sources themselves also perceive that their institutional presence and the number of
adherents have increased in recent times, as expressed in the following words:

“The Navodaya movement has been in the forefront of recent efforts to challenge Christians to
go to the unreached areas of Sri Lanka with the Gospel. Large numbers have gone recently.At
the first Navodaya conference in 1988 it was said that only about 700 of Sri Lanka’s 25, 000 or
so villages have a Christian witness. Now leaders are talking of 2500 villages with a Christian
witness” (Fernando 1995: 9).

The institutional framework of the collective evangelical movement in Sri Lanka consists of
churches, para-church organizations, literatureoutlets, and other agencies concentrating on
education, health, rural development and so on. An incomplete list of some of these
organizations linked to the evangelical movement would be as follows:

1.The Assembly of God (Assemblies of God)


2.The Fellowship of Free Churches

3.Worldwide Mission Fellowship

4.United Christian Fellowship

5.Testament Book Shop

6.Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship

7.New Life Literature (Pvt) Ltd.

8.Good News Centre

9.Bethel Church

10.Apostolic Church

11. Mizpah Prayer Ministry

12.The Sanctuary Fellowship

13.Jeevana Diya

14.Christian Centre, Ratmalana

15.Bethesda Gospel Church

16.Light House Church

17.New Life Church

18.Smyrna Church

19.Hospital Christian Fellowship

20.Jesus Meets Evangelical Ministry

21.Jesus Lives Ministry

22.Jehova’s Witness

23.Seventh Day Adventist Church

24.Life Bible Institute, Nugegoda


25.Gospel for Asia (Sri Lanka)

26.Hope Evangelical Church

27.Margaya Fellowship

28.HOMSA Lanka

29.Habitat for Humanity International

30.Calvary Church

31.Lanka Evangelical Alliance Development Society

32.Sahana Prayer Centre

33.Church of Four Square Gospel in Sri Lanka

34.Ceylon Pentecostal Mission

35.Nava Jeevana Sahodarathwaya

36.Back to the Bible

37.Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka

38.Prayer House, Colombo 15.

39.World Vision Lanka

40.Nazarene Mission

41.Christian Faith Assembly Church

42.The Evangelical Christian Education Centre

43.Hope of God Church

44.Sri Lanka Centre for Pastoral Studies

45.Colombo Gospel Tabernacle

46.Campus Crusade for Christ

47.Youth for Christ


48.Christian Literature Crusade

49.Power Ministries

50.Rehoboth Centre

51.Rural Pastors Training Centre (South Asia Institute of Theology)

52.Zion College of Ministries, Zion Christian Community Centre

53.Prospor Christian Book Shop

54.Colombo Theological Seminary

55.Ceylon Every Home Crusade

56.Philadelphia Church

57.Emanuel Church

58.Grace Evangelical Church

59.The Worldwide Church of God

60.Jesus Calls International

61.Gideons International

62.Sound of Salvation Full Gospel Church

63.Siloam Evangelical Mission in Sri Lanka

64.Gethsamane Gospel Church

65.Sri Lanka Audio-Visual Evangelism

66.Jesus Calls International

67.International Fellowship of Evangelical Students

68.Lanka Hope Mission International

69.Evangelical Christian Religious Education Centre

70.Ceylon Bible Society


71.Lanka Bible College

72.International Christian Chamber of Commerce

73.International Christian Fellowship, Sri Lanka

What is immediately clear from these admittedly incomplete numbers is that the situation has
dramatically changed in terms of institutional presence of evangelical churches since the 1970s.
For instance, the numbers of evangelical or Protestant churches and their adherents identified in
cities such as Colombo and Kandy for the late 1970s in the study Discipling the Cities in Sri
Lanka have dramatically increased in recent times (de Silva 1980). On the other hand, the 73
groups identified above do not place in perspective the real picture of the evangelical presence
and activism in Sri Lanka.For instance, according to sources in the Catholic church the number
in terms of conservative estimates is likely to be over three hundred. The figure of 300 to 350
church and para-church groups was presented by some sources within the evangelical movement
itself, as well as members of mainstream Protestant churches, even though many admitted exact
numbers were unavailable. On the other hand, many others in the evangelical movementdid not
want to comment on numbers. But I want to stress at this point that in real terms, the number of
churches or related structures do not constitute an accurate assessment of strength.For instance,
churches planted in some locations currently attract only small congregations as they were
established on the basis of an overall evangelical strategy of expansion, rather than on the basis
of existing number of followers in a particular locality.However, in a psychological and political
sense, it is important to the collective evangelical movement as indicative of their growth in
numbers and power.On the other hand, that same visibility is also one reason that has helped
mobilize some of the opposition against evangelism. Thus, numbers are important when placing
such considerations in context, but not in assessing strength.

Thus far, Sinhala Buddhists are the most vocal in complaining that some of their co-religionists
are being ‘corrupted,’ ‘tempted,’ and consequently converted by Christians. In popular usage
Sinhala Buddhists make very little or no conceptual difference between different Christian
denominations.Most of the time they are merely perceived as Christians orCatholics irrespective
of ritual, denominational and doctrinal differences between these groups. As noted earlier, this
perception is the result of Sri Lanka’s historical legacy and the competitive relations between
Buddhists and mainstream Christian groups in the colonial past (Perera 1995). In that period,
given the often acrimonious relations between different kinds of Christians and Buddhists, there
were no practical reasons to make such conceptual differentiations.In contemporary society
however, it is no longer possible to group all Christians together, not merely because of the
doctrinal and other differences between them, but more importantly, due to the nature of
competitions and conflicts among these groups.Nevertheless, Buddhist complaints generally tend
to overlook similar complaints made by other religious groups.

Thus the arguments of Buddhist critics of evangelical activity presented in interviews as well as
through the national press often do not payattention to these differences and divisions within the
wider Christian community.As one Buddhist monk quite vocal against evangelical activities
observed in an interview in Kandy in December 1997:
“These Catholics have built new churches all over the place. Not just in villages. But in towns as
well. Very soon they will want to turn this country into a Christian country. They have the
money to build churches and vehicles to travel into villages. We have nothing. They are even
active in Kandy where the Temple of the Tooth is located.If they can build a church in the
Temple of the Tooth, they will do that too.”

In this single complaint, the monk used the words Christian and Catholics interchangeably. But
on the basis of some of the examples he provided, both from the up country region and the
Western Province, the church building activities he referred to were actually carried out by
theAssemblies of God and the Smyrna Church. These were the names under which these
churches were identified in the particular localities where they were established. Catholicism or
mainstream Christian churches had nothing to do with these activities.In yet other ‘examples’ he
provided, there was no such activity in the localities that were identified. In fact, rhetorical
complaints of evangelical expansion by Buddhists, and similarly rhetorical complaints of
harassment by evangelical activists have, to a certain extent, blurred the distinction between what
actually happens on the ground and what fears and suspicions have been created in the minds of
individuals.This situation has made research into this particular dynamic extremely difficult and
time-consuming. Criticisms by other Buddhist opponents however, have preferred to focus on
the monetary aspects of evangelical activities and conversions, rather than simply resorting to
blaming Catholics/ Christians as a blanket category. Thus in 1993, the then President of the All
Ceylon Buddhist Congress, during the 74th annual meeting of the congress observed:

“We are aware that certain Christian sects receive massive sums of money from American and
other foreign countries to be spent lavishly in remote villagescomprising of only poor Buddhists
in a bid to convert them to their faith by so called faith healing, exploiting their meager economic
conditions, assisting in their marriages, helping them to secure employment”(Island, 20 May
1993, quoted in Janakaratne 1994: 100).

Similarly, another Buddhist critic observed:

“Some Christian organizations engaged in missionary activities in our country --- take undue
advantage of the poverty of the people in propagating their religion” (Island, 24 May 1993,
quoted in Janakaratne 1994: 100).

The presence and the expansion of evangelical Christianity are also felt quite strongly by leaders
of mainstream Catholic and Protestant groups. One reason for that is the feeling many of them
have that their flock is being lured away by these new groups, and the perception that
newevangelists specifically target members of mainstream Christian groups.As a clergyman of
the mainstream Anglican Church based in Colombo observed in an interview in April 1998:

“Even though we do not have exact numbers, we know that many of our people are leaving the
church to join groups such as the Jehovah’s Witness. This is a big problem. Church leaders are
saying that the numbers of people attending church are dropping, and many have joined other
groups. They do this by throwing a lot of money around.”

It is also in a similar state of frustration, that one Catholic cleric described evangelical
Christianity as a manifestation of ‘pathological messiahnism.’ The official newspapers of the
Catholic church, the English language Messenger and the Sinhala language Ganartha
Pradeepaya have often carried articles critical of new evangelists whom they identify as
fundamentalists. It was in this spirit that a news report titled “let us defeat fundamentalists” was
published in the Ganartha Pradeepaya of October 24th 1993. In it, two Catholic clerics, Fr. Aba
Costa and Bro. Siri Cooray had stressed the need for the Catholic community take leadership
indefeating fundamentalists and protect themselves from their influences. Here evangelical
groups were also described as ‘mushrooming’ ‘fundamentalist’ groups, which are a threat to the
Catholic faith (Ganartha Pradeepaya, 24, Oct 1993). Being the largest of the mainstream
Christian groups in the country, the Catholics are particularly concerned about recent trends
which indicate that large numbers of Catholics have been attracted to evangelical groups. In one
of the very few studies dealing with the issue of evangelical activity in Sri Lanka, and perhaps
the only study which focuses on the attraction of Catholics to evangelical Christianity,
Janakaratna quotes a Bishop who is concerned that “in Colombo North alone about 4000
Catholics are said to have deserted the Church” (Janakaratne 1994: 30).

Many leaders of the Catholic hierarchy entertain a conspiracy theory to explain the presence and
operation of evangelical (fundamentalist) groups.Janakaratne explains this position in the
following words:

“Catholic church hierarchy is of the view that the many emerging fundamentalist sects have been
funded by America so as to wean the Catholic church away from its progressive role in the
world” (Janakaratne 1994: 31).

Janakaratne correctly places this position of the church hierarchy in a paradoxical situation
where in general the church has gained a reputation as a “bastion of conservatism,” in addition to
its unenviable position during the British colonial period as an “‘appreciated partner,’ and
‘reliable ally’ and also ‘a part of the privileged groups’” (Janakaratne 1994: 31). While much of
the Catholic church’s pronouncements against evangelical groups emerged in the mid 1990s
along with similar protests by Buddhist groups, its agitations against these groups at the local
level still continue.Thus for instance, according to field information, as recently as in April 1998,
a Catholic priest in the Chilaw area addressing his congregation advised them to “beat those
fundamentalists out of the village if they come back.” The reason for this advice was the
distribution of some Bible tracts in the village by members of an evangelical group a few days
before. The Sinhala language tracts were particularly accessible to the 100% Sinhala Catholic
population in this village. The priest was particularly agitated because some of the young people
in the village -- who were the most literate to be able to read the distributed material -- wanted to
know the difference between Catholicism and the evangelical groups, because they could not
discern that difference on the basis of the Bible tracts they had just read.

In addition to the kind of protests documented above, one could also argue that certain recent
trends in the mainstream Catholic Church can, at a certain level be interpreted as responses to
evangelical incursions into Catholic flock and the Church’ sphere of influence. As already
discussed, one of the main complaints of Catholics who have joined evangelical groups in recent
times is that the Catholic Church has grown too big and too distant from the people. In this sense,
the activities of groups such as SEDEC, institutionally situated within the Catholic Church could
be seen as an attempt to address the more material and immediate needs of wavering members of
the church. Thus, SEDEC is interested in providing a number of social services, including
rehabilitation of individuals displaced by war, and socio-political interventions on behalf of
environmental issues etc. On the other hand, there is also a growing tendency of healing services
in a number of individual churches. Stirrat, in his discussion of the Kudagama Catholic Church
where such services became extremely popular in the 1980s, points out that such services were
seen as unorthodox and anti-Catholic by many members of the clergy as well as lay Catholics at
the time (Stirrat 1992).But today, such services are gaining in popularity, and many priests
openly conduct them for an enthusiastic following.Moreover, in this context, the top leaders of
the Catholic hierarchy are much less opposed to these trends than they were in the 1980s when
Kudagama was gaining in popularity.The large numbers of people who attend such healing
services in the St. Carmel Church and Ambakandawila Church in the Chilaw District place this
trend in perspective. The point I want to make is, that through these kinds of activities, the
church does in fact get closer to its people at local level. The relative lack of opposition to
healing services today from the church hierarchy perhaps indicates its recognition that such
services play a role in maintaining a certain degree of cohesiveness, at a time the Church feels
threatened from many quarters, including from evangelical groups.

Thus the tensions arising out of evangelical activities are felt by both Buddhist and mainstream
Christian/ Catholic groups. But what I want to stress here is that the criticisms leveled against
these activities, whether they emanate from Buddhist or established Christian/ Catholic
denominations, generally have the same structural features. For instance, most such criticisms
are formulated as conspiracy theories.In terms of such theories, the foreign funding sources, fears
of destabilizing the country, cultural incompatibility of new groups and so on have become
prominent features.It is important to note that despite the suspicions entertained by Buddhists of
the Catholic Church’s position on conversions and evangelical activities, the Catholic criticisms
of evangelical groups are much the same. The people and organizations the Catholic hierarchy
has socially constructed as their enemies are also the same as the perceived enemies of
Buddhists. The confusion on the part of Buddhists mostly comes from the lingering elements of
historical memory, which I have already referred to. But on other occasions, the activities of the
Catholic church itself have created situations of tension and suspicion in the minds of Buddhists,
which have at timesre-activated long standing doubts lingering in historical memory. Let me
briefly refer to two important incidents which occurred in the early and mid 1990s, when the
debate on evangelization was at its most heated and acrimonious level.

In 1993 Gamani Jayasuriya, a former Cabinet Minister in the UNP government and lay Buddhist
leader representing the Colombo elite, accused the Catholic church of hosting a conference at its
National Seminary in Ampitiya near Kandy in 1990 aimed at exploring avenues to convert the
entire country to the Catholic faith by year 2000.The main mechanism for this alleged mass
conversion was supposed to be the offering of financial assistance to poor Buddhists
(Janakaratne 1994: 100).The Catholic church categorically denied the charges, and the official
denial by Bishop Malcolm Ranjit places in context the official Catholic position about
conversions and the activities of the new evangelical groups:

“I wish to state clearly that the Catholic church is not engaged in such tactics. We too have
received information that some fundamentalist Christian sects resort to such methods of
conversion.They lure away not only Buddhists but Catholics as well” (Messenger, 1 August
1993, quoted in Janakaratne 1994: 101).

In a sense, the official denial above outlines the basic concerns of the Catholic church regarding
the activities of the evangelical groups. I have already explored the Catholic church’s positions
and concerns regarding proselytizing by new evangelical groups. At this point it is necessary to
note that despite the official denial above and the Catholic church’sgeneral lack of dynamism
with regard to conversion or evangelism as opposed to new evangelical groups as well as its own
role in the pre-independence era, the allegations of Jayasuriya merit some pondering in the
context of information that is currently available, and particularly on the basis of a paper
published by Fr. Aloysius Pieris in 1995. In his paper Dialogue and Distrust Between Buddhists
and Christians: A Report on the Catholic Church’s Experience in Sri Lanka Fr. Pieris refers to
speech by Cardinal Joseph Tomko at a conference in Indonesia in 1990 attended by delegates of
the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and Nuncios (Vatican representatives) in the
Asian region. Cardinal Tomko heads the Vatican’s Congregation for the Propagation of Faith,
and is the person in charge of evangelization in the church. According to Fr. Pieris, after
presenting statistical data on the Catholic church in Asia, Cardinal Tomko “had reportedly given
the impression of taking the bishops to task for being negligent in evangelization” (Pieris 1995:
208).He further suggests that the message received by the audience in this conference was one
which stressed “church expansion and numerical increase of Asian Catholics” (Pieris 1995: 209).
What is interesting about Fr. Pieris’s paper is not merely his criticism of the evangelical trends of
the Church in Asia in general, buthis attempts at outlining such trends within the Church in Sri
Lanka. It is then in this context that he refers to the same conference referred to by Jayasuriya:

“The now famous Ampitiya conference (in Kandy, Sri Lanka), despite official explanations, was
a continuation of this movement launched in Indonesia. There has been since then a stress on the
need to convert Buddhists to the church, with scant respect for historical developments
mentioned above or the non-proselytizing approach to mission that gained recognition after
Vatican II ---” (Pieris 1995: 209).

Fr. Pieris also critiques the Church for not consulting individuals within the Catholic church who
were engaged in ‘dialogue’ with Buddhists prior to the organization of the above conference.The
evangelization agenda of the conferences in Indonesia, and later in Kandy signals a certain
important division of opinion with regard to proselytizing in the Catholic church.While
influential members of its hierarchy support the idea of proselytizing even though they deny it in
public, there are many other influential members of the church working at grass roots levels who
are opposed to such activities (Pieris 1995: 210). It is perhaps due to their efforts that the
evangelization agenda of local Catholicism has not become more dynamic.

What is important to ponder at this point is why, given the risks of social and political instability
of the present period of time in Sri Lanka, members of the Catholic hierarchy found it necessary
to identify evangelization as an important activity of the church, going against the spirit of
Vatican II, as well as lessons learnt from the history of the colonial and immediate post-colonial
period in Sri Lanka.In addition to pressures from the Vatican to increase the numbers of
Catholics in Asia,part of the answer can be located in the proselytizing activities of the new
evangelical groups themselves.As we have seen in chapter 2, the recent successes in Asia in the
expansion of Christianity have come mostly from non Catholic protestant evangelical sources.
The best example for this is the expansion of evangelical Christianity in South Korea and the
emerging presence of similar kind of religiosity in staunchly Catholic Philippines. Due to this
kind of regional and national trends, the Catholic church in Sri Lanka, particularly some
members of its top hierarchy, truly feel threatened at the expansion of new evangelical groups in
the country. Many individuals who are attracted to such groups also happen to be Catholics.For
instance, as Janakaratne has demonstrated in his work, many Catholics are attracted to what he
calls fundamentalist Christian sects, because the church has got too distant from the people and
also grown too big (Janakaratne 1994). Such complaints are among the most common voiced by
Catholics who have been attracted to evangelical groups. In this context, he points out that most
individuals in Colombo who had joined the Jesus Lives Ministry, including its chief pastor are
former Catholics (Janakaratne 1994). But rather than looking into the real issues that caused this
state of affairs, it appears that local leaders of the Catholic Church have attempted a counter
evangelization campaign to bolster its dwindling flock. But in terms of timing and strategy, such
a policy cannot succeed without leading to conflict in a country such as Sri Lanka, where
segments of the population are already quite polarized on ethno-religious grounds. It is also a
pity that bitter lessons of history have also been forgotten at thisparticular moment. Moreover, it
also does not help in a situation where the Catholic church has on numerous occasionsattempted
to distance itself from the politics of religion of new evangelical groups, and has also worked
closely with Buddhist groups in a number of ventures such as the large scale and vocal protest
campaigns against the Voice of America relay station in Iranawila and the Aitken Spence hotel
complex in Kandalama.

The second incident I want to briefly outline manifested out of anaccident, even though it also
brought out allegations of proselytizing against the Catholic church. In January 1995, Pope John
Paul II was scheduled to visit Sri Lanka as part of an Asian tour. For Sri Lankan Catholics, the
visit was a major event. The government had pledged state supportand in an unusual act of
courtesy the chief monks of the Siyam Nikaya, the major Buddhist order in the country had
agreed to come to Colombo to welcome the Pope. The monks usually do not venture outside of
their temples to welcome heads of state or religious dignitaries (de Silva 1996: 235-236). Despite
all the planning and the general atmosphere of courtesy, things went wrong from November
1994 onwards when some comments made by the Pope regarding Buddhism in his
book Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994) was given wide publicity in the national press. The
monks refused to attend welcome ceremonies in Colombo. Almost overnight, posters also
appeared in Colombo demanding that the Pope apologize.Moreover, monks and laity took part in
protest processions in Colombo, and the regrets over the comments tendered by the Catholic
Church in Sri Lanka were not accepted by both monks and lay agitators. The agitations also led
to the damaging of a statue and the setting on fire a crib at St. Cecillia’s Church in Raddoluwa
north of Colombo, and retaliationary damage was caused to a number of statues in the Sri
Pushparamaya Buddhist temple in the same area. In Manila, prior to coming to Colombo the
Pope hadtold a crowd of one million, that Catholics should attain high moral standards and
spread the faith (de Silva 1996: 233). Once he arrived in Colombo, all the scheduled activities
took place without any incidents, even though no Buddhist religious leaders took part in the
activities as scheduled before the controversy. What is important here is the manner in which
how this controversy over a minor issue became so acrimonious despite recent efforts of
cooperation.

In the context of this controversy, one could also detect the emergence of complaints of
proselytizing, even though this particular controversyreally had nothing to do with the issue. It
was merely an issue of interpreting certain aspects of Buddhism from a particular religious
vantage point. But such points became merely academic issues in the context of the emotions
involved. This was particularly the case when the whole controversy is placed against a
background of historical memory (de Silva 1996: 238-240).On the other hand, this became such
an emotional issue because in many ways it was perceived as a continuity of the debate over
evangelization, which had already become quite acrimonious. At the same time, incidents such
as the Ampitiya conference outlined above had not helped distance the Catholic church from the
evangelical controversy in general. Moreover, it has also helped further maintain the lack of
differentiation between different Christianities, which is already part of Sinhala Buddhist
thinking. I would suggest that both of these incidents clearly place in context the potential for
conflict in the sphere of religious competition in Sri Lanka with very little provocation.

Let me now come back to the issue of proselytizing and other related activities of new
evangelical groups. Irrespective of the fact whethertarget groups are Buddhists, Catholics, or
Hindus, conversion is the primary mechanism through which most evangelical groups based in
Sri Lanka operate. To all evangelical groups, the increase in the number of adherents is an
important issue.The conversions themselves are considered ‘unethical conversions,’ ‘induced
conversions’ and ‘forced conversions’ by the critics.In so far as public statements are concerned,
such critics include both Buddhist and Catholic personalities and organizations.Many of them
believe that new converts are won over by evangelical groups by offering them financial and
other economic incentives (Perera 1995). The perceived and often real availability of funds for
the use of evangelical groups from their mother organizations is one important source of tension
in so far as opposition to evangelism is concerned. As one Sri Lankan Christian writer has
observed in a recent essay:

“Sri Lankan Christians are being viewed as vultures nurtured on foreign funds and driven to hunt
for the poor mortalsouls of the gullible andpoverty stricken non Christian. The pressure against
the church is gradually building, even though the arguments are not always reasonable the
church is not totally without blame” (Morgan 1997:4).

The perceptions referred to above, more specifically symbolize theattitudes of opponents of


evangelical activity of recent groups than the activities of the established Christian
denominations. Some of the reasons for such perceptions are located in the evangelical
movement’s intense interest to grow rapidly and to show results of their activity in terms of both
large-scale conversions and institutional build-up. Thus, it was in this context that a Catholic
priest in Chilaw observed in August 1998 that evangelical pastors are paid by results. That is, the
more converts they manage to bring into their fold, the higher their stipend would be. The
accuracy this specific claim and others like it is difficult to assess, since they mostly emanate
from biased sources with clear vested interests.Nevertheless, they indicate, how opponents of
evangelical activity perceive their expansionist project. The same writer who expressed the
ideaspresented earlier on, further notes “one such cause for contention is our ambition for big
things immediately” (Morgan 1997: 4). The reference here is to the problem of rapid expansion
and the issue of problematic visibility:

“Sometimes our pursuit of large gatherings and fellowships can end up being counter productive.
The quantitative has the tendency to suppress and supersede the qualitative. The end result is that
we can end up with churches that are visibly growing from the outside. But hollow within”
(Morgan 1997: 4).

But compared to this kind of self reflections or evaluations, very few evangelical activists seem
to have come to terms with the consequences of rapid expansion, visibility and the possibility of
conflict formation.Supporters of rapid expansion would argue, as Morgan has pointed out:

“God has not given us a spirit of fear. As the times are short, we must proclaim the good news
tothe lost without fear or favour” (Morgan 1997: 4).

On the other hand, it is also important to note that compared to neighboring Bangladesh,
Pakistan, and to a certain extent India, Sri Lankans, particularly Buddhists have been relatively
more tolerant of the activities of evangelical groups until their successes became too obvious or
more accurately, too visible in recent times(Perera 1995). Moreover, the vociferous demands by
Buddhist lobbies that the government take legal action against conversions (defined as unethical
etc) have not been entertained by the present People’s Alliance government or the previous
UnitedNational Party government (1977-1994). I would suggest that the state’s general lack of
interest in interfering in this matter, at a time institutional structures of the Sri Lankan democracy
are under considerable stress, would in factbe an impetus to the revival of those very structures
that have been subverted since the late 1970s as a result of the institutionalization of political
violence.

One of the underlying patterns of operation of the collective evangelical movement in Sri Lanka
has been expansion or increase in numbers of both adherents and institutions. The former activity
is initiated primarily through conversion while the latter is implemented through what is called
‘church planting.’This literally means the establishment of churches in areas with no Christian
presence. Such areas in the evangelical vocabulary are referred to as ‘unreached areas.’ In real
terms however, ‘unreached’ does not mean merely areas where there are no Christians, but also
areas where numbers of existing Christians and institutions can be increased. But what is also
clear is that in this scheme of things Catholics and members of mainstream Protestant groups are
hardly considered Christians by many of the new evangelists. Hence their insistence that they too
need to go through a conversion to their brand of the ‘truth.’ In this sense, the Nuwara Eliya
District, and to a lesser extent Puttalam District, are among the most successful areas of church
planting. In Nuwara Eliya, mostly inhabited by Hindu Tamils of South Indian origin primarily
working in the tea plantations, the Assemblies of God and Smyrna Church are the most dynamic
and visible in this activity. Collectively, this leads to greater visibility and increased possibility
of conflict.

Much of the funds for the new evangelical movement in Sri Lanka come from Western Europe,
the U.S,and to a significant extent also from South Korea. The amount of funds raised locally is
insignificant. On the other hand, given the nature of large operational budgets of some of these
churches, minor donations are not considered significant. Thus, a donation of a few hundred
dollars in Dutch currency that a Dutch expatriate attempted to donate to an evangelical church in
Nuwara Eliya was not accepted.The reasons given included that the church had adequate funds,
and also because it was considered difficult to keep track of small funds.Generally, the sources
of funding also point to the countries where the main parent bodies or affiliated agencies of most
locally based evangelical organizations are located. On the other hand, many churches and
affiliated groups receive funds and aid in the form of literature and foreign evangelists from
agencies that have no local institutional presence. This happens as a result of the excellent
network the collective evangelical movement has access to. The relatively large availability of
funds has ensured that these groups have vast resources for their operations. To a certain extent
the parent bodies of the evangelical organizations that operate in Sri Lanka also operate in other
parts of South Asia, and this is particularly the case with Sri Lanka and Nepal. These regional
and international networks of contact play an important role in sharing the experiences of the
collective international evangelical movement, which greatly aid in planning future activities.

The Reasons for Attraction to New Evangelical Groups:

An Outline of General Indicators

Despite what critics may say, large sources of funds, and aggressiveness alone cannot explain the
successes of the new evangelists in Sri Lanka. Such an explanation would be too simplistic as
well as reductionist. On the other hand, as already indicated elsewhere, it is also important to
note that there is no reliable statistical information to indicate the exact number of new
evangelical groups and their followers. Thus there is a problem in gauging the exact nature of
their expansion in any absolute sense.In this context, their success or perceived success is gauged
at the popular level on the basis of their relentless activity and visibility (Perera 1995).Moreover,
much of the reality surrounding the operation of these groups is lost in both the secrecy of the
groups themselves, and the rhetoric and phobia of the challengers. It is due to this state of affairs
that some of the evangelical groups we approached for this study in Colombo directly refused to
talk to us, used delaying tactics, and on many occasions also activated their network in order to
warn other organizations not to talk to us. Thus, this general suspicion entertained by evangelist
groups tends to create an aura of secrecy around them, which in the long run feeds into the
suspicions the general population have towards them.

What I want to stress at this point is, that the kind of reductionistexplanations outlined above are
sociologically inadequate to explain the general success of evangelical groups in Sri Lanka.
There are much more complex and sociologically significant dynamics involved here. I
wouldsuggest that there are important social and political conditions in Sri Lanka, which have
created a space for evangelical groups to operate andsucceed. These conditions have to be
located in the present role of conventional religions, the consequences of contemporary socio-
political climate in the country, and the general conditions which have resulted from urbanization
and overall development, which have not been adequately addressed by existing religions.

Field interviews in the districts of Colombo, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Puttalam have indicated
that many of those who have joined new evangelical groups (both former Buddhists and
Catholics) complain that the main reason for them to abandon either Buddhism or Catholicism
was due to the disinterest the Catholic and Buddhist establishments had shown towards their
existential dilemmas (Perera 1995). Many, but by no means all, Buddhists who are attracted to
these groups come from socially or emotionally depressed backgrounds. For persons from such
backgrounds, the benefits or emotional help from Buddhist institutions have been inadequate, or
more accurately non-existent. By contrast, many of the new evangelical groups are organized
like extended counseling or self-help groups. In the same sense, many of the new evangelical
churches have smaller congregations, which allow for more personal interaction between
members of the congregation as well as with immediate leaders such as local pastors.No such
system exists in the Buddhist establishment despite the vast network of temples and monks.
Though Buddhist temples, which in many Sinhala villages were closely linked to the village
through various religious and ritual activities, their monks were traditionally expected to be
somewhat aloof from the matters of the world, and concentrate on achieving goals such
as Nirvana, which is the ultimate state of bliss according to Buddhist belief when all suffering
come to an end (Perera 1995). In other words, temples as local organizations and the Buddhist
ecclesiastical order as an overall institution, despite its vast resources are very slow in innovation
in tune with changing socio-political situation in the country. For instance, a young Buddhist
monk in the Kandyan region who attempted to initiate a marriage counselling center in his
temple had to leave the village because the people found the idea too radical, and as a result
rumors started to circulate that the monk was having sexual encounters with women who came
for counseling. Similarly, despite the on going war and the large scale displacement of people in
the combat zones and in border areas, the Buddhist institutional organizations collectivelyhave
no programs to assist refugees, provide shelter for children, or to provide rehabilitation services.
Generally, the great majority of individual temples also do not have such programs.But certain
temples in affected areas, provide some help out of sheer need, where the monks themselves are
affected by the same kind of problems, and are aware of the conditions. But very few temples
outside the border areas run such regular services. Where there are a few such active temples,
they are the result of a few dynamic monks and not due to any collective policy.

As opposed to this situation, both well established Christian churches as well as many new
evangelical groups have been active at village and town level in helping some of the victims of
political violence cope with their grief, as well as with problems arising out of more mundane
but pressing problems of routine life. The story of twenty five year old Mary, a Tamil woman
and mother of one child exemplifies this situation.Mary is from the Eastern Province, and her
husband was killed by the military in the mid 1980s. She changed not only her religion but also
her name in the process of conversion:

“Having a child and no husband was a big problem for me.People did feel sorry for me, but they
also thought that I was very unlucky. I was not invited to many festivals or social occasions.
They thought I would bring them bad luck. As if I had killed my husband --- none of the gods in
Hinduism helped me out of my problems.They were not concerned about me --- It was by
accident that I saw God. These people, who came to my house were very kind, and they prayed
with me. They really cared for me. They took my child and put her in a pre-school, which they
run. Now I also work with them, and my child has a future.”

For Mary, conversion was not merely the change of religion. It represented a complete rupture in
her relations with society in general, which separated her from the life she used to know, where
both institutional and kin network failed her when she needed them the most. For her, the
conversion marked the birth of a new identity.In this case, she needed that separation, and there
was a new institutional set up in the form of an active evangelical group to provide her with the
support she needed to make that transition. But since life in her village became more difficult
after the conversion, she wanted to leave the area, which was also facilitated through the network
of the group she now belonged to, and was resettled in the Nuwara Eliya District.But one
individual active in Hindu religious and cultural activities in the Eastern Province saw this
scenario in a very different light:

“These Christians are fishing in troubled waters.They are trying to make the most out of these
people’s misery. They come with a lot of money and offer it to them to convert. Why can’t they
simply help them rather than trying to change the way these people have lived for thousands of
years. It is a matter of heritage.”

To this Tamil Hindu, evangelical dynamics are merely a matter of money and conversion. The
fact there are serious problems in his society, which make such conversions possible, and in the
minds of many, quite necessary escaped his attention. These conditions are both cultural
restrictions as well as the inability or lack of interest of conventional religions to respond to crisis
situations. The overall structure of the story of Sumana, a Sinhala Buddhist woman from the
Vavuniya District is not much different from Mary’s story except in specific details:

“The tigers (LTTE) killed my husband, and my two sons disappeared in the jungle. I think the
tigers killed them too. We came to this area thirty years ago from the south. I lost everything, my
husband, my children and all our property.Then I went from one refugee camp to another, and it
was very difficult. I had to live like a beggar.We were not beggars. Then I went to my parents
village, where I still had relatives, including two sisters. But after a week or so with them, they
did not want to have me. I did not have any property in the village. There really was no one or no
place I could go to --- I was thinking of going back to Vavuniya. Nothing was worse than not
having anyone or anything. But when I was visiting some friends in Hambantota, I met these
people who were going from house to house talking to people about God --- They were very kind
--- they listened to my story, and offered to help --- They invited me to work with them.I am not
rich. But I am happy. The people in the groups care about each other. All of us have had some
problems at some time. Now God looks after allof us.”

Sumana now visits housesin the Western Province talking to people about her experiences about
war, the discovery of God and finding happiness. She believes that she was saved, and that she
remains sane only due to the intervention of God through this organization. Given the kind of
experiences individuals such as Mary and Sumana have gone through, and the failure of
conventional systems of support both in terms of kin networks and religious networks, it is
hardly surprising that they are attracted towards groups that offer them help in whatever form.In
these kinds of situations conversion may take place out of conviction as was clearly the case with
Mary. On other occasions, conversion may take place due to gratitude.In the case of Sumana,
gratitude seemed to be the reason for conversion. On other occasions, the reasons for conversion
may be located in perceived necessity. That is, many individuals who have been approached and
helped by evangelical groups may convert in order to receive continued support because they
believe that conversion is one way that would guarantee such support. I would comment on this
issue later on.What I want to stress at this point is that Mary and Sumana are not isolated cases.
There are many such people at different places in Sri Lanka’s multiple realities touched by war
and displacement.

But evangelical groups were not merely active addressing the issues faced by people affected by
war.In fact, they were much more active in areas of the country where war was not a daily
reminder as is the case in the north and east. In the rest of the country, they were active among
socially and economically backward sections of society in both rural and urban sectors. In these
areas they were not dealing with situations arising out of extraordinary situations such as war,
but mundane issues whichnevertheless were issues of great concern for the people who had to
face them. Some of the issues evangelical groups are particularly interested in, include the
following: general poverty, lack of access to education,problems of hunger and nutrition,
sanitation and health.It is however, in these kinds of situations that one more often hear of
aggressive proselytizing. On many instances, there seem to be an unwritten understanding which
suggest that continued support or better support would be offered only to those people who
joined the new movements in a formal manner. This was particularly the case when it came to
offering economic incentives such as money to buy land, fertilizer, seeds, free education for
children and food (Perera 1995). It seems to me that in these kinds of situations people often
convert out of need or necessity rather than out of conviction or faith. In such situations, the
decision to convert is a rational economic decision than a matter of spiritual salvation.

Let me place this situation in context. In a low-income urban area south of Colombo, three
different evangelical churches became active within the last five or seven years. The area was a
predominantly Buddhist area, even though it was divided on political lines. Moreover, the rate of
crime, alcoholism and problems of drug addiction were visibly quite high.School drop-out rate
was also high, and children often did not go to school at all.These were among the problems that
people in the area had to face on a daily basis, and these were also the same problems that
featured quite dominantly in their narratives about their lives. In this context, when one of the
churches opened apre-school, it was welcomed by the community.Such a venture had not been
attempted by the Buddhist temples that had been in existence for over two decades. The school
administrators said that all children in the area were welcome in the school, and that religion was
not an issue. But the school was run on what the community itself perceived as Christian lines.
For instance, according to them, children were required to pray, learn Bible tracts, take part in
dramas and other such activities which depicted the life of Jesus and other themes important to
Christianity. While some parents did not want to send their children to what they called a ‘church
school,’ many others did.Most families who sent their children to this school were Buddhist or
Hindu while a few were Christians. Those who did send their children to the school were the
poorest of the poor. For such families, the school provided certain essential services.It freed
parents for a number of hours each morning from Monday to Friday to engage in economic
activities so they could attempt to enhance family income.Others merely got a much needed
break during those hours. The parents were also quite sure that their children were physically
safe during the time they were away from home. In this way, the school functioned as a day care
center. In addition, the children were well fed while they were in pre-school, which they often
did not receive at home. On top of all this, they also perceived that the children were also
learning something in the sense of formal schooling.As one parent explained to me:

“The school teaches them to read and write, and to sing. They also get a good lunch and some
breakfast which is more than we can offer. At least they get two meals a day while they go to the
school. It also gives my wife some free time to sew a few frocks which we can sell later.”

This particular individual and his wife are Buddhists. But as he further observed, it would not be
a problem for him to change his religion in order to ensure that the services his family needed
kept on coming:

“What difference does it make? We have been Buddhists all our lives. And what good has that
done? That monk in the temple over there is only interested in politics not whether we live or
die. But he expects the poor people here to give him alms also. The church and the school give
us much. And if we have to change our religion to get some more, we will.”

In situations such as this, if conversion takes place, it will be due to necessity or economic
reasons and would have nothing to do with convictions or faith. This man and his family also
believed that they would receive further aid if they changed their religion. Under these kinds of
circumstances --on the basis of locally available knowledge -- if conversions takes place, it
would be what one may call ‘a rational economic decision.’ Parents who sent their children to
the school already received powdered milk food and dry rations, which was distributed through
the school. Another Buddhist father who had also sent his son to the school observed:

“They have told me that they will find me a job. They have also told me and my wife that it is
better to change our religion since that would change our luck. I don’t think I will get the job if I
do not change my religion. I am wondering what to do.”

But it is not always easy to ascertain why exactly people convert, whether for economic, spiritual
or other reasons. Consider for a moment the story of a forty two year old Sinhala Buddhist
woman from the town of Kelaniya near Colombo who converted to Christianity as a result of the
activities of an evangelical group active in the area which specializes in visiting the homes of
persons the group has identified as in need of their help:

“I was very sick for over a year. My relatives tried everything. Western doctors, ayurvedic
doctors, charms, and exorcisms. But nothing worked. I was very weak and the doctors said that
there was nothing wrong with me. But I know I was dying, and everybody got tired of treating
me. Then one day the sisters came to see me, and stayed with me for three hours. They prayed all
the time. After that they came a few times each week bringing other people. They also brought
me things to eat and drink.They even prepared some of the drinks for me. They always prayed
and talked to me about God.Within a month, I got better.While I was getting better I saw God in
my dreams. He was very kind.In my sickness, medicine nor Buddhism helped me, and my own
folks tended to forget me. It was the sisters who cared for me.After I became well, I converted.”

Today this woman is a part-time worker in the group that effected her conversion. She also visits
houses in the areas with full-time evangelists.Even though she talks about God and stresses upon
her conviction that the Bible holds the ultimate truth, her knowledge about Christian scriptures
remains quite marginal. What is more important in her conversion is her personal experience of
illness and the affinity she experienced with members of the group at a very difficult time as well
as direct help extended by the group in terms of offering much needed nutritious food and drink
when she much needed them but could not afford. The narrative I have presented above along
with others, have becomekey components of preaching for the group in the area. But in her
family, she is the only one who has converted, and her relationships within the family is wrought
with much conflict and stress. But it appears that her new found group identity and solace in
belonging to that groups allows her to cope with that situation.

In the context of conversion narratives presented thus far, one may also be able to argue that they
represent something other than the motives for conversion. That is, that they can equally as well
present the self- image the evangelical groups seek to present. At the same time, all of these
stories as a collective, also present a strong mega narrative articulating the re-creation of
community, from a situation of isolation to a situation of belongingness, or from a situation of
rupture to a situation of cohesion. It seems to me however, that it is not always easy to separate
these narratives as those dealing with motives for conversion, and those that deal with the
creation the self-image of evangelical groups. In fact, often these two possibilities may be
merged within a single narrative. On the other hand, available ethnographic information does
point to the fact that conversion narratives, more often than not, indicate some of the basic
reasons for conversion, while in the process of formalization of the narratives, aspects of the self-
image of specific evangelical groups also seep into these personal narratives.

But in any event, what is quite obvious is that all of these narratives also present a notion of
recreating community. That is, conversion narratives are not merely about the immediate reasons
for conversion or about creating the self-image of the groups with whom individuals have
affiliated themselves. It is also not merely about changing one’s religion. I would suggest. That
when all these strands or features in the narratives are taken together it is about the recreation of
community. In that sense, conversion narratives represent the dynamics involved in the symbolic
death of an individual or community and their rebirth as individuals or communities with as
followers of an evangelical group.So this is also a situation where old identities are abrogated
and new ones are created.Of course, the dynamics of recreating community and identity have to
be understood in the context of the overall socio-political conditions of contemporary Sri Lanka,
which I have already discussed, as well as in the context of personal histories of the individuals
who decide to convert. In the end, the reasons for conversion are located in the twin histories of
the individual and society.

At this point, it seems to me that it would be useful to understand in some detail some of the
activities evangelical groups in Sri Lanka are involved in.The point I want to make at this
moment is that these activities, be they social services or proselytizing, are part of the overall
evangelical project.In the conclusion of this discussion, I would attempt to deal with the
problems of making distinctions between social service and proselytizing agendas of evangelical
groups.

Distribution of Literature and the Provision of Education as

Strategies of Evangelical Activity in Sri Lanka

In the South Asian region, Sri Lanka registers the highest rate of literacy as a nation. Given this
reality it would make sense to use not only the spoken word, but also the written word to further
the goals of the collective evangelical movement. Historically also, missionaries working in Sri
Lanka have been pioneers in using the written word for the propagation of the Gospel. For
instance, the first Sinhala book printed in Sri Lanka has been a copy of the Bible. But
irrespective of historical continuity, it makes sense for the collective evangelical movement to
make use of published literature to preach the Gospel given the rapid expansion of adult literacy
in the country since the 1950s.

The written word clearly has much more significance than the spoken word in terms of
longevity. For instance, people may listen to a sermon, attend a mass rally organized by an
evangelical group, and equally as likely, go home and forget what they heard. But when
something is written and distributed there are two main advantages.One is that there is the
likelihood that a person who gets access to such literature may actually read it at leisure, and get
interested in its content over a period of time. Second, there is also the possibility that such
literature may actually go from one person to another, as often happen with newspapersin Sri
Lanka. As one young woman engaged in distributing pamphlets on behalf of a small evangelical
outfit in Colombo told me near the Colombo Town Hall in February 1998:

“We want to talk about God to all the people who have sinned.But we also want them to read
about him. That is why we give them all these tracts. If they cannot grasp what we say here, they
can always read about it at home. Then they can also learn more through correspondence.”

It is clear that the evangelical movement in Sri Lanka has correctly grasped the importance of the
written word in their overall project, which can be seen in the important place given to this
medium in their activities.Currently, evangelical literature published and distributed in the
country constitute of Sinhala, Tamil and English tracts and magazines. Thus the Ceylon Every
Home Crusade publishes a monthly magazine in each of these three languages. Some texts,
particularly magazines published in other parts of the world are available only in English.But the
importance of local languages in evangelism has been clearly understood by those engaged in
publishing such material and working in these languages. Thus while Youth for Christ (YFC)
uses all three languages in their activities, one of its leaders noted in an interview in late 1997
that the “amount of work that can be done in English is quite limited.” This understanding
translates into reality in its activities in the sense that out of the 20 centers YFC maintains in the
vicinity of Colombo, 15 function in the Tamil medium,1while four in Sinhala and only one in
English.

Many of the evangelical groups currently operating in Sri Lanka publish their own material
locally. Thus the Assemblies of God publishes a variety of tracts in all three languages currently
used in Sri Lanka. Some of this literature is also used by other evangelical groups in their
activities.Similarly many local groups also extensively use material published by foreign sources
even though they may not be funded by them. Thus the Grace Evangelical Church active in
Colombo uses some English language literature published by Grace and Truth in Danville in
Illinois, in addition to locally published Sinhala language material. On the other hand, many
organizations also distribute material their parent organizations publish elsewhere in
English.Thus the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) in Sri Lanka distributes a great deal of
literature published by its parent organization in Pasadena, California. These include the
monthly Plain Truthas well as others like When a Loved One Dies (1994), Staying
Sane (1989), The Bible: A Guided Tour (1993), Science and Religion (1993),Overcoming
Alcohol Abuse (1986), and the bimonthly Living Today published by the Worldwide Church of
God in Australia.

Clearly then, the existence of international, regional and local networks plays a significant role in
the publishing and distributing literature for the evangelical movement. But in addition to the
work of individual churches, there are a number of organizations, which the groups themselves
perceive as para-church organizations,dedicated to the publication and distribution of literature.
In other words, the prime aim of these organizations is to distribute the Gospel in published
form. In general, these groups consider themselves non-denominational. This is particularly the
case in the sense that their literature is used by many evangelical churches and other groups in
their activities. But again, one cannot see such material being used by the mainstream Catholic
church in its overt activities. One of the better known and most active groups with regard to
publishing and distribution of literature is the Ceylon Every Home Crusade (CEHC) operating
out of Colombo. CEHC is truly an international organization.Its roots can be traced to the United
States, where it began operations in 1946 as the Every Home Crusade, and later its international
operations came to be known as Every Home for Christ International.By 1997 it had operations
in 104 countries in 8 regions. These regions were Anglo-Africa, French-Africa, Europe,
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, former Soviet Republics), Latin America, Pacific,
East Asia and South Asia.In addition to Sri Lanka, the South Asian operations also include
Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and India.Due to local conditions of these South Asian operations,
the most active local operations are in Sri Lanka and Nepal.

The Sri Lankan operations began under the name Ceylon Every Home Crusade in 1970.After 25
years in operation one of its slogans in 1995 was “reaching every home in Sri Lanka for Christ”
(Direction, June 1995).In its main vehicle, the magazine called Direction the CEHC explains its
position and agenda in the following words:

“Ceylon Every Home Crusade is a non denominational incorporated national organization which
exists to serve, motivate and mobilize the Church to participate actively in the systematic
personal presentation of a printed or repeatable message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every
home in Sri Lanka, helping new believers become responsible members of the Body of Christ”
(Direction, June 1995).

I would suggest that the word Crusade in the organization’s name is quite significant. A crusade
essentially is a religious war, and in the popular discourse (of the English educated Sri Lankan
middle class) the word also brings to mind the Christian crusades of the Middle Ages in Europe.
The need to spread the word of God is seen quite literally as a holy war not only by the activists
of the CEHC but also by evangelists in general. On the other hand, CEHC is one organization
which is very clear and articulate about its mission as the above statement itself explains. Twenty
five years of experience in Sri Lanka has also given it a great deal of confidence to articulate its
ideas clearly as was obvious in interviews with selected group leaders in 1998. For instance,
organization’s leaders accepted that CEHC is an evangelical organization in the sense that it is
engaged in spreading the word of Jesus Christ. It also accepted that it is a fundamentalist
organization in the sense that it gives primacy to the word contained in the Bible:
“Today the Catholic Church does not preach the Bible. They spread the word of God in other
ways --- We take the Bible to the people properly --- We are basically non-Catholic, and are
more aligned with Protestant churches and church groups. The main task of CEHC is to aid the
activities of the Church by preaching the Bible to the people using printed Bible tracts and
magazines.”

In addition to the numerous biblical tracts CEHC publishes, it alsopublishes a monthly magazine
in Sinhala, Tamil and English.According to CEHC sources, the English version of this magazine
(Direction) isspecifically targeted towards the Catholic population. According to the same
sources, the reasons for publishing in Sinhala and Tamil is to reach the Hindu and Buddhist
populations. CEHC says that as an organization, it operates both in rural and urban sectors in the
country. As a matter of fact, during fieldwork I have come across its literature in places as far
apart as Colombo as well as Chilaw in the North Western Province and Hambantota District in
the Southern Province. Often, the main mechanism for literature distribution for CEHC as well
as other organizations is the state postal system, which is inexpensive and reasonably reliable.
Thus the mail system is the main avenue for CEHC’s mail order Bible study courses in Sinhala,
Tamil and English.These courses include a series of lessons and examination questions placed in
a logical path of progression, at the end of which each person who successfully completes the
course, is offered a certificate. In addition however, its activists also distribute them
personally.For instance, CEHC operates in hospitals, universities and other such organizations.
The main conversion mechanism adopted by CEHC is what it calls a ‘literature
contract.’According to CEHC, a literature contract is a situation where a person who gets access
of its literature, reads and understands its contents, and then proceeds to pass on that message to
another person. Then that person also passes on the message to yet another person who is
overwhelmed by ‘problems.’

CEHC and many other evangelical organizations stress that the Gospel is the only real solution
to one’s problems. Many of the issues that are defined as problems by these organizations are
also areas of concern in the society. Thus these tracts and many other publications such
asmagazines specifically address such problems, often with reference to the Bible. So,
publications such as Overcoming Alcohol Abuse (1986), Winning Against Drug
Addiction (1992), and Building Stronger Families(1994)published by the Worldwide Church of
God deal directly with issues of substance abuse, as well as marriage, single parenting and so on.
But these are American publications written from an American perspective.Similarly, many of
the articles in Direction are specifically formulated in order to address these kinds of problems,
in addition to answering specific questions raised by readers. While some such articles are
reproduced from foreign sources, others are written by local writers for local readerships. Thus
the June 1995 issue of the CEHC magazine Direction has dedicated three articles -- inclusive of
the editorial -- to talk about different aspects of the Christian marriage.In the editorial, it is
observed that “the systematic study of God’s Word reveals that God’s desire for His people - the
Church is that they marry within the body of believers” (Thevabalasingham 1995: 2).The same
editorial further suggests:

“If marriage had taken place before one has become a true believer (either husband or wife), he
or she has to make every effort, to the extent God enables, to be loving and kind towards the
unbelieving partner. Through love and godly living, one has every chance to win his or her
spouse for the Lord.No amount of preaching and admonition but an exemplary life will bring
conversion”(Thevabalasingham 1995: 2).

It is important to note here, that publications such as these are not merely reproductions of
biblical texts. Often, they are much more than that. Thus the quotations above from Direction are
rather exclusivistinterpretations of the Bible with reference to marriage. In this sense, these
publications also aim to influence public opinion with regard to even private issues such as
marriage in very fundamental ways.Such an agenda has to be understood as an important goal of
the overall evangelical movement, given its emphasis on creating a numerically and politically
powerful Christian community in Sri Lanka and South Asia. These strategies also point to
evangelists’ interest in separating their body of believersfrom the wider society, and the
recreation of community and identity, which I have already discussed in the Introduction, and
earlier in this chapter.

In so far as Sri Lanka is concerned, there is a category of otherorganizations that play an


important role in the literature distribution project.These mainly constitute of literature outlets,
which publish, import and sell evangelical and other Christian literature directly to the public.In
addition, they also reach a much larger circle of individuals through the state mail system. The
better known groups that can be placed within this category include the Christian Literature
Society, Christian Literature Crusade, Prospor Christian Book Shop, Back to the Bible
Bookshop, PragnaPublishers, New Life Literature and Sri Lanka Audio-Visual Evangelism.

Taken in a broader sense, these para-church organizations within the overall evangelical
movement are not merely centers for spreading the Gospel.They are also centers of education.
But in addition to the kind of Christian education imparted to the public through these sources,
one also need to pose the question whether the evangelical groups in Sri Lanka are also involved
in educational activities in a larger scale. As we would see later in the chapter dealing with
Nepal, evangelical groups in that country have a large stake in general and technical education.
At the moment it is clear that evangelical groups in Sri Lanka do not have a comparative stake or
interest in general or technical education in Sri Lanka. But traditionally, modern education in Sri
Lanka began with the arrival of foreign missionaries along with the expansion of European
colonialism. As such, even today the Catholic church and mainstream Anglican denominations
run a significant number of schools in the country.Some of them have for a long time been
extremely influential educational institutions. But compared to these, new evangelical groups
have not yet managed to establish an entrenchedsystem of educational institutions in the country.

But education in other more restricted interpretations is an important issue for evangelists. For
instance, there are many evangelical groupsprimarily interested in providing specific kinds of
education to train specialists in order to further the cause of the evangelical movement. Thus
there are a number of organizations dedicated to training pastors and other evangelical workers.
Among the groups that are specifically focussing on this aspect of education are Sri Lanka
Centre for Pastoral Studies, Rural Pastors Training Centre (South Asia Institute of Theology),
Colombo Theological Seminary, Evangelical Christian Religious Education Centre, and so on.

In addition, many churches or their affiliated organizations organize regular seminars and
workshops in Colombo and elsewhere in the country with the participation of experienced
foreign evangelists. Many of them are designed to train local evangelical workers in their
activities, where they can draw upon the experiences of success elsewhere in the world.Thus in
January 1998, the well known evangelist Selwyn Hughes conducted three seminars in Colombo
titled “Shepherding the Flock of God,” “How to Build a Good and Holy Marriage,” and
“Relationships.” The seminars were specifically aimed at local pastors. Hughes himself is the
founder and director of the evangelical network known as the Crusade for World
Revival.Similarly in June - July 1995, the Nazarene Mission coordinated what was known as the
“Second Levites Camp,” which was aimed at pastors, lay leaders, Bible students, Sunday school
teachers and so on.In a sense, the anticipatedparticipants here were not necessarily specialized
workers as in the case of pastors, but nevertheless were expected to be committed evangelical
workers or supporters. And once again here too there was foreign expertise in the form of Dutch
evangelist Ben Hanegraaf.In August 1995 the International Chamber of Commerce organized a
conference and trade exhibition in Colombo titled “Gateway to Asia 95,” the aim of which was
to give an opportunity to local Christian business people to meet and fellowship with Christian
business people from around the world.Throughout the 1990s one could see these kinds of
seminars and workshops being organized in the capital and elsewhere by many evangelical
groups on a regular basis. One key feature in many of these gatherings was not merely the
sharing of knowledge and expertise, but the availability of foreign expertise. This is possible not
simply due to the availability of funds, but more importantly, due to the availability of an
excellent network of contacts with individual evangelists and evangelical organizations in the
region, and in other parts of the world. Foreign participation and the regular organization of these
seminars and workshops also create a certain international collective of individuals and groups
united within a single project.Moreover, such activities also give moral and spiritual support to
many supporters.As one pastor, who is a regular participant in many Colombo based workshops
and seminars observed:

“This is a strength for us because it shows how many people around the world are united in
carrying out the work of God. It also show that we are on the right path.All these people around
the world could not have all been wrong.”

But it must be noted that in general, these kinds of programs are specifically aimed at individuals
and organizations already operating within the overall Sri Lankan evangelical project. Compared
to these kinds of educational ventures, the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) runs twovocational
training institutes in Sri Lanka, one in Nuwara Eliya and the other in Kotmale.With its main
parent organization in Pasadena, California, the Worldwide Church of God began operations in
Sri Lanka in 1978. In interviews conducted in 1998, a church leader defined the church as
“fundamentalist, evangelistic and non-denominational.” Currently it has two congregations, one
in Wattala, north of Colombo and the other in Nuwara Eliya.While its religious identity is always
important, the vocational training institutions of the church have been set up to impart secular
professional skills that the church considers as important in today’s labor market.Thus the
Worldwide Educational Institute (WEI) in Nuwara Eliya established in 1986 offer the following
courses of study: computer literacy, business administration, English language proficiency,
literature, office procedures and public speaking. These courses are of one year duration
(Information sheet, Worldwide Education Institute, ND). WEI is registered with the Tertiary and
Vocational Education Commission in Sri Lanka, which gives it a certain degree of formal
official standing in the realm of local education.In its own pamphlets the WEI claims that it
“accepts students of any race, religion and gender” (Information sheet, Worldwide Education
Institute, ND).WEI claims that after completion of its courses, “each student should be fluent in
English, and have mastered the professional skills necessary to find gainful employment”
(Information sheet, Worldwide Education Institute, ND).

Compared to the kind of educational ventures described above, which are not many, quite a
fewevangelical groups also run pre-schools in both rural and urban sectors in the country,
particularly in areas marked by poverty. Late in the last century a European missionary in Sri
Lanka was credited for saying, “let me have your child for the first few years of his life.Then you
can have him for the rest of his life.” In a way, the missionary led-education in the country in the
colonial period was based on such ideas.Even today, it is clear that pre-school education is seen
as an important strategy of the overall evangelical project in Sri Lanka. As I have already noted
elsewhere in this chapter, it is a means by which evangelical organizations, gain access to
households, families, communities and often people’s trust in particular localities. One could
argue that in Sri Lanka, pre-schools are among the most important out-reach programs of the
evangelical movement.It has also become an issue of contention in many localities where such
schools have been located.Nevertheless, compared to its success and dynamism in the
publication of literature and providing education for its own workers, the overall evangelical
project has not yet made serious attempts to make significant inroads into the arena of public
education, which clearly would have enhanced its influence at national level quite
considerably.One reason for this is the almost total control of the state in the realm of public
education, which would be a difficult sphere to break into.But such ventures are possible in the
realm of elite private education such as in the mushrooming industry of what is known as
international schools, where education is imparted in English, often using British or American
textbooks. But by definition, such education would be elite, and thus cannot have the kind of
mass appeal that the contemporary evangelical movement aspires for, given its interests in the
rapid increase in the number of believers.

Perhaps I should make some brief comments about the relative aggressiveness of the activities of
some of the evangelical groups, as the notion of aggression has already surfaced a number of
times in this section. However, I deal with this issue in more detail in the conclusion.What I want
to note here deal with the nature of this aggression. I have already noted, that there is a great
commitment on the part of the collective evangelical movement in Sri Lanka to expand rapidly
in terms of the numbers of church structures and adherents. Much of their activities are geared
towards achieving these twin goals. It is in this urge for expansion that one may locate the
aggression of evangelism.Let me offer a personal example.On December 22nd 1997, I was
interviewed over the air by the Sinhala service of the BBC.During the interview, Idiscussed in
some detail what contemporary Buddhist cultural practices owe to Christian religiosity. A few
days later, I received an unsigned letter written in Sinhala, which made a number of observations
and suggestions. While congratulating me for my ideas, it stated that I would be given whatever
help needed in the future to carry out my “activities.” Interestingly, those who wrote the letter
interpreted my academic discussion on cultural borrowing and culture change as an expression of
anti-Buddhist sentiments.Hence their interest in me. The letter went on to make the following
points:

“--- We believe that by spreading Christian and Catholic ideas in society, Sri Lanka can be
greatly developed. For that purpose, we have mobilized media apparatus in all sections of mass
media --- When you express ideas such as these through public media a few more times, our
center will contact you again under our own name. We will also assist you in your economic
problems.May you have a happy Christmas.”

In a sense, this letter shows the alertness in which sections of the evangelical movement looks
for followers. If they perceive an individual is ready for conversion, or can be tempted,activities
towards that end begin immediately.This letter is merely one of such activities.The reason why I
have referred to this letter is, because it places in context the notion of aggressiveness, which I
wanted to address.Similarly, in the Kelaniya area, two Buddhist monks and at least one Catholic
priest have told methat evangelical workers visited their institutions to “talk about their ideas.”
Generally, visiting homes, the distribution of literature, and the performance of large public
healing or prayers services are all parts of this rather aggressive outreach program. As noted
earlier, all these activities are generally geared towards the expansion of the overall evangelical
project, which in turn also give them much visibility in society.Such visibility however, is
constructed in a negative light, which in the long run contribute to the emergence of a new
conflict dimension in the country. I would address the issue of aggression and conflict with
regard to the operation of evangelism in both Nepal and Sri Lanka in more detail in the
conclusion.
Evangelism in Context: Parameters of the Situation in Nepal

Christianity in Nepal: A Brief Historical Outline

Like Sri Lanka, Nepal is also a multi-ethnic and multi religious society in addition to its caste
and other divisions. In 1991, 86.51% of the population in Nepal were reckoned to be
Hindus.7.78% of the population were Buddhists, and 3.53% were Muslims. Jains accounted for
0.04% while Christians accounted for a mere 0.17% (Central Bureau of Statistics 1996:
18).Compared to the rather long and extensive relationship Sri Lanka has had with Christianity
spanning over 400 years, Nepal’s association with Christianity has been quite marginal until
relatively recent times. One important reason for this lack of missionary success in Nepal until
recent times, is due to the fact that the land-locked country was effectively closed to foreigners
until 1951, and also due to Nepal’s interesting position as the only country in South Asia, which
was not directly colonized by a European power. Even then, European missionaries had been
making intermittent appearances since the 1600s. The first non Asian to enter Nepal was the
Jesuit priest John Cabral in 1628 on his way to Bengal from Sighaste.Initially, it was the Catholic
church which attempted to make inroads into Nepal.Many of them were interested in locating the
fabled lost Christian communities in Tibet, and as such the early interest was in reaching and
establishing themselves in Tibet, and not in Nepal.So for this reason the Jesuits had established a
church in western Tibet in 1626, and another in eastern Tibet in 1628. Consequent to the
suppression of the Jesuit order by Rome, the responsibility for Tibet was vested in the Capuchin
Order in 1703, and it was the Capuchins who first established a permanent or semi-permanent
presence in Nepal. Their attention was diverted to Nepal after they experienced strong Lamaistic
opposition. The first Capuchins to arrive in Nepal were two missionaries in February 1707 on
their way to Tibet (Lindell 1997: 2).This initial mission to Tibet failed, and from the lessons
learned from that failure, a reorganized plan was formulated in 1714, according to which inter-
connected support mission stations were to be established in five locations, including Kathmandu
(Lindell 1997: 6).Thus in 1714, the King of Kathmandu Kingdom gave permission for the
Capuchins to stay, and event went to the extent offering them a rent free house, and permission
to operate in his kingdom (Lindell 1997: 15). But they were expelled in 1722 on suspicion of
being spies, causing plagues and being religiously inauspicious (Lindell 1997: 16).

In time, the Capuchin missionaries also negotiated with the ruler of the adjoining kingdom of
Bhatgaon and received the kind of permission and guarantees they had earlier acquired in
Kathmandu (Lindell 1997: 15-16).This was particularly necessary due to their expulsion from
Kathmandu.But this mission had to be closed down soon because the missionaries had to leave
due to ill health (Lindell 1997: 16). After that, for a period of six years there was no missionary
presence in Nepal.In 1737, some activity was seen again when the Capuchins were invited again
into their kingdoms by the rulers ofBhatgaon and Kathmandu, and seven years later also to
Patan. In any event, after 1714, during a time period of over 50 years about20 Capuchin
expeditions came to the missions in KathmanduValley during which time 29 Capuchin
missionaries lived there (Lindell 1997: 15-17).Soon after their return to Bhatgaon and
Kathmandu in 1737, the rulers of of both kingdoms offered them an interesting document called
a “Decree of Liberty and Conscience.” The document from the king of Bhatgaon dated 18th
November 1737 is indicative what the decree offered:

“We, Jaya Ranajita Malla, King of Bhatgaon, in virtue of the present document, grant to all
European Fathers leave to preach, teach, and draw to their religion the people to us subject, and
we likewise allow our subjects to embrace the Law of the European Fathers, without fear or
molestation either from us or from those who rule in our kingdom. Nor shall the Fathers receive
from us any annoyance, or be obstructed in their Ministry. All this, however, mustbe done
without violence and of one’s own free will” (Lindell 1997: 25).

In 1744, the King of Patan also invited the Capuchins to his Kingdom and offered the above kind
of freedom orally, in addition to a permanent gift of a house for their activities (Lindell 1997:
26). But when King Prithivinarayan Shah unified the small kingdoms in Nepal under his
hegemony, including those in the Kathmandu Valley, the fortunes of the Capuchins changed
drastically and decisively.In 1767 the ruler of Kathmandu requested the help of the British in
Bengal to protect his kingdom and drive away the forces of King Prithivinarayan Shah. The
British expeditionary forces were decimated and driven back by Prithivinarayan
forces.Prithivinarayan strongly suspected that the Capuchins played a role in getting the British
involved on behalf of the rulers of the Kathmandu valley, and in fact there is some evidence that
they did request some British help (Lindell 1997: 36).

As a result of this state of affairs, the land grants, freedoms and other facilities granted to the
Capuchins by the Malla kings were withdrawn by the new rulers. Thus the Capuchins decided to
leave the country in the light of the new political developments, and permission was granted in
February 1769 for them to evacuate.A group of about 60 Nepali converts were led out of the
country by one Capuchin priest, and the other priests also left soon afterwards (Lindell 1997: 36-
37). This groups of converts mostly settled in and around the town of Bettiah in Bihar (Lindell
1997: 37, Himal 1993, 38, Perry 1997). In retrospect, despite the intermittent presence of
Capuchins in Nepal since the 1700s, and their ability to sometimes operate under royal patronage
despite some reversals, their overall influence in the long run has been less than marginal. For
instance, some have suggested that the Capuchins were only able to convert about 80 adults
during their presence in Nepal, in addition to numerous dying children they managed to baptize
at the time of their deaths (Himal 1993: 38). Moreover, after their expulsion from the valley,
what remained of their institutional presence also disappeared (Lindell 1997: 37).

On the other hand, after their expulsion “Nepal was devoid of any resident Christian mission or
national presence until the mid 20th century” (Perry 1997: 17). In other words, after 1769 there
was effectively noChristian presence in Nepal until the early 1950s. This was part of the policy
of isolation adopted after the Anglo-Nepali war and the subsequent treaty in terms of which
Nepal lost much territory to British India (Lindell 1997: 40-41). This policy was pursued further
under the hegemony of the Rana Regime after Jung Bahadur Rana captured state power in Nepal
in 1846 by restricting the powers of the Kings, and turned them into puppet rulers who could not
leave the country. In effect, what this meantwas the establishment of an oligarchical system of
hereditary prime ministers dominated by the Rana family which lasted until 1951 when the
Ranas were over-powered.
The collapse of the Rana Regime in 1951, and the establishment of a new government marked
the second opening for Christianity in Nepal. In July 1951, Jesuit priest M.D. Moran opened St.
Xavier’s School for boys with 60 students.In January 1955, St. Mary’s School for girls was
opened also by the Jesuits (Lindell 1997: 126-128). These schools became the earliest examples
of missionary-led education in Nepal. In addition, these two schools in particular became the
centers of schooling for the children of the elite in Nepal, particularly in Kathmandu.Similarly, in
1952 the International Nepal Fellowship became the first large scale evangelical outfit to operate
in Nepal in the Post Rana period, and was soon followed by the United Mission to Nepal in 1954
(Lindell 1997, UMN & INF 1990). Since the early 1950s when Christianity made a second entry
into Nepal, both Catholic and non Catholic evangelical groups have grown in institutional terms
as well as in the number of adherents.But the phenomenal growth of the evangelical presence
began only in the 1990s.

The Legal and Constitutional Context of Religious

Dynamics in Nepal2

Prior to placing in context and analyzing the dynamics of evangelical Christianity in Nepal, it
seems to methat it would be useful to take into account the evolution of legal and legislative
frameworks governing the activities of religious groups which may impact upon the activities of
not only evangelical groups, but other religious groups as well.The state religion in Nepal is
Hinduism, and it is the only country in the world which is officially designated as a Hindu
Kingdom. That designation alone becomes a great political burden in the minds of many Nepalis,
particularly the more articulate nationalists in the capital. They believe that the essential
Hinduness of their kingdom is being threatened by non Hindu external influences, by which most
of them refer to Christianity. Thus one of the contexts in which the legislative and legal
frameworks governing religion as well as the reactions to evangelism have to be understood is,
the political logic of Nepal as the self designated Hindu Kingdom. In this context, I would like to
present clauses 1 and 2 of Chapter 16 of the Nepal Penal Code of 1956 which deals with “Crimes
with Regard to Religion” (Nepal Gazette, Part 4, No 17, September 1956):

1) None must purposefully spread or preach foreign religions such as Christianity, Islamism, etc.,
and must not convert anyone of Hindu race with the purpose of trespassing into the traditional
religion of the Hindu race in the Kingdom of Nepal. Those who commit such things and those
who convert or are converted into said religions are guilty.

2)If one attempts to spread religions or to convert any one as stated in sub-clause (1) of this
clause, he is liable to three years imprisonment.If the perpetrator of this crime is an alien, he will
be expelled from the country. The person who has attempted to take a foreign religion, will be
fined one hundred rupees. If he has been already converted, having completed the course of
punishment within one year, he must join the untouchable class of the Hindu race.

Clearly, in so far as freedom of religion is concerned these are extremely restrictive provisions,
which cannot be understood within a democratic idiom.But the provisions make a great deal of
sense in the context of the authoritarian structure of governance which wrote such provisions into
law, particularly when placed in the light of Nepal’s political legacy as a Hindu Kingdom. A
person who has converted, in addition to a prison term will also be declared as an untouchable,
the most degrading punishment that can be given to an individual in Hindu religious scheme of
justice.Interestingly however, none of these provisions seems to touch Buddhists or other non-
Hindus.The “crimes,” as perceived in these clauses, seem to refer to attempts to convert Hindus,
or Hindus being converted.Buddhists, Jains and Muslims do not figure in this scheme of things,
which invariably reflects the preoccupation with Nepal’s Hinduness.It is also in this context that
one has to place clause 14 of part 3 of the 1962 constitutiondealing with “Fundamental Duties
and Rights”:

“14 )Right to religion: Every person may profess his own religion as handed down from ancient
times and may practice it having regard to the traditions.Provided that no person shallbe entitled
to convert another person from one religion to another.”

Here, while there is no direct reference to Hinduism, the references to traditions and historical
continuity of one’s religion, by implication refers to Hinduism, and also in the absence of
specifications to other more entrenched religious traditions in Nepal such as Buddhism.But in
any event, there is no room for an individual to change his or her religion.After a revision in
1963, Part 4, Section 19, Article 1 of Nepal’s National and Civil Law Code makes the following
provisions with regard to religion:

1)No person shall propagate Christianity, Islam or any other faith so as to disrupt the traditional
religion of the Hindu community in Nepal, or to convert any adherent of the Hindu religion into
these faiths.A sentence of imprisonment for three years shall be awarded to any person
attempting to convert another. In case conversion has already been effected, imprisonment for
six years shall be awarded to the person converting another. If the case is against a foreign
citizen he shall, in addition be expelled from the country. In case any adherent of the Hindu
religion converts himself into any of the above mentioned religions, he shall be imprisoned for a
maximum period of one year; and if he is a foreign citizen he shall in addition be expelled from
the country.In case only an attempt has been made to be converted, a fine of Rs. 100 shall be
imposed. In case conversion has already been effected, it shall beinvalidated, and such person
shall remain in his Hindu religion.

Here once again, one can clearly see the preoccupation with Nepali Hinduness, and the severe
restrictions imposed upon religious mobility has to be understood in the context of perceived
threats to the continuity of that Hindu identity.In terms of the new Civil Code instituted in Nepal
in 1992 (Nepal Gazette, Part 2, Section 42), the law governing religious freedom was amended in
the following fashion:

Section 3, (A)

1)No person shall propagate any religion in a manner likely to undermine another religion, or
convert any one into another religion. In case he has only made an attempt to do so, he will be
punished with imprisonment not more than three years. In case he has already converted any one
into another religion, he shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than six years. If he is
a foreign national, he shall be deported from Nepal after completing such sentence.
(B) 1 (a)

In case any person does anything which undermines any religious place or religious function, he
may be punished with imprisonment for not more than three years, or with a fine of not more
than Rs. 3000.00 or with both.

What is interesting here is that in the 1992 revisions the overt preoccupation with Hinduism has
been removed to make room for more general provisions. Thus no one can propagate any
religion which may undermine another. But still, the punishments recommended for conversion
and encouraging conversions continue to be quite severe.Clauses 1 and 2 in part 3
(“Fundamental Rights”), section 19 (“Right to Religion”) ofthe 1990 constitution also makes
references to religion, and to the nature of mobility available to a person to convert from one
religion to another:

“1. Every person shall have the freedom to profess and practice his own religion as coming down
to him from perennial past with due regard to the traditional practices. Provided that no person
shall be entitled to convert another person from one religion to another.

2. Every religious community shall have the right to maintain independent existence, and for that
purpose to manage and protect its religious sites and trusts.”

What is evident here is that individuals seem to have religious freedom.For instance, they can
practice any religion that they have inherited from the perennial past, even though the length of
that past is not defined. On the other hand, while it is still illegal for an individual to convert
another, there is nothing to stop an individual from converting himself. But even in that case,
clause 1 above referring to religion as something that must come from the perennial past, may
easily preclude that. But in contemporary Nepal, irrespective of the above possibility, there is no
state intervention to investigate or punish individuals who in theory bring upon their own
conversion to Christianity from Hinduism, Buddhism or some other religion.The risk of
punishment in practice is faced by foreign or local missionaries who engage in overt
proselytizing.

But what is important to take into account is that, due to the extremely restrictive regulations
governing religion, the gains of Christianity ingeneral (evangelical or otherwise) were minimal
prior to the 1950s. But their collective gains after 1990 are much more substantial. For
instance,according to unofficial estimates there seem to have been a mere 50 professed
Christians in the country in 1950. That number in 1990 had arisen to 25,000 or 35,000. In
addition, there were 30 people in prison on conversion related charges, and another 200 had
cases pending in different courts for similar charges (Shah 1993: 35).By 1993, the number of
baptized Christians reportedly surpassed 100, 000 mark, while some Christian sources suggest
that there is a similar number of “secret believers” (Shah 1993: 35). One major reason for the
increase in numbers is the relaxation of legal hurdles, which earlier seriously restricted religious
mobility.

The Expansion of Evangelical Christianity in Nepal:


The Politics and the Rhetoric

As the description above would indicate, one important socio-political context to situate the
expansion of evangelism in Nepal is the relaxation of the legal restrictions governing religious
mobility.This has ensured that a significant expansion has occurred not only in the overall
numbers of individual Christians, but also in the institutional presence and influence of the
collective evangelical movement.For instance, in 1993 there were 150 different evangelical or
Protestant churches organized under the umbrella organizationNepal Christian Fellowship (Shah
1993: 37). Similarly, in 1990 the United Mission to Nepal alone brought together 37 separate
evangelical churches from about 16 countries (UMN and INF 1990). In 1997 that number had
increased to 50 churches or church related organizations from 16 countries (Metzler
1997).Similarly, in 1990 the International Nepal Fellowship claimed to have 100 members from
approximately 15 countries with home councils in Australia, Holland, New Zealand, the
Philippines, and so on (UMN & INF 1990).By 1993, Christian sources suggested that there were
at least one church in each of the 75 districts in Nepal, and in the same year the Kathmandu
Valley alone is supposed to have had 100 churches and congregations (Shah 1993: 35).Some
evangelical sources have suggested that there are at least 80 churches in the Kathmandu Valley
(Good News of Nepal, ND: 6).Nepali Jesuit sources in interviews suggested that the number of
evangelical churches and para-church groups in the country in 1998 were over three hundred,
even though it was not possible to acquire accurate figures from them or evangelical sources. On
the other hand, Fr. John Locke of the Nepali Jesuits believes that in numbers alone, the collective
congregations of evangelical/ Protestant Christians now outnumber Catholics in Nepal despite
Catholicism’s much longer institutional presence in the country. An incomplete list of these
church and para-church groups would include the following, some of which are organized under
umbrella organizations such the United Mission to Nepal and the Nepal Christian Fellowship:

1.United Mission to Nepal

2.Nepal Christian Fellowship.

3.International Nepal Fellowship

4.Nava Jeevan Church

5.The Children of God

6.The Four Square Church

7.Assemblies of God

8.Baptist Missionary Society, UK

9.Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

10.Church Missionary Society


11.Church of North India

12.Church of Scotland

13.Church of South India

14.Lutheran World Service.

15.World Vision

16.Committee for Service Overseas

17.Danish Santal Mission

18.Evangelical Free Church of Finland

19.Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

20.Finish Evangelical Luthran Mission

21.Gossner Mission

22.Interserve/ BMMF

23.Japan Antioch Mission

24.Japan Overseas Christian Medical Cooperative Service

25.Korea Christian Medico-Evangelical Association

26.Campus Crusade for Christ

27.Mennonite Board of Missions

28.Mennonite Central Committee

29.Norwegian Himal-Asia Mission

30.Orebro Mission

31.Presbyterian Church in Canada

32.Presbyterian Church in Ireland

33.Presbyterian Church in Korea


34.Presbyterian Church Synod of Mizoram, India.

35.Presbyterian Church USA

36.Regions Beyond Missionary Union

37.Swedish Free Mission

38.Swiss Friends for Missions in India and Nepal

39.Tear Fund

40.United Church of Canada

41.United Church of Christ in Japan

42.United Methodist Church (USA)

43.Wesleyan Church

44.World Concern, USA

45.World Mission Prayer League

46.Nepal Every Home Concern

47.Adventist Development and Relief Agency

48.Jehovah’s Witness

49.The Evangelical Alliance Mission

50.The Mormon Church

51.Nepal Bible Society

52.Good News of Nepal

53.Bible Training Centre for Pastors

54.Morning Pastors Fellowship

55.Gathsamani Church

Another important consideration for the expansion of the evangelical movement in Nepal is the
availability of large resources as alreadyreferred to earlier. On the other hand, Shah in a 1993
essay has argued that the “proddings of some Western governments have also influenced the
growth of Christianity in Nepal by tempering official attitudes” (Shah 1993: 36).He refers to a
resolution passed by the US Congress in June 1991 requesting the interim government which
ruled Nepal at the time to ensure that the freedom of religion also include the “freedom “to
change one’s religion or belief and the freedom, in public or private, to manifest one’s religious
belief in teaching, practice, worship and observances” (Shah 1993: 36).Moreover, according to
Shah, along with this request “subtle hints were dropped about a drop in the aid flow if Nepal
continued its anti-church posture” (Shah 1993: 36).Moreover, on other occasions, the US
government has shown more direct affinity with the collective evangelical movement in Nepal
through symbolic associations.For instance, in 1993 when President Clinton attended the annual
Prayer Breakfast in Washington along with Christian leaders from around the world, senators,
congressmen and members of the diplomatic corps, Nepali Pastor Simon Peter (earlier known as
Ram Saran Nepal) was also invited to attend in recognition of his “outstanding contribution in
the Pentecostal movement through the Four Square Church” (Shah 1993: 36).

But the expansion of the evangelical movement in Nepal cannot be explained in a simplistic
manner adopting a reductionist approach which would privilege one factor over another.Clearly,
all of the factors outlined above played significant roles in the overall process of this
expansion.But nevertheless what is more important is to place in context the socio-political
reasons which may have aided this process of expansion in such a short period of time, a process
that could not take place in the early years of Capuchin interventions. Like in the case of Sri
Lanka, one of the major problems that would immediately confront an academic investigation of
this process is the total lack of scholarly literature on the subject. Instead, one could only find
literature produced by various evangelical groups, which generally deal with their activities from
their own point of view or propaganda tracts and newspaper articles produced by those who
oppose the evangelical presence. Most of this latter group consist of Hindu nationalists. On the
other hand, many city-based professionals including sociologists who complain about the
prevailing situation, or have an opinion about it, can at most produce anecdotal comments and
narratives rather than considered opinions.Thus, until serious research is undertaken, and carried
out over an extended period of time, this lack of knowledge would always be a problem in the
process of understanding the dynamics of evangelical Christianity in Nepal.

As opposed to this lack of formal academic or scholarly knowledge, there are numerous informal
sources of knowledge, which mostly constitute of ordinary people’s narratives about conversions
and evangelical activities.Many such narratives clearly point to a reality that is seldom
acknowledged by the critics of the new religious dynamism, but nevertheless is important in
understanding these dynamics. That is, in addition to the availability of resources, the
liberalization of politics and the opening up of the country to external influences there were other
much more compelling reasons within Nepali society which have created a space for the
collective evangelical project to operate and succeed.In other words, existing socio-political and
economic conditions made some people in society quite receptive to the activities of evangelical
groups. Much of these conditions are located in the poverty, lack of access to essential services,
and the nature of hierarchical social organization in Nepali society. Nepal is the poorest country
in South Asia, with a per capita income below US $ 200.00.In addition, about 40 percent of the
people live below the poverty line (IDEA 1997: 9). Summarizing these kinds of conditions, Shah
has observed that “poverty stricken, populous Nepal was ripe with possibilities for the
missionary” (Shah 1993: 36). He argues further:

“---the success of the proselytizers might also be a simple case of people responding to need and
poverty.Case to case, free medical treatment, scholarships, employment, or even a change of
clothes and a meal might work as an adequate incentive for adopting another religion” (Shah
1993: 36).

Of course, the material or monetary based explanations of conversion usually come as an


allegation from those who oppose evangelical activity.It is however, under-emphasized by those
who engage in such activity.But the point is that, in the context of both Sri Lanka and Nepal, that
reality cannot be forgotten.In other words, money and the ability to offer scarce resources are
important factors in evangelical activity.What is clear is that in 1998, the activities of evangelists
were being vehemently opposed by a number of groups as well as individuals representing both
Hindu and Buddhist religious interests, and some Catholics as well.Many of the complaints
however, were not focused on the development oriented work of the evangelists, but on what
some critics have termed ‘out right conversion.’ As in the campaign against evangelical activity
and conversions in Sri Lanka, in Nepal also a number of groups have called for state intervention
in controlling or banning the activities of evangelical groups.It is then in this context that the
following demands of the National Executive Committee of the World Hindu Federation
(Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh) should be understood:

“A Ministry of Religion and Culture must be formed in order to check the anti-Hindu
propaganda being conducted by international non-governmental organizations. Political parties
should pledge to protect the Hindu religion in their manifestoes --- Several actions must be taken
to check attacks on the Hindu religion”(Kantipur, 26 February 1998. Quoted in Nepal Press
Digest, Vol. 42, No. 10, 9 March 1998).

The reference to anti-Hindu propaganda by international NGOs is an indication of the emergence


of an anti evangelical strain in the polemics of Nepali politics. Given the entrenched nature of the
evangelical movement in Nepal, many in fact work through NGOs. Moreover, many churches or
para-church groups are operationally organized in much the samemanner as an ordinary NGO
would be. On the other hand, the insistence that political parties should pledge to protect the
Hindu religion in their party manifestoes is an attempt to take the issue of proselytizing and
conversions beyond the state structures into the realm of national politics in general. In other
words, the demand here is to make a pro-Hindu position an essential pre-requisite in politics in
Nepal. Interestingly however, the concern here is only towards Hinduism, and not towards
Buddhism or any other belief system in the country. Other demands from the World Hindu
Federation include the following:

“HMG (His Majesty’s Government) should make arrangements for free teaching of five percent
of children living below the line of poverty in private educational institutions. Actions should be
taken against organizations which are engaged in missionary activities --- The Sanskrit language
and culture should be included in the curricula of educational institutions” (Gorkhapatra, 3
March 1998).

Here again, the demands made can be considered as those that the Hindu opponents believe
would weaken the evangelical movement, and strengthen their own position. For instance, the
demand that free teaching should be made available in private educational institutions for five
percent of children living below the level poverty is not merely an effort to improve educational
access of poor Nepali children. More importantly, it is also an attempt to gain Hindu access to
educational institutions run by evangelical or Catholic groups. While such educational
institutions may not bar non Christians from registering in their schools, there is a strong
perception that discrimination does take place in these schools. In some cases this accusation
may in fact be correct. Moreover, the demand that Sanskrit be taught in schools is based on the
belief that Sanskrit is the traditional language of the Hindu religion. As one middle class Nepali
government official based in Kathmandu linked to the Wold Hindu Federation explained, “If
they can ask our children to study the Bible in their schools, why cannot we as the majority,
demand that they study Sanskrit? In fact, we should insist that they study the Vedas in their
schools, if they want to remain here.”The politics of religion reflected in such demands and
antagonisms tend to continue. Thus in July 1998 the World Hindu Federation Unit in the Jhapa
District decided to:

“mobilize youths for the protection and promotion of the Hindu religion and culture in the face
of efforts made by Christian missionaries to convert poor and innocent Nepalis into Christianity
through economic allurements” (Gorkhapatra, 31 July 1998).

It is clear that at a certain level, anti-evangelical politics in Nepal is gaining a certain momentum
in national politics. Such momentum coupled with confrontational tactics such as the
mobilization of youth referred to above, can pave the way to violence, which at the moment
remain fundamentally at the level of conflict formation. At this point, it seems to me that it
would be useful to look into the dynamics and the modes of operation of the collective
evangelical movement in Nepal by focussing on their most significant activities.

Medical Services and Health Care as Strategies of

Evangelical Activity in Nepal

In general, one reason for the relative success of evangelical groups in Nepal has been their
abilityfrom very early times to correctly figure out the proper strategies to adopt to pursue their
goals. In this context it is very clear that in Nepal many evangelical groups have placed a high
premium on health and medical care activities.Evangelical activity throughout South Asia as
elsewhere is not simply a matter of preaching or distribution of literature. Such procedures, while
quite important, are too didactic in themselves to succeed. They have to be accompanied by other
more pragmatic activities clearly rooted in the routine issues people have to deal with in their
daily lives. In other words, such activities are the mediums through which the overall agenda of
the evangelical movement will be channeled. In this sense, I would suggest that health care and
medical services are among the most important mediums of evangelical activity in Nepal.

This emphasis on medical care and health services makes perfect sense in a country where such
services are not well established or access limited, particularly in the remote areas.This general
lack of access to medical services in the country is typified by the ratherlopsided doctor patient
ratio. For instance, it is estimated that for every one doctor in Nepal there are 12, 612 people. For
India this figure is 2, 165 people per one doctor (RCSS 1998: 8).That comparison alone would be
sufficient to indicate the general picture of the health-care system in the country. Then it is no
surprise that many of the evangelical groups initially entered the country in order to carry out
medical or related services. Many of them are still engaged in such activities. The other reality is
that given the long-term interests and planning evangelical groups have had in the health-care
system and the availability of funds, they have also established some of the best hospitals and
medical services in the country.

Let me take the activities of the United Mission to Nepal (UMN)as an example of how important
medical and health-care services havebecome in its overall activities. UMN was officially
established in 1954, three years after the country opened up its borders to external influences.But
in the initial period it was specifically known as the United Medical Mission, and under that
name was active even in the period 1951-52 when it was asked by the Nepali government to
commence operations in Nepal by initiating hospital projects, health services and clinics (Lindell
1997: 235, UMN & INF 1989-1990). Even though its interests soon diversified, the initial
interests in health and medical services remained, first with an emphasis on curative medicine,
which later led to an emphasis on preventive care through community health programs (UMN &
INF 1989-1990).Officially, in so far as medical and health care is concerned, the mandate of the
UMN is to assist the Ministry of Health in Nepal in “planning, managing and providing health-
care to the people of Nepal” (UMN & INF 1989-1990).UMN’s medical and health-care activities
are organized under its Health Services Department. Currently it runs four hospitals in Amp
Pipal/Gorkha, Okhaldhunga, Patan/Lalitpur and Tansen/Palpa.In addition, it also conducts a
number of community health-care programs in association with local base hospitals.Other
programs include, the operation of a nursing training institute, a medical supplies department, a
drug abuse prevention program, an oral health program, and a mental health program (UMN &
INF 1989-1990).

Similarly, the International Nepal Fellowship which started operations in 1952, initially as the
Nepal Evangelical Band, also has a serious involvement in providing health-care. For instance,
INF works with government medical services in leprosy and tuberculosis control programs
(UMN & INF 1989-1990).To this end, it runs the Green Pastures Leprosy Hospital based in
Pokhara, which provides reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation and orthopedic appliances and
services for patients. In addition, through field operations in collaboration with the government,
INF also operates regional and sub-regional referral centers, as well as case finding and defaulter
tracing services (UMN & INF 1989-1990).The INF also has a tuberculosis control program
coordinated through its regional office in Surkhet. The programme, which operates in Mid
Western Nepal offers such services as case finding and defaulter tracing (UMN & INF 1989-
1990). In addition to the UMN and INF, a number of other evangelical groups also offer medical
services.These include the Seventh Day Adventists who initiated a hospital in 1957 in Banepa.
Similarly, the Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) took over an existing clinic in Dadeldhura
in the far west in 1968, and developed it into a hospital (Shah 1993: 39).

But the provision of health care and medical services is not merely a lofty ideal of social service.
As I have stressed earlier, it is an avenue of evangelical activity as well. Let me make this point
by referring to aconversation I had with a European development worker with extensive field
experience in Nepal:

“In Dadeldhura in the far west of Nepal there is a hospital run by the TEAM (The Evangelical
Alliance Mission).It is an area where people in some villages have to walk for a couple of days
to reach any kind of health services. The guys at the TEAM hospital I think are very strong on
evangelical activity.It is the primary reason why they are there. They not only treat people in the
hospital but venture into the remote areas with medicines regularly. That helps a lot of people.
You pop some antibiotics in the mouth of a villager and he gets well. And they would say that it
was God who did the healing --- Just imagine, what that kind of gesture does to people who have
for all practical purposes seem to have been forgotten by everyone else, including their own
government?They continue to get some access to health and medical services, and the process of
conversion goes a long way in establishing this link of help.”

In the final analysis however, the provision of medical services and health care makes a
significant difference to large numbers of people who ultimately benefit from them. In this
context, I would like to make a limited attempt to assess how ordinary people perceive the issue
of health care, and evangelical intervention. Let me begin by referring to a conversation I had
with a 28 year old Tamang man who lives in a village in Kaure District in Nepal.After getting to
know that I was interested in talking to local Christians, he wanted to talk to me about a group of
35-45 Christians who lived in areas between his village and the town of Bhaktapur. He knows
some of them personally. The relevant part of his narrative unfolds as follows:

“I am a Buddhist.But since I work for Brahmins now, I engage in some Hindu practices as well.
Near my village, people who convert are mostly over 30 years. People say that they do not get
sick after they convert. Once they become Christians we do not mix much with them.”

A number of observations made by this man are quite significant in this brief narrative, which is
a narrative from a person who has observedconversions, but has not converted himself. For one,
despite his admission of religious syncretism in the way he practices his routine rituals, he is
very clear that he and his fellow villagers do not mix with those who have become
Christians.Suddenly, neighbors and friends seem to have become strangers. Thus in a social
context such as this, to renounce one’s faith which is still shared by one’s neighbors, friends and
kin, and to become a Christian for whatever reasons is not an easy decision to make. Such
decisions are wrought with fear, guilt, stress, and the constant worry of being ostracized. Thus to
come to such decisions, certain basic ideological/ spiritual, institutional and material
requirements must be met.Part of the logic of conversion is located within these requirements.

Second, despite the fact that he is wary of those who convert, he is convinced, as are his fellow
villagers that the converts do not become sick after their conversions. Here there are clear
references to both ostracization after conversion, and also an admission of a belief that people
who convert become healthy. To my question whether people in his vicinity often fall sick, the
man simply said, “they are always sick.”This narrative, in many ways is typical of the kind of
narratives one may encounter from someone who has not converted in any site of evangelization.
Conversion narratives or counter-conversion narratives, whether in Nepal or elsewhere always
contain a certain set of “rationales.”These are the rationale of the person who converted and the
rationale of those around that person who did not convert. Much of the dynamics of conversions
can be understood by focussing on these twin rationales. As we would see later in this analysis,
the conversion narratives and existing field information clearly suggest that in Nepal, practical,
routine and mundane considerations seem to have played an important part in prompting people
to convert to evangelical Christianity than due to clearly articulated ideological or spirituals
awakenings. Thus for the people referred to in the above narratives, a healthy life was perhaps
much more important than reaching any clearly articulated spiritual goal.

Distribution of Literature and the Provision of Education as

Strategies of Evangelical Activity in Nepal

To their credit, evangelical activists have been quick to recognize not only existing conditions in
Nepali society that would serve as a context for their activities, but also how to address them in a
manner that would allow the overall evangelical project to succeed in the long run. For one,
along with the resources already mentioned, they have also brought with them to Nepal an
efficient system of planning, organization and operation. In the case of some groups, this means
that ambitious programs have been initiated. Some such programs have not been focused on the
present, but the future.For instance, the Nepal Every Home Concern has targeted to reach every
home in Nepal with the word of God by year 2000.To achieve its goal, the group had trained 1,
200 students in evangelical work in 1992 alone (Shah 1993: 36). Similarly, as part of the “AD
2000” project, the overall evangelical movement hopes to provide a Bibleto every household and
establishing a church in every Village Development Committee area by year 2000 (Rokaya
1996: 30).In the same vein,interested evangelical workers anywhere in the world can visit the
website the Joshua Project 2000-Unreached People Profile, which will inform you about groups
of people in Nepal (and other countries) who need to be accessed by evangelical groups. Thus
for instance, talking about the Thami people, the website (www.ad 2000.org) informs browsers
that no church planting (establishment of churches) has taken place in the area inhabited by the
Thami, and that there are at present no Christians among them. The easy availability of such
information itself clearly indicates the organizational sophistication of the evangelical project in
general.

The power and potential of literature or the written language have not been overlooked by
evangelists despite the fact that Nepal’s adult literacy rate is as low as 27.0% (RCSS 1998: 8). I
would suggest that this emphasis is morea long term strategy looking into the future, rather than
a short term strategy geared for present needs. For instance, in 1992, the Nepal Bible Society
distributed 5, 896 copies of the Bible, 14, 126 tracts of the New Testament, and 183, 450 other
booklets, and 557, 300 pamphlets (Shah 1993: 38).Similarly, many other organizations also
distribute evangelical literature through mail, while audio and film versions of religious tracts are
also available for screening or listening. On the other hand, the New Testament is now available
in 15 local dialects other than Nepali. These include, Gurung, Newari, Tamang, Rai, Chepang,
Kham, Magar etc.Much of this literature is co-produced by the Nepal Bible Society and the
International Bible Society (Shah 1993: 38). In addition, the number of Christian book stores in
the country has also increased in recent times as have the number of regular Christian
publications published in Nepal itself.These publications include monthly newsletters such
as Kanchan, Udgoshana and magazines such as Mahan and Bodhartha as well as English
language publications such as The Good News of Nepal. This relatively large output of literature
takes place irrespective of the low rate of literacy in the country.The rationale for this strategy is
not immediately clear, unless of course it is assumed that these activities are part of a long
termsstrategy. One foreign evangelist involved in the production and distribution of such
literature in Nepal observed:

“Much of these are currently meant for people in the cities and others who can read. But to own
a Bible or religious literature one does not have to read. For many of them, having these in itself
is a source of strength.When their children grow up, they will be familiar with this material.And
that generation probably will be able to read them too. It is that generation that we hope would
become Christians.”

But there are many who are also quite skeptical of the effect of this literature. For instance,
Catholic activists in Nepal who places the least emphasis on proselytizing today, are quite wary
of the bombardment of literature. Their skepticism was summarized by one Catholic professional
in Kathmandu:

“In Nepal, given the prevailing conditions, one cannot expect people to read. If at all, you have
to preach to them. But for these fundamentalists, the Bible is everything. And since they have the
money it is easy to print and distribute Bibles and other literature in large numbers. They
measure their success on the basis of the volume of things they distribute. But whether people
read them, throw them away or use them as wrapping paper is quite another thing. For them
one Bible distributed means the birth of a Christian. But that may not be so.”

The criticism leveled against evangelists above has much merit in the contemporary context. But
whether such activity would pay off in the long run as many evangelists expect, is something that
remains to be seen.The greater success of the evangelical project comes from much more visible
activities directly addressing the problems ordinary people face on a daily basis.

Education is yet another important arena of evangelical activity.As a matter of fact, elite
education in the modern sense in Nepal began with the opening of St. Xavier’s School for boys
in Kathmandu in the early 1950s by Jesuits.Today, they have such schools in Pokhara, Gorkha
and Damak.While the Catholics still have an edge over elite education in Nepal, evangelical
groups have also entered the realm of education. For instance, UMN is also involved in a number
of education programs in many parts of the country. Though UMN started a number of schools
early on in its activities, they were later nationalized by the government. After that, it provided
teachers for some schools. In Pokhara UMN was involved in developing Gandaki Boarding
School as the country’s first regional school where students were given instruction in English
medium (UMN & INF 1989-1990). In addition, UMN carries out teacher training programmes in
its campuses in Pokhara and Butwal, while it also runs a Business school in Kathmandu to train
Nepalis for secretarial and related work (UMN & INF 1989-1990). In association with the
government, the UMN has also started the Karnali Technical School in Jumla, one of the most
remote areas of the country (UMN & INF 1989-1990). In addition, many small evangelical
groups are also involved in providing basic education for children such as nursery classes.
Rural and Industrial Development as Strategies

of Evangelical Activity in Nepal

The other major activity a large number of evangelical groups are involved in could be broadly
categorized as rural and industrial development.Again, UMN is the leader in this field in so far as
evangelical groups are concerned. But many smaller groups are involved in different aspects of
such ventures as well. A separate institutional structure specifically dealing with rural
development as such, was added to UMN’s extensive institutional organization in 1986 (UMN &
INF 1989-1990). The organization’s own rationale for creating a rural development structure has
been explained in the following words reminiscent of the rhetoric of the so called participatory
development processes:

“In creating UMN’s RD (rural development) work, the essential shift in thinking was away from
offering services at a distance, to a commitment to live in those communities and let the people
decide what we are to become involved in” (UMN & INF 1989-1990).

In practical terms, the interest in rural development and the commitment to base their operations
in specifically selected areas, gives UMN a visible institutional presence in these areas.It was not
merely a situation where “experts” visited for a few days to “advise” local people on farming
techniques etc. In that sense, the rural development program expanded UMN institutional
network and the sphere of influence.UMN has developed a support system to implement its rural
development projects. The most important component of this system consists of fieldworkers
who are based in the actual locations where specific programs are initiated (UMN & INF 1989-
1990). Like most of its projects UMN argues that a presence is established in an area to carry out
its rural development work “with the full consent and support of the respective government
department” (UMN & INF 1989-1990). It is interesting however, that in this statement no
reference is made to the consent of the local people. In any event, critics see such work in a
much more different light than UMN’s official position.As one Hindu based in Kathmandu
observed:

“Lets face it. Rural development is no different from offering medical services or education.
They are all devices for the Christians to propagate their faith.If they cannot do that, there will be
no rural development projects, or schools or anything else.”

When it comes toindustrial development, the UMN has a rather extensive organizational and
institutional structure as well as a visible sphere of influence. Moreover, it has undertaken some
serious initiatives and achieved a number of spectacular results. As such, the organization has a
monopoly in this area, which in many ways rivals the efforts of the state.One of the strengths of
UMN has been its large size and ability to generate extensive operational funds. These abilities
have given it the means to work on large scale and ambitious projects. For instance, in 1993
UMN had a budget of US$ 10 million, and 35 different projects were in operation in different
parts of Nepal (Shah 1993: 39).In many ways, UMN has been a pioneer in a number of
successful and much needed industrial projects, including the generation of hydro electric power.
For instance, it was through its intervention and financial support that the following
electrification projects were started: the 12 Mega Watt (MW) Jhimruk Project in Pyuthan, the 5
MW Andi Kola Project in Syanjha and the 60 MW Khimti Project in Ramechhap (Shah 1993:
39, UMN & INF 1989-1990). Andi Kola project has been conceptualized not simply as a hydro
electric venture, but also as an integrated rural development project which attempts to provide
rural electrification, irrigation, resource conservation, literacy work and the supply of drinking
water (UMN & INF 1989-1990). The significance in these projects is not merely the group’s
contributions towards electricity generation in the country, but building indigenous capacity for
power generation.

On the other hand, many of the larger UMN projects, particularly in industrial development, do
not represent situations of pumping money into some unviable ventures, but initiating and
running successful businesses and essential services. For instance, the hydro-electric power
projects referred to above were coordinated and implemented by three of itsaffiliated companies
which are, among other things, engaged in consultancy services, turbine manufacture and
construction.

According to UMN itself, the organization’s involvement in industrial development began in


1963 after the establishment of the Butwal Technical Institute to train Nepalis in the fields of
mechanics, metal work, construction trades, electronics and accounting (UMN & INF 1989-
1990). The four year courses at the institute are designed as production cum training operations
where what is produced by the trainees as part of their training is sold, which in turn help cover
costs (UMN & INF 1989-1990). UMN has stated that the rationale for its involvement in the
industrial sector grew out of the belief that it is necessary to “develop and adapt technologies
which are appropriate for production and use in Nepal” (UMN & INF 1989-1990).Specifically to
deal with industrial research, UMN has also established an agency called the Development and
Consultancy Services (UMN & INF 1989-1990). Through this research organization and UMN
manufacturing ventures, the technologies and products that have been developed for use in Nepal
include bio-gas technology, specialized pumps for village water supply, water driven mills for
food processing, milling and mustard oil extraction, and low wattage cookers for village
electrification (UMN & INF 1989-1990).

But even as an institution, UMN should not be taken only as a story of success.It appears that its
larger projects, organized as business ventures, are clearly not only successes but also ventures
that provide services while making profits.But like many smaller projects undertaken by
numerous evangelical groups, smaller UMN projects have run into problems and criticisms. One
of the better documented cases of failure is UMN’s community development program in the
village of Toplang in Dhading, which was launched in 1990 through its affiliated organization,
the Natural Resources Management Project (NRMP). The project’s aims were to inculcate a
sense of general awareness about community development in the first year, and to initiate
community forest management programs in the next two years.To implement the program the
NRMP selected a villager who was a community leader who was to work as a development
worker (Mainali 1997: 33).

As part of the project, every household was encouraged to construct pit latrines, which improved
sanitary conditions while the setting up of taps to supply drinking water also meant that the time
consumed for fetching water could be saved considerably.In addition, large scale re-forestation
was undertaken (Mainali 1997: 34). NRMP phased out from Toplang in 1993, and from other
nearby villages in latter years (Mainali 1997: 34).That phasing out marked the end of the
apparent success of the project.Due to lack of maintenance, most of the latrines collapsed, and
villagers seem to have lost interest in community development very soon. Under these
conditions, they burnt the forest to make charcoal, which brought them good and quick money in
Kathmandu (Mainali 1997: 34). As Mainali has observed within a very short period of time
“Toplang lost trace of most of what it had achieved between 1990 and 1993” (Mainali 1997: 34).

In many ways, what happened in Toplang is indicative of project failures not merely in
evangelical ventures, but development projects in general.According to the community leader
who was recruited by the NRMP to provide local leadership for its project, the reason for failure
was the phasing out of the project at a time when people’s expectations had been raised, and just
when the “villagers had started to gather momentum” (Mainali 1997: 34). Moreover, further
frustration set in when villagers could not generate external assistance to keep the project
running (Mainali 1997: 34). A more important reason which is directly relevant to this analysis
has been offered by the man who directed NRMP initiatives in Toplang. According to him, the
villagers lost confidence in the community leader selected by the NRMP when he decided to
become a Christian (Mainali 1997: 34). According to some reports, local villagers who were
mostly Buddhists and Hindus had also complained to local authorities regarding the conversion
of this key individual(Mainali 1997: 34).

The conversion of this individual as the main reason for the project’s failure is not without
merit.For one thing, it comes from within the NRMP itself.Second, in 1994 the Chief district
Officer of Dhading had expressed concerns over the activities of two foreign NRMP workers in
the area.This government officer thought that these two individuals were more interested in
proselytizing than on development (Mainali 1997: 35). One argument is that the initial
inducement for the community leader and his daughter to convert came from these two
individuals. If these arguments are correct, then it would appear as Mainali has argued that,
“what was done by NRMP as an organization was undone by two of its own staff” (Mainali
1997: 35).

Social Services as Social Services or Part of Evangelical Agenda?

In the discussion thus far I have outlined the emphasis placed on medical and health services,
education, rural and industrial development and other such development initiatives by
evangelical groups in Nepal, particularly the important and influential groups such as UMN,
INF, TEAM etc. Within this context, I would like to pose two questions to continue with my
analysis: is there a serious religious basis or evangelical agenda in these projects?Alternatively,
are these services simply provided for the sake of social services and the betterment of human
lives where religion plays no role?It seems to me that the case of Toplang I have discussed in the
previous section has given some provisional answers to these questions.In any event, an
investigation into these kinds of questions would be a hazardous journey given the nature of
emotions and sentiments involved, and depending on who one talks to.Shah makes the following
observations with regard to this issue:

“While some missionary agencies may be ambivalent about whether they want to ‘do
development’ or use it merely as a means to proselytize, most are committed to the latter ---the
proselytizing compulsion seems to take the higher priority for almost every organization” (Shah
1993: 39)

Commenting further on the correlation between the social service and development agenda of
evangelical groups on one hand, and their religious or proselytizing agenda on the other, Shah
further argues that:

“With emphasis on saving the soul rather than the body, development work and social service are
only the means to an end, a means to win heathen souls for Christ now, or if that is not feasible
immediately, to prepare the ground for future conversions” (Shah 1993: 40).

On the other hand, this correlation is something that a number of evangelical workers did
acknowledge in private, even though almost never in any public forums. Nevertheless, certain
actions and expressed opinions on the part of some of these organizations also make it clear that
the materialist and religious agendas are closely linked. For instance, take the Friends of Tansen,
the newsletter published by the UMN hospital in Tansen. While giving news about staff training,
available facilities and other medical and hospital news, the newsletter also presents some ideas
which have a clear religious bias or agenda. For one thing, the motto on the title page of the
newsletter reads: “We Serve; Jesus Heals” (Friends of Tansen, # 4, 1997).Similarly, the news of
the death of a UMN worker and a brief sketch on another female UMN worker at Tansen are
clearly presented within a Christian religious idiom. Thus the dead man is remembered as a
person who was willing to work for people, “a willingness that sprang from his compassion for
others and love for Jesus Christ” (Friends of Tansen, # 4, 1997: 6). In the same vein, the woman
identified as Sister Manumit is quoted as saying that her ability to work with patients was a gift,
and a “special blessing from God” (Friends of Tansen, # 4, 1997: 6). Such insertions of course go
a long way in establishing the religious emphasis of the organization, particularly in a context
where the views of other religionists who also work for the organization or benefit from its work
are absent in these texts.

On the other hand, since the initial days of missionary intrusion into Nepal, the nature and goals
of social service have pre-occupied many evangelistswho have come to the country since the
1950s. This has particularly been the case due to the fact that when the Nepali governments since
the 1950s allowed various missions to operate in the country, it was primarily to gain their
money and expertise in ‘developing’ the country. In that context, the General Agreements signed
between the post 1950s governments and the missions, expressly prohibited proselytizing, and
made it clear that missions should only work towards achieving the goals of various development
projects for which they had been granted permission.It is in this context of contradictory
expectations of the missions/churches and the Nepali state that Lindell makes the following
observations in his book Nepal and the Gospel of God:

“The term in the Agreement which restricts converting and the term allowing many forms of
service both have sent the Mission into deep study of the New Testament to understand better
just what the Lord assigns it to do in the place where it is” (Lindell 1997: 255).

Specifically talking about the United Mission to Nepal, Lindell further states that
missionaries/evangelists have found certain answers to these questions in the New
Testamentitself:

“The Mission finds Jesus’ words after His resurrection aparticularly fine summary of His overall
instructions to disciples about mission when He said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent me,
even so I send you (John 20: 21)” (Lindell 1997: 255).

“Another instruction in the Letter to Colossians has prodded the Mission people over the years to
study, prayer and application in their lives. They have placed it as an aim in their Constitution. It
is the word: ‘Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus’
(Col. 3: 17)” (Lindell 1997: 255-256).

I would suggest that the quotations above identified by Lindell places in context the manner in
which evangelical activities, in all their forms, can be placed within a religious paradigm.In fact,
that is usually the way it is done, as the examples from the Friends of Tansenquoted above also
illustrate. The point is that, in the final analysis there is no clear division as secular and religious
in the activities of evangelists.That is, all secular and materialist projects are ultimately based on
a religious or evangelical principle, which is to spread the word of god.However, in the process
of operationalizing this religious ideal, much needed services also get done as the discussion
above would have illustrated.

Compared to the situation in Sri Lanka, there is a major difference in the nature of the
evangelical presence and activity in Nepal. In Nepal, the collective evangelical movement
occupies a rather entrenched position in important sections within Nepali society and
economy.Thus the evangelists are a dominant presence in fields such as the health-care sector,
education, and industrial development. Thus, the state itself is dependent upon their presence and
continued support.This has in a sense created an extremely powerful operational structure within
large evangelical organizations such as UMN. Moreover, as a collective of groups, such
organizations are able to carry out services in a much more efficientmanner than the parallel state
structures. In this sense, it would appear that evangelical presence and their service sector
activities have become an essential part of routine Nepali reality.

However, at this point I would hasten to make one minor observation.That is, even though I have
attempted to make a distinction betweenservice and proselytizing, at another level it may not be
easy to separate these categories. I have already raised this issue in the latter part of the chapter
dealing with the situation in Sri Lanka.Stated more specifically, in the context of Christian
tradition in general, it may be difficult to conceptually separate service activities of evangelical
groups from their proselytizing activities, given the fact that proselytizing itself and service have
tremendous biblical backing. I would attempt to explore this issue further in the conclusion.
Conclusion: The Activities of Christian Evangelical Groups, and the Possibility of Conflict
and Violence in South Asia?
Let me briefly place in perspective what I have attempted to achieve thus far in the preceding
chapters. In the first chapter I attempted to iron out certain theoretical and conceptual difficulties
such as the use and abuse of the word fundamentalism, and the overlap in the use of the words
fundamentalism and evangelism. In addition, in that chapter I also reviewed pertinent literature
that would shed light on issues and types of conversion, conversion narratives, and in general set
the context for the remainder of the analysis. In chapter two, I attempted to trace the emergence
of evangelical groups in South Asia in recent times by tracing the roots of some of the groups to
the revival of evangelism/fundamentalism in the United States from where many groups
operating in South Asia originate.In this chapter I also briefly discussed the spectacular
expansion of evangelical Christianity in Asia focussing on the situation in South Korea and the
Philippines. To a lesser extent, I also outlined the dynamics of evangelical Christianity in South
India, particularly focussing on the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In the third and fourth
chapters, I outlined historical contexts of Christianity in Sri Lanka and Nepal, the emergence of
new Christian evangelism in those two countries, its expansion, politics and the legal framework
in relation to religious freedom.In this concluding chapter I would attempt to pose and answer
the question whether the activities of evangelical groups in South Asia could lead to the
emergence of conflict and violence. I believe that the material presented in the last two chapters
have, to a certain extent already provided certain provincial answers to this question. In any case,
this analysis will be framed within the framework of the descriptions and analyses presented in
the previous four chapters.

Samuel Huntington has recently warned about the disruptive role religion can possibly play in
global politics in the context of what he perceives as an impending “clash of civilizations”
(quoted in Brouwer et al. 1996: 9).According to Huntington, the “renewal of religion provides a
basis for identity and commitment that transcend national boundaries, and unites civilizations
(quoted in Brouwer et al.1996: 9). In these comments, Huntington was clearly concerned about
the expansion and the militant reach of Islamic revival, which in his view was likely to threaten
theorderly hegemony and continuity of the world capitalist system. But as Brouwer et. al have
pointed out, Huntington has completely missed the possibility that:

“Christian fundamentalism, not Islam may have the potential to create more conflict
internationally, for it can avail itself of all the advantages and power generated by a western-
dominated economic system and its invasive message of consumption” (Brouwer et al.1996: 9).

As Brouwer et. al have argued, the concerns Huntington has expressed are equally, if not more
applicable to the global activism of Christian evangelization, or in their own words,
“fundamentalism” (Brouwer et al. 1996: 9). Comparing Islamic radicalism and global Christian
fundamentalism (or evangelism), Brouwer et. al observe that “the new Christian
fundamentalism, a form that rivals Islamic radicalism in its global scope and is very likely more
potent in its cultural influence” (Brouwer et. al 1996: 2). For them, the reason for that
overarching cultural influence is due to the fact that “Christianity is a core element of ‘Western
civilization’” (Brouwer et. al 1996: 2). In general, what is meant by ‘western civilization’ here is
the socio-political and economic clout of North America and Western Europe. Further explaining
their position, Brouwer et. al note that “Christianity has been, historically, the modernizing and
Westernizing religion that has spread over the globe in concert with the mercantile and industrial
expansion of capitalism and the establishment of colonial empires” (Brouwer et. al 1996: 2).
They further note that:

“Today Christian countries (with Japan being the single exception) overwhelmingly control the
world’s productive resources, and manufacturing, banking, and commercial institutions, as well
as the dissemination of culture generated by scientific, academic, and commercial sources”
(Bouwer et. al 1996: 2).

It seems to me that this socio-economic hegemony of the countries or regions from where many
evangelical groups originate, play a significant role in the organization and expansion of such
groups in the countries of the Third World (eg., Nepal and Sri Lanka) where they choose to
operate.The political power of these groups does not merely emanate from their financial
resources and the networks of contacts linking individuals and groups sharing similar ideological
positions. As pointed out by Soper, it also means that they are willing “to use those resources for
political purposes” (Soper 1994: 162).It is in this context that, in the United States “evangelicals
have established themselves as an important wing of the Republican Party” (Soper 1994: 163).
The extensive networks of cooperation and contact between the Republican Party and the
evangelical movement in the US are such, that one could even pose the question whether the
Republicans constitute a wing of the collective evangelical movement in the United States. These
advantages in real terms translate into the ability of evangelical groups to operate from a position
of power. As we have seen in the last two chapters, the ground reality in Sri Lanka and Nepal
symbolizes this fact.

The other question one has to pose at this point is whether the entire notion that conflict may
emerge due to the activities of evangelical groups, is merely a defensive rhetorical response
constructed by conservative and nationalist elements representing established religions in
countries such as Sri Lanka and Nepal who feel threatened by the expansion of these new groups
and their collective spheres of influence. That expansion is directly correlated to the real or
perceived decrease in the spheres of influence of established religions. After all, both in Nepal
and Sri Lanka, the most vocal in opposition to the activities of the evangelical movements are
predominantly middle class individuals based in principle cities, particularly in Colombo and
Kathmandu. Yet, the reality is that despite the religious tensions generally experienced in South
Asia, particularly with regard to the politicization of Islam and Hinduism in the Indian sub-
continent, and the problematic utilization of Buddhism in Sri Lankan politics, there are no visibly
destructive processes of conflict or violence emanating from the competitiveness between new
evangelical religions on one hand, and Hinduism, Buddhism or more established Christianities
on the other.Here, I stress the term visibly destructive. This situation of apparent lack of violence
has emerged irrespective of the existing and continuing expansion of religious pluralism in the
region, and in particular in Sri Lanka and Nepal. On the other hand, the mere non existence of
relative violence does not simultaneously mean the non existence of conflict, which can lead in
the direction of violence in times to come. As I have already discussed in the chapters dealing
with Sri Lanka and Nepal, rumblings and complaints of evangelical activity and counter-
complaints of harassment have been a part of local and national politics for some time. The fact
that such complaints have not transformed into open conflict and violence is a separate issue.

Evangelical Activity and Prospects for Conflict

With the idea of conflict in mind, let me place in perspective the logic of evangelical activity in
Sri Lanka and Nepal, as well as the region in general. I would suggest that the following ideas of
Samuel presented in a paper at a recently held conference in Bangalore would help us formulate
what may be some of the parameters of conflict formation.He identified the need to engage in
evangelism as one of five key challenges what he calls the Asian Church must meet in the 21st
century:

“There are many people who have not had the opportunity to hear and understand the message of
the gospel of Jesus Christ.This must continue to be a significant activity of the church in
mission.It is the church’s great resource and must be shared in Asia with sensitivity but
unapologetically” (Samuel 1998: 8).

As these ideas clearly articulate, evangelical activities -- includingconversions and church


planting -- would be a significant preoccupation of evangelical groups active in the region.As a
Sri Lankan pastor observed in an interview in February 1998:

“We hope to significantly increase the Christian population in this country by the middle of the
21st century. As men of God and as members of mission, that is our duty.We cannot allow
people to live as sinners, when they can be saved by the word of God”

The ideas presented above, are unapologetic as suggested by Samuel earlier, as are they not
particularly sensitive. For the young Sinhala pastor whose ideas I have quoted above, anyone
who does not belong to his particular congregation are sinners. He also included Catholics, and
others he called “liberal” members of the mainstream Methodist church in the category of
sinners.For him, they “were all lost souls, whose leaders have led them astray, away from the
word of God.” Similar ideas are shared by activists in Nepal. On the other hand, there are a
number of wide-ranging initiatives to achieve such an end.For instance, I have already referred to
“Joshua Project 2000,” a website in the Internet featuring what its creators have called
“Unreached People Profiles.” It attempts to profile peoples on the basis of ethnic, tribal and
religious groups identities in countries such as India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, who are in need of
being converted to some version of evangelical Christianity. This particular website is an
information source for those interested in identifying target groups for evangelical activity.It
offers information such a population figures, availability of Bibles and films of Jesus in the area,
rates of success in church planting etc.“Joshua Project 2000” is represented both in Sri Lanka
and Nepal.It seems to me that some of the thinking in evangelical quarters, such as the need for
visibility, and expectations of rapid expansion has certainly increased the potential for conflict. I
would document some of these cases later in this discussion.

At this point, in order to facilitate this discussion, I would like to place in perspective some of the
ideas that have emerged in recent times about notions of religious pluralism within Christian
circles, but particularly within groups interested in evangelism.I would suggest that, the manner
in which the idea of religious pluralism is defined and perceived would have much to do with the
possibility of conflict or lack thereof.In the second chapter, I briefly noted that the revival of
evangelical Christianity in the United States had also marked a growing lack of sympathy
towards ideas of multiculturalism and pluralism in religion.Those conservative ideas, which are
very much part of overall evangelical politics in the United States and Western Europe have also
found their way to Asia -- not merely to South Asia.The infusion of those ideas to the region has
not simply been the work of foreign missionaries coming from the United States or Western
Europe or South Korea, but also due to the sympathetic manner in which some of those ideas
have been received by Asian theologians, pastors, missionaries and other church workers, many
of whom belong to evangelical religious formations.Talking about religious cooperation as a
challenge to Asian Christianity in the 21st century, Samuel has suggested that:

“The Church must continue to develop a practical approach for religious cooperation while
enabling each religion to retain its integrity regarding its own sense of uniqueness and
commitment to its mission.Any religious pluralist ideology will be seen as shallow and
unworkable in practice ---” (Samuel 1998: 8)

While talking about the need for religious cooperation, Samuel also suggests that any religious
pluralist ideology would be seen as shallow.The problem here is that the idea of pluralism is
being used with different meanings, and with different degrees of emotional attachment
byevangelical writers and social scientists. It seems to me that what is being questioned above, is
the entertainment of religious pluralism within a single tradition, such as Christianity. In other
words, these writers are challenging the possibility of having more than one truth claim within a
single tradition, which could pose serious challenges to the integrity, and thus the continuity of
that tradition. It is also in this same spirit that Weng has argued that “pluralism offers a religious
faith that is too dilute to meet religious needs” (Weng 1998: 1). He further argues that pluralism
defined in this manner also leads to the possible abandonment of “central beliefs that historically
define Christian identity” (Weng 1998: 1).

This conservative backlash is partly the result of writings of liberal thinkers within the overall
Christian religious establishment such as John Hick, Paul Knitter, and in South Asia Aloysius
Pieris as well as the emerging reality of multicultural, and particularly multi-religious societies in
Europe and North America.But the issue of pluralism is not merely a theological issue, that
would challenge the integrity of Christianity. It would seem reasonable to argue that divergence
from the truth claims which make Christianity what it is, would lead to a situation in which
Christianity would no longer seem to be Christianity.

However, the resistance to pluralist ideologies within Christianity has not merely ended there. In
some sites of evangelical activity where different religious traditions are located, the resistance to
plurality seem to have translated into problematic actions by selected evangelical groups where
the sanctity of religious holy spaces have been violated.It was in this context that theologian
Archie Lee observed that the over-dependence on Christian texts alone would lead to the
denouncing of “all other truth claims in human religious traditions” and would be hostile to all
“non Christian cultures that are considered basically pagan and therefore perverted ---” (Quoted
in Yu 1998: 4).Writers such as Yu on the other hand suggest that the observations of Lee are
over-statements, and that it is unlikely that “theologians who take the biblical text as
authoritative, would denounce all truth claims in human religions” (Yu 1998: 4).

But in practice, in countries such as India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, the issue is not about religious
pluralism within evangelical Christianity in the sense of a theological debate within
Christianity.The issues in these societies in the context of contemporary religious dynamics can
be framed more clearly within the ideas and concerns outlined by Lee.Let me further illustrate
this point with some examples from South India. As writers such as Caplan and Bayly have
argued, Christianity in places such as South India has undergone certain processes of
indigenization (Bayly 1994, Caplan 1995). Moreover, through syncretic traditions, people have
also adopted practices from other belief systems into their routine religiosity (Bayly 1994,
Caplan 1995).Thus, despite centuries of missionary influence and efforts, South Indian Protestant
Christians continued to have regular contact with a number of non-Christian religious specialists
such as sooth-sayers, fortune tellers and ‘god-dancers’ (Caplan 1995: 95).But it is precisely these
practices that were critiqued by evangelists in South India on the basis that such practices
marked a corruption of God’s word.Another complaint of evangelicals in South India has been
based upon their interpretation of established church’s admissions of doubt, accommodation of
alternate traditions, and ecumenism (Caplan 1995: 106).It seems to me that this is also a clear
indication of the lack of tolerance of difference, including multiculturalism within the
evangelical fold.This brings me back to the very nature of evangelism as it is practised globally.
That is, due to its insistence on an absolute truth, evangelists are convinced that their version of
the truth is complete, and absolute, and unqualified by partial understanding or error (Caplan
1995: 93). As Ostow has pointed out, this rigidity makes them “reluctant to tolerate doubt,
uncretainty and ambiguity” (quoted in Caplan 1995: 93).

Coming back to the specific situations in Nepal and Sri Lanka, what is important from a conflict
perspective is, the manner in which religious and cultural pluralism or heterogeneity in society
are perceived by evangelical activists.It is in the politics of religion in sites of ethno-cultutral and
religious pluralism, that conflicts and violence could emerge, if the nature of that plurality and its
cleavages are not understood by religious and cultural activists.There is also a historical
dimension to this issue.That is, one has to understand that the current dynamics of religion in
general and evangelical activity in particular, are not merely perceived by most individuals in
terms of today’s considerations alone, but also on the basis of historical memory of the society in
which an activist or a group operates. For instance, as I have already noted in Chapter 3, in Sri
Lanka, many Buddhists and Hindus evaluate the activities of evangelical groups in the context of
historical memory of their relationships with European missionaries in the colonial period.In that
manner, their perception of evangelical activity, irrespective of their conflict potential or lack
thereof, would be pre-judged to a considerable extent, which is another reason why undue
aggression and visibility ideally should be avoided by evangelical groups.

Let me at this point refer to two cases of local conflict and tension which specifically arose as a
result of the activities of evangelical groups, one in Kathmandu, and the other in Mihintale in the
North CentralProvince in Sri Lanka. In both cases, the ideological positions and the power and
authority of evangelical groups, which I have already referred to, must be a context of analysis.
In both cases, the tension resulted from the failure of the groups concerned to understand the
historical sensitivities and memory within which their activities would have been evaluated, as
well as due to the problematic climate of visibility and aggression the two groups concerned
created.

The first incident I would like to present occurred a couple of years ago during a well-attended
festival in the Pasupathinath Temple in Kathmandu when a group of rather zealous evangelists,
including foreigners, wearing crosses descended upon the crowds armed with the word of God
and began to distribute Bible tracts and other literature. The temple of course is a much revered
religious site of the city’s Hindus. While the incident involved a clear case of violating sacred
space in a rather aggressive manner, no immediate violent incidents took place, even though it
touched a raw nerve in many individuals. Thus the incident remains part of the memory of many
individuals I talked to irrespective of their religious background. Thus it was related to me by
Hindus as well as Catholics and Buddhists.

Yet at another level, the information on the incident in Kathmandu, while being descriptive in
general terms, lacks specifics. For instance, many people in general conversations about
evangelical activities refer to the incident. But they could not be specific about the date on which
it occurred or which group was allegedly involved. For the Hindus andBuddhists who narrated
the story, the culprits were clear enough: “Christians.” For the Catholics too, it was clear enough:
“those fundamentalists, not us.” The general term “Christians” used by the majority of Hindus
and Buddhists interviewed, symbolized the manner in which people perceive Christians in
general. That is, at the level of popular perception there is no clear conceptual difference
between different varieties of Christians in Nepal. Christians are simply Christians, irrespective
of the fact that in theological and ideological terms they may differ as Catholics or as members
of Nava Jeevan Church, Children of God etc.

Such a lack of conceptual differentiation itself becomes a problem in conflict formation, as we


would see later.For instance, of the many Nepalis who recounted the story to me who included
Hindu Brahmins, Buddhists and Catholics, no one was able to tell me which specific evangelical
group was involved.At that level of perception, where cold and supposedly rational analysis need
not take place, such a differentiation was not necessary. They were merely Christians or
fundamentalists. But the incident was marked in all of their memories as something unpleasant,
and something to worry about. In the realities of their minds the incident took place, and that was
all that mattered.All of them presented the incident as an example of Christian aggression
(Hindus and Buddhists), fundamentalist extremism (Catholics, Hindus), a threat to the stability
of Nepal and the religious harmony in the country (Hindus, Buddhists, and Catholics).On the
other hand, there were a number of individuals representing evangelical groups who were also
quite upset about the incident, even though their voices were generally not heard in public.

Structurally, the incident which nearly took place in Mihintale in Sri Lanka is similar to what is
described above. The difference is that what was planned, did not eventually take place due to
reasons beyond the control of the group which planned it.Mihintale is a town which is sacred to
the country’s Buddhists who believe that the first Buddhist missionaries preached the message of
the Buddha to the local king in the vicinity of the town in ca. 250 BC.Due to the religious and
historical significance of this site, it occupies an important place in the mytho-historical memory
and consciousness of Buddhists. Annual celebrations are organized in grand scale to mark the
event in the town.At a government sponsored exhibition in Mihintale to mark the introduction of
Buddhism to Sri Lanka, a group calling itself the Evangelical Library had planned to
distribute Bibles and Bible tracts to those who came to the exhibition (Perera 1995: 21-
22).Earlier, in 1993, the Evangelical Library had written to Christian leaders in the country,
including those in the main-stream churches complaining that they were not adequately helping
them to “reach the 4000 Buddhist monks in the vicinity” who were seen as ripe for
conversion.The Evangelical Library was not merely interested in converting Buddhists, but in
converting Buddhist monks, which is a much more sensitive issue, where potential for conflict
and violence would be enormous.The appeals by the established church leaders to abandon the
project were not heeded, and the planned activity ultimately did not materialize only because the
exhibition was cancelled by the government (Perera 1995: 21-22).As already noted, like in
Nepal, in Sri Lanka also at the level of popular perception there is no conscious differentiation
between different kinds of Christianities.

The planned activity in Mihintale, also indicates the inability or the lack of interest of some
evangelical groups to learn from history.It is also symptomatic of their inability to pay attention
to how religious competitions may be perceived by people on the basis of historical memory and
issues such as sacred space. For one thing, Mihintale has enormous cultural and religious
significance to local Buddhists, and is a site highly charged with emotional and religious
sentiments.In such a place, the attempt to engage in evangelical activity, particularly targeting
monks, was not only dangerous and provocative, but generally counter-productive in so far as the
entire evangelical project was concerned.In a sense, the planned activity would have been similar
to distributing Buddhist tracts within a Christian holy site. The point is, had the event actually
taken place, and ended up in violence, it would not have been a mere incident involving this
particular group. It would have had serious repercussions on the ability of other evangelical
groups to operate in the country, along with possibilities of violence as well.

Here it is important to note that from the British colonial period onwards, Sri Lanka has had a
history of violence in situations where sacred space, or what is perceived as sacred space by one
religious group has been violated by members of another group.Most often in the past,
suchviolence has involved Buddhist and Catholic interests. For instance, the Kotahena riots in
Colombo in 1883 involved the perceived violation of Catholic sacred space by Buddhists in the
context of a Buddhist procession parading the streets in the vicinity of a Catholic church
(Somaratne 1991, Roberts 1993). Similarly, in 1904 the Catholic Church built in the midst of the
Buddhist sacred city of Anuradhapura (only a few kilometers away from Mihintale) was burnt
down by Buddhist mobs, and the church was later re-built outside the sacred city limits. Over the
years, the established Christian groups (except for zealots within such groups) have worked out
mechanisms for co-existing with Buddhists and other groups such as Hindus, without inciting
unnecessary conflict or violence. But many evangelical groups such as Evangelical Library, have
paid no attention to such useful lessons learnt from hard and bitter history (Perera 1995).

Taken together, these two localized incidents, which took place or nearly took place represent
two clear instances where activities undertaken in the name of Christianity violated or planned to
violate sacred spacesirrespective of the consequences. In both instances, the activities were
undertaken or planned by two new evangelical groups.In both instances, the action was not
associated with mainstream and more established Christianities in the two countries.These are of
course, merely two out of many such incidents. Many other incidents recorded in both countries
have become components of anti-conversion narratives.Often they are not spectacular incidents,
but small activities such as distributing leaflets in a predominantly Hindu or Buddhist village.
The point is, it does not appear that the possible consequences of these kinds of activities are
clearly thought out by those involved.Often, what is needed for a minor incident to flare up into a
violent conflict is very little.

But taken together, what do such incidents represent?I would suggest that the anti-pluralist
ideology which has gained currency within Christianity -- but more clearly within evangelical or
fundamentalist groups -- have in some cases, seeped over into the religious politics they engage
in societies such as Sri Lanka and Nepal. This, I would suggest indicates the fact that at least in
Nepal and Sri Lanka, dynamics between new evangelical groups, and established religions have
come to a stage where conflict can easily translate into violence in specific local contexts. This is
particularly the case, if the umbrella organizations under which some of these groups operate,
cannot exert control over the problematic activities of some groups within their fold. At this
point, I would like to stress upon an issue, which I have already brought out a number of times
before.That is, the need of many evangelical groups to expand their groups and activities rapidly,
and the need for visibility. Of course, this trend is not something unique to Nepal and Sri
Lanka.On the contrary, it is a hallmark feature of evangelical activity around the world, which is
simply replicated in these two countries as well. This sense of urgency is partly to do with the
approach of AD 2000 “in preparation for the miraculous end of history, and the beginning of
Christ’s millenium” (Brouwer et. al 1996: 1). In some cases, this sense of urgency has also
created a situation of aggression, which is seen as a sign of a person’s faith and devotion to the
aims of mission. The kind of aggressive behavior I have outlined above has to be located in this
context.Let me at this point, refer to another example of aggression in evangelical activity in
Nepal, which I would suggest further illustrate my argument.A Nepali pastor identifying himself
as Bharat Bhattrai, writing to the Nepali evangelical newsletterThe Good News of Nepal made
the following observations:

“Three years ago when I came to pioneer a church in Banasthali, which is an area of Kathmandu,
I came across a tree which was being worshipped by the local people. This challenged me to
proclaim that Jesus is lord of all the earth.Every time I walked by that tree, I would say, “Jesus is
Lord” and I would then pray in tongues. In four months time about 15 people were converted to
Christ. Together, we began cursing the tree in Jesus’ name.Gradually, we noticed that the tree
was beginning to die and the people stopped worshipping it.Now that the tree is completely
withered, people are saying that the Christians did it. No; Christians did not do it but Jesus did it
in response to our prayers” (Good News of Nepal, ND: 7).

When this particular story was shown to a Nepali Buddhist, his response was “why would Jesus
want to destroy a tree?”Environmental considerations apart, this example raises a number of
important issues.For one, the fact that it was reported in an evangelical newsletter under the
name of a pastor with a photograph of a withered tree clearly suggest that it is considered an
important item to be talked about.But what is submerged in the rhetoric of evangelical religiosity
here is that the incident is an aggressive assault upon the religious beliefs of a community (eg.,
the public cursing of a tree that was a religious symbol) without paying any considerations to
possible consequences.There was after all, a very real possibility that this activity could have led
to violence.A similar incident reported from the southern Sri Lankan town of Bentota, is such a
case.There, a Buddhist man who had recently converted to a form of evangelical Christianity had
attempted to cut down a bo tree worshipped by local Buddhists.In this case, while there were no
indications of organized attempts on the part of this particular evangelical group to engage in this
activity, it did lead to a violent confrontation between this man and the rest of the village.In fact,
the example from Nepal also illustrates a similar tendency even though the man involved in that
case was a pastor in charge of a church.To a certain extent, this also shows the dangers of
individual zealotry.In the end, it does not matter whether religious aggression is a result of
institutional demand or individual motivation.The end result is the same --- the possibility of
conflict.

I would suggest that the ideological basis for this kind of aggression come from a number of
interrelated sources, in addition to individual action.For one, the authority and power under
which the evangelical movement operates, can lead to such behavior. That is, the power of large
financial resources and the access to international networks of support gives acertain sense of
invincibility.On the other hand, the expectation of rapid expansion and the need for visibility,
can also lead to such incidents. That is, considerations of rapid expansion overrides
considerations of common sense, and lessons from history, which I would suggest can be seen in
all of the examples sited above.More importantly however, the fact that there seems to be a tacit
approval of such actions as ‘heroic’(as indicative of the language used in the Nepali example
above, and the very fact that it was written about in the first place) also encourage individuals
and organizations to engage in such activity. These activities become a measurement of faith and
commitment to the evangelical cause. Thus for example, when an American evangelical worker
active in Nepal was asked about the incident involving the tree reported above, he observed: “It
was a situation of a man leading by example. Particularly because he is Nepali, he can do it with
authority.” For him and many others like him, there were no problems related to this incident. It
was merely a proclamation of faith. At the same time these actions, irrespective of their
consequences, are also a result of the lack of tolerance and the anti-pluralist bias of the overall
evangelical ideology that Ihave already referred to.

Total Conversion and Alienation

It is also within this context outlined above that some evangelical groups demand total
conversion from their followers. As Marsden has pointed out, in large scale evangelism winning
of converts is seen as a science, and in that context global evangelism has developed increasingly
sophisticated techniques of persuasion (quoted in Caplan 1995: 98).This is not merely a matter of
transformation of religious beliefs, but also a radical transformation in general cultural practices
as well. In other words, they promote a complete break with not merely the past of an individual
linked to a particular religion, but to a past, present and future associated with a particular system
of life within a specific cultural sphere. I noted in the introduction that such expectations and
demands of total conversion can be seen as a methodology used to ensure the cohesion of the
group as well as to guarantee its long term survival, and control external influences. But often,
such preoccupations of ‘purity’ of the group lead to an institutionalization of intolerance. It is
precisely due to such lack of tolerance and accommodation that many evangelical groups -- even
the ones that do not engage in or encourage such puritanical practices -- are perceived as foreign
and anti national by many people who oppose their activities. They are perceived of by
opponents, and often behave in a fashion that tend to formulate such groups as separate cultural
spheres, alienated from the society in which they operate. This sentiment was very clearly
expressed by many Nepalis and Sri Lankans opposed to evangelical activity.

At one level, this sense of cultural alienation is rooted in the history and the manner in which
evangelical groups operate. That is, whenevangelical groups operating out of the United States or
pats of Europe come to South Asia, they bring with them some cultural baggage in addition to
the message of God.This is particularly visible in the case of US or US funded groups.It is in this
context that Bouwer et. al argue that “while the leaders of the new Christian faith come from
various nations, the message is predominantly American (Bouwer et. al 1996: 2).It is also in this
context that Nepali Christian leader Kali Bahdur Rokaya observes, “outsiders don’t only bring
the Gospel, they bring it wrapped in their own culture” (Harriet 1994: 17). In this regard, some of
the ideas of Nancy Ammerman would further contextualize this discussion.Talking about the
expansion of evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity in South America through the activities
of US based groups, she observes that:

“As a result, the doctrines and life styles of North American fundamentalists were being
transported into new cultures, becoming intertwined with the cultures and politics of those
societies in controversial new ways” (Ammerman 1994: 14).

The transportation of an anti-pluralist religious ideology with an exclusionist political agenda to


a new site such as Nepal or Sri Lanka where religious pluralism at the popular level has been
taken for granted (i.e, the ability of a number of religions to operate without serious conflict)
obviously can pose a series of problems. This is particularly so when the implementation of these
new religious doctrines becomes involved in local politics. Thus for example, the expectation of
evangelists in Sri Lanka and Nepal to convert large numbers of locals, and to distribute Bibles to
each household in the two countries by year 2000 directly gets involved with politics of religion
both at the local and national levels.As we have seen, this has already happened in both
countries, where the collective activities of the evangelical movement is now a significant
political issue. I would suggest that this lack of accommodation of some of the basic cultural
practices in the places where these groups operate constitutes one of the most fertile sites of
potential conflict as well as violence.In a sense, this is what Ammerman describes as
fundamentalist groups attempting to “remake the institutional and cultural world beyond its own
subcultural borders” (Ammerman 1994: 15).The point is that, in the event of conversion, when
evangelical groups also demand from converts that they abandon cultural practices of
thecommunity that may have been in use for generations, the converts’ sense of alienation from
the community is further entrenched.This in turn creates space for suspicions and fears to take
root, since the cultural links to the society are now effectively severed. In its place, something
completely new and different will be in operation, which binds the converts together but not
those immediately exterior to the group. Of course the reason for such demands on the part of
evangelical groups is to ensure that they create a clearly identifiable community of believers, not
linked to their previous religious beliefs and ways of life in general.Such severance is demanded
due to the fear that in those cultural practices the embers of re-conversion (back to the old faith)
may be embedded.

Let me place these concerns in perspective on the basis of someethnographic details.In a critique
of some of these practices, Kali Bahadur Rokaya, a Nepali Christian leader offers the following
thoughts:

“And I have listened to the outside critiques of the church.Mainly they have said: 1. Christians
are bought with money, 2. It is a western culture and religion, 3. The church has no concern for
our society or our country, and 4. Christians are foreigners in our own country.Now, I find
myself siding with the critics” (Stanley 1994: 16).

It seems to me that Rokaya is also articulating the problems of alienating individuals from their
cultural practices in the process of conversion. It is in this situation that he supports the idea of
“contextualization” (Stanley 1994: 17), by which he means that the process of becoming a
Christian must be rooted within the specific socio-cultural context in which anindividual lives.
According to him, in Nepal, the present tendency “is to urge converts to leave all traditions
behind and to become western” (Stanley 1994: 17). Rokaya believes that foreign evangelists
come to Nepal not only with the Gospel, but that they bring it wrapped in their own culture
(Stanley 1994: 17).In a sense, what Rokaya is attempting to articulate, applies to many, but by no
means all, evangelical groups operating in Nepal and Sri Lanka. As he explains further:

“A Nepali who becomes a Christian literally starts a new life.He or she will no longer celebrate
local festivals, will start wearing western clothes, and will adapt a western life style ---He or she
will no longer be involved in politics and will hardly be part of society.That is what worries non-
Christians, and it should” (Rokaya 1996: 30).

Some of Rokaya’s words above are somewhat exaggerated. For instance, it is quite unlikely that
every convert would necessarily wear ‘western’ clothes or would adopt a ‘western’ life-style
consequent to conversion, particularly in the remote interior areas of Nepal. Nevertheless, the
other issues he outlines deserved attention. His reference to the lack of involvement in politics
and alienation from society, is typical in the aftermath of radical or complete conversion. Often
such withdrawal is demanded by the group involved. Such withdrawal also means the
engagement with another kind of politics removed from the routine activities and politics of the
immediate community. But it would appear that in a stressful situation such as conversion, some
of the links to the outer society, and its cultural practices would in fact be beneficial as a coping
mechanism, and they would also lessen the extent of alienation between society and converts.
One of the constant complaints I have heard from Sinhala converts in Sri Lanka is the demand
made from them that they do not celebrate festivals such as the Sinhala New Year. A similar
situation prevails in Nepal.Rokaya has pointed out that converts are discouraged to take part in
traditional festivities:

“During Dasin, Tihar and national holidays churches organize events, in order to prevent people
from going home, and being tempted or forced to participate in the rituals” (Rokaya 1996: 31)

It seems to me that a more successful and less conflictual strategy would have been to
incorporate these traditional beliefs and practices within the ritual and social practices of the new
groups. That would have made the transition from one religious belief to a new one much more
easier and less stressful, which in the final analysis would have also helped these groups expand
further, but less obtrusively. Besides, such an emphasis also would have allowed the new
evangelical groups to evolve within a local cultural paradigm. As I documented in the second
chapter, one of the successes of the spectacular evangelical (and in general Christian) expansion
in South Korea has been the amalgamation of traditionalKorean beliefs and religious motifs with
new evangelical practices.As such, almost from the beginning these churches and their ritual
practices looked more Korean than anything else despite the fact that many of the early
institutional structures and the original missionaries came from the United States (Choi 1986,
Brouwer et. al.1996).Similarly in Sri Lanka, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, the Catholic
Church consciously embarked upon a process of indeginization after Vatican II, which in the
long run played an important rolein establishing the church as traditional Sri Lankan religion.
This was particularly so in areas with predominantly Sinhala or Tamil speaking congregations.
But it would appear now, that even with regard to the Catholic Church, the long term influence
of Vatican II as once perceived, no longer seem applicable as reflected in the conservative
attitudes of sections of its hierarchy and influential sections of the laity with regards to issues
such as indeginization. For them, indeginization is akin to a process of undermining the ‘true’
tradition. In general, the collective evangelical movement in both Nepal and Sri Lanka does not
seem to have learned from such lessons. Part of the problem, I would suggest is the rather
narrowly defined anti-pluralist attitude, which I have already referred to earlier.

Another issue that emanates from the expansion of evangelicalChristianity in Nepal and Sri
Lanka is linked to the manner in which these groups are structurally organized.Partly as a result
of the organizational structures these groups have inherited from their parent organizations, and
partly because many groups as small organizations operate in a real or perceived climate of
relative hostility, many of these groups have hierarchical organizational and command
structures.Within such structures, there is a heavy concentration of power at the level of local or
regional leadership.On the other hand, given the nature of global evangelism, there is no one
central religious authority as the Pope is to the catholic church. Thus within Protestant
evangelism today, there is immense space for individuals to become leaders, establish churches,
break away from other churches, amalgamate with other organizations, remain autonomous and
exert total control over local congregations.In a sense, this state of affairs can create a space for
authoritarian tendencies to develop within these church structures. Thus, in both Nepal and Sri
Lanka, within local contexts, pastors have considerable power and authority over their
congregations.In essence they can, and often want to, decide how these individuals should live.
This need to control also translates into an emphasis on total conversion, and a break from
society, inclusive of its cultural ties. Let me place this notion of control in the context of the
following observations of a Sinhala Buddhist man in his mid 30s who became a member of an
evangelical group in Colombo (which he did not want to be identified in writing):

“I became a member of the --- because I felt quite lost at the time. I had no employment, the
home environment was not good, and Buddhism had not particularly helped.So I went for some
of the services and experienced a certain sense of comradeship in the congregation --- But, the
pastor wanted to change my life completely. He blamed me in front of the others in a prayer
meeting when he heard that I had celebrated the Sinhala New Year. He called me a heathen who
had disobeyed the word of God. I could not argue or say anything in defense. New Year was not
really a religious celebration. All I did was to worship my parents as we have always done, and
exchange some foods with my neighbors.It helps to keep in touch.”

After this particular incident, this individual strayed away from the group, and currently remain
unattached to any group. His conversion, created personal problems for him in his family, even
though such problems did not emerge from within the community since the issue of his
conversion was not widely known at the time. The participation in the Sinhala New Year
celebration, which is essentially a secular celebration, allowed him an opportunity to mend some
of the ruptures that had emerged in his relationships with his family. But instead of seeing this
situation in this socio-psychological context, the pastor of this group and many of the members
of the congregation perceived this as a sign of re-conversion and a threat to the cohesion of the
group. Part of the problem, as I noted earlier, is in the collective mind frame of the average
evangelical group, which believes that it is operating in a situation of hostility. But such hostility
would often emanate from this kind of socio-cultural alienation from society and community as
demanded by many groups.The ideas of Rokaya who explains the situation in Nepal, on the basis
of his personal experience, indicate a structurally similar situation as to what is described above:

“At the same time I became conscious of the fact that I actually was given very little
freedom.The church provides the guidelines in almost every field of life. At the same time I
wouldn’t even think of buying a newspaper or to watch TV. Everything had to be Christian, from
the pictures on the wall to the books on the shelves. I realized I was sitting in a prison, ---”
(Rokaya 1996: 30).

With regard to Nepal, Rokaya further notes that, “Our churches have inherited a colonial type of
leadership. Pastors are regarded to be God’s representatives and their words are not challenged”
(Rokaya 1996: 30). It seems to me that this kind of hierarchical organizational structures and
leadership roles, and the inability to question the decisions of the leadership or the agenda of the
sponsors tend to create anti-democratic tendencies within such groups. This happens at a time
when the democratic institutions and practices in the wider society are already under serious
stress.These organizations tend to facilitate that general decline further, rather than attempting to
create a political awareness of it.But given the relatively conservative political agenda of the
collective evangelical movement a democratization of its leadership roles and practices would be
difficult to expect. But this situation can lead to conflict situations too often in times to come. I
would stress that many of the cases I have presented above point to the fact that leadership
played a role in initiating or aggravating matters.

Some of the issues I have discussed above can also be anthropologically interpreted somewhat
differently. One could argue that part of theproblems linked to exclusive truth claims or lack of
tolerance of difference is linked to the nature of different religions. In fact, it is conceivable that
structurally speaking, there is very little room for difference or divergence in monotheistic
traditions such as Christianity in general.That space tends to get even slimmer when the
interpretation of the perceived truth is exclusively based on the inerrancy of a particular text such
as the Bible, as is the case with evangelists.But in ploytheistic traditions such as Buddhism and
Hinduism, there is a greater degree of tolerance at the level of popular religiosity since
individuals are used to the idea of following or having preferences towards particular gods,
deities or ritual traditions. This is also an important consideration to bear in mind when
attempting to understand how the activities of evangelists may be judged in countries such as
Nepal and Sri Lanka where there have been long entrenched traditions of polytheism.

Stated differently, this is also a situation where there is a certain absence of clarity as to where
religion ends (where difference may not be allowed) and where culture begins (where at least
some degree of difference is allowed).Taken in this sense, and in the context of the all embracing
stances of most evangelical groups, it is very difficult to allow a relatively autonomous sphere of
culture in their traditions.Evangelical groups often see culture, religion and life in general as
parts of a closely inter-related whole, within which separation of components is not possible.
Thus, worshiping parents during Sinhala New Year ortaking part in local festivals in Nepal by
convertsmay be seen by evangelists as diluting the true tradition.This is particularly the case with
regard to issues such as worshiping parents.In the Christian tradition, particularly as interpreted
by evangelists, only God can be worshiped.Any other kind of worship can easily be seen as
heresy or a return to heathen ways of life.

At this point, it seems to me that I have demonstrated the potential for conflict in South Asia in
the context of the activities of evangelical groups as reflected in the ground realities in Nepal and
Sri Lanka. It should be clear that the problem here is not a matter of religious freedom or lack
thereof.It has to do with strategy. The argument here is not to ban the operation of evangelical
groups. That, in itself would be an anti democratic practice. The issue is how to identify potential
conflict situations, and find the means to resolve them, before they can lead to violence, and later
to the institutionalization of that violence.It should be clear that both in Nepal and Sri Lanka,
some of the services offered by evangelical groups do benefit the people. But the problem here is
that, in terms of the mind frame of the average evangelist, the service to people is a secondary
issue.What is needed more urgently is conversion and expansion of evangelism and its church
structures.

At this point one can pose the following legitimate question, which I have already raised in the
chapters specifically dealing with Sri Lanka and Nepal: is it possible to make such a clear
differentiation between service and proselytizing? Where does service end, and
proselytizingbegin?In a sense, ‘good work’ is very much a part of the Christian tradition, which
can also be placed in the context of strong biblical backing.Some of these biblical contexts, as
perceived and interpreted by evangelists, have been outlined in chapter 4. The difficulty in
making the distinction between service and conversion is epitomized in the belief that “to work
is to pray.”Similarly, one could also argue that the crucial role of the body and bodily
resurrection of Christ in Christian thought, makes healthcare an obvious sphere of Christian
activity, and is quite redolent with spiritual significance in itself.But despite these problems in
demarcating service and proselytizing in the realm of abstract thinking, I would suggest that such
separations have been attempted by evangelists themselves.For instance, consider the following
observations by Samuel:

“Effectiveness of mission was measured by individuals converting to believers and the number
of churches planted.Mission activity also included meeting human needs of education, health
care, emergency relief etc., but often this was to demonstrate concern for the people and gain
their confidence to share the gospel which was the main objective” (Samuel 1998: 6).

It seems to me that at ground level where evangelists actually do their work, the ability and the
need to recognize and conceptualize the differences between service and proselytizing, is an
essential part of theirstrategy and reality.Samuel’s observations quoted above clearly place in
context that reality.I would also suggest that the ground situation in Nepal and Sri Lanka as
outlined chapters 3 and 4 points to the same scenario. In this context, a question one can raise at
this point is whether evangelists would want to operate in a given location if proselytizing and
church expansion in any form is completely banned, but the services they can provide are not?If
the situation in South Asia is any indication, it seems to me as quite unlikely that evangelical
organizations would be willing to operate in such conditions.In general, they have been most
active in areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa where conditions for proselytizing have been
relatively open and easy.

I would argue that if the general strategy of operation of the collective evangelical movement as
currently practiced, is reversed, the conflict potential that it entails now would also diminish
considerably.That is, the focus should be on service and not on conversion and church
expansion.In such a context, if people do convert, it would more likely be due to conviction and
faith rather than due to economic necessity. A faith built on such a foundation is also likely to
take root locally in a more substantial manner.One may assume that it was perhaps due to the
understanding of this kind of position that the World Council of Churches made the following
observation in 1997:

“We decry the practices of those who carry out their endeavours in mission and evangelism in
ways which destroy the unity of the body of Christ, human dignity and the very lives and
cultures of those being ‘evangelized’; we call on them to confess their participation in and to
renounce proselytism” (WCC 1997: 11).

But closer examination of the document Towards Common Witness (1997) brings out something
different.The concern of the WCC has to do with the competitiveness among various Christian
denominations such as what is going on today between evangelical groups and more established
Christian denominations in Sri Lanka, or competitiveness among evangelical groups
themselves.The WCC defines proselytizing in the following words:

“--- the encouragement of Christians who belong to a church to change their denominational
allegiance , through ways and means that ‘contradict the spirit of love, violate the freedom of the
human person and diminish trust in the Christian witness of the church” (WCC 1997: 7).

Thus, even the WCC is concerned with the appearance of inter-denominational rivalries and
conflicts that may emerge from that, rather than from situations of proselytizing among non-
Christian groups as is the case in Sri Lanka and Nepal.If this is the case, then there is a central
problem linked to the idea of proselytizing or conversion as a fundamental principle of not
simply evangelical groups but Christianity in general. The difference of course is that these
general principles change somewhat in specific local contexts when conventional Christian
denominations and institutional religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism in Sri Lanka and
Nepal find them on one side of the battle line in opposing evangelical groups when their
respective spheres of influence are threatened by evangelicals.

In the context of the preceding discussion, one would have to conclude that given the premises
and general principles upon which contemporary evangelism in South Asia is based, the
possibility of conflict is quite real.In fact we have already seen the emergence of such conflict in
specific local contexts.For such conflicts to evolve into violence it may take more time.But then,
such processes are never predictable unilineal processes.They often happen as a result of a single
incident.What is dangerous is that the hierarchical organization of evangelical groups, the power
emanating from their resources and networks, their interest in church expansion and
proselytizing, and the close correlation between service and religion has assured that evangelism
has now become a contentious political issue in both Nepal and Sri Lanka. If this scenario is
typical of South Asia in general, and if avenues are not explored to difuse the tensions and find
alternate means of experiencing religious freedom, then the alternatives would be the addition of
yet another conflict dynamic into the realm of inter-religious and inter-group dynamics in the
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ENDNOTES

1. It is interesting to note that many of the evangelical groups active in Colombo,


and Nuwara Eliya seem to attract a large number of ethnic Tamils as followers and
as officials. I do not have adequate statistics to press this point while this aspect has
also not been investigated in detail in the present study.But it seems to me that this
is not merely a situation arising out of specific demographic peculiarities
oflocalities where evangelical groups operate. Interestingly, a large number ofTamil
refugees currently living in London also show a tendency to get attracted to
evangelical groups. Some local pastors often visit these London congregations on
‘lecture visits.’ Perhaps the nature of the displacement of Tamil people over the
lastdecade due to conditions of war may explain this situation to some extent.

2. Note that the legal documents presented in this section are reproduced from those
in Appendix M titled “Nepali Constitution and Law Concerning Religious Rights,”
pp. 462-463, Nepali Around the World: Emphasizing Nepali Christians of the
Himalayas by Cindy L. Perry, Ekta Books, Kathmandu, 1997.

Dr. Sasanka Perera teaches at the Department of Sociology, University of Colombo in Sri Lanka.
He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Colombo in 1984, majoring in
political science, sociology and English. In 1989, he received his MA and C.Phil degrees in
anthropology, and in 1991, his Ph.D, also in anthropology from the University of California at
Santa Barbara. Between 1991 and 1992, he conducted post-doctoral resaerch at the Department
of Anthropology in Princeton University, New Jersey. He writes extensively in both Sinhala and
English. His recent publications in English include Living with Torturers and Other Essays of
Intervention (Colombo, 1995) and Newton Gunasinghe: Selected Essays (Colombo, 1996).