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Morning Star News Southern India Correspondent

Religious persecution, missions, Christianity around the world

HYDERABADIndia, September 16, 2019 (Morning Star News) – Hindu extremist threats have driven a pastor in Nepal into hiding following a leak onto social media of a restricted audience-interview he gave on his journey to Christ, sources said.

Pastor Sukdev Giri of Trinity Fellowship church in Chitwan District has received death threats, he said. He has changed his phone number, but his family and friends are also receiving threatening calls, he told Morning Star News.

In a sign of how the Himalayan country has become increasingly radicalized, Pastor Giri, 59, has been unable to return home from ministry travels since a video of his comments hit YouTube in mid-August.

“It is the first time a Christian [in Nepal] has been targeted for sharing [on social and other media] about his past religion and introduction into Christianity,” legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom’s allied attorney in Nepal, Ganesh Sreshta, told Morning Star News. “It is turning out to be a high-profile issue, with Hindu fundamentalist groups linked to prominent political leaders taking interest in this video.”

The video shot in March at the International Christian Media Workers Summit in Kathmandu, where Pastor Giri was one of the speakers on a panel, was available only to Christian audiences until a Nepalese Christian woman abroad posted it on YouTube. During the panel presentation on advice for Christian media workers, Nepalese radio journalist Sunil Raj Lama asked Pastor Giri to talk more about belief systems in Nepal.

“It is not something I would discuss with anybody just anywhere, but his question was very genuine,” Pastor Giri told Morning Star News. “Although I had cautioned Lama to edit the video and not to circulate it outside the Christian circle, the [Christian] persons who were the first to watch it on a private channel insisted that, ‘It is a hard truth – people need to hear it.”’

The unidentified Nepalese woman abroad who had access to the private channel posted the video on YouTube on Aug. 11, and the flood of hostile comments began.

“Highly abusive and derogatory words were used against me,” Pastor Giri said. “Calls also started. And I immediately discarded my old SIM card and kept the phone away for some days. I have dedicated my entire time to travel, as my family feels it is unsafe for me to stay in my hometown [undisclosed], in Chitwan. I’m currently busy with my ministry work in other parts of Nepal.”

In the video, the pastor spoke about how, before he became a Christian, he noticed sin and corruption in the world and wondered about their roots. The gospel helped answer that question.

“Moreover, I did not cook up any story on my own on Hindu deities,” he said. “I said that I come from a Hindu family, and that I know the deities worshipped by Hindus and also those shunned from offering worship. For example, you will not find temples dedicated to Brahma, who is believed as the creator god. He is regarded as the deity but is not worshipped. It is written in the Puranas [ancient texts of Hindu literature] that Brahma sexually assaulted his own daughter and married her. Brahmins don’t worship Brahma for this reason.”

Similarly, he said, he mentioned that Shiva, the destroyer god known as Pashupati, husband of animals, committed bestiality.

“If you check Nepal’s Muluki Ain or Criminal Law Code, it is regarded as a heinous crime,” he said, adding that India’s penal code also considers it an unnatural offense.

A third Hindu god, Vishnu, committed adultery, he told the conference. The latest editions of ancient Hindu texts have been edited to increase their appeal to younger generations – the stories have been twisted and dramatized to suit TV soap operas, excluding unsavory parts from the original texts, the pastor said. He encouraged people to refer to the original Puranas.

“The Royal Nepal Community conserved these books,” he told Morning Star News, recapping what he told the conference. “I want the younger generations to read the texts, research about these things – ‘don’t simply follow the wind,’ says an old Nepali saying. On occasions when I spoke to TV channels, I shared my testimony and touched upon the same things, and those interviews have also surfaced now on social media.”

People now mistakenly look at him as a Christian who hates Hinduism, he said.

“I don’t hate anyone – I just want to have an honest conversation about my encounter with Christ,” Pastor Giri said.

He told the conference how when he was 12 years old he went to a church in Kathmandu where some missionaries from Sri Lanka were preaching.

“There, I heard about the love of God and the simplicity and humility of Jesus,” he said. “It was so overwhelming to me. As a boy, I was thinking of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Can any god be so humble? It was hard to digest.”

He read the New Testament in three months, he said.

“My old gods were hard to approach, but Jesus seemed very approachable, simple and near. I accepted Him right then,” he said. “But there were these questions in my heart. I wanted to find out if this my new God, Jesus, is like all those old gods? At first I asked the priests why Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva are immoral, yet they are regarded as gods and are highly respected by us? I would share with them about the texts I had read and their crimes. They told me, “It is all Lila[Sanskrit word loosely translated as “play”]. Whatever gods do is good, but if the man does the same, it is sinful.”’

The Hindu priests called him an “old little boy,” he said.

“‘You are little, but you’re asking questions like old people’” – they found it amusing,” Pastor Giri told Morning Star News. “Since that day, the holiness of Jesus Christ has become very special to me. I was praying, and my new God was answering my prayers, and soon we had built a relationship.”

In social media comments, many “hateful, venomous words” against him have followed, he said, and a mob recently gathered at his farm in Chitwan asking his wife and parents about his whereabouts, he said.

When he consulted a regional pastors’ fellowship as to whether he should file a police complaint about the hateful comments or meet with police officials, they advised against it, he said.

“They also had received phone calls from people asking my whereabouts,” Pastor Giri said. “I have been told that since Hindu fanatics and police are already looking for me, it is not advisable to meet them.”

His neighborhood in Chitwan District has a high population of strong Brahmins, he said.

“My wife feels very unsafe and worried for me,” he told Morning Star News.

The YouTube video received more than 750,000 views before it was removed, and since then a video critical of the pastor by a Facebook user under the name of Abhishek Joshi has gone viral, he said. In the video Joshi calls him “…a son of Hindu saints who now fell in the hands of Adam and Eve.”

“You were born in a Hindu family and have a Hindu name,” Joshi says. “Grew up being a Hindu person, carrying a Bible for a few years and changing your religion to Christianity doesn’t give you the right to bash Hindu gods.”

Pastor Giri said he hoped that he would at least be given the opportunity to fully explain his views.

“But there is so much hate built up against me already that Facebook user Abhishek Joshi and a few others are picking up verses from the Bible and interpreting it wrongly,” he said. “I want to tell them that it is not about two religions or finding fault with each other.”

He is simply trying to recount his personal journey, not critique religions, he said.

“I was the devotee of the gods they defend, and I chose to abandon the practices, superstitions etc. – I am here to tell my story and all the research I have done about the gods I once worshipped,” he said. “If they don’t give me the opportunity, if the Lord enables me I will write a book.”

Sreshta, ADF’s allied attorney in Nepal, said Christians who were once primarily hit with false accusations of “forcible conversion” are now being charged with preaching or speaking about their faith publicly. Article 26 of Nepal’s constitution prohibits religious conversions, he noted.

“There is a lot of impact of Indian media channels on Nepal’s Hindu population,” he added. “The Hindu extremism in Nepal is taking its shape from observing the Hindu fundamentalist RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] operations in India.”

An increase in persecution of Christians in Nepal began after a new criminal code was passed in October 2017, which took effect in August 2018.

“Many Christians are restricting prayer services to closed doors of their homes, as they feel insecure to expose or disclose their faith in public,” Sreshta said. “Article 18 proscribes discrimination on grounds of religion, caste, race etc., but it’s only on paper and can nowhere be seen implemented in case of Christians.”

By criminalizing conversions, Nepal has infringed on the fundamental freedom of religion or belief which is guaranteed not only by its constitution but also secured by several international covenants, according to ADF-International.

“Nepal’s constitution prohibits the attempt of religious conversion,” according to an ADF press statement. “At the same time, Nepal is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an international treaty explicitly protecting freedom of religion and expression.”

Nepal was ranked 32nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. 

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved. 

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at https://morningstarnews.org/donate/

Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia/Ksssshl

 

Hundreds of people gathered in Orlando over the weekend for the Freedom March, an event featuring men and women who say Jesus delivered them from the LGBT lifestyle.

According to the Christian Post, the men and women call themselves “overcomers.”

More than 400 people marched at the event, shouting as they walked, “Freedom in Christ. It’s so nice” and “When I say Jesus, you say freedom.”

Churches and local ministries also set up booths and tents at the Lake Eola Park event to support the Freedom March.

The march was organized by Angel Colon and Luis Javier Ruiz, both men who survived the shooting at the Orlando nightclub, Pulse, in 2016. Since the shooting, both men abandoned homosexuality and started a ministry called Fearless Identity.

Fearless Identity helps churches as they try to share God’s word with the LGBT community.

“It’s not a gay to straight thing, it’s a lost to saved thing,” Ruiz said.

Many of the event’s leaders had abandoned an LGBT lifestyle. The event’s worship leader, Edward Byrd, shared that he formerly identified as androgynous before he became a Christian. The Freedom March’s founder, Jeffrey Mccall, said he was a former transgender prostitute. The Uprooted Heart founder, MJ Nixon, who baptized people at the event, said she was a former lesbian.

The event also included a moment of silence for the 49 people killed in the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

Speakers told attendees that God “loves gay people,” but to change your lifestyle, you first have to follow Jesus.

“God wants all your heart, not just your sexuality,” Ruiz said. “Remember, don’t make freedom your god. Make Christ Jesus your freedom.”

The first Freedom March took place in May in Washington, D.C. The group will head to Georgia in October for another March and is planning another visit to Washington, D.C. in May 2020.

Photo courtesy: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

(RNS) — Duke University’s student government has denied the Christian organization Young Life official status as a student group on campus, citing its policy on sexuality.

The decision by the Duke Student Government Senate on Wednesday (Sept. 11) comes amid ongoing clashes nationwide between religious student groups and colleges and universities that have added more robust nondiscrimination policies.

Young Life, like many evangelical groups, regards same-sex relations as sinful. Its policy forbids LGBTQ staff and volunteers from holding positions in the organization.

The student newspaper the Duke Chronicle reported Thursday that the student government senate unanimously turned down official recognition for the Young Life chapter, because it appeared to violate a guideline that every Duke student group include a nondiscrimination statement in its constitution. 

Young Life, which is based in Colorado Springs, is a 78-year-old organization with a mission to introduce adolescents to Christianity and help them grow in their faith. It has chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges in all 50 states and more than 90 countries around the world.

But the student government objected to a clause in Young Life’s sexuality policy. After the student government was told the organization would not change its sexuality policy, it rejected the group.

The Young Life policy states: “We do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ. We do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.”

Over the past two decades, many colleges and universities have attempted to exclude religious groups because of their positions on sexuality, among them InterVarsity and Business Leaders in Christ.

Greg Jao, senior assistant to the president at InterVarsity, said about 70 colleges and universities have attempted to exclude InterVarsity chapters over the years — in some cases because it bars LGBTQ employees, in others because its faith statement more generally violates school nondiscrimination policies.

In most cases, the issues are resolved, but others have ended up in court. InterVarsity is now suing the University of Iowa and Wayne State University.

“Most of the time universities back down because it’s a violation of students’ First Amendment rights,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a law firm that defends religious freedom cases.

Duke, however, may be in a different category as a private institution. Private universities don’t have the same obligations under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause that a government entity does.

Young Life did not immediately respond to media requests for comment.

READ THIS STORY AT: RELIGIONNEWS.COM.

Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: RNS/Creative Commons

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