Joseph D’Souza, Archbishop of the Good Shepherd Church of India, Says Despite Challenges and Persecution, the Church Continues to Grow

Ed: What are some of the challenges Christians are currently facing in India?

Archbishop D’Souza: Since the time of the apostles, Christians have faced persecution and social and political oppression because of their faith. In India, things are not unlike the early days of the church.

In the past few years, persecution against Christians in India has increased severely. In 2017, Open Doors ranked India as the 15th nation most dangerous to be a Christian. This year, India jumped to number 11 on the list.

Most of this persecution is happening at the hands of radicalized religious groups and nationalist extremists. These groups believe India should become a Hindu state, and label Christians and Muslims alike as anti-national. Even Hindus who do not subscribe to this ideology are attacked and accused of being against India’s national interest. The Dalits (or “untouchables”) and tribals, many who are Christians, are also facing severe violence. Violent mobs have rounded up innocent Dalits and Muslims and publicly beaten and executed them on the rumor that they have harmed a sacred cow.

In the swirl of these growing tensions, Christians must battle the false narrative that Christianity is a foreign religion imported from the West bent on converting people through force or fraudulent means. This misunderstanding might stem from lingering resentment from the time of the British Raj. Unfortunately, missiological language used by Western churches, such as “targeting unreached people groups,” has reaffirmed the belief — however false — that Christians use charity and humanitarian aid to convert people.

Several Indian states have anti-conversion laws which are weaponized against Christians and religious minorities. In some states, local officials have stripped poor indigenous Indians who have become Christians from constitutionally-guaranteed social benefits set aside for the financial and educational advancement of their communities.

The challenges Christians face in India are complex, and we need much prayer and wisdom to address these issues.

Ed: How have you contextualized Christianity so it’s not perceived as a Western religion?

Archbishop D’Souza: As a church movement, we thought it vital to find the linkage to our ancient church from the pre-Constantine era, rather than to modern independent churches from the West. We must remember the church did not start with the Reformation. Christianity arrived in India more than 1,500 years before it reached the United States.

In fact, the Indian church traces its history to the Apostle Thomas, who brought the gospel to South India in the first century. Christianity is as native to India as Hinduism or any other religion.

Additionally, as we studied India’s religious context, we realized we had to offer evangelical equivalents to what Indians are familiar with. All Indian religions have temples, hierarchy, culture, and a religious structure which the local community coalesces around.

In a community-based culture, the independent church model — although successful in other contexts — runs into problems. It’s not built for generational continuity and does not offer adequate spiritual alternative structures that are greater than models built on individualism or a megastar.

We found that an evangelical-Anglican structure that traces its roots to the early Church Fathers and emphasizes the creeds, the primacy and public reading of Scripture and the liturgy, prayer books and holy communion fits well within India’s religiously pluralistic society.

I’ve often said that Indian society — which has all the major religions of Asia: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism and Christianity — resembles the pre-Constantine era and so should the church.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer