March 02, 2024


India at a +Crossroads: Christians United Against Persecution in India

Hosted by

Pieter Friedrich
India at a +Crossroads: Christians United Against Persecution in India
Dialoguing on South Asia (DOSA)
India at a +Crossroads: Christians United Against Persecution in India

Mar 02 2024 | 02:13:52


Show Notes

Discussing, with many guests at a webinar hosted on 1 March 2024 for the purpose of uniting Christians in solidarity with the persecuted Church in India, what exactly is happening to Christians in India today and what we can do about it. Featuring 12 speakers (including yours truly) from all three major Christian traditions: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. Eight speakers are ordained clergy. The panel includes:

Moderator: Jamey Bennett

Very Rev. Dr. John Jillions

Pieter Friedrich

Dr. John Dayal

Rev. Peter Cook

Rev. Dr. Richard Howell

Fr. Joshua Lickter

Susan Kerin

Pastor Bryan Nerren

Pastor Ben Marsh

Robert Stubblefield

Fr. Steve Macias

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Dialoguing on South Asia, we explore the lives of its people, hear their stories and the histories of the land, discover its beauty and encounter its conflicts, complexities and harmonies in a search for liberty, peace and prosperity. Interacting with leaders, activists, academics and common folk from the south asian sphere about their work and their passions, their dreams and their life journeys, their immigrant experiences, advocacy efforts, religion, politics, and so much more. With this, your host, journalist and author, Peter Friedrich. Hand in hand, we meet and stand with South Asia. This is DosA. Welcome. Today we have a special gathering planned, and we are hosting a webinar to highlight what is happening, the persecution that is occurring currently to Christians in India, and what we here in America, especially as american Christians, can do to respond to what's happening over there in India. We have a great lineup planned, and we're going to start with our master of ceremonies, Mr. Jamie Bennett. Jamie Bennett, he's a golden voice. He has a golden voice, which is really, I believe, made for the airwaves. But far better than that, he has a heart devoted to the love of God and of all of his creatures. And, Jamie, just to give you a little bit of background about him, Jamie serves as a catechist that is an instructor of catechumens at St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton, Florida. He also hosts the bad books of the Bible on ancient faith radio. In addition to his religious duties, he is the chief lyricist of the positive hip hop group Royal ruckus. Jamie holds degrees in education and biblical studies, and he is currently pursuing a Master of theological studies through the antiochian house of Studies. It's a lot of studies. Professionally, Jamie is employed at a forensic engineering firm within the insurance industry, and he resides in South Florida with his wife and his son, where they enjoy the vibrant community and beautiful surroundings of that area. And so with that, I welcome you, Jamie, and pass the mic on to you to proceed as our master of ceremonies for the event. [00:02:31] Speaker B: Thank you, sir. [00:02:32] Speaker A: I appreciate you having me on. It's an honor to be here with all of these panelists. I am eager to hear what they have to say on this very important topic. I don't intend to play much of a role here except to introduce each of these people and then join in our audience in listening in. But I do want to make a few remarks before we get started, because why are we here? It occurred to me that this is actually a very timely meeting. The voice of the martyrs has just this year reclassified India as a restricted nation in its 2024 Global Prayer Guide. This is a direct result of growing extremism and persecution of Christians by radical Hindus and with the government playing a complicit role. At the very least, despite many public statements being made about this against religious discrimination, India's leaders have really passed laws in several states that have hindered even the conversion of Hindus. And along with this, there's growing support for such laws at the federal level within India. And this affects the on the ground reality of the Christians who live there. These laws have been used actively against pastors, against evangelists, church planters of various denominations. Yet despite all this persecution, India's churches are growing. So today we're going to hear from a panel of speakers who are going to bring light to these issues. Our first presenter is the very Reverend Dr. John Gillians. He's the former chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America. He's also the current vice president of the Orthodox Theological Society in America, 40 years in the priesthood. He's served in Australia, Greece, England, Canada and the United States. He has doctoral degrees in theology from several esteemed universities. He's the co founder of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, England. He continues to be a visiting professor. He also taught at the. I'm not sure how to say this sheptistic. He'll have to correct me when it's his turn. I'm sorry. Institute for Eastern Christian Studies in Canada and St. Vladimir's Seminary and Fordham University. The list goes on. He is quite accomplished, and especially he is the author of Divine Guidance Lessons for Today from the world of early Christianity. Welcome, Father. Dr. John Gillians. Thank you very much. And it's the Shiptzky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies. It's mainly Ukrainian Catholic, but it's ecumenical in that it brings orthodox and Eastern Catholics together. It's only in the last couple of years that I've become more directly aware of contemporary christian life in India and even more recently, the extent of religious oppression in India. So I'm honored to be with all of you who have a lot more experience in this whole area. But I have to say that all my life I've been conscious of antichristian persecution. My grandmother, who was the daughter of an orthodox priest, fled Russia in the wake of the 1917 communist revolution and came as a refugee to Canada with two toddlers, my mother and her sister. I was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church and was always aware of the continuing persecution of believers and other dissidents. Tragically, after a period of freedom in the 1990s, Russia has again closed down suppressed dissidents like the newly reposed Alexey Navalny and is pursuing a horrific war against Ukraine, but this time with the blessing of the patriarch of Moscow. Today our webinar focuses on christians in India, but we need to speak up for all those anywhere in the world being threatened or violently attacked for their thought, conscience or religious faith. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 18 that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others, and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. Article 19 goes on to say that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. We here today, and with our brothers and sisters in our churches, we need to insist that our countries and religious institutions uphold this standard, even if we as christians disagree with the thought, conscience or religious faith of others. Insistence on freedom for all is the only protection against one group suppressing, oppressing and persecuting others. As we consider the situation in India today, I've been asked to begin with a prayer and I've chosen psalm 142. This is prayed at every evening service, evening vesper service in the orthodox church and seems fitting as we consider the plight of our christian brothers and sisters in India. [00:08:41] Speaker C: Let us pray. [00:08:45] Speaker A: With my voice I cry to the Lord. With my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him. I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit is faint, you know my way in the path where I walk. They have hidden a trap for me. Look on my right hand and see there is no one who takes notice of me. No refuge remains for me. No one cares for me. I cry to you, Lord, I say you are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. Listen to my cry, for I am brought very low. Save me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me. Bring me out of prison so that I may give thanks to your name. The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me. Amen. Thank you, Father John. Our next presenter is Peter Friedrich, who is a journalist and author focused on current and historical events in South Asia, especially the rise of the hindu nationalist movement and its connections to american sociopolitan politics. Some of his books have been translated into at least half a dozen indian origin languages, and his work for the rights of indian minorities has even drawn the wrath of the current indian government. He is currently a catechumen in the orthodox church in America, and he will speak briefly about the big picture of how and why oppression is taking over India, especially for religious minorities, including christians. Thank you, Jamie, and I'm very pleased to be here. May I please open by quoting lyrics from the singer and the actor Jonathan Jackson, who also happens to be an orthodox christian here in America. In his words, I've got a dream. I think it's a righteous dream it's for the people it's for the people but the days are evil I've got a song I think it's a healing song it's for the people it's for the people but the days are evil how are we going to break through? How are we going to break through the noise, the noise, the noise I've got a word I think it's a timely word I've got a prayer I think it's an honest prayer, yeah I'll keep on singing until I've got no voice in me the days are indeed evil in India particularly. The days are growing more and more evil. And yet there are far too few abroad who are dreaming, singing, getting a word or prayer for how to break through the noise about what is going on with the people over there in India. In fact, most speaking, especially from my experience here in the US, seem entirely unaware of what is occurring in India. You see, India today is not actually just all about Gandhi, Bollywood, yoga, and maybe also curry global ignorance about the situation in India. It's disturbing. It's disturbing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that India is now the world's most populous nation for people who believe in basic human rights and civil liberties. It's also deeply concerning considering that India, while continuing to advertise itself as the world's largest democracy, is on the path to stripping all of those things away. To the extent that some, including myself, would tearfully recategorize India today as the world's largest fascist nation. Here in America, we are all too familiar with willy nilly tossing about of terms like fascism, applying them to any and all political opponents from whatever political spectrum. And yet, when I use the term for modern India, it is utterly without hyperbole. I could extensively launch into a dialectic about how the regime, which has dominated India for the past decade and appears, barring a miracle, likely to do so for many years to come, is one whose origins include direct inspiration and even interactions with the original fascists in Europe. But that's a conversation for a different day. Instead, I want to first express my gratitude to all of those who have convened here today for this event focused on discussing the ongoing escalating and indeed skyrocketing persecution of indian Christians. By design, everyone speaking tonight, except our two subject matter experts who are graciously joining us from India, is an american Christian. Most of you, in fact, are clergy members. It's delightful to see that our speakers tonight are from all three major christian traditions, Catholic, orthodox, and Protestant. Moreover, all of you are from disparate systems or backgrounds, ranging from the conservative to the liberal and the traditional to the progressive. The unifying factor, I believe, is your or our willingness to take up the call of Jesus Christ to speak for the least of these. For almost the past 20 years, I have worked intimately with Indians around the world, particularly the indian american diaspora, to research, document, and expose violations of human rights in India. Over the past decade, since the hindu nationalist regime assumed power in India, the largest threat to human rights in that country, particularly the right to religious freedom, has become the hindu nationalist movement. In that time, here is what I have experienced. You see, I'm a journalist and I'm an author working in this space who actually, like Jonathan Jackson, the singer, and the actor I quoted at the outset, also just happens to be a Christian. I was raised a Presbyterian, became an Anglican, and I am now in the process of hopefully being received into the orthodox church. Along the way, as I have been working, this is what I have experienced repeatedly. Repeatedly, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and others from India have approached me with concerns about what's happening in India and basically said, peter, you're a Christian. What can you do to get the church in America talking about what's happening to Christians in India? You heard that right. Over and over and over again, I have had deeply religious non Christians from India approach me and ask me to do what I can to mobilize american Christians, to, pardon my french, give a good goddamn about what is happening to their sisters and brothers back over there in India. Now, my response has generally been to point out that, yes, I am a believer, but basically that means I want to follow Jesus and I go to services on Sunday. It does not mean that I am plugged into what you might call the political networks of American Christianity. And so all I'm left with is either knocking on strangers doors or else appealing to the people that I already know. Now, as I begin to wrap up, I want to share with you what I've attempted to do when it comes to the knocking on strangers doors aspect. Two things first. While back, I went to a regional pastor's breakfast at the invitation of, and accompanied by a member of that group, he introduced me to an influential pastor of many megachurch, if that's the term, if that's what you call it. A tall, handsome, charismatic man. I gave him my spiel. I gave him my materials, and the pastor swiftly patted me on the back, gave me a giant grin, and said, I'll bless you. Paraphrasing him, I'll bless you. I'm so glad that you're doing this. And I bit my tongue to stop an expletive, and my thought was, no, pastor, I don't bleeping want your affirmations. I want your ear, that you would be willing to hear what is happening in India, and if so moved, be willing to get off your rear and do something about it. Secondly, I was introduced to multiple christian clergy through an indian american contact who set up coffees and lunches with them so that I could explain what is happening in India. Probably about 80% of them were totally ignorant of the issue. I distinctly remember one here's why. I had spent about 90 minutes having lunch with this wonderful retired pastor from a mainline protestant denomination. I thought that I had adequately laid out the situation already. But then he stopped and he asked me, so what does persecution of Christians in India look like? Job or housing discrimination? Social boycotting? What? I paused, perplexed, because I thought I'd already explained it, but then I was like, well, yes, that is part of it. But no, here's what it looks like. On Sunday, as the congregation is gathering for services, a mob, typically armed and often accompanied by the police, assembles outside of the sanctuary. They burst in. They begin smashing everything. They start beating the pastor and the congregants. If the police aren't already there, then the mob hauls everyone down to the station, turns them in, and the police slap charges on the victims instead of the perpetrators. That is the image. That is what persecution of Christians in India looks like. And I saw the light bulb go off in this pastor's head, and he said, oh, like the. Yes, yes, exactly like the Nazis, sir. I said, see, what is happening to Christians in India today is exactly like what the Nazis did to those that they hated in the age of the Nazis, with mobs on the streets who are complicit with the state. So a point from all of that. The christian speakers assembled here tonight not only represent those american Christians who I have, thank God, been able to personally connect with on this issue in the past, but they also represent, speaking from my experience in this field of almost 20 years, very nearly the entirety of every non indian american Christian that I am aware of, who is talking about the issue at all. To rephrase that a little bit, basically, everybody here assembled, particularly the clergy, constitute almost everybody in America who I'm aware of, who is actively speaking about what's happening to indian religious minorities, let alone indian Christians. That's both depressing that we are so few, although we could look to the story of Gideon. But it's also inspiring that we should thus be uniting at the present moment. And so it is my hope, and it is my prayer that tonight will be a chance for us to stand in solidarity, to network and proceed from here to do so much more. Or, as one great man from India once said, let tonight hopefully be a beginning for us to educate, agitate. And lastly, lastly, in context of India, I do speak. We do speak tonight primarily about indian Christians. But God's honest truth is that the victims in India are not just Christians, but also Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, and anyone else, including any Hindus and the non religious, who happen to object to the totalitarianism of the situation. Yet here we are, all gathered as Christians. And what I would ask us to do tonight is to focus on the persecution primarily of Christians in India. And why them, exclusively at the moment? At the moment? Well, because as Christians, we are certainly required to care for all those who are persecuted and even to love our enemies. But the thing is, if we can't even be bothered to at least care about our own enough to raise a voice for them, then how can we even begin to care for those who are not of us, who are also being persecuted? But I remind you, the interesting thing about India, what's happening there today, is that actually, currently, almost everyone facing persecution is facing it by the same source, at the same time, and for mostly the same reasons. Thus, whether we speak about persecution of Christians, Dalits, dissidents, Muslims, Sikhs or others, doing so actually simultaneously benefits all of the others. And so this, then, is my appeal to you. Let us go forward after this night, after this day, wherever you are willing to at least stand up and speak out for our own. And so, as I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panel of assembled speakers, I once again say that the days are evil in India. But I do rejoice that, united together in the spirit of, love of, and in Jesus Christ, we can see whether we live to see it or not, a bright future for India. I once again say that I'm dreaming. Singing getting a word or a prayer for the people. But you see, the days are evil. So how are we going to break through the noise? Well, if we listen and are moved to act on this particular issue, I think we can easily break through the noise with the commitment to, in singer actor Jonathan Jackson's words, keep on singing until I've got no voice in me. If we do that, we may yet see India's days move from evil to unimaginably beautiful. So with that, thank you again, Jamie and I look forward to hearing from our panel. Yeah, thank you for that frank but hopeful presentation. I think that really sets up the rest of our conversations very well. Our next presenter is Dr. John de Isle. He studied to become a physicist before becoming a senior journalist, turned full time human rights advocate. Now he's been a journalist for the past 55 years, working across the world. He was even a war correspondent in Lebanon and Sri Lanka. He spent the last several decades as an activist, especially working to document communal conflict and to bring peace. He is the former president of the All India Catholic Union, which is the oldest organization for catholic laity in Asia. And he remains a well known and respected figure throughout the secular and christian society in India. So we're delighted to have him today, and he will offer us a bird's eye view of what is happening in India. [00:24:58] Speaker D: Welcome, sir, but I do greet you early indian morning, my sister and my brothers in Christ, to this, I think, very important meeting. And without disparaging or belittling his status, his stature and its importance, my 1,000,000th and fifth meeting in the last 25 years or so, talking to international audiences about the indian situation. And before I begin, let me pay my tributes to Father Dr. John Wallamatam of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, who founded this whole study of the persecution of Christians in India in 1990. And how's his first student and colleague? And collectively, both of us started documenting violence and have not, unfortunately, been able to stop. He passed away. I continue to do now almost alone. Others have taken up the imagination. Fellowship of India, the ADF in India, which is diametrically opposite the ADF in the US, and many other organizations, including the United Christian Forum. But no mainline church documents indian christian persecution, not even the persecution of their own people. The Catholic Church in its three dimensions in India, the Latin Roman Catholic, of which I am one, the Syromalabar, Eastern Chaldean Catholic, the Syromalabar, the western liturgical Catholic. Three catholic groups totaling about 20 million Christians don't document it at all. The anglican communion and its variations, including the Methodists and the Baptists and all haven't a clue how to begin. Richard Howell, when using the EFI was involved, because EFI was involved. And the EFI remains the only large body doing an annual report on christian violence. And that is one reason the voice looks so muted. My almost annual reports to every international agency possibly goes unread, because every time I go to the same person, he says he's never heard it before and say, my dear friend, you heard me personally, complete with beard and moustache. And he feigns ignorance. I think largely the reason why India is invisible to the world, particularly the christian world, which is also the world making the largest weapon industry, which is also the world leading in the new artificial intelligence and the old silicon explosion, which is also a region which employs much of India. And this nexus, this umbilicus, this connect, this unholy marriage, its components are India is one of the biggest buyers of weapons from the US, from France, from England, from Germany, from Israel. It also buys from the Soviet Union for good measure. It's one of the biggest markets outside of China. For anything that you manufacture, from false ideas and fake news all the way to micro details of electronics, all our phones, everything else that we use, barring indian condiments, you are growingly a military ally, whether it's against China in the China Sea, or it's against Iran in the indian peninsula, or whether it is against enemies unseen in the Mediterranean and the indopacific oceans. And what I've come to the conclusion is that no Indian in particular is ignorant. Be in India or be in the US, where there are 20 million. Now. The US population of Indians is about almost as large as the christian population in India. Almost, if not quite. And that's something that you need to ponder over. He or she is instead of denial, as are international agencies, as if the White House. I've been in touch with them, as I said, since 19, 90, 30 years, almost 35 years. I would say the only time they woke up for a few minutes was when they were still in. Missionary Graham Stewart Strange and his sons were burnt alive on 22nd and 23 January 1999. That died out after a while. Films were made, tons of money was exchanged. The idea died down the fact that he was killed by the same forces that persecute and threaten to kill me and others like us. The forces of alive. The same mechanism, the same finances, the same organizations, the same people on the ground where Dara Singh, the killer of strains, ruled and murdered the others of his very, very very active now. There's still murder. Nobody is bothered anymore. And we need to ponder why it is so. Is it because we have become untouchable in a very positive way that you dare not touch us lest we shame you by defying you? Let Mr. Modi tell the US president, whoever is put us, go away. If you don't go away, I will not buy, I will not sell, I will not assist you. I think today India is in a state where it can unfortunately stand up and defy world criticism, defy international odium. And if push come to shove, would be able to defy sanctions. Not that they have ever sought sanctions. Because while the rich are very rich in India, the poor are very poor and numerous. 60% of India is starving. I would not want any structure which would hurt them all. Having built this thing, let me document it in today's world. I mean, we're not going to go into the past. We're not going to talk of Kandamal and how Peter first came to India. And when I met him when he first came to India, he was a young, handsome boy. He's an older, handsome person now. But his inquisitiveness and steadfastness is an example to any human rights activist anyway, including my brothers and sisters in India, who for most of them, it's a job, it's an employment, it's a contract, it's some setup ngo that they have funded by Americans or Europeans or even by Indians. And they can move on. They can move on from christian persecution to PETA, the persecution of animals. And they can then go on to environment and maybe to something else. Who knows? Some join the police. That's also a fact. But let's look at what's been happening in Mr. Modi's ten years. What's happened in this ten years that Mr. Modi had been around. And he's not the only man of his idiom who's been around. His leader, Atanvari Bhakpai, reigned for seven years at the turn of the century. Exploded bombs, killed Muslims, did everything. Father and son. A direct relationship I could trace for you. This is the second big coming of this force. They were empowered by the first coming and they discovered how it is possible to go about killing people and yet pass master. The massacre of Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat, where Mr. Modi was the chief minister in charge, was. It's elaborate for how you can get away with murder and spread the country. So what happened last year? Anywhere between 600 to 800 Christians were harassed, beaten up, killed. The churches burned there, women taken to jail, including little children. The pastors arrested hamaths, Catholics, Protestants, evangelicals, free church. You name the denominator and more. And they were there. It's not that they were picking on any. So there's three cases a day shooting up during Easter and during Christmas, when the church is visible. And today it has come to such an impasse that state upon state is criminalizing evangelization, not conversion, evangelization. Not if you're a white priest. But even if Richard, Howard or I were to go to Assam, would be jailed. The state of Assam is the gateway to the far east. State upon state has brought laws that if we speak, my house can be demolished for no rhyme or reason, but just to silence. It's happening to people. It's happening to Muslims much more than it's happening to Christians, but it is happening to Christians. People who have been arrested for no rhyme or reason include catholic nuns, catholic fathers, catholic institution principals, presbyterians, evangelicals. You name the denomination and its invert indian version. Somebody or the other is in jail, struggling for bail. You celebrate with us every time a jail Christian comes out to breathe. Please understand, he's out enlarged on bail. He's not exonerated. The case is not over. He can go back to jail the day after tomorrow. Almost every Christian today who was in jail and is out today is out on bail. The cases don't come up. They don't come up in the Supreme Court. They don't come up in the state supreme court. They don't come up in the smaller post. Delayed justice, not responding. Today is a situation where there's no Christian in senior office who can counsel Mr. Modi. There's no member of the christian community in the commission for religious Minorities, which oversees the human rights of religious minorities. There's no senior cabinet minister in the Union cabinet. And there's practically other than the Far east and other than Kerala, there's no christian minister in office in any of maybe 25 indian states. There is no Christian in governance, governance, in the Election commission, in the Supreme Court, in most of the high courts, the commanders of the major indian militaries, there's none. So today we are politically disempowered, we are administratively neutered, and in terms of civil liberties, including the voice, we are silenced. So how can I speak? How can you say Richard is here and John is speaking? This is allowed freedom. They have the news here. They can jerk it anytime. A few of us, a handful, 2030, speak. The rest of the 30 million are silent. Our leadership, our cardinals, our general secretaries, our other officers have been beaten into silence. They and their skeletons are under inquiry. The most smart indian detective agencies are after them. The wives, their cousins, the institutions, the colleges are all under scrutiny. The man knocks on the door every day and that knock totally disempowers the voice. Can you be my voice? Is the question we ask your president when they come to India. Ask the secretary general, the special rapportio, the ambassador at large, the international offices, your own ambassador in India. We ask them every day. We knock every day. The rule of law doesn't exist for religious minorities. And of them, the christian community is the most vulnerable. I thank you for this opportunity and I'm grateful that you have been listening to me in such silence. [00:38:13] Speaker A: Thank you for sharing those words and sharing your firsthand experience. You speak with a knowledge that many of us on this panel don't have that firsthand knowledge. So thank you very much for that. Our next panelist is Reverend Peter Cook. He serves as the executive director of the New York State Council of Churches which represents approximately 7000 congregations across that state. Since 1893, the council has advocated for more just laws particularly to aid the poor and the disenfranchised. Reverend Cook also serves as co chair of the India Working group a collaborative within the International Religious Freedom Roundtable where he helps to reflect the New York Council of Church's commitment to international freedom and human rights in India and Israel Palestine. Welcome. [00:39:03] Speaker E: Well, thank you very much. I'm very grateful to join this distinguished and diverse group of christian faith leaders in speaking about the massive suppression of human rights and religious freedom of Christians in India and also the freedom of those in the United States and around the world who experience this pression as they seek to advocate against discrimination in India. I am a white, male clergy person who is ordained in the United Church of Christ a very liberal denomination which traces its roots back to the pilgrims but also to the german reform people and german evangelicals in the United States. And we are a very strong ecumenical body which has historic connections to the largest ecumenical church in the world which is the Church of South India which springs from the Methodist, presbyterian, congregational and anglican churches all which in India have come together to form what we know as the Church of South India. Those churches were part of a vast christian missionary movement beginning in the 19th century which sought to offer the gospel through the construction of churches and religious education but is probably best known for the establishment of schools and hospitals that were accessible to anyone regardless of their faith or sex or station in life. When I'm asked about my connection to India. I proudly speak of my religious tradition, but I also like to say that I have gone to India personally one and a half times. The halftime part came when I led a delegation to India, and we discovered, because we were christian, that nine of us were harassed and interrogated at the Chennai airport in southern India before being sent back home. On the next plane, we were told that Christians were not welcome in India. And I believe there are a number of reasons that they said that to us, a number of reasons why they are not terribly interested in having christians in India. And it overall is because we really, by our very being, challenged the harassment and oppression of the indian government. More specifically, Christians, by definition, challenge the caste system. Second, we are perceived as a threat because we might advocate for the rights of Dalits. Third, that we may convert Hindus to Christianity just by offering food, education and health care to those in need, which might invoke in them sympathies which would lead them to convert. Fourth, that we might bring money into the country which would improve the circumstances of those in need and which might elevate them from their misery and challenge the status quo. And I would just say that if you have any doubts about that, just take a look at how the indian government is really cracking down on church's ability to receive foreign contributions through what's called the FCRA. Now, I have a couple others that I think Christians, given our stance on equality, are threatening, particularly when we embrace the rights of women and also people who are gay and lesbian. And this is also a threat to the indian government, given our liberal faith. We really aren't particularly a threat to Hinduism, or for that matter, any religion. But we are a threat to the hindu nationalist state, which twists the hindu faith and merges it, I think, with corporate interests in order to exploit people for their financial gain and maintain wealth and equality. And it also, hindu nationalism becomes a tool to really embrace militarism as another form to maintain their power. I did manage to get in the next year into India without incident, and I had a wonderful time there, and I did not experience any personal harassment, but I did hear a lot of stories from others about fear that they experience. And I do stay in touch with christian brothers and sisters who go to India who report on increasing levels of intimidation which are directed towards them and others. Indeed, we are getting reports now that in northeast India, they are really cracking down on white missionaries and expelling them from the country. But I really promised to myself and others in India that when I returned to the United States, I would do everything I could to speak against nationalism and advocate for the human rights and religious freedom of Christians and indeed all religious minorities. That commitment and my liberal christian leanings bring me here tonight from the depth of my being. I am inalterably opposed to any government, any government seeking to nationalize one religion at the expense of all other religions. One of the wonders of India is that they have a secular constitution that does not institute one religion above all other religions. It allows for the freedom of religious expression. And yet the hindu nationalist government ignores their constitution, and it is particularly heinous in the way it operates. It also springs from some other forms of nationalism which are equally problematic, and especially, we must confess, christian nationalism, which drinks from the waters of antisemitism, white supremacy, and german fascism and, dare I say, christian and Jewish Zionism, another form of nationalism. It's really our duty as christians to oppose nationalism in all of its forms and as a tenet of our christian faith to seek the liberation of all people. This is central to who we are, and we need to do everything we can to speak up and challenge policies and practices wherever we see it and to give voice for those who are oppressed. Thank you. [00:48:57] Speaker A: Thank you, Reverend Cook, for sharing your perspective and especially for raising the constitutional question. I think that's an important one that needs to be raised. Our next panelist is Reverend Dr. Richard Howell. He's an ordained clergy member of the Evangelical Church of God. His service includes being the general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India from 1997 to 2015 and holding the position of general secretary for the Asia Evangelical alliance for ten years. Additionally, he served as vice president of the World Evangelical alliance for four years, as well as a founding member of the Global Christian Forum. Now, currently, he is president of the Caleb Institute of Theology, located near Delhi, India. He will offer insights today on exactly what is happening to christians in India and maybe even give us some stories about their oppression. [00:49:49] Speaker F: Thank you very much for the privilege to share what I personally know. I love India. I'm proud to be a citizen of India. It's a constitutional democracy. My citizenship gives me the right to love India, but also to speak the freedom to speak. The challenge is this. Freedom is being curtailed massively. As Dr. John Deyal and others have already narrated. The church continues to grow and the church continues to suffer, for they worship Jesus Christ. I'll give you two examples of most recent suffering. A student at Caleb Institute, Bhagwan. Bhagwan is his name. He studied with us for one year and went back to his village in Punjab, Lumbi village. And on 19 January, he went to inaugurate consecrate a land where the church building was to be constructed near Jalandar. He and few others were attacked. Pastor Bhagawan was attacked with swords and sticks. He fell unconscious on the ground, was taken to hospital, underwent surgery of the skull. Doctors tried their level best to save him but they could not so attacked. On the 24 January in Jalander. On 19th February, in spite of all efforts, he died. Died as a martyr for his faith. Pastor Bhagwan, attacked on 24th January 2004 suffered skull injuries all over the body. Beaten up with sword and sticks. Died as a matter on 20 on 19th February in CMC Luthiana, where doctors couldn't save his life. What was his fault that he preached? Christ served the poor. He comes from a poor, poor family. Poor people throng to worship Christ. They receive a message of hope, of freedom, of being loved, of being cared as a member of the body of Jesus Christ. That was the only reason that he became a threat to others and they put him to death. I'll give you another example, a very painful example. The first agricultural institute in India, the first ever was established by an american missionary who came to India, saw the plight of farmers, went back to America, studied agriculture and established an agriculture institute in Naini Alabad, what is now known as Priyagraj. Dr. Professor Argilal, the famous soil scientist who studied in America, raised that institution to become a university. Along with that, he had the freedom to worship Christ. There was a gathering that came known as Yesudarbar, the court of Jesus Christ. He was harassed, false cases put against him. He got relief from the Supreme Court. Then he went back to his position as the vice chancellor of a university. But again, the government thought that to be an opportunity to arrest him and put him behind the bus. A false case was levied against him. He is in prison for no rhyme or reason. False case. He was involved in murder. There was no proof. CCT camera doesn't show that he was along with goons and wanted to attack a group of people falsehood and put behind the bars in jail. Not only that, the Yesu Dharbad, which was running for 24 years, 24 long years, where people came in, thousands stayed there, they were fed there, they worshipped there from all over, was stopped by police, by force. People were not allowed to come into the ground and worship Christ. In 2023, the record shows there were two incidents of violence every day against christians. Two incidents. Now these are reported things unreported could be massive. Dr. John Deal, my good friend who mentored me in this area of religious advocacy, was the first one to record the list of those being persecuted. There is loss of life, bereavement, physical injury, panic, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideas, job loss, financial loss, loss of property and work opportunity due to their faith or connection to a faith based identity that is being. You are a Christian. There are three things that happen for persecution to take place. First is disinformation. So christians are a threat to the nation. They are foreigners. They worship a foreign God that leads to discrimination, and discrimination leads to persecution. If you want to kill a dog, which is healthy and a pet, you start saying he's a mad dog and therefore needs to be killed. That is exactly what has happened. The narrative that Christians are a threat. They have forgotten all the contributions that the church in India has made and continues to make. Empowering the poor, that's there. And then, as I said, separation from family, children growing up in fear, that's a hard reality. Fear of practicing their faith openly, fear of encountering violence. For wearing symbols of faith. These days, if you carry two bibles in a state of Uttar Pradesh, the police can catch you. Why are you carrying two bibles? One for you and one to convert. My dear friend, that's the state of affairs where minorities, and christians in particular, political disenfranchisement. We have tribal communities in India, and tribal communities enjoy certain government benefits. Now, the narrative that is being spread is this. If you start worshipping Christ, you cannot no longer enjoy the benefits of being a tribal just because they worship Christ. Freedom of religion. Freedom to worship is guaranteed in the constitution of India. That's why I said, I'm happy. But a voice needs to be raised so that we safeguard the freedoms. Don't close your eyes to what is happening. That would be a suicidal thing for community at large. Speak for everybody's freedom. Everybody's. Everybody's freedom. In Kashmir, brahmins were persecuted. They had to leave. We speak for them. We speak for Dalit, we speak for everyone. Human rights are for all. Justice and freedom for all. That is our mantra. We are not biased and we don't close our eyes to what is happening. You see, the church in the 19th century grew under colonialism amid colonial India. Amid the rising national awakening. Led by foreign funded western missionary societies, they were in control of the transmission and direction of missions. The mission birthed mainline churches, and an american missionary calls it the latin captivity of the church. The church growth recently is post colonial. Encountering militant hindu nationalism, and is happening without western organized structures, including recognition by the academia. The growth is occurring amid widespread instability. It needs to be termed as the growth of indian Christianity, for it is indigenous. It involves considerable indian resources and indian religious categories to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what is happening. And the growth, as I said, is happening. Most unconventional. It's happening in the families. Now, I can give you statistics well known. There are 10 million Bojapuri Christians who live in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar area. 10 million have turned to Christ, and they come from all sorts of caste and religion. The Hindu Bojpuris, the high caste, the low caste, and the Muslim Bojpuris are worshipping Christ. Are worshipping Christ. A media narrative. A media narrative in India will never report it, but they control. They create narratives which leads to disinformation and therefore persecution of the church in India. But thank God, the churches continue to grow, and the churches continue to witness for Jesus Christ. And my dear friends, I appeal to you as citizens of a free country, the bold and the country of the bold and the brave. The free and the brave. Speak in love. Stand up for human rights. Stand up for justice for all and freedom for all. One last thing I'll share and I'll close. Christian ngos, those who are serving the poor, children in particular, the poor in particular, have been removed from the scene to undermine the impact of christian influence. Christian influence has become a threat. We don't go out to convert. Jesus said, I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. That's our motivation, to serve India, not to convert India. To serve India. People respond to the love of Christ. Christ is very attractive. He met with the prostitutes and delivered them. Met with a samaritan lady who believed in discrimination. You know, I'm a samaritan. You are a jew. He said, give me a cup. Give me a drink. How empowering was that? Now you remove our influence from the society. Who is going to empower the powerless, the dullets and the marginalized, the poor and the women? And even, as it was said, for those who have different sexual orientations, what do you do? Speak up. There is a God who rules, sovereign God who rules. He knows what's happening. We are like Daniel. Daniel was a slave in a country that was not his own. But he rose to power. He was resilient, he was faithful. He served. But when it came to worship, he said, oh, king, I worship the living God, whatever be the cost. I will never give up my worship of the living God. That's what we say. We love India, we serve India, but we will worship the Lord who loves everybody, who doesn't discriminate between people. Sadhrak Mesa Kabit Nugo went into the fiery furnace, but the fourth man, the son of God, was there with them. That's what we believe. We are called to love. We are called to serve. Whatever be the cost, the church will continue to do it because we have believed in the Lord. One who was crucified for our sake, who rose again. A narrative doesn't end with crucifixion. A narrative ends with resurrection. We have a hope which we spread. Jesus is alive and we are the children of God who called us to love and serve all. Thank you very much. [01:03:28] Speaker A: Thank you, Reverend Dr. Howell, for your impassioned presentation, for sharing both harrowing stories, but also giving us the hope of the light of Christ. You really have actually put a focus on what's at stake. So thank you for that. Next up is Father Joshua Lictor. He's an anglican priest in northern California. He's been involved in advocacy work for persecuted minorities in India for over ten years. Actually. He's very passionate about human rights. He also has a love for the promotion of the arts and he co owns a coffee shop with his wife Rachel. They host live music. He has a heart for those who don't feel like they fit in. And he also enjoys comic book conventions and Yoda and encourages you to ask him about it sometime. It's nice to have a little bit of lightness there as well. So, Father Joshua, welcome. [01:04:25] Speaker G: Thank you. And thank you to everyone else who's shared so far. I'm definitely going to take out of this discussion an excitement that our narrative does not end with crucifixion, but with resurrection. So thank you very much, Reverend Hal, for sharing that. That was absolutely beautiful. I didn't know I was going to get a nice homily during this discussion, but I'm very glad that I did. That was wonderful. As you said, I've been passionate about this and involved with this for the past ten years. And in 2017, a pastor in Punjab named Sultan Massi was assassinated outside of his church. And I felt just this overwhelming personal connection to him. Never met him. I just heard his story and read about him after I found out he had been murdered and saw in him a person that shared a lot of things in common with myself. He cared for the poor and the needy and the marginalized in his community. And he believed passionately that the gospel message could instill a sense of value and worth in people that they otherwise did not have. He was a Christian, being obedient to Christ, making disciples of all nations. And that's a message that honors and values the human dignity of all of humanity. And he was accused of paying people to convert to Christianity, as if that's ever been a tactic anywhere that the church has used. And so I ended up holding a vigil for him in front of city hall in Roseville, California. Just small, small town, not a big national impact by any stretch, but it was an opportunity to be able to at least take this personal story and make it known to people in our community. And small though it was, I know that his family appreciated it, and other people who had close family and friends martyred for the sake of the gospel in India appreciated it. We can never underestimate the value of letting other people know that we hear their stories and we know their stories, and we honor them and honor what they've had to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. I currently have two friends that have been doing missions work in India, and I've been concerned about the implementation of all the anti conversion laws and the extreme hindu nationalist rhetoric and the impact that this can have on non Hindus. As I've been following closely what's been going on in India over the past ten years and recently, I wanted to see how my friends were doing and if they'd be willing to make any type of public statement about their experiences. And they all told me that in the past they would have, but for safety reasons, now they can't make any public comments. In fact, I'm being very careful not to say who they are or where they live or what work they were doing in India. One of them is actually back in the United States now and doesn't know if they're going to be able to return to India again. They were involved with a church that trained dalit women how to make crafts for a living. They worked hand in hand with that church community to empower the poor in their community and educated women on personal sanitation, basic health needs, that kind of thing. And they were threatened by police and told that they had to leave soon or suffer the consequences, and so they were forced out of India. They were doing incredible public good, and the indian community didn't like that. The ministry is still functioning, but they are unable to get any kind of outside assistance now. It all has to come from within India. They can't make appeals to people in other countries to send in money or people to help them. It's not allowed. The indian government won't let them do that. And they're afraid to go public with the names and locations because of the very real threat of what's now being called transnational repression. And that's a related topic because while I am deeply concerned about the persecution of Christians in India, it's bleeding over into the global sphere now. I am even more concerned about transnational repression and what that is. Transnational repression is when a foreign government has agents operating in foreign countries, countries that aren't their own, actively involved in influencing elections, but also in instilling fear and intimidation and sometimes even murdering people that are speaking out against their home government. And that is very much a reality right now. And India is the biggest culprit. A lot of people in America are focusing on Russia and China and their involvement in transnational repression, but India is the big problem. India is directly responsible for assassinations now of people in foreign countries. It's horrific. And this affects people like all of us here. Any Christians in the United States that speak up against the indian government can be targeted by the indian government just for speaking out against human rights violations in India. That's very much a present reality right now. I know Peter has experienced that firsthand in the past. I've experienced it on a small degree, but it very much is a reality and very much is a concern, and that should concern everyone who cares about human rights. We need to be able to speak up, we need to pray about what's happening in India, but we also need to tell our elected officials as election season is coming up, we need to make sure that both sides who are pursuing office or three sides or four sides, whoever it is that's involved in pursuing the office that they're aware of and are discussing transnational repression, because it might just be that the politicians that were trying to get in are getting funded by the RSS. That's very much a reality. And they're going to be calling those favors in and coming against the people that are speaking out against what's happening in India. So that's very much a big concern of mine. And it's a concern that the Christians that I've spoken to who have done work in India in the past are very much concerned about. They're so scared of it that, like I said, they're not even willing to go public right now with their stories. And they want to make sure that if they do say anything, their names aren't mentioned or where they live right now in the United States isn't mentioned because they're afraid of transnational oppression and possibly getting attacked by agents of the indian government. So I do want to thank everyone for gathering together tonight. It's great to hear people from so many different backgrounds sharing their concerns about what's happening in India right now. And I think it's important that as we engage in these conversations, we also recognize this has a global impact. And this is something that it's going to be harder to get people to speak up against this because of the fear of what's happening. And we need to make sure that all of our governments are not just aware of what's happening in India, but are aware of what India is doing now in our own soil as well. Thank you. [01:12:24] Speaker A: Thank you for bringing out the international relevance of this issue. Father Joshua I'm definitely convinced that transnational issues are going to be at the forefront in coming years and decades, and we've only begun to see the beginning of it. So it's important that we are aware and active and alert. So our next panelist is Susan Corinne. She is a member of Pax Christi, the catholic peace movement. In 2015, she put her catholic faith into action by serving with community peacemaker teams. It's an organization that goes into crisis zones and support the local peacemakers. She has also served in the West Bank, Palestine, escorting children to school past israeli soldiers and settlers. She is active in Maryland with movements opposing the rise of India's hindu nationalist movement. Welcome. [01:13:18] Speaker H: Thank you, Jamie. I want to speak to the question of how we can evangelize the american church to better be engaged in the issue of anti hindufa work. And I don't claim to have the answer, but I wanted to share two christian models that have been used that I found to be evangelical. One was actually something that I used to evangelize my christian community to another persecuted community. And the other was something that actually evangelized me. So the first one is something called the Cairos documents. And this was started in South Africa in 1985. And Cairos means time or season or an acceptable time. And basically 150 clergy got together from South Africa and they wrote based in theology. But it was about their persecution, what they planned to do about it, and what they wanted the diaspora and the community to do about it. And I had become aware of Cairos through Cairos Palestine. At the time, I was working with the palestinian christian community, and the patriarch of Jerusalem, the catholic bishop, wrote Cairos Palestine, and all the other bishops signed it. And basically, these Cairos documents say three things. First of all, they highlight the persecution and injustice that they have, again, all from a theology standpoint. So with South Africa, they were talking about apartheid with Palestine, they're talking about the military occupation and confiscation of land. The second component of it is that they affirm that they are going to respond to the persecution in a christian way, that they are going to use nonviolence, but nonviolent resistance. And they actually detail how that is. So in South Africa, we are initiating boycotts. In Palestine, it was the boycott, divestment and sanction movement. And then the last thing was an open invitation to the international christian community to be in solidarity with them and actually take action. So this document wasn't meant to be sitting on a shelf. It was meant to be an evangelizing tool that just as the apostles walked out with their scripture and Paul walked out with their letters, this was meant for people to go out and evangelize. And the way that I ended up using it is pox Christi, which is the catholic peace movement. I had gone to my local chapter and I said, there's been no Catholic that has been catholic organization that has endorsed BDS. Why don't we do that? And they were really nervous about doing that. They totally understood what was going on, but they were worried about repercussions. But when we re couched the response to be within the Cairos Palestine framework, they decided to adopt it. So they specifically say, we support the goals of the BDS movement. But the title of it is a aunts to Cairos Palestine. So it sort of gave them cover and six other Pax Christis immediately adopted it. I will also tell you that the bishop, the patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote us a personal letter. And it was very touching to be laity, to have the patriarch write that. So it was a very good evangelical tool. The second thing, which is what converted me to Christianity is this whole notion of bearing witness and the way of the cross. And we've had a couple stories already from Reverend Lichter and Reverend Howell about people who've martyred themselves. We are today, it is a Friday in Catholic Lent. We go through the stations of the cross to sort of be closer to the martyrdom of Christ. And in Catholicism we call this the cloud of witnesses, that these are the people that we look to, to inspire us and to bring us closer to God. And they are not isolated points, but they all sort of are interwoven together. So an example, you've got St. Stephen, you've got the martyrdom of Christ, and then you've got Saint Stephen and then his martyrdom led to the martyrdom of the apostles. And then you have this whole line of persecuted people who all respond and evangelize. And I became a Christian after I heard the story of Maximilian Colby, who was somebody in the Holocaust who gave up his life for another one. He was a priest. So it's a very powerful tool or a very powerful witness. It's a very awful and painful witness, but it does have a way of evangelizing people. It also has a way of building solidarity. So Christ's Martyrdom brought out Simon to lift the cross and brought out Veronica to wipe his face. And we've already heard a couple stories that I thought were really compelling that could be shared with the american Christians to better understand. And one of the stories that really has moved me very much is the story of Father Stan Swami, who's the Jesuit who was helping the Adavasis plight. And he was put in jail, and he was very defiant. He said, I will not be a silent spectator. And I think those stories are things that we need to start sharing. And the next speaker, Popeye, is going to also share a story of witnessing and using his faith and standing up. The common themes that I think from these two examples, which is Cairos and bearing witness, are they incorporate a call to action for international solidarity. So it's not just saying this is happening to us. This is what I want you to do about tend both of these reach out to masses. So I know, Peter, you're talking about reaching out to clergy, but Christ reached out to the masses when he was turned away from the temple. So again, both Cairos and witness are things that the average person or the average Christian could be evangelized. And then the other thing is there's a focus on the hero and not the villain. So I'm somebody, I talk a lot about Modi in Maryland. We talk about our lieutenant governor. But I think that when you focus on those that are bearing witness, it draws people in a lot more. Another common theme is that these are all both the Cairos document and people who bear witness. They're playing the role of truth to power. And power doesn't like that. And it's very hard. But if you're convinced of the truth, you continue on. And then the last thing that I think was said several times before is trying to bring in the hope, the christian hope and the christian light. And that even in the darkest, most despairing moment, we are Easter people, and we remember that the tomb was empty. So I'll stop there. [01:21:00] Speaker A: Thank you, Susan. Appreciate your message of courage and hope in the midst of the dark situation that's being described. Next, I'd like to jump in briefly, Jamie, to speak about Father Stan Swami. Susan, thank you so much for your comments for our listeners. I would like people to know that Father Stan Swami was a Jesuit Catholic priest in India who had devoted his life to uplifting, serving the Adavasi, as you called them. We would call them in the english language, the tribal peoples of India, educating them, helping them to rise out of poverty. And he was a notorious critic of the current regime, hindu nationalist regime in India. He was arrested several years ago along with a whole host of other people that had charges slapped against them, accusing them of this broad conspiracy. He was, I believe, the only clergy member, and I think maybe the only Christian I know, the only clergy member and I think maybe the only Christian who was arrested in this whole conspiracy charges. And he died in prison as a martyr. As you mentioned, he died in prison. [01:22:26] Speaker D: Actually, there were three christians. He's the one who died. Two others remained there. [01:22:32] Speaker A: Thank you. Thank you, Dr. [01:22:34] Speaker D: Dial. [01:22:35] Speaker A: So with that, I just wanted to touch, briefly highlight that instance and bring a couple of details to it with that. Back to you, Jamie. Yeah, thank you for that addition. That's very helpful. Our next panelist is Pastor Brian Narin, who was born into a family that hated church, hated Christianity, and especially hated preachers. At the age of 14, he began a journey to know Jesus, and as a consequence of that, was disowned by his family and all alone. At 14 years old, he has pastored the International House of Prayer Ministries church for the last 25 years in Tennessee. And now in 2002, he made his first trip to Nepal and then to India the next year. He helped establish a nonprofit in 2004, teach Sunday school teachers in Nepal, India and Bhutan. Since its start, they have trained over 250,000 young people, 17 to 25 years olds, to work with and love children. He was not actively involved in religious conversion or national politics until the indian government essentially forced him into their business. In 2019, he was arrested. He was detained in India for seven months. Welcome, Pastor Brian. [01:23:54] Speaker C: Thank you. And thank you for the opportunity tonight to be able to share some of my story. The information that I'll share tonight is personal. It's real stuff that I've been involved in and lived through. And thank you to all the other panel members tonight for the things that you've shared and the influence you carry and this goal that Peter has, being able to reach church to pay attention to what is going on when I went to Nepal the first time and then to India in 2002. I became very excited, very passionate about the idea of helping poor children. I came in contact with a man who was very vigilant in that he'd been doing it for 20 years on a poly preacher pastor. And so I got involved with him. And over the next two years, we set up a nonprofit, and we began the process that you just described of being able to help children, and we've been able to minister to children. And when I was first doing this 20 years ago, it was like being a Sunday school teacher's teacher. Today, those Sunday school children from 20 years ago were the pastors of some of the largest and many churches, probably over 3000 churches in fall in northeast India today. Because of this project that we've been actively working on and continue over the years, it's been very easy. I did four years of the civil war in Nepal at the end of their war, and even though there was complications and difficulties and in a war zone, the Lord was gracious and kind, and everything we did prospered and did well. And things began to change. For me in 2019, I would have dreams. In my dreams, I would not be able to find my passport or my money. And if you don't have money or passport when you're traveling overseas, life is over. You stop. And I felt like the Lord was giving me a plan or warning me. And of course, the question that intelligent people will ask Brian, you had this dream several times. Was God warning you not to go to India? Or in my case, I think he was preparing me for what was ahead. In October of 2019, a group of us on our normal trip to Nepal traveling through India, was accosted in the Delhi airport. Our immigration process was difficult. It was stressed. The computers were down. The declaration of the funds that we were carrying with us was made complicated, but we did that. We declared the money to the security group, to the IRS group, and to the customs group, was cleared and told to go to Baghdagra. As we arrived in Baghdagra, though, I was met at the plane, taken into custody. 8 hours of intensive interrogation. Good cop, bad cop, and all of the questions that had happened in Delhi and in Bagdoga included the exact same sentence, something that I'd never been asked in 20 years of traveling or 18 years at that time, but traveling to India. They asked me, are you a christian? Will you meet with Christians in India? And will you give any christians in India the money you're carrying with me? And the answer was, yes, I'd done that and continued to do that, never had a problem. But in ten different officers, from Delhi to backdogger, they all asked exactly the same question. As time would go over my long sabbatical, I call it, in India. I would understand why. But 8 hours of interrogation in Bagdogger led me to being placed in jail that night to meet a judge. The next day, I went before the judge. He went through a process. I wasn't allowed to speak. They put me in a cage and they said, you're going to prison. And so they did. They took me to prison without any indication of anything other than you will get to come before the judge in about 30 days to try and get bail. Now, thankfully, the group American center for Law and justice got involved and they were able to get me out of the indian prison in six days. And then I spent the next seven and a half months trying to gain my freedom. The first three months was an adjudication process to the customs department that I had to do on my own. The big surprise for most Americans is if you're arrested in India, the state department does not help aid in any shape, form or fashion. You must defend yourself and find yourself free or in prison. And big surprise for me. I thought no one was ever left behind if they were american citizen. Not true. But I did finish a three month process with the adjudication. I paid a fine. They would return my passport, not my money, but my passport, and let me go. And they started a second proceeding to imprison me for seven years. And in this process of going through the process, things I think is important to our listening group and audience tonight is the additional superintendent of customs from Calcutta told me, I've been ordered by the central government in Delhi to build a case on you and send you to prison for three years. The original charge was three years. It'll later become a second charge for seven years. And I said, but there's nothing that I've done that's wrong. I haven't broke the law. I've done everything just like I was supposed to do, according to your customs and way of doing things. And he said, it doesn't matter about what you did or didn't do. I have my orders, and we're going to send you to prison for three years. So we worked through that process and was legally able to not be sent to prison on those charges. Then they started the second case in January to send me to prison for seven years while being held on the second time awaiting a person from the. He said, he was an important political figure in West Bengal. I was being held in the area of Syllagiri, and he said he was an important member of the BJP. And he came to visit me. He also was a rotary president of the local Rotary club, which I'd been a part of and had done a lot of work in that area for poor children. And when he came, I thought, this is great. This is going to be some good news, because here's a guy that can actually help me get out of the problem that I'm in because my only crime was helping the poorest of poor children to get an education, to have the opportunity to rise up out of poverty. And as I began to tell him and was excited, he became very angry, very upset. And he said, here's the truth, pastor. He said, you're going to prison for seven years. We've decided there's nothing you can do about it. And he said, my hope is that while you're in prison, you die. And that everybody like you will stop coming to India and lying to the poor and lying to these children to believe that if they get an education, they can rise up and have an exit to poverty and a good and a better life. He said, in fact, here's what we need in India. He said, we need the death of 300 million of our indian citizens. If you do those numbers together, I think that comes out pretty close to all the Muslims, Sikhs, Christians. And he said, that's what we want. He said, now, here's what you can watch, because while you're in prison for these seven years, we're sending you away. India will become a hindu only nation. Every person in India will convert to Hinduism. And not just regular Hinduism, but the hindu twad, the nationalist idea that is so prevalent in the loud noise. He said, they're all going to be converted to Hinduism, or they will leave this country or they will be eliminated. There is a large group sponsored by the raff that have full plans of a mass genocide for anybody that resists the new nationalist movement called Hindutwa. And it was quite alarming for me to hear somebody say that and really be excited. But as the days went through, I would go to court every Wednesday until Covid hit. I spent the first six weeks of the COVID world shutdown in India in a closed place by myself with one other guy that helped me get food. And in that whole process, I kept coming across people who were part of the government, part of the judicial system, part of the political system. Even in West Bengal, people say, well, I can't believe something like that happened in West Bengal, maybe the other parts of India. But there was always that common belief and idea that anybody who does not agree, convert and join to this radical nationalist idea of Hindutois will be murdered or kicked out of the country. Now, this has been four years ago for me, and it seems like it's becoming an older story because it's got a little history with it, especially us Americans. Our whole life has lived in 30 minutes. What happened 30 minutes ago doesn't even matter anymore. We're moving on to the next news cycle of time. But this problem continues. May of last year, most would know on this group, but not in other places, that there became this ethnic problem or this cultural problem in the state of Manipur in east Nepal. And it's been painted as a narrative between tribal groups against tribal groups. But here's the thing that's interesting. There is 70,000 people displaced, all Christians. They lost their homes. They were moved out. They live on the benefit or the hope or somebody helping them. And even the government in the past two weeks has closed the supply of food off to those people. Hundreds of churches were burned in just a few weeks time. Thousands of homes burned in just a few weeks time. Over 150 people were murdered in those few weeks of time. Here's the fact that nobody ever seems to talk about. Of those first churches burned in Manipur, over 200 of them belong to the mete christian people. Supposedly in the news, all meteors are hindu and all of the cookies are christian. But it is an attack against Christianity, and it continues to move. And the reason I know it moves is I have a very good friend who I met while I was in Siliguri, and he works with a bible school group there, and he was there when I went this time that I was arrested. And he's remained there for the last four years. But just last week, the home affairs investigators came into the school. Fortunately, my friend had gone to the mall with his wife to buy some groceries, but they came in and they interrogated the people in the school for about an hour looking for my friend. They left. So we'll be back, and they've opened an investigation, and they're very aggressive about everything. Well, when they came back to arrest my friend, we had already helped and worked, and he began moving different locations and staying hidden. Thankfully, he arrived home yesterday after all this week and a half of running and hiding and trying to get away from being arrested like I was in Siliguri, India. His crime was being a foreigner doing missions work. I spoke to a friend that I made while I was in my time of being incarcerated there. That's a part of the indian government in West Bengal. I asked him, I said, what is going on? He said, we have received an order recently, since the first year, we've received an order to remove every foreigner out of northeast India, primarily white, western people. They assumed that if you're western, if you're white, you would only be in the northeast for one reason, to be missionaries. And they'd been ordered to have them all removed, taken out of all of northeast India. And that was what he was facing, is because he was from Idaho, a very american looking guy, and his wife, they came to put him out of the country. So that is the continuing situation in India. Nothing has ever gotten better. It's become much, much worse. One thing that I'd like to finish with is maybe a call in action or an idea that works. And I have two stories about what I know that I know while I was there. It took a long time for my friends and the people connected to get the attention of the american government. In the end, President Trump went to Prime Minister Modi on my behalf and demanded my release. And it went through, and I was able to come home instead of spending the next seven years in prison in India. But to get to our president, even more difficult to get to my senators, it took thousands of letters. One petition had 113,000 signatures on it. President Trump told me personally, he said, my mail executive that takes care of the mail and stuff, came to me, and this is just before he talked to Prime Minister Modi on April 1 of 2020, said, sir, you must do something. We received 2000 letters yesterday to get the pastor released. Politicians, probably most of them, have great intentions to do well, but all of them have the same thing in common. They don't go to work until you wear them down. In the christian faith, you see the widow and the unjust judge, and the widow finally wore the judge down, and he said, just give the woman what she wants so she won't come back. I was freed by President Trump not because of his love and compassion. And he was very much about getting foreign hostages released. I was a 50th that he had released, but he took care of my case because there was so much noise and so much continuing voice of, do something, say something, do something, say something. The call to action is that if we could mobilize somebody somewhere in the Senate to speak up and to say something, then India's got a better chance of that christian community that we love not facing a genocide. The last part is, and a couple of us on here got involved 16 months ago with a hindu american group that was raising money to bulldoze churches in India. And that organization is in Frisco, Texas. We went there. Peter was very involved in getting with the government and the people. And after 16 months of continual. I've been back to Texas last year myself at least five times. After the original meeting that we had in Frisco last week, the Internal Revenue Service announced that they are investigating that hindu group as a terrorist group, which happens to be operating as a 501. My point is that if you want something from the government, and the government has the ability to fix some things, you got to wear them out. You don't have to be mean, you don't have to be rude, you don't have to scream, because they'll never listen to you at all. But you just have to keep saying, like the widow did for the unjust judge. Give me justice. They will. They'll do the right thing because they're there to do the right thing. They just got so many other voices in their head that they don't hear you until there's been 100 times or more. Thank you for the opportunity tonight to share the story, and thank you to those in the panel tonight that sharing their heart as well. [01:40:28] Speaker A: Yeah. Thank you, Pastor Brian, for sharing the story of your arrest and your incarceration and also helping us understand through the illustration of the nature of the persecution. And then also, I think it was instructive about how you were freed and gives us some insight. Next panelist is Pastor Benjamin Marsh. He's a pastor of the Christian Missionary alliance at First Alliance Church in Winston Salem, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. As an advocate for people with mental health disorders and developmental disabilities. He sits on the board of Monarch, NC, North Carolina. He previously represented the Dalit Freedom Network in Washington, DC. And he will speak about why american Christians are ignoring what is happening in India and how to potentially awaken them to the issue. Welcome, Pastor Benjamin. [01:41:22] Speaker B: Yeah, thank you very much for the opportunity to share. I'm very humbled to be included in this group. About 20 years ago, I went to India for the first time. I was an undergraduate, had no idea what I was getting into, but I'd been invited to learn from indian Christians about their work, about their persecution, about what was going on amongst the Dalits at the time. And after that, I was an advocate, a lobbyist, essentially, in Washington, DC. For almost four years. I had the privilege. He probably doesn't remember me, but I met Dr. Daial a few times when I was there and was privileged to work alongside him. We had some unique things that happened during that time. The State Department really strengthened their identification of India as a significant violator of human rights and particularly religious freedom at the time. And also I was part of the group that went to the State Department and we were able to have chief minister Modi's visa revoked at the time because of significant violations of religious freedom in the state of Gujarat, going back to his pogrom against Muslims in 2002. Since then was called into ministry and I haven't remained as connected. But thankfully, through Peter and our engagement online and just reconnecting with the issue, have been very grateful to be able to kind of rekindle what had been a doused flame with respect to persecution in India and then also working with the lowercast and the outcast in India. And I don't have a lot to share by way of anything more than what you guys have done. The stories have been amazing. Talk about rekindling a flame. It's like taking a blower to a small flame and all of a sudden you've got a giant bonfire. So thank you all very much for everything you've shared, but I do want to just tag along with what Pastor Brian shared just now with respect to how can we make churches care in the United States? How can we specifically bring this to a point of contact that has an actionable outcome? And there have been some good ideas that have been shared. But the number one thing that we found when I was working in Washington, DC was that you have to have a hyper focused ask that comes from India, that can be done through the american political system or through the american religious church system or a hybrid of both. And that ask has got to be identifiable. It's probably a short term ask. It's not just something big like, please care about India, but it's got to be something identifiable. A letter that's going to be sent from the United States government, a policy that needs to be implemented at the state department level or at the level of the president, as in the case of Pastor Brian, somebody that we're trying to get out of jail, whatever it might be. If you don't have that focal ask, then what happens is India just becomes part of that milieu of countries where bad things happen to christians all across the globe that a church might pray about kind of generically on a Sunday morning or put into a prayer letter, but not actually draw its people into a write in campaign, into a letter campaign, into making social media posts or videos or actually contacting their representatives or senators of the White House or whomever. So my recommendation to everybody, as this group continues to remain in contact in whatever way that it does as listeners online consider how we can go somewhere with all this information, is to try to identify, prayerfully identify what is that uniquely leveraged focal point that ask, that can be brought to churches that are across the spectrum in the United States. Conservative or liberal, doesn't matter. If you can identify something that people can unite around. The church does move. A second thing that came to my mind that I just wanted to share with everybody is that we are in a unique position in american political history where neither party is particularly interested in the topic of international religious freedom. It's taken a backseat to national security interests across the board. That was a little bit different with George W. Bush and certainly before w. Where there was kind of a kindled flame of international religious freedom, but that changed significantly following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the global war on terror, and all of that. So we have to be able to take our advocacy outside of the boundaries of our political parties and reclaim a universal christian identity that allows us to minister to the persecuted, to kind of metaphorically visit the prisoners across the globe, to suffer with those who are suffering, to sit with the persecuted, to understand Christianity and our christian witness and our christian political activity outside of the political party realm, especially because our parties and the leaders that our parties have elected have not made this an issue of overwhelming concern. It's just changed from when I was in DC 20 years ago that you had people that were in the house that you could sit down with their political advocacy director and mention India, and they would say persecution, they would say untouchability, they would say women's rights issue. Now it's all about limiting China. It's all about just the overwhelming national security concerns for the southeast asian realm down there. So just to encourage everybody, take your advocacy outside of the normal channels, focus on Christendom, right and left, or any other part of the spectrum, up or down, whatever part of the spectrum you're on. And if we can identify that focal point that ask to get a group that is identifiably christian across all of those different political spectrums, you're able to really affect change in a very meaningful way. I think that that was something that we're able to do several years ago. I know there's still good work going on, but obviously it's not at that national level like it used to be. And it could be again if we were able to kind of draw ourselves around the right approach. So thank you all very much. And I'm encouraged. Thanks for rekindling the flame in this old battle axe. [01:48:03] Speaker A: Well, thank you, Pastor Benjamin. We appreciate you sharing your insights and especially how to honor the persecuted in a nonpartisan way. Next, I'd like to welcome Robert Stubblefield, who was a member of the Progressive Baptist Convention. He's also a poet, author, activist and organizer. He's active in the Washington metropolitan area. He's a member of the Bethesda, sorry, African Cemetery Coalition, Racial justice now, and several other coalitions. He's also well known for his work throughout Maryland. But when he's not fighting the power, he can be found exercising or spending time with loved ones, family and friends. Welcome, Robert. [01:48:50] Speaker I: Thank you so much, Mr. Bennett, and thank you so much for everyone who's told their stories about their experiences, witnessing the persecution of our brothers and sisters or the Church of know the perspective that I have, and I come from not just the african american spiritual experience, but also that from liberation theology and social gospel. Is that the silence of the american church overall, for me, is deafening. And what I mean by that is that we feel that, yes, it is a problem, but it is a problem that is happening over there. It is that same attitude that had church in Germany back in the when Nazism and fascism in Italy under Mussolini was rising. And then by the time the church was able to try and do something, all of a sudden Hitler Mussolini were empowered. Sometimes I wonder what our silence would be like if the story of the Virgin Mary took place not in Bethlehem but took place in India? What would happen if instead of dealing with a king Herod, son of antipatter, that Virgin Mary had to deal with Narendra Modi? I feel that Mother Mary, as she would go to church, she would be forced to undergo a practice called garwapsi. And I know I probably didn't pronounce that right, but Garwapsi means return. What means returning home is basically forced conversion. What would happen, I feel, is that while she was undergoing that forced conversion, or if she didn't convert, she remained true to her faith, saying, I serve the living God. Would the unborn Messiah be ripped from her womb and then stomped on the ground? Would we be silent then? Or would we be demanding that the people involved or that Narendra Modi and his ilk be sent to the International Court of Justice and International Criminal court for crimes against humanity. If that was the case, we all would be roaring and not on deaf ears. We would be riding our politicians, we would be marching in the streets, and we would ground this economy to a halt if that happened. If that happened. Problem is, though, and as I think Father Lecter touched on, is that Hindutva isn't just a problem that's happening over there. It's happening here in the United States. It's affecting our american politic. Not just our american politic, but internationally. If I can just touch on international aspect for a quick minute and not get into how it's affected our american politic. Back in January of 2023, when Lula de Sova was reelected, they had their own version of January 6. Only happened on January 5. And what the intelligence community found is that the hard right in Brazil was communicating with the hard right, the hindu nationalists in India. They were conversing with the counterparts, counterparts in Israel. And the reason why I bring that up is because we are seeing in real time a new axis of evil. Evil philosophies of Hindutva, of christo, fascism, of Zionism are now rearing its ugly head in real time. And how that's affecting our american politic is that anytime someone calls out, just like when people say, criticize the israeli government for its war crimes, and they're called anti semitic, if you even mention Hindutva, if you call out caste discrimination, if you call out caste discrimination, you're labeled hindu phobic. They're already trying to change the textbooks, or they don't talk about caste, even though caste is real, even though caste discrimination has found its way into America, to the point where Seattle passed a resolution banning and outlawing caste discrimination. And in California last year, despite a hard fought battle to get SB 403, Governor Newsom did not sign. He vetoed the bill. And he vetoed the bill because he said, quite frankly, well, there's already laws in the books that protect against discrimination. But as other people point out, it does not list caste, which. There was a bunch of testimony from people from the Dalit community, from the indian christian community, talking about how they've been discriminated against because they're christian, because they had to work with their more dominant caste counterparts in fields like tech, in the fields of healthcare, in fields like. Even in arranged marriage, even in marriage situations. You also see this in the Maryland political side, where a lieutenant governor by the name of Aruna Miller eyes to groups like the overseas friends of the BJP. He's taken $65,000 from overseas friends of the BJP. And whenever she's been called out for that, first she denies it and then when confronted again with the facts, because we have to remember politicians, they have to file their financial campaign contributions. She then goes on the war path. She says, these people have been good to me and I'm not going to turn them away. Or she'll play both sides. Or she says, well, I support Modi's economic reforms but I don't support his social reforms. That's like saying you support Hitler because of the Alaban system but you don't support him because of the Holocaust. You either support fascism or you are against fascism. The reason why I point that out from a christian perspective, from an activist christian perspective is because as other panelists have said, the Matthew 25, that what you do to the least of your brothers, you do to me also. But I like to point out the book of Prophet Isaiah, chapter 117, which states to do good, to seek righteousness and to do justice. We are mandated 8th to challenge the status quo, to support the sick, to support the poor. And that's very important because anyone who has read the Bible and studied the Bible will tell you that God's ire against Israel was always cast out when the poor were pressed. When people like it says in the book of Isaiah, again, woe unto those legislate evil who hurt the poor and make women and children their prey. We are seeing this in the context of not just the indian of our brothers and sisters in India, but we're seeing its infiltration in our politics. It's already bad enough that we are trying to fight a battle as the american church is fighting a battle dealing with its legacy of white supremacy and dealing with its own battle of reparations. But now we are seeing another form of fascism that is infiltrating, that's already taking an already precarious situation and has the potential to make it worse. Crystal fascism and any form of fascism which seeks to create an ethnostate by genocide. Because let's be real here, what is the ultimate end goal of fascism? It is the genocide of those who deem who they people in power deem to be less than. We have a duty, a calling, a mandate, if you will. The Reverend Howard John Weasley states like Jesus to be an enemy of the state, to challenge the status quo, to call out evil, to support the poor, to support the sick, and to remember the liberation roots of our faith. I'm going to end quickly here because I know that I want to be respectful of people's time. But I just want to end with this. St. Oscar Romero had a quote that to me is very powerful. He says that is the duty of the church. Call out evil, to do justice, to support the marginalized. Because when the church does that, the church finds its own salvation. It's bad enough that a group like the Vishwa Hindu Parashad, a group that even the CIA, a government agency notorious for overthrowing democratically elected governments and other nations, has called the VHP, a violent, hard right wing hindu nationalist group, was able to use a high school to celebrate Ram Jama Bumi, which was really celebrating the desecration. The anniversary desecration of the Babri Masjid was able to take place in a public high school despite the public outcries from public communities, the Muslims, the Dalits, the cities, and the indian Christians. But the fact that the county executive not only went to that high school, but issued a proclamation saying that the VHP has been doing good works. If that is not a sign that we as christians here in America should be concerned, I don't know what it is. I will continue to fight. I will continue to stand with my marginalized brothers and sisters to call out this evil and march with them and boycott and do whatever. But I cannot do it alone. We have power here. There is power here in our communities. We must see ourselves as a grand liberation movement so we can truly have the beloved community that Dr. King and Oscar Romero and those who came before us have fought for, bled for, and gave their lives for. Thank you. [01:59:31] Speaker A: Thank you, Robert, for bringing your insights on hindu religious and caste. Also, you know, recognize that the christian duty toward the poor and oppressed, it's a universal duty commanded by our Lord God and savior Jesus Christ. So thank you for sharing your insights. Our final presenter today is Reverend Father Stephen Messias, who is the rector of St. Paul's Anglican Church in California's Silicon Valley. He also serves as headmaster of the Canterbury School. He played a key role in establishing, and he continues to support the pastoral duties of a congregation affiliated with the Church of South India within his parish. Before the ministry, he worked in the California state legislature and with various social justice nonprofits in California and Washington, DC. Father Massias and his wife Sarah reside in Los Altos, California with their four children, and he will offer our concluding remarks. Thank you, Jamie, and I'm really appreciative of your moderation here. And of course, your faith tradition is important to this conversation as well. And I just want to recognize that for a minute. Because of our conversations, we mentioned Dr. King a couple times tonight, and the Orthodox Church has always been a great advocate for social justice, where we, of course, have the memory of Archbishop Yakovos, blessed memory there, the greek Orthodox archdiocese archbishop who walked with Martin Luther King there at Selma. But I think his story can dovetail into the stories we want to tell tonight. He, of course, was from Turkey and grew up understanding the connection between religious persecution for a christian and economic persecution. He came to America, I believe, as a deacon, after experiencing the difficulty that religious hardship had for him in kind of a war torn place. And a similar situation is happening now in India. But to make sense of that, I think a lot of our conversations tonight have been about the religious identity. And somebody who is watching this presentation might get the sense that our main motivation is a religious ideal. And I remind us of the words of our Lord Jesus, who said that man does not live by bread alone. Of course, we have a religious hunger for the word of God, to be evangelists, and to care for the spiritual development of all men. But just because we don't live by bread alone doesn't mean we don't live by bread. We still have to feed the folks. And that economic, that social uplifting is a crucial part of our faith. And us, as american Christians, have a really important role in developing that around the world, not just as a religious idea, but sometimes when we talk about the politics of it, we forget how these things are connected, how our spiritual identity, religious identity, those type of things are connected to the economic and social realities on the ground. So the figures that I'd like to bring to us in our closing remarks are figures who followed this same pattern, who came from India to the United States and then went back to India largely with the independence movement. I think of men like B. R. And Bedkar, who grew up in the indian system, grew up as a Dalit, as a part of this caste system, saw the great danger and pernicious nature of that system, comes to study at Columbia, experiences the american political system, and brings that back. And we consider him one of the founding fathers there in India. And, of course, I've heard most of this story from men like John Dell, who he probably remembers. We did an interview together back in 2015, so many years ago. So it's great to see you again, brother. And Benkar's message and the uplifting of the Dalits is a model for us as well. What we have in pleasure and abundance here in the United States, we can export. What we have in our political freedom, we can export. And the anti conversion laws that are being used in India today can be overturned by our influence here in the United States. As Mr. Bennett recognized in my introduction, my previous career, before I took on the cloth was in the state assembly here in California. And I learned in that process that it is a great advantage for us to have a big, silent majority. [02:04:01] Speaker B: Right. [02:04:02] Speaker A: So sometimes we're overwhelmed by the idea that not everybody's participating, as we've heard tonight, the deafening silence. But when there are fewer people engaged, your voice carries much more power. And so, rather than being overwhelmed by that sense, we actually have. When we do speak up, our voice carries more weight because people aren't willing to pick up the work. So to give some action steps, Peter asked me to talk about what can we do, practically to move the agenda forward? And I, of course, echo pastor Marsh's comments sincerely. Be specific. Work towards that. But I also want to point out that India depends on american diplomacy as a matter of medical innovation, as a matter of economic innovation, as a matter of international aid and support. There is a lot of money that flows from american taxpayers into India. And with that, you as an american taxpayer, I'm speaking to our general christian audience. Carry with that amount of money, influence, and dollars through your Congress and through your senators, through our american government system. And so as long as those dollars are flowing from american treasury to indian treasury, we can stipulate that things like anti conversion laws ought not be used with this type of financial system. Now, in Bidkar, of course, known for uplifting the Dalits. But he's not the beginning of the independence of the Dalits. I would say, as a Christian, our obligation to India began 2000 years ago. And I'm not speaking just merely of the spiritual sense, but of the journey of St. Thomas. One of the criticisms of Christians in India today is that we are some kind of outsider, that christians have come to India to evangelize and take over, when, in fact, for 2000 years, the St. Thomas Christians have been there. It's been their nation since there was a codified Hinduism. Right. So this is important for us to recognize that India must be a place where christians are not just tolerated, but our tradition is recognized, and we are a protected group of people. Now, the group that I work with here in our parish is associated with the Church of south India. We've heard a little bit about them today. A lot of them are from Kerala, and they live here in the United States, and they go back to Kerala, and there's always the stories of family members they want to rescue. But many of them end up like St. Thomas did. They get their way down to southern India, and they find themselves martyrs for the cause or socially, sometimes mortally, as we've heard today from various pastors. It's unacceptable. And as Christians, we must hear the call of the martyrs, the call of the blood in the ground. You must hear the call of those children who are suffering. And we must recognize the connection that we have, the obligation that we have as Christians of power, of substance, that is, those who have a voice and a dollar to go with it, to continue to work and use our influence for the good of those in India to close today. I also want to say that there's an ecumenical identity represented here, and to echo some of the comments beyond this, that it doesn't have to end with our creedal orthodoxy, that our ecumenical obligations are not just to other Christians, but all those who bear the image of God. And so we have to be advocates for all of the minorities of India, not just the oppressed, but representing the Sikhs, the Muslims, those who are also suffering under the persecution of these anti conversion laws, the subjugation under Hindutva policies, and that we have an obligation to protect all mankind as image bearers of our heavenly Father Peter's asked me to close us with a prayer, so I'm going to close us with a prayer from our tradition called the prayer for social justice. So the Lord be with you. Let us pray. Almighty God, who has created man in thine own image, grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression, and that we may reverently use our freedom. Help us to employ in the maintenance of justice among men and nations to the glory of thy holy name, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. Thank you, Father Matthias, for your words and for your prayer. The courage of those who have already suffered in India today is a kind of echo of the words of St. Paul that he wrote to the Corinthians when he said, we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. Thank you for joining us for this webinar to our panelists, our audience alike. We're grateful that you've taken the time to engage this important material. We cannot close out without wishing a happy birthday to Reverend Cook, who was proudly born on the day the Peace Corps was established by President Kennedy. So happy birthday, Reverend. Didn't want to let that go without mentioning Peter. Any final comments? Yeah. Thank you, Jamie. And I deeply appreciate you moderating this to all of our panelists. I reached out to Jamie. He and I spoke yesterday, and when we spoke, we're back and forth about trying to decide when we actually met or if we ever actually met. We don't know. All that we know is that we've known each other for about 20 years. I really appreciate Jamie doing this, especially as this has now gone relatively late into the night for him, and he did not have to do this to everybody else. A couple of quick thoughts. I'm humbled that all of you have participated in this, and I'm very grateful, as I said at the outset, because I think that this is what really needs to happen to see change occur, is for the american church across all traditions. I don't care what your background is, what your personal beliefs are, political, whatever they are, to unite on this issue. And until that happens, I don't think we're going to see a lot of change. I have personally seen what it can mean to Indians, to Christians in India, when christians in America stand up and speak out on this issue. A couple of years ago, I believe in January of 2022, I conducted a seven day hunger strike just to raise general awareness about the issue of persecution of Christians in India. Father Joshua Lictor, one of our panelists, he did a concluding interview with me on my final day of that hunger strike. But the major thing that I experienced throughout that was that as I was doing it, I had on YouTube and other social media outlets, hundreds, hundreds of christians from India just commenting, reaching out and expressing their immense gratitude that anybody was doing that, that anybody was paying attention. And all I was doing was not eating for a few days from my home in California at the know. To everybody, especially to our speakers from India, very grateful for you. Very grateful for your courage and your faithfulness, and our prayers are with you. And I will do everything that I can to continue to advocate for you and encourage others to do the same. Thank you, especially to people like Pastor Brian, Pastor Ben Marsh, father Steve for the practical suggestions and also to brother Robert, the same for the practical suggestions. Lastly, is just whatever our differences are, whether it's across denomination, tradition, political perspective, theological perspective, I'm so grateful that one of the beautiful things tonight, as Father Steve mentioned, is that we have this ecumenical identity represented here, where we are all coming together for an identical purpose, which is to stand up, speak out for the least of these, in this case, in India, where in India today. Many of those people there in that country, who are the least of these, or the least of those, many of them are christians, our own sisters and brothers in Christ. And so, going forward, I would just say let us please continue to go forward. This should not be a one off. Hopefully this should be an educational event that will attract others. I would ask and encourage you to please share this with your own networks, online or offline. And then let us please stay in touch and see what else we can do. Thank you for tuning in. If you liked what you heard, please remember to subscribe and follow for more to come as we look forward to dialoguing once again on Dosa. End.

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