News reports indicate that the nation of Nepal is at a boiling point. Novice climbers have been banned from Mt. Everest, Christian missionaries have been warned to leave and anti-India rage is rising as essential commodities dry up. This in a nation still recovering from two massive earthquakes earlier this year. One wonders whether or not this is the most prudent of seasons for former President Jimmy Carter to be making a Habitat for Humanity trip.
After hearing about the order by extremists that Christian missionaries should leave, Hunter Farrell, director of World Missions for the Presbyterian Church (USA) said, “the news … raises significant concerns about religious freedom. The growing power of religious fundamentalists in Nepal threatens the life and safety of the small but growing church in Nepal.”
The religious fundamentalists in this case are Hindu but the attacks on Christians and churches are similar to the persecution being endured in other places where Christianity is a minority faith. In Nepal, Hindu is the majority religion and until eight years ago, Nepal was a Hindu monarchy for 240 years. In 2008 a constitution was drafted for the new secular republic but votes on the constitution have been delayed until recently when a vote was taken in early September.
Not surprisingly, some Hindu fundamentalists hoped to see the new constitution re-establish Nepal as a Hindu nation. One specific clause (3 of Article 31) seems intentionally designed to limit religious freedom.
“In exercising the right entrusted by this article, any act which may be contrary to public health, public decency or morality or incitement to breach public peace or act to convert another person from one religion to another or any act or behavior to undermine or jeopardize the religion of each other is not allowed and such act shall be punishable by law.”
Had the constitution passed in the constituent assembly, which it did not, it would have been illegal in Nepal to convert from one religion to another, to share one’s religion or even explain one’s religion to a person of a different, or no, religion.
Following the rejection of the proposed constitution, the effort to purge Christians from Nepal has accelerated. According to reports from Voice of Martyrs, “Two bombs exploded in churches in eastern Nepal last week, while bombs left at a third church failed to detonate. The attackers left anti-Christian pamphlets at each site. Bombs planted at the Jyoti Church in Damak-10 and Emmanuel Church in Khajurgachi detonated around 11 p.m. on Sept. 15, while the bomb planted at a church in Gauradha didn’t go off. No one at the churches was injured, but a policeman was gravely hurt when the undetonated bomb (brought to the police station) exploded. Both churches sustained significant damage.”
The VOM report continues, “Flyers by the Hindu Morcha Nepal, a Hindu radical group were left at each location. The flyers said that all Christian leaders must reconvert to Hinduism and that the Christianization of Nepal is happening with the support of foreign nations. The flyers warned the government to take action, or the group would begin their own campaign.”
The VOM contact concluded that “Churches, Christian organizations and institutions are their targets.”
There have also been reports of Hindu youth activists burning Bibles as warnings to pastors and Christian leaders. The VOM contact said, “They tell them, ‘Anything can happen to a Christian.’” Which is precisely why some Christian missionaries may heed the warning to leave. But what do you do with the Christian citizens?
Hunter Farrell spoke with concern about Presbyterian partners in Nepal. He said, although “we don’t currently have Presbyterian (PCUSA) mission workers in Nepal, we have worked closely for more than 30 years with the United Mission to Nepal which continues to do important work.”
Farrell notes that the practice of the PCUSA to work with indigenous partners in countries like Nepal means that when foreign missionaries are targeted or even expelled, the PCUSA’s efforts can continue. He said, “Because our church’ understanding of God’s mission compels us to work in partnership with local Christians– we don’t do for local Christians what they can do for themselves– Christian witness in Nepal will continue even when our missionaries cannot be present.”
Farrell notes that there is precedence for God using what we see as closed nation status for the growth of the Church. He reminds us that “the exponential growth of the church in China during the ‘hidden years’ reminds us that working in partnership, as our Presbyterian missionary ancestors did, is a powerful way to encourage the growth of authentic Christianity.”