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Literature » Religion

SOUTHERN BAPTISTS TARGET JAINISM
Criticism of Jain traditions and an attempt to stop spreading of Jainism by Baptists

Should Jains preach their religion? This is a question which has been recently brought into the foreground of debate due to the activities of certain American Southern Baptist Christian organisation. Having already attracted great international controversy for their distribution of the anti- Hindu pamphlet 'Dewali; Festival of Light, Circle of Darkness', for which they were eventually forced to issue a public apology (but, it is interesting to note, not a retraction), Southern Baptists are now beginning a similar campaign against Jainism.

Students from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky recently traveled to India to conduct research into Jainism for the purpose of converting Jains of Christianity. Converting adherents of other religions to Christianity, or 'evangelism', is considered by the vast majority of Christianity is the only true religion, and non-adherents are punished by God. The seminary's magazine, The Tie, discusses the trip in an article that has provoked a large amount of comment from the Jain community.

The article is mainly concerned with two topics: criticism of Jainism, and tactics for converting Jains to Christianity. Missy Woodward, Student Co-ordinator of the trip, speaks about the 'hopelessness' of Jainism, while Chris Smith, another student present on the trip, curiously criticises Ahimsa for 'affecting the food Jains eat and the way they live'. Presumably referring to Anekantvada, George Martin, the leader of the trip talks about Jains' willingness to accept new people, and advocates using this openness as and aid to conversion. Woodward starkly summarizes the goals and attitude of the missionaries saying "It 's really different when you're talking to somebody and you know that this person will spend eternity in hell if somebody does not come and work with these people".

Many Jains are more concerned about the misrepresentation of the religion than the activities of missionaries. Amar Salgia, former Jain youth leader, remarks that "while it seems fairly certain they won't manage to 'convert' anyone within the Sharvak Jain Snagha, Jain should become more aware of how their way of life is being misrepresented". 'Nick' , writing to the Jain Friends notice board (jainfriends@onelist.com, visit see WWW for details) comments that "Jainism is too non-violent, too open minded,  and too intelligent [to be affected]. Baptist philosophy is completely intolerant very violent, and poorly thought out. Why would Indians leave a well respected religion in India for one that is not respected?"

This article is the latest event in a long line of Christian activities which are generating increasing concern in India. The proselytizing activities of Christian missionaries, particularly amongst Hindus in communities in relatively undeveloped areas of India such as Orissa and Madhya Pradesh have been the subject of a great deal of discussion, as it is the poorest and least developed areas which generally attract the attentions of Christian proselytizers. The sinister term 'ripe for the harvest' is often used to describe these communities in Christian literature.

The success of these activities is limited, however. Due to the exclusive nature of the Christian faith as preached by fundamentalist missionaries, many Hindus see these activities as attacks on their culture and react accordingly. Writing in The Organiser, M.V. Kamath comments that "Attempts at conversion should be considered a mortal assault on local cultures and should be totally banned". A level of violence is not unknown in the local reactions to missionaries; the world media has extensively (and indeed almost exclusively) reported the burning to death of missionary Graham Stewart Staines along with his two sons and the recent murder of Father Arun Doss.

The issue of preaching has historically been quite problematic for Jains, due to the philosophy of Anekantwada. However, preaching should not be confused with proselytizing, or converting. In the face of individuals and organisation indirectly concerned with the destruction of Jainism, many believe that spreading awareness of the religion should become a priority of the community. Indeed, much work in this direction is already underway. A report in the Indian Express early last year suggested that vegetarian and alcoholism projects run by Svetambar Jains in the Vadodara and Panchmahals districts of Gujarat are attracting Jain 'converts': over 200,000 in the last six years. Apparently impressed by the non-violent message of Jainism, many tribal Indians in these areas are embracing the religion to the extent that three young Jains from a particular village were recently ordained into the priesthood, and there are now more than 60 temples in the area.

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