Nepal (MNN) – Christianity in Nepal has two main bullies—Hindu radicals from within the country, and India. Thanks to growing pressures from these two sources, religious freedoms for minority groups are severely threatened. Earlier this month, a bill was passed that will likely restrict Christians and other groups from sharing their faith. It is currently being finalized into law.
The language of the bill closely resembles blasphemy and anti-conversion laws from neighboring countries. As we know, these laws are often abused to target specific groups—usually Christians.
More specifically, Christian Solidarity Worldwide says the law will criminalize some instances of religious conversion.
Joe Handley of Asian Access says this move goes against recent advances for religious freedoms in Nepal.
“The Church was making an impact in society and it was quite positive for many years which caused the Nepali government at the time to actually approach Church leaders and say, ‘we could use your help’.”
The government, he says, was eager to introduce more religious freedoms into the country and worked with Church leaders to widen these freedoms.
The government next door throws its weight around
After the earthquake in April 2015, one of the major sources of relief aid was the Church. They even went to locations that were more difficult for large aid groups to reach. It was a display of Christ’s love in a time of need. As a result, the Church grew very rapidly. Since then, believers have been seen as major contributors to the betterment of society.
“They’re still on site, serving and helping communities. And it goes way beyond that. The Church has been at the forefront of orphan care for many years in Nepal. And in addition to that, they’ve been helping significantly related to the human trafficking conditions in the country.”
But that presented a problem to neighboring India where the pressure is on to create a Hindu dominant state.
And so, he says, “Enormous pressure was put on the Nepali government to bring changes to this particular issue”.
Kathmandu, Nepal (Photo courtesy Philippe Leroyer via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/bXUfT3)
Because Nepal depends heavily on India as its resource portal to the rest of the world, they are also subject to the giant nation’s influence. This, coupled with the fact that there are many factions within the Nepali government that support this view of religious intolerance, means the nation is walking backward in the fight for religious freedom.
“There’s a deep concern that’s happened most recently following the earthquake because so many have come to Christ that they have put into effect this new law that restricts the liberties of Christians and other minorities to share their faith.”
India itself has targeted religious organizations with a series of complicated laws. And six Indian states currently hold anti-conversion laws.
“There’s a significant correlation between what’s happening in India today, and what’s happening in Nepal. Nepal is heavily dependent, virtually in every way on India.”
The other issue, as we mentioned, is those who hold to a religious intolerance view within the government that would like to see severe limitations for Muslims and Christians and other minorities.
“There’s radical Hindu elements within Nepali society that don’t want to see the Church grow or don’t want to see other minorities have any kind of freedoms,” Handley says.
An effort surrounded by prayer
But while there is still time, Church leaders have been lobbying government officials in an effort to “soften the blow” of the law. Handley says that whatever happens, he believes the Nepali Church is prepared to live out their faith without fear.
“Church leaders are very optimistic about the situation, not so much with what might happen legally, but in terms of their public witness. They know that nothing can hold them back from the advance of the Gospel. They’ve lived through twists and turns all throughout most of their history as believers. And when the pressure comes down, they know that the Gospel tends to grow, one way or another.”
So while they stand up for their freedoms, we can support them from wherever we are.
“Please pray for the leaders of the federation of Church leaders that are working with the government, lobbying right now as we speak. They desperately could use your prayers for wisdom, for discernment, for using the right words at the right time.”
Nepali Christians worshipping together (Photo courtesy of Global Disciples)
And because the law endangers all religious minorities, we can also pray for effective collaboration between religious groups from all faiths.
Please pray that God would work his favor among the leaders making these decisions.
“Ultimately, pray that the Gospel would go forward, that no matter what decision is made, the Church could still thrive in the midst of whether it’s more persecution or more pressure or more openness in society.”
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