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November 22, 1999
More Protests Held Against Offending Prayer Book
J M Shenoy
Asserting that many more protests will be held across America till the Southern Baptist Convention withdraws a prayer booklet that denounced Hinduism, about a hundred Hindus protested outside a church of the denomination on Sunday. And the pastor of the church admitted that the language in the booklet was "arrogant" and "tactless", though he would not demand the withdrawal of the booklet.
There were similar protests in Atlanta and Houston earlier.
The 14-page booklet, recently published by the country's largest Protestant group, begins by stating 'more than 900 million people are lost in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism.'
There are about 16 million Southern Baptists in America.
It goes on to say the gods and goddesses Hindus worship have 'demonic powers... behind them.'
The prayer guide was published by the International Mission Board, a wing of the Southern Baptist Church dedicated to converting people around the world to Christianity. The booklet has been distributed to most of the 40,000 Southern Baptist churches in America.
The booklet released a few weeks ago to coincide with the beginning of Diwali, said, among other things, that Hindus have 'darkness in their hearts that no lamp can dispel.'
Though the Baptists have stood by the booklet, they have also said they had not meant to hurt Hindus. A spokesman for the Mission Board, Louis Moore, said the pamphlets 'were published to educate Baptists, not insult Hindus.'
"At any sign of religious intolerance, we have to speak up," announced Chandra Kany Panse, a spokesman for the New England Hindus Against Religious Intolerance, which organized the protest at Beacon Hill Baptist Church.
"We would like the (Southern Baptist) Convention to drop this attack and apologize," he said.
"What we want to communicate to the community is, 'That's not true.' It's a kind of intolerance the fathers of this country, the forefathers of the Constitution, opposed," said Suresh Jain, a scientist among the protesters.
Asked by a reporter what motives he thought lay behind the publication of the booklet, Jain said, "lack of leadership" and "ignorance... People promoting this kind of ideological talk, they are really themselves sitting in the dark."
Though similar guides have been distributed by the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board asking Baptists to pray for the conversion of Jews and Muslims, Hindus have pointed out that the wordings in the new booklet are demeaning and harsh.
The other booklets have also met with protests -- and several Jews joined the Hindus in protest.
Southern Baptists have plans to issue booklets about Sikhs and Buddhists.
David Draper, pastor of the 15-member Boston congregation, conceded the booklet was "poorly-timed", and "arrogant", although he planned to distribute it, the Associated Press reported.
"We Christians just pray that Christ's light will be spread around the world,'' he said.
But he also said something that no Southern Baptist leader had said since the controversy broke out: "The article incites fear and distrust in the Southern Baptists toward the Hindu community. For this I am embarrassed and, on behalf of our congregation, extend our apologies."
Draper also said he was surprised by news of the protest, but understood why the pamphlet's language could offend.
"I think there are tactful ways (to say) that all people need salvation through Jesus Christ -- whether they are Baptist in Birmingham, Alabama, or whether they are Hindus in Bangladesh,'' he said. "I think language has to be tempered."
Sheila Decter, the New England director for the American Jewish Congress, also joined the protest because she was upset by similar pushes by the Southern Baptists to convert Jews.
"If demonizing another faith and converting others is part of the church's unifying project, then it is a sad case,'' she said.
Earlier in Atlanta, Subash Razdan, a community leader and trustee of the National Federation of Indian Associations, had expressed similar thoughts. The Southern Baptists had every right to make Christian look beautiful, he had said, but not at the expense of other religions.
While some organizers said they were happy with the number of people who turned up for the protest and the concomitant media attention it had received, they wish there were at least 500 protesters, given the fact that schools such as Harvard and MIT have thousands of Indian students.
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