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Hindu Prayer guide "Divali: Festival of Lights":

The SBC released 30,000 copies of the guide just before the most important Hindu festival of 1999: the three-day celebration of Divali, a.k.a. Diwali and Festival of Lights. It has 16 pages, and includes short daily prayers covering a 12 day period. "According to Louis Moore, editor of the latest publication, the language is harsher in this guide [compared to other guides] because 'There is a clearer definition that Hindus are lost.' " 1 This decision was probably made because Hinduism is a polytheistic faith, while other guides concerned monotheistic religions: Islam and Judaism. 

Chandrakant Panse is a co-organizer of New England Hindus Against Religious Intolerance. About 60 people staged a peaceful march on 1999-NOV-21 outside the Beacon Hill Baptist Church on Cambridge Street in Boston, MA. They carried signs: "Respect All Religions" and "Intolerance is Un-American". Ms. Panse said: ''We're asking the Baptists to retract their malicious attacks on the Hindu religion and its people.'' The group was protesting a Hindu prayer guide distributed by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Some of the statements in the guide are:

bullet''Hindus seek power and blessing through the worship of gods and goddesses and the demonic powers that lay behind them."
bullet"Hindus lack a concept of sin or personal responsibility."
bullet"...the darkness in their Hindu hearts that no lamp can dispel.''
bullet''...demonic powers lie behind Hindu gods."
bullet"...more than 900 million people lost in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism."
bullet"Walking through the streets of India during Divali is a sobering reminder of the power of darkness that lies over this land.
bullet"Mumbai [India] is a city of spiritual darkness. Eight out of every 10 people are Hindu, slaves bound by fear and tradition to false gods.
bullet"Satan has retained his hold on Calcutta through Kali and other gods and goddesses of Hinduism. It's time for Christ's salvation to come to Calcutta."
bulletHindus live under ''the power of Satan.''

The other organizer of the protest, Suresh Jain, commented that ''None of this is true. We are offended by statements in the prayer book which say the only path to salvation is to follow Jesus Christ.''

60 Hindus from the Atlanta GA area attended another rally in Atlanta on 1999-OCT-31. Software developer Shyam Tiwari of Duluth said they felt their religion is under attack. "It's basically the pain which we feel because of the denigration of Hindus and Hinduism by Southern Baptists. We wanted to express our feelings as well as to enlighten these people, if we can." Another protestor, Dhiru Shah said that the pamphlet attacks Hinduism. It "insults and maligns Hinduism and the Hindus. We believe that conversion -- it goes against the human spirit. We believe that there is only one God, and that God is for everybody. There's no reason to convert anybody.2

The prayer guide attracted a great deal of negative comment:

bulletThe regional director of the American Jewish Congress, Sheila Decter, attended the Boston rally. She noted that the SBC had previously targeted the Jewish faith with a similar campaign just before the Jewish High Holy Days this year. She said: ''The price of democracy is the right to spread the good news about one's faith to others. But this guide crossed the line from being a statement of faith to denigrating another religion.''
bulletThe pastor of the Beacon Hill Baptist church, David Draper, apologized to the group. He said: ''I am embarrassed by the guide. Several statements about the Hindu faith were offensive and insensitive. While there are differences in our traditions and convictions, we should not be intolerant of other faiths.'' He plans to meet with the group and to persuade the Mission Board to be more accepting of other faiths.
bulletAccording to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, the prayer guide "has worried some missionaries in India who already fear for their safety in the wake of widespread anti-Christian violence." 3
bulletDr. Saileela Venkatesan, of the Hindu Temple of Hampton Roads in Chesapeake VA, said that the booklet was "disturbing'' and that it "makes a mockery'' of this Hindu holiday. It is not a day of "spiritual darkness,'' as it is described in the SBC guide; it celebrates "victory of good over evil.'' She said that the part of the guide which states that most "Hindus lack a concept of sin or personal responsibility" mischaracterizes her religion. "Irrespective of which sect of Hinduism you follow, the most important thing always is not to commit any sin...These are almost the same things as in the Ten Commandments.''
bulletSome SBC pastors in Virginia also had negative thoughts about the guide:
bulletThe Rev. Donald J. Dunlap, interim pastor at Churchland Baptist Church in Chesapeake said: "It's most judgmental and it comes across as arrogant... It creates bad feelings and hostility, and I regret that very much. There  clearly is a way to present Christ to people without making them feel like second-class citizens.''
bulletThe Rev. John Dean, pastor of Norfolk's Larchmont Baptist Church, objects to publishing the booklet during Divali. "It's almost like flaunting our faith in front of them, when we know full well it will not be beneficial."
bulletThe Rev. Gulkhan Pau, general secretary of the Council of Baptist Churches in North-East India, told Ecumenical News International: "Those who bring out such derogatory material from outside should be more careful, as it is going to disturb our mission and put us in trouble.'' 3

The prayer guide also has its supporters: 

bulletThe Rev. Timothy Piland, pastor of Nansemond River Baptist Church in Suffolk VA said: "I don't think it's ill-timed; prayer is never ill-timed...The suffering of Christians in other countries is not new. If ever there were a time when we need to pray for those folks, it's now.''
bulletThe Rev. Mark Stone, pastor of Kempsville Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, agreed: "We don't want to be misunderstood, but we will be...Jesus was misunderstood and he was crucified for it.'' 3

In response to the uproar, Randy Sprinkle, the individual responsible for publishing the guide, agreed that the booklet contained "an element of arrogance." However, he said, it was the "arrogance of truth."

The SBC mission board later issued an apology which stated, in part: "The purpose of the Divali prayer guide was to help Southern Baptists understand and identify with Hindu people as we express our love for them in prayer...The language in the prayer guide was chosen to communicate to Southern Baptists, not Hindus, and the truths in it, as we understand them, are rooted in the Bible, the book we believe to be god's revealed word...It is distressing to us that elements of the guide may have offended our Hindu neighbours and for that we are profoundly sorry...We understand that the good news of God's saving love in Jesus, the Savior, may be offensive to some, but it never was our intention to express that love in an offensive way.''

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  1. Cristopher Brauchili, "They know they're right, so why be tolerant?" The Boulder News, 1999-NOV-6, Boulder CO. See: http://www.bouldernews.com/opinion/columnists/6chris.html 
  2. Paul Donsky, "Metro Hindus protest Baptists' pamphlet," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, at: http://www.accessatlanta.com/news/1999/11/01/hindu.html 
  3. Liz Szabo, "Southern Baptist prayer guide on Hindus offends and worries," at: http://www.pilotonline.com/news/nw1106hin.html 

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Copyright © 2000 to 2003 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JAN-7
Latest update: 2003-APR-7
Author: B.A. Robinson

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