Date : 04-10-2008, Saturday | 15 Comments
Preparing for the harvest …
28 September 2008
A new mood of aggressive evangelism has been emanating from America. Well-funded, superbly networked,
backed by the highest of the land, seized of its moral supremacy, it has India as one of its key targets, reveals
VK Shashikumar in a disturbing exposé
This could be the plot of a fevered thriller. A jingoistic president, multi-million dollar corporations, high technology, a grand if furtive mission, networks spanning the globe, and biblical invocations.
Only it’s real. And its got India in its crosshair.
Religious expansionism has not witnessed this scale, scope, and state resources in a long time. Detailed investigations by Tehelka reveal that American evangelical agencies have established in India an enormous, well-coordinated and strategised religious conversion plan. The operation was launched in the early 1990s but really came into its own after George W Bush Jr, an avowed born-again Christian, became president of the United States in 2001. Since then, aggressive evangelists have found pro-active support from the new administration in their efforts to convert some sections of Indian society to Christianity. At the heart of this complex and sophisticated operation is a simple strategy-convert locals and then give them the know-how and money to plant their own churches and multiply.
Around the time that Bush Jr moved into the Oval office, a worldwide conversion movement, funded and effected by American evangelical groups, was peaking in India. The movement, which began as AD2000 & Beyond and later morphed into Joshua Project I and Joshua Project II, was designed to be a sledgehammer-a breathtaking, decade-long steamroller of a campaign that would set the stage for a systematic, sophisticated and self-sustaining “harvest” of the “unreached people groups” in India in the 21st century. It was just as the operation was taking off that the script changed. Much to the delight of American evangelicals, one of their own, George Bush Jr, became the occupant of the White House.
In a major policy decision taken very early into his presidency, Bush, on January 29, 2001, unveiled a “faith based” social service initiative that included a new White House office to promote government aid to churches and Christian faith-based organisations. This, in effect, threw the massive weight of the federal government behind religious groups and religious conversions. The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was set up in the White House in the first week of February 2002 and a man called Jim Towey was appointed director. (A snap introduction to Towey: he was the legal counsel to Mother Teresa in the late 1980s.)
Though Bush’s initiative to fund “salvation and religious conversion” is stalled in the Congress over constitutional and civil rights concerns, he has pushed for its implementation through executive orders.
White House-Christian Coalition nexus
The American press is replete with reports on Bush’s largesse to faith-based organisations. They say it’s his “return gift” to the Christian Right for having loyally supported his presidential campaign. The Christian Coalition, founded by American TV evangelist and head of the multi-billion Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Pat Robertson, played a crucial role in the 2000 election. Recently, in his TV programme, Club 700, broadcast on CBN, Robertson created a stir by announcing that he is confident Bush will win the 2004 election in a “blowout” because God has told him so.
Indeed, Bush is keen to retain what we call the votebank and Americans ‘the base’. After all, the Far Right Christian evangelists have also been the most loyal backers of his hardline militarism in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
But there is another, perhaps more important, reason why Bush is keen on supporting his evangelist friends who run huge transnational missionary organisations (TMOs). In the decade 1990-2000 they ran a global intelligence operation so complex and sophisticated that its scale and implications are no less than staggering. This operation has put in place a system which enables the US government to access any ethnographic information on any location virtually at the click of the mouse. This network in India, established with funding and strategic assistance from US-based TMOs, gives US intelligence agencies virtually real time access to every nook and corner of the country. (See ‘List of TMOs Active in India’)
Since Bush’s ascendancy to the presidency this network of networks has multiplied rapidly in India. Bush supports conversion in India because he supports those American TMOs who fund and strategise conversion activities in this country. Organisations like the International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention, Christian Aid, World Vision, Seventh Day Adventist Church and multi-billion enterprises run by evangelists like Pat Robertson, Billy Graham and Roger Houtsma, amongst many others, were instrumental in running a coordinated conversion campaign in India under the banner of AD2000. These later became the Joshua Project and when the decade-long movement officially closed down in March 2001, Joshua Project II was launched to sustain conversions and intelligence-gathering. Graham’s TMO, Billy Graham Evangelist Association, supports conversion activities in Gurgaon, Haryana, and Kolkata.
When AD2000 was conceived for India, the plan was based on a military model with the intent to invade, occupy, control, or subjugate its population. It was based on solid intelligence emanating from the ground and well-researched information on various facets of selected people groups. The idea was to send out spying missions to source micro details on religion and culture. The social and economic divisions in the various Indian communities were closely examined. Given the oppressive and institutionalised caste system in the Hindu society, American evangelical strategists chalked out plans for reaching these various “unmixable” caste groups. The many faultlines running through the country-divisions in terms of ethnicity, caste, creed, language and class-were all factored in during the generation of ethnographic data.
North India was designated the core target of American evangelists. It was described as the “core of the core of the core” of a worldwide evangelical movement conceived by fundamentalist American missionaries. This movement that took shape over the 1990s, has now taken off because of a unique collaboration between the American government and US-based evangelical mission agencies. In the 1990s this movement was shaped by the World Evangelical Fellowship (an international alliance of national evangelical alliances), working with the AD2000 movement. It brought together a wide variety of individuals and organisations, under the single goal of achieving “a church for every people and the gospel for every person by the year 2000.” Its focus was missionary mobilisation and church planting in India and other regions of the world where the Christian population was negligible. This movement was also a massive intelligence gathering exercise funded and supported by American missionary organisations that were responsible for the election of George W Bush.
Global evangelism plans
AD2000 first attracted attention at a convention of international evangelical missions called Lausanne II in Manila in 1989. The movement then spread rapidly around the globe to help catalyse evangelism. The strategy behind the movement was to establish pioneering global partnerships to eventually provide a church within every “unreached people group”. Ralph Winter, founder of the US Center for World Mission, characterised the movement as “the largest, most pervasive global evangelical network ever to exist.”
This movement, spearheaded by Luis Bush from the movement’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, US, was planned for large conversion of people living within the “10/40 Window”. Incidentally, Billy Graham, a Christian fundamentalist and rabid evangelist, who was responsible for George W’s “born again” Christian status and whom the president considers as his godfather was the honorary co-chairman of the AD 2000 movement.
The 10/40 window is the rectangular area comprising parts of North Africa and large parts of Asia between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude where 95 percent of the world’s “least evangelised poor are found.” AD 2000 movement mobilised and funded evangelical operations in India. Further, they sponsored the May 17-25, 1995, Global Consultation on World Evangelization (GCOWE) in Seoul, South Korea, where nearly 4,000 Christian leaders from 186 countries, including India, gathered to draw up secret and covert evangelical plans. Many American evangelists now describe GCOWE, Seoul, as “the most strategic Christian gathering in history.” That year also saw the transformation of the movement to a higher plane in the name of Joshua Project.
The first GCOWE consultation was held in Singapore in 1989. The first five years of the decade (1990-2000) were the years of seeding the clouds with the vision of a church for every people and the gospel for every person by the year 2000. This involved the building of a new kind of partnering relationships, a grassroots networking structure…a “network of networks.”
While AD2000 spied out the land and its inhabitants to get an accurate picture of opportunities and challenges for conversion activities in India, they also framed subversive strategies to implement their plans. Concepts like PLUG, PREM and NICE were conceived. PLUG refers to the target group-people in every language, urban centre and geographic division. PREM refers to the techniques to use-prayer, research, evangelisation and mobilisation. NICE refers to how the work is to be done-networking, taking initiative, and using an evangelist to spur existing groups and cohorts in their efforts to convert people to Christianity.
For Indian evangelical groups, access to American technology meant faster and more secure communication with their patrons. And, of course, the availability of the Bible in local languages, In fact, in today’s India, the Bible is available in almost all languages and dialects. If the translation of the Bible was a symbol of huge transnational exercise, the massive distribution of gospel literature was nothing less than a distribution marvel. In India, a coordinated gospel literature distribution exercise was staged to reach 600,000 villages by the end of 2000. Finally, American evangelical organisations that also run cash-rich television channels pumped in money to buy slots on Indian television networks. In fact, Pat Robertson, who recently stepped down as the chairman of the Christian Coalition and the owner of the CBN set up a studio in Hyderabad to help Indian evangelicals minister through television programmes. These programmes are broadcast on various networks in India where CBN buys time.
The Joshua Project, started by a splinter group of CBN, was also a large-scale intelligence operation that brought together American strategists, theologists, missionary specialists, demographers, technologists, sociologists, anthropologists and researchers to create the most comprehensive people group profiles in the 10/40 Window. In fact, the ethno-linguistic profiling of the people groups in India, probably, cannot even be matched by data with the government of India. The logic behind this massive intelligence gathering operation was to “make a priority of establishing as a minimum, a pioneer church-planting movement within every ethno-linguistic people of over 10,000 individuals by December 31, 2000.”
The launch of the Joshua Project in the mid-1990s resulted in scores of American research teams arriving in India to lay preliminary roadmaps for the church-planting mission. Everyone came on tourist visas and, on their arrival in India, their respective mission partners took them in. This partnership with Indian researchers resulted in the production of enormous field data on various people groups in the country. This, in turn, led to the identification of areas and regions where evangelical activities could be carried out in a focused and methodical manner.
Joshua Project II is a continuation and expansion of the original plan. Its professed aim is to “highlight all the least-reached peoples (non-Christian) of the world and to help build ministry networks and partnerships focusing on these people.” The constant research and updating of ethnographic data from India should ring alarm bells within the intelligence agencies in India. In fact, the project maintains its “peoples lists” in cooperation with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptists, as will be seen later, have traditionally worked hand-in-glove with the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). India’s ethno-cultural data collected by the project is categorised by them as ‘Security Level 2’ because there is a danger to Indian and foreign missionaries if data relating to their conversion activities is made public.
The main target: India
As part of AD2000, Christian organisations in most countries, including India, had an embarked on an ambitious National AD2000 Initiative. In India the Evangelical Fellowship of India was central to the fulfillment of the goals set by this initiative. According to the founders of AD2000 (and that includes Bush’s pal Billy Graham) north India is the ‘kairos’, the key. India is where the era of modern missionary effort began nearly 200 years ago with the arrival of William Carey, the father of modern evangelical missions. However, the nine north and central Indian states of Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana were considered areas of immense strategic importance for the following reasons:
The Gangetic belt is one of the most heavily populated regions of the world. Forty percent of the Indian population lives here;
New Delhi is the capital and centre of political power in India;
It is the most socially deprived area of India (the Hindi belt has a literacy rate of 30 percent, infant mortality is double the national average and the government of India officially designates four of these states as BIMARU (sick));
This area of India is known as the heartland of Hinduism, a religion that boasts of some 33 million gods; and It has the smallest Christian presence in all of India. According to the 1991 census, the Christian population of North India is 0.5 percent of the total population.
Clearly, north India was strategically important for the missionaries. What made things easier for them was the new buoyancy in India-US relations. Therefore, it was open to researchers and their research plans. Billy Graham and his ilk openly admit that they dispatched spying missions to India. “Just as Joshua sent out the spies to survey the land and report on its condition before the children of Israel moved out in obedience to God’s command, many more missionaries and Christian workers are finding research information invaluable in laying their plans,” say the AD2000 and Beyond Movement documents. Over the past eight years, tremendous energies and resources have been spent on spying out the land and its inhabitants.
The India Missions Association (IMA) in partnership with Gospel for Asia, another big American missionary outfit, researched and published very informative and accurate books that unraveled the intricate mosaic that is India. Some of those books are in Tehelka’s possession. One of the big achievements of the Chennai-based IMA was conducting a detailed India-wide PIN code survey. India’s postal service is one of the world’s largest and it is important to understand why American mission agencies picked on India’s postal system to devise their covert conversion strategy. The Indian postal system has a network of 1,52,786 post offices-89 percent of them in villages, which means one post office for 23.12 sq. km of rural land and one for every 3.16 sq. km of urban stretch, or one for a village with 4,612 people or one for 12,924 people in a town or city.