KOCHI, India (BP)–Indian Christians remain shell-shocked at the attack on a Pennsylvanian churchman, Joseph W. Cooper, in the south Indian state of Kerala.
They feel Indian authorities further insulted the injured Cooper by ordering his deportation. Hindu militant groups are now threatening to expel all foreign Christian evangelists working in India.
“Joseph Cooper and the Sam family would have been killed but for their luck,” John Dayal, the secretary general of All India Christian Council told Baptist Press. “Indian government’s expulsion orders on Cooper is in line with its support to anti-Christian forces,” he said. AICC has demanded a ban on a rightist Hindu fanatic group, Rashtriya Swayamsevakh Sangh (RSS), after 11 RSS activists were arrested by police.
Violence from Hindu fanatics continues to climb as the 300 million strong Hindu Dalits branded as “untouchables” are converting into Christianity in large numbers. Nearly three-fourths of India’s 23 million Christians were Dalits before conversion.
“Some fanatics believe that by killing a missionary or burning a church will frighten Christians to stop their religious practice,” said Kuldip Nayar, one of India’s top political columnists. “Such incidents are spreading in the States of Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.” A core strategy of the militants is to have anti-conversion legislation in all Indian states, along with making convention an issue in elections.
On Jan. 13, Cooper, a bishop in a small Pentecostal denomination based in Marietta, Ohio, was attacked along with a local preacher Benson K. Sam, 37, his wife, Annie, and their three children, Joy, Jeff and Judith. They were leaving the venue of a gospel convention in the Kerala village of Kilimanoor. Cooper’s right arm was nearly chopped off and Benson suffered a head injury. Benson’s wife and daughter swooned on the spot. Cooper, who has been working with Indian Christians for 25 years, was in Kerala to present his testimony at the convention held by Friends of Bible Church, one of 500-plus independent denominations working in Kerala alone.
“Our rally attended by around 45 persons was held to reaffirm their faith in Jesus,” Cooper told Baptist Press. “We spoke ill of nobody. Instead we prayed for a couple of dozens of people who were ill. I was there to present my testimony. I told them how late I was in embracing Jesus and how much joy I have had since then,” said the civil engineer-turned Pentecostal bishop from New Castle, Pa. “This attack proves that the Christian church has enemies growing in tribe. I’m sure the church will outlive all these threats,” he said.
Two Kerala pastors were attacked in 1999 by RSS activists. In the same year a mob of Hindu fanatics burned alive Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons sleeping in their jeep in a remote east Indian village in Orissa. In mid-January, a Pentecostal Full Gospel Church in Kerala was burned down by unknown arsonists.
Joshua Newton is an independent reporter based in India. He specializes in writing on social and developmental issues.