Hindu American Foundation Welcomes Statement on Conversions by Vatican and World Council of Churches

WASHINGTON D.C (June 2, 2006) – The Hindu American Foundation today welcomed a statement that was the outcome of an inter-faith dialogue organized by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Vatican City (the Vatican), and the Office on Inter-religious Relations & Dialogue of the World Council of Churches, Geneva (the WCC). The inter-faith meeting was entitled, “Conversion: Assessing the Reality”, and met in Lariano, Italy on May 12-16, 2006. The meeting was attended by representatives of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and the Yoruba religion.

The participants affirmed that while everyone has a right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be exercised by violating other's rights and religious sensibilities. Delegates agreed that freedom of religion enjoins upon everyone the equally non-negotiable responsibility to respect, and never to denigrate, vilify or misrepresent others’ faiths for the purpose of affirming superiority of one’s own beliefs. The statement also called upon everyone “to heal themselves from the obsession of converting others.”

“The reflections and recommendations from the inter-faith summit, while not unanimous, are nevertheless consonant with the pluralistic tenets of Hinduism,” said Ishani Chowdhury, Executive Director of the Hindu American Foundation. “Hinduism’s acceptance of a multitude of paths to the divine is critical to fostering peace in today’s global society -- and it is such a perspective that fosters respect for others beliefs rather than mere tolerance.”

The statement also recommended reforms to ensure that conversion by "unethical" means are rejected by all; that humanitarian work is conducted without any ulterior motives; and that vulnerable sections of society, such as children and the disabled, are not exploited. Chowdhury was clear that aggressive proselytizing and the exploitation of the vulnerable and destitute is unethical in every regard.

“Hindu traditions are not unfamiliar with the religious motive of sharing one's conviction and persuading others about its validity,” said Prof. Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, Philosophy and Asian Studies at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota, a Hindu participant at the conference. “However, absence of institutionalization and centralization meant that there were no organized and systematic efforts to supplant different viewpoints and religious diversity was seen as a natural reflection of the diversity of human nature and experience.”

Hindu scriptures state that truth is anirvachaniya – it exceeds the comprehension and verbal description of any one tradition and thus justifies theological humility. In this context, Hinduism respects – an individual’s freedom of exercise of religious inquiry and choice free from any pressure of aggressive proselytization. In fact, Hindus perceive aggressive proselytization itself as a form of violence, to be shunned by the truly spiritual.

The interfaith dialogue in Larino was the first in a series of three planned discussions under the auspices of the Vatican and the WCC on the matter of conversion, although the next two are expected to be intra-Christian meetings. The exercise aims to evolve a “code of conduct” on conversion, which all faiths could follow.

“It is promising that religious leaders can meet and talk frankly about a matter that is often a deep source of tension among religions,” said Pawan Deshpande, Executive Council member of the Hindu American Foundation. “We are hopeful that the final code of conduct will reflect the perspectives of all faiths and a pluralistic ethos so necessary to ensure peace and mutual respect.”

The Hindu American Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3), non-partisan organization, promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.