KATMANDU, Nepal (BNC) by Michael E. Brooks — After approximately eight years of controversy and political negotiations, Nepal has a new constitution before its people. Among the many necessary provisions of government and law, this document proclaims Nepal to be a Secular State, in contrast to its former designation of a Hindu State. This change was actually made in the temporary constitution which accompanied the end of the guerrilla conflict in 2007, and is made a permanent fact in the new one.

The new constitution also contains a statement to the effect that “The government will support and protect the traditional cultures and religion of the nation.” (Copies and translations of the constitution are not presently available to this writer; I am repeating what has been related to me by reliable persons. No statement should be regarded as an exact quotation).

I discussed these provisions with several Christian leaders upon my arrival in Nepal. They see the temporization clause of support for “traditional culture and religion” as an appeasement to the overwhelming Hindu majority within the country, but even more to the active Hindu fundamentalists who press for a return to their old status of being the only permitted religion.

Concerns have been expressed in international media over the potential for persecution of minority religions and illegalization of evangelistic activities. A further provision of the new constitution is to render it illegal to “induce or coerce conversion from one religion to another.” However, freedom of religion is a right specifically stated.

Based on my own imperfect knowledge of Nepal’s history and past constitutions these provisions do not seem markedly different from those of the past half century or more. Only a legal expert can accurately detect potential for religious discrimination, although the preferred status of “traditional religion” (i.e., Hinduism) is clear.

The Christian leaders I interviewed are cautiously optimistic and stated, “We will continue to do what we have been doing.” They did state their intention to ask adult converts for a signed statement that their conversion was of their own free will and not coerced or induced by monetary gain. Beyond that they see no present need for alarm.

Christianity has often prospered as a persecuted, even illegal, minority. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Pray for the Christians of Nepal, but also be confident that they intend to trust in God and be faithful to him.

Michael Brooks works in Nepal and Bangladesh, supported by the Highland Park congregation in Muscle Shoals AL. He is also a columnist for Forthright Magazine.