Saturday, December 29, 2007

Some Stray Thoughts on Indian Christians

"Driven by the drumbeat of what it sees as a hostile propaganda against their beliefs and values in the name of secularism, Hindus are beginning to gravitate towards extremism". It is all very well for vested interests to play the communal card. But this will not pay. Communalism of the minorities will only make the majority community more fanatic..
Let there be no doubt that the Christian leaders are mere hirelings who have turned churches and its institutions into dens of thieves. They have bartered away Christ for a fistful of dollars, living in mansions while Christ’s poor go without a covering on their head; enjoying the flesh-pots while the flocks lead a hand-to-mouth existence. No wonder they want to maintain the status-quo. No wonder they want no government auditing. No wonder they cry wolf against the Hindutva brigade. No wonder they do not even want the laity to know – our ignorance is their bliss.
There was once a Jesus Christ who walked this earth as the Good Shepherd. And He died on a wooden cross. Today his representatives on earth fly around the world wearing gold crosses around their neck. What a mockery of the Master! But why should I forgive them when they know exactly what they are doing? They are trying to fool the na├»ve people like….!
Christianity in today’s India with a renascent Hinduism faces an unprecedented crisis. If it is alive to the situation and sensitive to the signs of time, it has to rethink itself, reorient itself, and rediscover its basic substance and interpret that in terms acceptable to the Indian mind and genius, wrote Prof. S.K.George, in the Niyogi Commission Report in early 1950s. His words are relevant today more than ever before.
Christians form just about 3% of the Indian population. "Very often they have to depend not so much on their rights as on the goodwill and generosity of powerful majority Hindu community. Christians in India are dependent in a double sense, on the goodwill of the Hindus and on the churches in the West whose fellowship sustains them and whose affluence often supports them. Judging from numbers there is hardly any equality in relationship. But Christians in India can play a creative and critical role in the life of our nation. What matters most is the quality of their life as Christians and the courage of their faith". (Dr. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue).
The attitudes Indian Christians have inherited towards neighbours of other faiths were very largely shaped in the colonial era, with Europe dominated history, church-centred theology, and unexamined assumptions of Western superiority in race, culture, and religion. The church in India should give up this posture and should have the courage to reject past errors and seek new ways of relationships with their neighbours. The right to profess, practise and propagate one’s faith should be used faithfully and responsibly, not in an aggressive and flamboyant style. Highly organized missionary activities, supported by vast sums of money from abroad, using expensive mass advertising techniques, loudly proclaiming the word to large crowds, quite often by preachers from outside whose knowledge of the people’s religion and culture is limited – do these constitute the way of Christ? Our neighbours in the community should be regarded not as statistics but as persons, not as potential recruits to the kingdom but as partners in common enterprises in the community."
The ‘onlyness’.
The most precious freedom that Indian Christians enjoy is to hold Jesus Christ as their saviour, as the Son of God, as the "only true divinity". It is their absolute right to cherish that belief – and if any Hindu outfit or government tries to impeach upon that liberty, then definitely, Indian Christians should fight tooth and nail for their religious privileges. They would be justified to speak about Hindu fundamentalism, saffron brigade or Hindutva. But the moment Christianity tries to impose this belief of only one true God- Jesus Christ- on the world, then it is itself impeaching upon the freedom of others. For this belief of only-ness of our God as the real one and all others are false is at the root of many misunderstandings, wars and terrorism.
Attacks against Christians
Like most of those who have regular columns to write to newspapers and need factual information, I keep my personal file of clippings so I don’t slip up on accuracy. The violent attacks against Christians have been going on for the past several years. Sister Rani Maria was stabbed inside a bus and murdered in February 1994 in Madhya Pradesh. A helpless Father Christudass was hit on the head, punched and kicked, stripped naked, scissored up his hair, ashed his face and garlanded with chapels and shoes, and paraded naked on the streets of Guhiajori in Bihar in 1997.
Three Catholic priests, Lawrence, Joseph and Anup were shot dead in 1994 in Gumla, again in Bihar. The headless, tortured body of Father A. T. Thomas, Jesuit priest and liberation theologian, was discovered in the jungles of Hazaribagh in Bihar in 1997. All these and many more happened before the BJP-led government came to power. Why didn’t we unleash a nation-wide protest and send investigation teams?
Ghastly murder
There is no doubt that the ghastly murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons needed to be universally condemned and the culprits severely punished. But the massive outcry it had evoked raised a fundamental question in my mind: Is the life of a white man more important and dear to Indian Christians than the lives of hundreds of innocent Indians – men, women and children – killed by militants in various parts of the country? Have we, as Christians, ever condemned such killings? Or the unending massacres of innocent Dalits all over the country at regular intervals? Does it mean that the value of a life depends on the religion to which that person belongs? Are some lives expendable and others accountable? This is a blatant discrimination. Should human suffering, loss of lives be barters in the hands of foreign-funded organisations to embarrass Hindus?
As true followers of the Prince of Peace, the Christians in India should have forgiven the criminals and forgotten the incident the moment the saintly widow, Gladys Staines said: "In the name of Jesus I forgive those who committed this crime and may they experience in their hearts God’s forgiving love". She was witnessing Christ in the darkest moment in her life. But, instead of following her example, the Christians have been spreading hatred, like butter on hot bread, against the Hindus, especially against the Sangh Parivar. Many Christians have made millions of dollars in the name of Staines’ murder. They have cynically used the Staines’ murder for far too long. They must remember: "Kindle not the coals of sinners by rebuking them, lest thou be burnt with the flame of the fire of their sins." (Ecclesiastics, viii
Military enterprise?
Terms such as "evangelistic campaign", "missionary strategy", "campus crusade", "occupying non-Christian areas", a "blitzkrieg" of missionaries, and sending "reinforcements" sound more appropriate to military enterprises than to Christian witness to God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ. The statistical approach implied in the words "the unreached millions" is derogatory to neighbours of other faiths.
"Unreached" by whom? When Indian Christians themselves use these phrases, which have originated outside the country, to describe their neighbours living next door to them in the community, Christians should not be surprised if the
nehigbours are offended
The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the handful of Hindu extremists. Most of the violent incidents have been due to aggressive evangelising. Other than this there have been few attacks on Christians. Finally the sensitive and sensible Christians must realize that acts of certain "born-again" varieties of Christian evangelists who denigrate Hindu gods and abuse Hindu rituals as barbaric are the root cause of tension between Christian and Hindu communities. Christian leaders known for their erudition, equipoise and empathy should come out in the open to disown such acts of intolerance.

The Commission to preach the gospel is usually quoted by all Christian groups. But they conveniently ignore the fact that there are other very important elements in the teachings of Christ. "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust do corrupt but lay up your treasures in heaven…You cannot serve God and Mammon…Forgive your brother not seven times but seventy times seven. Love your enemy. Love one another as I have loved you".
Such teachings should have led to the formation of a distinctive life-style based on simplicity and integrity and total non-acquisitiveness. But we do not find Christians any different from others. They go to law over property disputes. They sell their sons and daughters for specific sums of money in the marriage market. They accept bribes and play the game of money and power as assiduously as any one else.
Unless Christians share the sufferings of the people they have no word of the gospel to them, whatever true things Christians might say. Revival songs they sing, long prayers they pray and long sermons they preach amount to lip-religion and at the same time Christians swallow widows’ houses. This is how Jesus characterizes hypocrisy. This is an old phenomenon where integrity of life and the truth of words don’t conform to one another. Life does not confirm the words Christians speak. Jesus described it as hypocrisy and created enemies who encompassed His death.
If Christians as a community took the teachings of Christ seriously they would be justified in preaching. To preach what they do not practise is to put the cart before the horse. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
One last point. Christ himself said: "You encompass sea and land to make one convert and then you make him twice the son of hell as you are". Dalit/Tribal Christians’ conversion to Christianity has meant nothing but substitution of social discrimination within the Churches for discrimination within the Hindu society.
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)

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