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Challenges Before Church

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
15 May 2023

The relevance of an organization depends to a great extent on how it responds creatively and effectively to the external and internal challenges. Hence identifying the challenges and responding to them creatively are crucial for any organization. Christian community in India, especially the Catholic Church, is facing a serious crisis situation under the BJP regime. Increasing hatred and violence against the minorities, Muslims and Christians, by the right-wing organizations, often with the tacit or explicit support of the central and state governments, is threatening the very existence of the minorities in India. Wanton destruction of Churches and homes of Christian tribals in Manipur is the latest example of the RSS-BJP combine’s plan to eliminate the minorities. If the conflict is between two ethnic groups as presented by the authorities, what was the need for burning and destroying churches belonging to both groups? 

All over the world one of the main challenges faced by humanity is the rise of right-wing political parties and dictators whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to the teachings and core values of Jesus. In the context of India, it is the exclusive, divisive, hateful, dictatorial and patriarchal Hindutva. Hindutva is absolutely opposed to the values of the Kingdom of God and the core values of the Indian Constitution: Secular democracy, Justice, Equality, Liberty, and Individual Dignity. The implementation of Hindutva ideology by the BJP governments at the Centre and in several states is resulting in the persecution of minorities, blatant violation of fundamental and human rights, emaciation of democratic institutions and wanton destruction of the environment. In the words of political analyst Christophe Jaffrelot, India is increasingly becoming an “electoral autocracy”.  

India, along with 16 other countries, was listed among the worst offenders against religious freedom or belief last year, according to the latest annual report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). It recommended listing 17 nations as “countries of particular concerns (CPC)”. According to an article written by John Dayal in UCANews, 100 churches were destroyed in the recent violence in Manipur between the Meiteis and tribal communities. As per a report in ‘Christianity Today’, Hindutva organizations have been working among the Meiteis, the majority community, to radicalize them and create communal conflicts in the state. “A conflict between two ethnic groups over constitutional status as tribes with reservations in jobs, education and elected bodies was allowed to turn anti-Christian,” wrote John Dayal. Against this backdrop, how can some Christian religious leaders claim that Christians are safe and secure under the BJP rule? 

While the CBCI president was satisfied with appealing for prayer, the Head of the Telugu Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Poola Anthony, and the Archbishop of Bangalore Peter Machado had the courage and compassion to condemn the rampant violence in Manipur targeting the Christian tribals and to remind the Central and the State governments their responsibility to protect the life and property of people of all faiths and to foster an environment of religious tolerance, respect and understanding. These bishops have shown that they are good shepherds who care for the sheep when a wolf comes to attack the sheep.   

The BJP with the connivance of the RSS has been trying to infiltrate into the Christian community and divide it in view of capturing power in those states where Christians are a significant minority. The BJP-RSS combine succeeded in their nefarious aim in Goa and in many North-Eastern states. They could succeed because of the selfishness of the Christian politicians and their lack of conviction in the teachings and value system of Jesus. The missionaries in those areas made people members of the Church, but they miserably failed to make them the followers of Jesus. No genuine follower of Jesus can ever accept the fascist ideology of the RSS-BJP. 

On the basis of their experience in Goa and the North-East, the RSS-BJP is making a serious effort to have a foothold in Kerala where the Christians constitute about 18.38% of the population. The BJP knows very well that it will not be able to have a grip in Kerala politics as long as Christians and Muslims remain united, as both together constitute about 45% of the total population. Hence, the RSS-BJP combine has been adopting a strategy to create enmity between Muslims and Christians on one hand and to hoodwink the Christian religious leaders by making false promises to them. 

If the terms like “love jihad” and “narcotic jihad” have been used by some Christian religious leaders in their speeches and writings, it shows that the RSS IT cell has succeeded to sow the seeds of hatred against the Muslim community in some Christian leaders. But it is not a guarantee that the enlightened Christian faithful will toe the lines of their religious leaders and vote for the BJP. At the same time the RSS has succeeded in creating discord between the two communities in Kerala.

The RSS and the BJP made special outreach programmes to the Christian communities in Kerala and in Delhi on the occasion of Easter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Bishops in Delhi Cathedral on the eve of Easter, and representatives of different Churches meeting Modi in Kochi during his recent visit to Kerala are the expressions of outreach to Christians. During these meetings neither the PM nor the bishops spoke about the increasing attacks on Christians and Christian institutions in different parts of the country, especially in the North and Central India. 

Some religious leaders from Kerala hobnobbing with the RSS and the BJP are dangerous not only for the Christian community in India but also for the whole country. How can the Christian religious leaders support an ideology that is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus, an organization that indulges in hatred and violence against the minorities, a party that tries to destroy the foundation of democracy and the constitution of India? 

Closely related to the menace of Hindutva is growing fundamentalism in all religions, including Christianity. This is reflected in the lack of respect towards other religions, hatred and enmity towards other faiths and holding the view that “my religion is the only true religion and all others should accept my religion.” Limiting God and spirituality mainly to worship centres, statues and rituals and the failure to see God’s presence in human beings is a serious fallout of religious fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism that gives priority to rituals and dogmas over the practice of the core values taught by religions is at the root of all religion-based hatred and violence. If the Church leaders fail to counter the growing fundamentalism within it and outside, they will be taking the Church to the Middle Ages. What a tragedy? 

Another huge challenge across the world and India too is skyrocketing economic inequality, leading to other types of inequalities. According to the World Inequality Report 2022 published by the World Inequality Lab, the richest 10% of the global population holds 76% of the global wealth whereas the bottom 50% of the global population owns only barely 2% of the total global wealth. In the case of India, the top 10% holds 65% of the total national wealth whereas the bottom 50% owns only 6% of the total wealth. Pope Francis while speaking to Vatican ambassadors said, “While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling”. 

Can the Church be silent to the unjust situation created by increasing inequalities? Can its response be limited to some charitable and welfare activities? Should not the Church collaborate with other Civil Society Organizations to challenge the government’s policy of selling public goods and public services to the corporate sector and that too to some favoured ones? Is the Church generous enough to share its facilities and resources with the needy? Does the Church treat the poor with dignity? 

Another challenge closely related to inequality and poverty is environmental destruction and climate change as elaborated by Pope Francis in his encyclical ‘Laudato Si’. Pope Francis succinctly sums up the effects of environmental destruction on the poor in the following words. “The deterioration of the environment and of the society affects the most vulnerable people of the planet and the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest” (No.48). 

The main cause of environmental destruction is the approach to economic growth. Resources are limited, and the present levels of consumption and waste generation in developed and developing countries are unsustainable. “The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty.” Hence can the environmental concerns be limited to the use of alternative sources of energy and safe waste disposal?  The main issue is the use of the limited resources of the earth. Should the Church institutions go on creating new infrastructures while the infrastructures already created are grossly underutilized? Does the Church need user-friendly worship centres or stylish ones? 

The most significant accusation against Christians in India by the Hindutva forces is forced conversions or conversion by allurements. Even though the accusation is false and often fabricated, it gives an opportunity to the Church to reinvent its approach to evangelization. If the tribals in the North-East have become Christians after being convinced of the teachings and core values of Jesus, will the Catholic tribal leaders be purchased by the RSS-BJP? According to the website of the Education Commission of the CBCI, the Catholic Church in India has about 55,000 educational institutions with about 5 core students. Why can’t the Church think of making them disciples of Jesus without changing their religion? In the fast-changing socio-political context of India, the Church needs to reinvent its approach to evangelization. 

There is also a need for identifying the internal challenges and responding to them. The internal challenges include unnecessary competition and conflict among the three rites, conflict between the Dalits and non-Dalits in many dioceses, allegations of sexual abuse by the clergy, lack of effective coordination among the different dioceses and different religious congregations, etc. 

If the Church in Europe is becoming increasingly irrelevant, it is because of its failure to respond creatively to the challenges and undergo self-transformation. In the context of India, Christians are facing a situation of exclusion and elimination. Even in this situation, if the Church fails to understand the signs of the time and refuses to change, the end can be disastrous. It is pertinent to refer to a quote of Peter Druker, the guru of management gurus, “If you let the past control you, you will have no future.”

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