“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak… Christians should take a stronger stand in favour of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”
Dear Christian Leadership of India,
I have started this open letter of request with the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, from his sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:9 published in 1934. These words are particularly prophetic today for us who are plagued and paralysed by violence, divisiveness, and communal hatred even though we live almost a century apart from Bonhoeffer’s spatial-temporal milieu.
Recent political and social developments in various states especially the violence in Manipur has precipitated me to write this open appeal with a sense of urgency. The letter is addressed to a spectrum of Christian people in authority – bishops, clerical and lay officers of various departments, spiritual directors, pastors and superiors – irrespective of any denominational regard. The core of this appeal is to invite your attention to place Christianity on a pedestal showing light to move forward as well as to prescribe it as the medicine for our socio-political ailments.
For the following reasons, I believe that you are duty bound both by your office as well as the call you have received from Our Lord to be leaders of the Christian community of your care.
Being Christian means to abhor any sort of violence, hate and divisions. The present violence may not be initiated by Christians. Though Christians in our country often are victims of religious fundamentalist violence, a new trend seems to be emerging where Christians becoming partisans of exclusivism, hatred, and passive violence which has the potential to develop into active and destructive violence. From the Gospels we learn that Christ neither advocated force to fight injustice and exploitation from others nor did he teach his disciples to adhere to violent methods to establish a religion. If Christianity in India should have some dignity, it is important for the leadership to be the salt and light of the society.
From the above reason stems two other important reasons among which theological is the foremost. Christ walked to the cross which is the symbol of extreme violence absolutely with no resistance (1 Pet 2: 22-24) and Peter admonishes his followers to abide by the Christian principle of non-violence (1 Pet 2: 21). However, I strongly believe that God is not a sadist to play humans as victims. The idea of conquering – be it political or spiritual – is at the core of Christian spirituality. We conquer by being conquered. “But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death (Rev 12:11). We are a people of that belief in resurrection, hope and life. We as a church shall permeate these values to the society, and become agents of hope and life even at the face of most depressing divisions. The Christianity in India cannot be reduced to a mere social organisation that competes with other communities for any reasons.
Jesus lived in a society where injustice and socio-economic exploitation was at its peak. The early Christian community lived under severe persecution for more than two centuries. Yet, we do not have any evidence proving either Jesus or the early Christianity ever endorsing or advocating violent means for their survival. Moreover, ever since the inception of the Church, it has been characterised for its moral stand. Church has existed as a beacon of truth, justice and morality when the world was grappling with its most critical ethical crises. The role and relevance of the Church to be an ethical force in our society today is nonetheless unrestricted.
Christianity is not a religion of individuals who seek to achieve heaven or divine experience. It is a religion of social relations. The idea of Body of Christ is the basis of social relations. However, it does not exclude anyone outside of the Body of Christ. Christ was a person of relationships to people of various strata in the society. The early Christian community built relationships with other communities even as they felt strong connection between themselves. The history of early Christian communities and the accounts of Church fathers witness to the fact that in her works of charity and dialogue they built strong relationships with other communities. Apostles have been encouraging the members to peacefully coexist with people of other cultures. In a country like India where diversity is its hallmark, not only that Christians shall live in amity but also be agent of social cohesion.
A fundamental idea of ecclesiology is that it is the sacrament of salvation. In the present context, however, Church has been reduced to a social agency than a channel for experiencing God’s love and redemption. As the life of an average Indian is very challenging and underdeveloped people crave for social, cultural, economic and spiritual emancipation. Solidarity is a virtue that every Christian is to practice. Church serving as the sacrament of salvation shall be an instrument for millions of people in India to find their holistic liberation.
Although Constitution of India is hailed as reasonably secular and progressive, its fundamental values are very much tenable to Biblical values. The preamble of the Constitution represents the most basic ideals of Christianity such as justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Most human rights provisions guaranteed by the Constitution is very much in agreement with Christian ethics. As citizens of the country and members of church every Christian is also entitled to work to safeguard our venerable constitutional values. Though it must be our primary duty to honour the constitution, we must also raise voice whenever constitutional values are violated especially against the least ones of the country.
Proclamation of the gospel to all creation and salvation include evangelizing the political sphere too. This is achieved through responding to the invitation to “repentance and renewal” (Mk. 1:15). The idea of Kingdom of God suggests Church to be a “chosen and holy people” (1 Pet 2: 9-10; CCC 782). We know that the Kingdom of God is a state of affair where poor and deprived receive dignity and the captives are liberated and where God is in control of things (Lk 4: 19-20). Church in India is called to be a “holy nation” among the nations where unfortunately the economy of politics is marred by communal violence, social exploitation and economic deprivation.
The three-fold roles of the Church include the prophetic role, which in these days do get least priority. Mission of the Church is prophetic. The Biblical narratives demonstrate that prophets arise when the quality of life of people is declining and when people turn away from God. As our socio-political situations are too pathetic and Church can exist as a divinely commissioned agency only if it exercises the prophetic role in its truest sense.
Church is missionary by nature which means it is born out of the mission of God and it exists for a mission. In whatever way we understand mission – as evangelisation or liberation – it is something to do with action. It is depressing to say that most of the present-day Indian churches have narrowed down their mission to the safest zones of their comforts, and less risky. We expect the leaders of the church to keep the Church going in its prophetic mission to serve itself as the sacrament of salvation.
The church in India is gripped by sloth and sluggishness as it grows and expands. In order to re-explore the above mentioned existential reasons, the Church needs a wider vision and fresh dedication. It requires a fresh set of tools to enter into dialogue with other communities and cultures, but based on the ecclesial and spiritual traditions which it had been living for the past two millennia. May I make an earnest appeal to take the Church from under the bushel and place it high on a pedestal so that it shows light to the nations.
“A stronger stand in favour of the weak” to be taken by the Church as Bonhoeffer has commented is not mere an option, but it is the mission. It is easy to align with the “possible right of the strong” which could even be a betrayal of the Gospel. When new difficulties arise, it is not enough to issue a press release sitting in their comfort zones. You need to step into the fields, and take up steps to solve the crisis on a war-footing. Dear Bishops, pastors, superiors, lay leaders and various ecclesiastical institutions, it is only you who can do something to alleviate the troubles which we are in. And the whole country begs you to act in time.