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Reinventing Our Mission

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
26 Feb 2024

Since 2014, Muslims and Christians in India have been facing considerable challenges in the form of hate speeches, exclusion, harassment and violence. The onslaught on these two communities by the Hindutva forces, with the overt and covert support of the state, has been increasing day by day. Attacks by right-wing groups on prayer gatherings, raids on Church-run child care centres and boarding houses run by government agencies, filing false cases, and arrest and incarceration of priests, nuns and lay people have become almost daily occurrences.

State policies and laws like the repressive anti-conversion laws and "Love Jihad" laws have been liberally used by the BJP governments and the Hindutva organisations to oppress minorities. Bulldozing houses of minorities who are accused in cooked-up cases is another instrument of oppression devised by the BJP governments. The Indian state is quickly moving towards the goal of a Hindu Rashtra in which Muslims and Christians will be treated as second-class citizens without any privileges and rights.

When one travels through the length and breadth of the north, west and central India, the so-called Hindi heartland, and interacts with people, one gets the impression that a large section of Hindus approve of and support the Hindutva forces and the BJP governments. When the author of this article travelled to different places in Madhya Pradesh after the consecration of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, he could observe the whole area flooded with saffron flags with the images of warrior Ram or angry Hanuman. The image of Maryada Purshottam Ram was found nowhere. Only a few houses or establishments could be seen without the saffron flag. This is an external expression of the internal change in most Hindus in the Hindi heartland.

The Hindutva forces have succeeded in brainwashing a vast number of Hindus against the minorities and in favour of a majoritarian theocratic state. The inauguration of the newly built parliament house with overtly Hindu rituals in the presence of Hindu priests and PM Modi assuming the role of a high priest in the consecration of Ram Temple in Ayodhya are explicit signs of India becoming a theocratic state.

Against this backdrop, it is quite natural for the members of Muslim and Christian communities to feel totally insecure and helpless. They also may become confused about the steps to be taken by them. The unfolding socio-political scenario is threatening for the two communities. What can Christians do to face the discriminatory and oppressive situation? When an organisation or community faces an existential crisis, the solution cannot be found in cosmetic changes. It needs to reinvent itself or undergo a metamorphic transformation.

William P. Belgard and Steven R. Rayner, in their book, 'Shaping the Future', explain four types of transformation. Adoptive transformation is only temporary, like a chameleon changing its colour when facing danger. Evolutionary transformation is compared to a tadpole becoming a frog. Revolutionary transformation is quick and happens suddenly but could be violent and destructive. Metamorphic transformation implies a dramatic shift, a kind of reformation. It is both evolutionary and revolutionary. It can be compared to a pupa becoming a beautiful butterfly. Management experts call the process of metamorphic transformation REINVENTING.

What can bring a metamorphic transformation in India's Christian communities/Churches? First of all, Christian communities have to go back to Jesus and recapture his vision and mission. What is happening today in India is diametrically opposed to the vision of Jesus: Reign of God or Kingdom of God. Reign of God is a situation in which God is accepted as the loving father or mother and all human beings as brothers and sisters with equal rights and opportunities.

The followers of Jesus have to fight against anti-Kingdom values: division, exclusion, discrimination, hatred, revenge and violence, by promoting the values of inclusion, unity in diversity, respect for human dignity and human rights, forgiveness and reconciliation and non-violent resistance or protest. This should be done in cooperation and collaboration with people of different religions, especially the secular Hindus. Mahatma Gandhi adopted this as the core of the Indian Independence movement.

What is urgently needed is a radical change in the mindset of Christians, especially bishops, priests and religious. Their understanding of MISSION and approaches to mission have to undergo a fundamental change. As long as Christian communities in India focus on becoming devotees of Jesus and the number of Christians, any change in the strategies and activities will be of little use. A metamorphic transformation requires that they become Disciples of Jesus rather than worshippers of Jesus and focus on the original mission of Jesus, i.e., bringing about individual and social transformation based on the core values of Jesus: forgiveness and reconciliation, sensitivity and compassion, honesty and integrity, justice and non-discrimination and respecting the dignity of each person. This paradigm shift is urgently required.

The core values of the Kingdom of God are akin to the core values enshrined in the preamble of the Indian Constitution. One of the significant reasons for the avalanche of Hindutva is the failure of the so-called secular parties, civil society organisations, social work organisations and the Churches to promote the core Indian constitutional values. On the contrary, the Hindutva forces succeed in brainwashing students, youth and adults with the vision of a Hindu Rashtra in which Muslims and Christians will be treated as second-class citizens without any rights and privileges, including citizenship rights. Hence, promoting the core Indian Constitutional values- Secular/pluralist democracy, Justice, Liberty, Equality and Respect for individual dignity- should be a top priority of the Churches in India.

All kinds of exhibitionism through magnificent worship centres, giant statues and mega conventions should be put on the back burner. Instead of multiplying institutions and expanding the existing ones, the focus should be on the effectiveness of different ministries. The schools run by the Churches are still very relevant, as they are effective means to promote the mission entrusted to them, but a radical transformation has to take place in the way they are managed. There should be many priests and sisters to teach in the schools and build relationships with the students, teachers and parents. The Church in India has not given sufficient attention to building relationships with the beneficiaries of various ministries.

Although reforms were initiated in the life and ministries of the Catholic Church in India after the Second Vatican Council, they took a backseat during the last two decades because of the overriding influence of fundamentalist forces. Indianisation and inculturation disappeared from the theological and spiritual discourses and became something forbidden. As a result, the image of the Church as a foreign organisation gained momentum among the Hindus. False propaganda by the Hindutva forces has been an added reason for the attacks on Christians. In all the church ministries, the focus should be building relationships with people, appreciating Indian cultural values and ethos, and respecting all religions. The Vatican II is committed to interreligious dialogue to join hands with the followers of other faiths to build peace and harmony.

Another critical area to focus on is the capacity building of the Church personnel. The formation process must undergo an overhaul, focusing on self-discipline and self-education. The biggest challenge in the coming days is finding competent persons to manage Church institutions. The training process of the Church personnel is to be recast towards forming visionary leaders of character.

In every crisis, there is a hidden opportunity. Instead of being frightened and disheartened, the followers of Jesus must search for alternatives. Let the followers of Jesus draw courage from his words, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
An oft-quoted statement of the late Fr. Varghese Alengaden is very relevant in this context. "Each one should believe that nothing is impossible; the more the problems, the greater should be our determination; the more the darkness, the greater the need for us to be the light; the more the indifference, the greater should be our sensitivity".

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