Today the Church in India is facing hostility from Hindutva fringe groups and harassment and opposition from politicians and bureaucrats hostile to the missionary activities. Till recently the church personnel were accepted and respected by the people of all faiths. The government officers and political leaders were very supportive of the church institutions. There was a gradual decline in the Church’s influence and the missionaries began to face alienation and rejection from a vast majority of the population. Today the prestigious institutions of the Church are attacked; priests and religious are arrested and imprisoned often in false cases. None of those who benefited from the services of the Church institutions stand with the Church or speak in favour of the Church.
Soon after the Independence, the Muslim community was facing hostility. Several incidents of communal violence were taking place in different parts of the country. In 1992 we witnessed the massacre of hundreds of people in the communal violence which took place after the demolition of the disputed mosque in Ayodhya. After ten years, in 2002, again there was a communal violence in Gujarat with the support of the ruling party, which resulted in large scale destruction of property and death of about 2000 people.
After the Independence, communal violence was a common occurrence in India. On all these occasions the Church was indifferent. The preachers and priests never bothered to reflect on the central message of Christ, “Blessed are the peace makers, you will be called children of God”. Working for peace and reconciliation was a major focus area of Christ’s mission. Yet the disciples of Christ followed a policy of indifference. Gradually the priests and nuns became targets of the Hindutva forces. Despite attacks on the Church institutions, and assault on nuns and priests, the Church in India did not make a collective effort neither to review nor to plan any strategy to meet these challenges. The Church was divided within itself even when it faced external threats and hostilities.
The worst of all happened in 2008 when the Hindu fundamentalists attacked Christian community in Kandhamal in Orissa, killing more than 40 people, destroying many Christian institutions and burning hundreds of houses of Christians. I had made three visits to Khandhamal region in the first two years after the attack to learn about the situation. As I had been travelling to different parts of India, I could not sense any empathy or concern for the victims of Kandhamal carnage among the clergy and the religious either during the days of the violence or after the violence. The Clergy and the religious were busy with the routine works, rituals and feast celebrations. The Church bodies like the CBCI and the CRI neither took it seriously nor made any serious effort to plan suitable strategy to deal with such situations. Even after the massive electoral victory of the BJP under Shri. Narendra Modi, the Church leadership never felt the need for any serious consultation to review the situation and formulate strategies for future course of action. As a response to my suggestion to prepare a new strategy and action plan to meet the challenges emerging from the fast changing socio-political scenario, some of the church leaders said, “There is no need for such a strategy now. Let us wait and see what they will do”.
Religious congregations and dioceses continued their routine and outdated practices. Provincial Chapters and diocesan pastoral councils were organized in routine ways without any productive and relevant deliberations. The mega events of the CBCI and CRI took place routinely. There was no serious review or introspection. The Ostrich way of functioning continued. No one bothered to understand the meaning and implication of the solution which Christ suggested, “put the new wine in new wineskins”. Even though the old ways of functioning were found failures, the Church personnel continued them because of the mindset, ‘old is good’.
The worst is the fanatic ways of misleading the religious and the laity by the preachers and priests who are ignorant about the dangerous socio-political context. Indian classical dances, Karnatic music, practice of yoga, use of oil lamps, celebrating festival like Onam, Diwali and doing aarti in the church are condemned as sinful acts. Instead of following the legacy of Christ, these preachers are committed to sustain the Jewish legacy which Jesus had condemned and rejected.
A few leaders in the Church are more concerned about safeguarding the structures and controlling the members under them than facilitating to make the best use of their resources for spreading the values of Christ to build a civilization of love, the Kingdom of God. It is a pity that despite having 1,50,000 consecrated men and women available for working with commitment for 24 hours, the Church in India is targeted by a few fringe groups. Despite having 50,000 educational institutions with a strength of more than fifty million elite young people why are we feeling so helpless? Where are the alumni of these institutions, who are holding high positions in the government, politics, media and other professions of influence, when we are attacked and targeted? Despite being the beneficiaries of our institutions why are they influenced by the forces hostile to us?
Many who are entrusted with the responsibility of mentoring their sheep are busy with maintaining their institutions and preserving the outdated and unproductive routine practices. Seldom have they time to contemplate on their call, vision and mission. While they are strict in enforcing the members to practice the rituals and rules they neglect to introspect and contemplate on their life and actions. A good number of them are intoxicated with the power, perks and privileges of their post.
The most tragic phenomenon is that they object to any member searching for better alternative to live their consecrated life. The policy of many leaders is ‘be like every one’, rather, ‘obey what I say’. Prophets who refuse to fit into the outdated system are persecuted and silenced. Sycophants, despite their immorality, are recognized and rewarded.
After exposure to various parts of India, analysing the Church’s mission based on its strength, weakness, threats and opportunities, we have made many successful experiments in the past. As a result of contemplating on the socio-political and religious context of India I realized that that the problem the Church in India facing is due to drifting away from Christ. The Church can once again become relevant and acceptable, if it can repent and return to THE WAY OF CHRIST.
The Universal Solidarity Movement, in Indore and the community life evolved is a successful experiment since last 27 years. Bishops, provincials, priests and the religious who are in leadership roles are invited for an exposure and Christo centric leadership retreat. Open minded bishops, provincials, priests and nuns have come and participated in this exposure and retreat. They were convinced and motivated many others to ‘come and see’ the model community mission which can be THE WAY forward.
The tragedy is that many who face severe problems internally and externally refuse to “go to the other side” to see and learn. They are like the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus had lambasted: “For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men, for you neither go in yourselves nor let others enter either...” Mathew 23:13. They misuse their power and position and block the growth of those who are under their care. These selfish leaders without a vision for the Church and communities defeat the mission of Christ.
Leaders should realize that they are not owners of the resources at their disposal. They cannot afford to act as per their whims and fancies. They have to constantly ask themselves, “What would Jesus do if He were here?” If we honestly review our mission and introspect ourselves we would agree that more than 90 percent of our rules, rituals, practices and priorities are contrary to the life and teachings of Christ.
Self-righteousness, personal ego, vested interests, complacency, prejudice, ignorance of the context, copying the unproductive routine practices, fear of criticism, not making enough time for CONTEMPLATION and hypocrisy are the sins the leaders commit. Yet they preach without believing and practicing. The strong words of Christ are applicable to them, “Woe to you….” (Mt: 23-13…)(Published on 30th September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 40)