It seems that a feeling of helplessness and fear have gripped people who stand for secularism and democracy after the massive victory of BJP in UP and Uttarakhand. The success of BJP to install its governments in Manipur and Goa even though they did not get majority by purchasing the small regional parties and independents further added more fear and anxiety among the minorities and secular groups.
The Central Government and the State Governments are dictated by RSS and the Hindutva forces. They would make all efforts to enforce their narrow agenda by destroying the pluralistic ethos of the country. Appointment of Yogi Adityanath and Trivendra Singh Rawat as Chief Ministers of UP and Uttarakhand is a clear indication of total control of RSS.
A Shiv Sena leader has proposed the name of Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief as the next president of India so that the agenda of making India a Hindu Rashtra could be attained. If Yogi Adityanath could be made CM of UP it is not impossible for Mohan Bhagwat to be elected president of India since BJP has the required numbers.
The members of Muslim community are very much worried by this new reality of India. The CM of UP Yogi Adityanath has several cases against him such as “Injuring or defiling places of worship”; “trespassing on burial spaces”; “rioting with deadly weapons” and even “attempt to murder”. It is very ironical that a person of criminal background with an army of ‘Hindu Yuva Vahini’ goons is given the charge to restore “Law and order”! In the past he had declared his dream of installing statues of Goddess Gauri, Ganesh, and Nandi in every Mosque”. He had also told Muslims who do not perform “Surya namaskar” to either to drown themselves in the sea or go to Pakistan. He had also pledged, “I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu Rashtra”.
Unfortunately neither the leaders of the Church nor the clergy and religious understand the gravity of the fast changing socio-political context of India. A vast majority of the church personnel neither read newspapers nor study serious developments happening in the country. The Ostrich mentality and the life preoccupied with unproductive routine activities and priorities keep them ignorant of the threats to their life and mission.
On the other hand those who are aware of the dangerous developments and their consequences get worried and suffer from fear and tension. They foresee more harassment, threats and persecution. Simply getting worried does no good.
While we believe in the assurance of Christ, “don’t be afraid, take courage”, we need to explore new ways of facing the challenges. Foreseeing all these adverse situations and challenges 2000 years ago Christ has given us a new paradigm to face them. The new paradigm is “put the new wine in the new wineskin”. Instead of getting frightened Christ wants us to face the new challenges with new mindset and new strategy. He wants his disciples to make the maximum use of the resources and opportunities to counter these threats. It is a pity that the church personnel have not taken seriously the strategy which Christ had spoken centuries ago.
The new paradigm which Christ has proposed demands a new strategy and action plan from the part of his disciples. They cannot waste their lives maintaining the age old traditions and way of life which was based on detachment from the world. Once the religious and priests have taken up active ministry it is important to change their way of life and priorities as per the changes and challenges of the world. The problem with majority of the clergy and religious is their refusal to give up the old. The Lord has categorically said that unless we give up the ‘old wineskin’ we cannot adopt the ‘new wineskin’ to contain the new wine of challenges.
Fear of the threat does not help anyone to avoid dangers. The basic quality the disciples need when they are met with challenges and threats is positive attitude, courage and trust in God’s power. But God does not help anyone who is not willing to make sincere efforts to handle the crisis and dangers by using the available resources and opportunities. Fear destroys the ability to explore new possibilities. Instead of taking time for contemplation people who are possessed by the demon of fear will follow any one who proposes temporary relief. They fail to think of new strategies and action plans. Instead of correcting the mistakes of the past they try to protect all the unproductive practices which are offensive to people of other faiths.
During my visits to various schools I used to observe variety of school uniforms and the logo of the school which are attached to the dress. In the past Christian witness was exhibited by external signs and symbols. Many of the schools still have the logo of the schools with a cross in its centre. Often this logo with a cross in it is stitched over the uniform. If any crazy Hindu vigilant or saffron education officer notices it he would surely demand to remove it. Will any of the zealous missionaries have the courage to resist such an order? Will it not be wise that we correct the mistakes before we are forced to remove it?
Similarly many schools, where 99 percent students and teachers belong to other faiths, still follow the traditional Christian prayers. Why don’t we stop this colonial practice and introduce readings from different scriptures and songs which are common to people of all faiths? The traditional practice of exhibitionism should not be misunderstood as witness. Witness to Christ and faith should be by our exemplary life based on morals, ethics and compassion to all. Moreover we should realize that pluralism is the heritage we have received from Christ.
The crisis and adverse situations should be an occasion to explore new alternatives. In fact Christ had foreseen these situations two thousand years ago and given clear strategy to influence the society by living his values.
Unfortunately for centuries Church was busy establishing its empire by building up institutions and recruiting men and women to take care of them. Instead of developing human resource of the clergy and the religious it followed a formation programme of incapacitating them to face the fast changing situations in the world. Despite facing challenges and threats the church personnel do not realize the dangers. Hence they continue living with complacency and are engaged in activities which will bring self-destruction and death. Organizing prayer groups and shouting at the top of the voice alone will not help. We need to stop ‘delegating our job to God’ and plunge into action using our maximum talents.
Several million young students who are still in our institutions should not be stolen by the negative forces. Explore the possibilities to prevent them from being brainwashed and misused by the negative forces to turn against us. Programs which would motivate them and give right orientation should be our top priority. The best personnel should be chosen for this mission. Similarly church personnel should follow the call of Christ to be ‘slat and light’ of the world by presenting themselves as role models of ethics and morality.
The adverse situations and threats at our door step should be a wakeup call and an occasion to make strategies to deal with the challenges in a positive spirit. It should be also a call to abandon the age old routine rules and rituals and explore new alternatives. Aggressive Imperial expansion of the church / congregations should be stopped. All of us need to believe that we shall overcome all these hurdles; surely one day we shall overcome because nothing is impossible! We need to be free and fearless about any crisis and opposition. Let us constantly repeat, “If God is with us who can be against us?”
SOME URGENT ACTION PLANS:
Time is running out and God wants us to act here and now. Jesus was always aware of the urgency of his mission and he adopted a hectic schedule. Even though he was very busy with teaching, healing and doing good to people in villages and towns he spent his nights in contemplation. He recharged himself through his communion with God.
1. Blend action and contemplation
The first action plan the church leaders, priests and religious should do is to review their spiritual lives. Though they are spending many hours in routine community prayers they should introspect themselves to see the quality of their spiritual life in terms of contemplation. Routine prayers, sermons and devotions neither provide any insights nor help us to be creative. Contemplation and communion with God in silence provide new insights to launch creative ventures and insights to face crisis. The first and most important thing the church personnel should adopt is to learn to make contemplation a way of life. They need to distinguish the difference between religiosity of practicing various rituals and spirituality of practicing values of love, justice, honesty, sensitivity etc. Church leaders, priests and religious should redeem their role as spiritual leaders by their authenticity than their external religious uniform, cross and medals .
2. Take charge of the youth:
Several hundred young students are readily available in our educational institutions. They are full of energy, talent and good will. Apart from giving the academic instructions and minimum routine moral lessons what we need to help them to form their vision of life? What do we do to prevent them from being brainwashed by the fundamentalist groups and other negative forces? We have wasted the opportunity all these years to motivate and train them as visionary leaders with character and conscience. Today a vast majority of the young students in our schools and colleges have become members of Hindutwa organizations. We come to know this from the students who come to USM community for leadership training. Majority of them confess that they are members of these organizations. After one week training the very students resolve to promote pluralistic heritage of our country. Young students who had come with many negative ideas about Mahatma Gandhi become his admirers and promise to follow his way of life.
Each diocese and religious congregation should take up this kind of leadership training. A few of our talented priests and religious should be trained for this mission. If possible each diocese and congregation should establish training centres and communities after the model of USM community which had successfully experimented with this mission since last 25 years. Training the youth who are with us is not an option but should be the most urgent priority.
3. A core team for Media Education:
Dioceses and religious congregations train many priests and religious in media. They are busy with producing devotional songs and videos. The latest trend is producing video programmes to televise through local T V channel. Yet the most important aspect of giving media education to the young people is neglected. There are hardly anyone interested to give media education to the young people. We need talented persons to help the young people to look at media critically. There is an urgent need to educate the young students about the dangers of getting addicted to internet, blindly believing all the information which is coming through the social media and print media.
Church also needs an efficient media department to communicate its vision and activities through social media and serious publications. Instead of wasting a lot of money for publishing routine diocesan newsletters bishops and heads of religious communities should be ready to invest money to support publications which raise the national issues.
4. Train teachers to use films for value education:
Teachers in the schools and colleges should be equipped to use films to educate and motivate the students. Use of films is found very successful in motivating the youth during the leadership training conducted in Universal Solidarity Movement. Schools should have provision to screen films of visionary leaders at least once a week. A few selected teachers should be trained to use these films effectively and conduct discussion on them.
5. Create pluralistic atmosphere in the institutions:
During the colonial period and after independence church followed an aggressive style of evangelization. As part of evangelization and proclamation of faith, our institutions were filled with pictures of Christian saints, popes and bishops. Captions from Bible were painted on the walls of schools and hospitals. Though the majority of the children in our schools belonged to other faiths they were made to say Christian prayers. These practices were encouraged as a part of evangelization. Hindus who were pluralistic by tradition did not object to these practices. Now in the changed atmosphere where the Hindutva fringe groups take objection to such things it is only wise that we create an interreligious and pluralistic atmosphere in our institutions. Jesus who was pluralistic in his life and teachings will not approve such aggressive ways of proclamation.#(Published on 05th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 23)