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Reinvent Or Become Irrelevant

Reinvent Or Become Irrelevant

The result of the assembly elections to the three North Eastern states , Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya, although on the expected lines, is indeed worrying. The saffron surge in the North East has emboldened the BJP to conquer the remaining states like Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha and West Bengal. BJP President Amit Shah had said that its golden era would be when it wrests West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka from rival parties. By ‘golden era’ Amit Shah means ‘realization of Hindu Rashtra in its fullness.’

As per the news published in News 18 on March 6, buoyed by BJP’s astounding victory in Tripura, the RSS held an emergency meeting at its headquarters in Bengaluru to chalk out the Sangh’s Plan for poll-bound Karnataka. The RSS leadership has reportedly told the BJP that it would take charge of booth-level management to defeat the Siddaramaiah government.  Another strategy of BJP RSS is to break the Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Dalit votes that may go with Siddaramaiah in big numbers.

Intoxicated by the victory in the three North-eastern states, the saffron forces razed a statue of Lenin in Belonia, using a bulldozer. According to Tripura CPM district secretary Tapas Datta, BJP supporters chanted Bharat mata ki jai while pulling down the five-feet-tall fibre glass statue. As reported in the NDTV news the governor of Tripura, Tathagata Roy, tweeted supporting the bulldozing of Lenin's statue; Ram Madhav, National Secretary of BJP, tweeted hailing the act, then deleted it. It was reported in the media that after pulling down the statue, the head was cut and the ‘saffron Talibans’ played football with it. This, indeed, is a symbolic action by the saffron forces to convey a message that anyone who does not accept the ideology of Hindutva will have the same fate as the statue of Lenin.

BJP national secretary H. Raja wrote on his Facebook page "Who is Lenin and what is the connection between Lenin and India? What connection has India with Communists? Lenin's statue has been removed in Tripura. Today it is Lenin's statue in Tripura, tomorrow it will be the statue of caste fanatic EVR Ramasamy." He also uploaded a video of Lenin's statue being brought down by a bulldozer in Belonia. The Sangh Parivar is determined to exterminate any ideology or group that stands for equality, liberty, justice and fraternity. Hindutva which has its roots in Manusmriti is diametrically opposed to the liberal values enshrined in the constitution of India.

The saffron surge in the North Eastern states should make the Church in India introspect about its strategy, approach and way of life. How could a party with an ideology that promotes hatred, revenge and violence against the Muslims and Christians make inroads into the states where the Christian presence is very significant? Meghalaya has 74.59% Christian population and majority of them are Catholics. 88% of the population of Nagaland are Christians. BJP has practically conquered the whole of North East except Mizoram. Out of the seven states, BJP is ruling directly in four states and it controls two states (Meghalaya and Nagaland) as a coalition partner. The saffron control is firmly established in 22 states of India. 

The Church in India has heavily deployed its resources, both human and financial, in the tribal areas of India and the Tribals constitute the largest group in the Catholic Church in India after the Dalits. Many tribals got educated and a good number of them are in government jobs mainly due to the reservation. The Catholic Church has established good number of institutions in the tribal areas of India. The English Medium Schools and higher education institutions in these areas are used by both Tribals and non-tribals. Today the RSS-BJP combine has expanded not only its footprints, but also its control practically all over the tribal areas in India. Priests, sisters and the Catholic population live in fear in many tribal pockets of India. Why did the Church fail to influence of the tribal communities in spite of heavy deployment of resources?

The RSS has been focusing on the tribal areas where the Church has significant presence. The methodology the Catholic Church has been following in the tribal areas is more or less the same as that which failed in Europe. Its focus was mainly on increasing the number by providing certain services to the tribal communities. The church failed to inculcate and strengthen the values of Jesus, which are very similar to the tribal values, especially among the youth. By offering the incentives of power and money to the leaders the RSS-BJP easily won over the tribals, including the Catholics. The failure of the political parties that have been ruling these states for decades, to offer solutions to the problems of Tribals, especially the mounting unemployment, is an important reason for the success of RSS-BJP combine in these states.  

Another area of failure by the Church has been the neglect of political education and developing Christian lay leaders committed to the core values of Jesus. The Indian constitution and its core values have not been part of the Church catechism or formation of the clergy and the religious. During the recently concluded meeting of the CBCI (Catholic Bishops Conference of India) in Bengaluru the bishops made an appeal to the faithful to promote the values of the Indian constitution. The CBCI called upon the members of the Church “to make the Constitution of India more widely known in all sectors of Church and society, particularly highlighting some salient features such as the equality of all citizens, the freedom of religion, the freedom of conscience and the freedom of expression”. It took 68 years for the Catholic Church to appreciate the beauty and richness of the Indian Constitution because of its overdependence on the Western model of the Church.

What RSS-BJP could achieve in the North Eastern states can be described as a Himalayan or herculean task. This was made possible because of the well coordinated strategic approach of the RSS. The RSS workers are mostly from among the local people and those pracharaks who had come from outside made a long term commitment to achieve their goal.

Christianity has been in India for about 2000 years and the Christians constitute only 2.3% of the total population of India. The Church in India has to analyse why it could not grow numerically and expand geographically in this country. Tony Joseph’s article, “Why Christianity failed in India” in Outlook magazine, April 13, 2015 issue throws some light on this question.  According to him it is due to the peculiar nature of the encounter of Hinduism with Christianity. “Christianity , probably for the first time, came up against a philosophy and culture that did not feel the need to persecute other faiths, did not find the Christian messiah and his teachings either objectionable or exceptional, and therefore, didn’t see why anyone should convert either. This embrace-cum-rejection was such a novel experience for it that Christianity probably didn’t know quite how to respond”.

The time has come for the Church in India to reinvent itself if it has to be relevant, by undergoing the following paradigm shifts.

·       Shift from the colonial idea of institutional expansion of the Church to becoming salt and light of the society: In order to realize this, the focus shall be on ideal Christian living based on the Sermon on the Mount. The followers of Jesus, including priests and religious, shall enter into the main stream and transform society from within. The craze for institutional expansion often leads to corruption, scams and internal decay.

·       Shift from Devotees of Christ to Disciples of Christ and from religiosity to Spirituality: Jesus has called his followers to become his prophetic disciples by following his way of love and justice and not to be satisfied with worshipping him. Excessive devotion and religiosity often lead to fundamentalism, blind faith, and annihilation of creativity and loss of critical thinking.

·       Shift from the Old Testament World View to the New Testament World View about God, Human Person and the World: God is a loving father and mother whose forgiveness is unconditional and not a cruel judge who demands penance for the sins committed even by the forefathers, as presented by some fanatic preachers. Human beings are primarily God’s children, created in the image likeness of God, sharing the creativity and freedom of God. Good and evil co-exist in the world and the role of human beings is to transform the world using their God-given creativity and talents. Exaggerated sin consciousness leads to guilt and depression in individuals and commercialization of religious rituals.  

·       Shift from Authoritarian way of functioning to Participatory Decision Making: Church is the ‘People of God’ and authority in the Church is given for the service of the people. The leaders in the Church are not owners of the property of the Church. They are only custodians and they are accountable to the people. Hence, systems for participatory decision making and making the leaders accountable to the people, are to be put in place urgently. This includes ending gender discrimination within the Church. Using the Religious women (nuns) as cheap labour force in the Church institutions under the domination of clergy is to be stopped immediately.

·       Shift from Competition to Collaboration and Networking: The division of the miniscule Catholics into different groups on the basis of rite, caste and language will only lead to the weakening and the gradual destruction of the Church in India. Similarly, competition between the religious congregations and the diocesan priests within the dioceses is a sure recipe for destruction. The need of the hour is collaboration within the dioceses, among the dioceses, among the different Rites, and collaboration and networking with other churches and like-minded civil society organizations for the promotion of the values of the Kingdom of God and the protection of democracy.

The urgent need to reinvent the Church in India requires a radical change in the formation of the church personnel: priests and religious. The present system of        formation by and large is outmoded and irrelevant. A formation process, focusing on self-discipline and self-education, building character and competence and making the formees sensitive and respectful to different religions and cultures is to be adopted.

(jacobpt48@gmail.com)

(Published on 19th March 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 12)