When the whole country witnessed communal violence all over India after the Hindutva forces destroyed Babri Masjid in 1992 I was sad to see the indifference on the part of the church leadership. I expected the church leaders to make a statement of peace and reconciliation. I was reflecting over the words of Jesus Christ, “Blessed are those who work for peace, they will be called children of God”.
Peace was the central message of Christ and I felt that the church should have come forward to organize activities to facilitate peace and reconciliation between the fighting communities. This peace initiative was not taken by the church even after several incidents of communal violence between the two communities were taking place indifferent parts of the country. Perhaps Christians never thought that they themselves would be targets of violence and murder. Even after several incidents of violent attacks on many consecrated men and woman including the worst attacks in Kandhamal, Odisha, the church is yet to make any serious reflection or plan a strategy to deal with this threatening situation.
A day after Narendra Modi achieved unexpected victory in 2014 Lok Sabha elections I had written a letter to several bishops whom I knew personally about the urgency of preparing a strategy to face the challenges from the fast emerging Hindutva forces. Even after personally speaking to some bishops about the urgency of preparing future strategy to face the new challenges none of them thought of organizing any such meeting, instead they felt that there was no need of such a strategy. I continued writing about the need for serious discussion and preparing a strategic plan to face the future challenges.
Principals of the schools and heads of educational institutions were repeatedly persuaded to review their priorities and introduce leadership training programmes focusing on promoting pluralistic heritage of India to prevent them from being brainwashed by the fundamentalist forces. All our efforts to motivate the church leaders and heads of educational institutions about the threat of fundamentalism remained a cry in the wilderness.
A few of them responded positively without doing much to sustain the insights and enthusiasm. The worst thing was the remarks some priests and bishops made in support of Narendra Modi when pointed about his Hindutva agenda. Their argument was, “Congress has made a mess of this country with so much corruption. We need to give a chance to Modi and BJP”. They made this kind of statements without studying the serious consequences of electing those not believing in secularism. Many of them did not have essential knowledge of Sangh Parivar and their ideology. They were conditioned by the information being fed by the social media.
Some bishops made isolated efforts to organize seminars at the diocesan level to analyse the socio-political context and the role of the Church. However many senior priests and principals of big schools who matter skipped those meetings with an attitude of “I know it all”.
Despite suffering several attacks and continuous harassment, the Church in India is behaving like an ostrich that puts its head in the sand at the time of dangers. By putting the head in the sand and not seeing the danger Ostrich with its large body feels safe. Similarly many who neither see nor reflect on the dangers still believe that God will work a miracle and defeat the fundamentalists as the Yahweh did in the OT tradition of Jews. They seldom realize that complacency and indifference are serious crimes ‘the good’ people commit.
Some urgent action plans:
1. See, Judge, Act: Awareness, reflection and action is the methodology YCS –Young Christian Students- uses in training the teenagers. A vast majority of the clergy and religious are unaware and ignorant of the socio-political realties of the country. A large majority of them do not read newspapers and articles in periodicals about the current socio-political issues. When people are ignorant of the threats they do not feel the need for any change. They not only remain complacent but also resist any change from the routine. A mechanism should be developed for self-education through serious reading.
2. Discussion and study circles on the current issues should be made a daily routine of the communities. Discussion should be followed by concrete and radical actions plans at the personal and community/ institution level.
3. Make books and periodicals with current issues available in every community / institution. Awareness and knowledge of the socio-political scenario can be created by serious reading and studying.
4. Take up the role of being the SALT of the society by entering into the main stream of society. We should stand out in the crowd by our values and positive presence. Join as many organizations as possible and participate actively to influence every section of the society. Equip oneself with knowledge and skills to be part of the main stream.
5. Make as many organizations as possible –small and big- to include all sections of the society with clear vision and strategy. Organizations need clarity of vision, ideology and way of life. The members of all these organizations should be nurtured through personal mentoring. Organizations without vision/ ideology and definite strategy are not only useless but dangerous.
6. While adopting new methodology and ideology it is essential to abandon the old. Jesus was very categorical and uncompromising about giving up the ‘old wine skin’ (old way of life and actions) and taking up ‘new wineskin’ (new method) to contain the ‘new wine’ of new challenges. The guru of management gurus Peter Drucker also has said the same thing in clear terms, “If you let the past control you, you will have no future”.
7. Contemplate the four pillars of discipleship and the mission of Christ. Our life and mission should be based on these ideals set by Christ :
Be the Salt of the earth: to preserve, to heal and to add flavour.
Be the light: to set example, to be models for others to imitate
Be a prophet to the nations: Stand up and be counted as the conscience of the society, be the voice of the voiceless without bothering about the consequences
Bear lasting fruit: Live and work to influence and create a lasting impact in the world
8. Pulling down the old structures/ rules and building new systems and way of life based on the vision and spirituality of Christ should take place here and now, first in our thinking and actions. There should be zero tolerance to procrastination, laziness and negative thinking and excuses. DO IT NOW.
9. Quality and merit should be the criteria of recruitment and promotion in the formation programme.
10. Developing personal spirituality with self-discipline and self-education should be the foundation of all formation programs. The lazy and dishonest persons are not fit to be ‘new wineskin’ disciples.
11. Criteria of spirituality should be genuine practice of values of Christ instead of numerous unproductive and routine devotions and pious traditions.
12. Members and communities should be provided with maximum facilities to equip themselves to take leadership role in the society. The existing outdated s rules and understanding about poverty and simplicity should be abandoned.
13. Introduce frequent and regular evaluations, total transparency, team work, targets and accountability to ensure that the mission is vision centred. Mentoring of students and people should be given priority than any other organizational formalities.
14. Educational qualifications should not be the only criteria of appointment of principals of the schools and colleges. Before appointing someone as principal they should be sent for integral leadership training which includes skills and knowledge in management, professionalism, public relations, communication, team work, knowledge of socio-political analysis. A university degree and seniority are not enough to be leaders of the institutions and influence hundreds of students, teachers, parents and others in the society. (USM had offered to give this training since many years).
15. The church will suffer more from inner divisions and conflicts than from external adversaries. Enemy is within. Therefore ensuring unity among the various groups in the Church at all levels should be the first priority. A divided church cannot face external threats. A Christo centric approach (by asking the question at all times, ‘what would Jesus do if he were here?’) alone will give the basis to be united. Divisions and conflicts based on petty loyalties and unproductive issues like language, caste, rite, tribe and region should be abandoned for the greater and lasting good of the church. Our very existence depends on this total unity.
16. Stop all unproductive meetings and seminars. Every meeting or event should be organized after setting clear objectives and evaluate them at the end of each program to ensure if the objectives were achieved.
17. Form/activate the alumni associations in every school and college with the purpose of MENTORING the ex-students through regular meetings, contacts through Newsletters and personal letters. By neglecting the students and failure in mentoring them after they left our schools and colleges have done great harm. They were recruited by the forces hostile to us. A former teacher / sister with right motivation and clarity of vision should be made in charge of this great mission. Beware of persons (even ex-students) who are loyal to the fundamentalist organizations hijacking the whole organization by their smart ways.
18. Regular value based leadership training should be made top priority of the school routine .
19. Reorientation of the hostel/boarding ministry should be done to make the hostels to be training centres of enlightened leaders rooted in ethics and morals. Identifying and selecting the right persons to be Directors of hostels with life time commitment after giving special training to them are urgent actions to bear lasting fruits from this ministry. This ministry should no longer be the most neglected ministry as it is today.
20. Church personnel – bishops, priests and religious- can no longer take things for granted. Even the security they were experiencing so far inside the campus of the big institutions is uncertain. The BJP government, with its brute majority and aggressive agenda of RSS, will abolish the privileges and goodwill which the church personnel enjoyed for so many years. They can be easily trapped in false cases. Hence the priests and religious have to keep themselves from scandals, careless words and actions. Building goodwill and friendship with all sections of the society like SALT and LIGHT has become a necessity.
Institutions and organizations with ideology and clarity of vision alone can bring transformation which will help the church to face the new challenges, rather threats. This transition is difficult but a necessity, an URGENT NECESSITY for the survival of the Church and its mission. It is time for all in the church to wake up and act, act now setting targets and dead line.(Published on 10th April 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 15)#