The Church cannot be dumbfound towards the precarious issues faced by Dalits, Tribals and Adivasis as they have been ostracized from the historical accounts by the dominant historians and writers of ancient Indian history. The need of the hour therefore, in contemporary times, is to listen to the people from the margins, about their struggles […]
Ten Years since the Kandhamal Carnage: Yet no Justice!
What kind of “freedom” do we celebrate on 15th August every year?
This August 25, 2018, it will be ten years, since the biggest anti Christian violence, biggest communal violence in Odisha, will complete ten years. It was on this date, in the wake of the slaying of VHP leader Swami Lakshamananda Sarswati on the night of August 23, 2008, that a nun working in the Dibyajyoti Pastoral Centre of Kandhamal, ran away from the centre with Father Thomas Chellam fearing attack from a violent mob. She was forced out of her shelter the next day and was subjected to horrifying physical and sexual violence. As reported by the National Solidarity Forum in the communal fire that raged over Kandhamal, around 393 churches and worship places which belonged to the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians were destroyed, around 6,500 houses were destroyed, over 100 people were killed, over 40 women were subjected to rape, molestation and humiliation and several educational, social service and health institutions were destroyed and looted. The shocking fact is that all these incidents took place in full view of police and the police remained mute spectators.
The ALL INDIA FORUM FOR RIGHT TO EDUCATION, with its office in Hyderabad, has given a response to the MHRD Draft Bill for repeal of UGC Act 1956 & setting up HECI (Higher Education Commission of India). The same is being shared for our reflection on this important issue, as the Church in India continues to be one of the significant agencies of contributing to the advancement of education in India.
20 July 2018
Response to MHRD Draft Bill for repeal of UGC Act 1956 & setting up HECI (Higher Education Commission of India).
For the last 60 years the UGC was taking decisions related to allocation of funds, deciding course structure, monitoring quality and giving clearance for setting up new campuses. But now, as has become common practice, MHRD Minister Prakash Javadekar has tweeted that “In a landmark decision, a draft Act for repeal of #UGC & setting up #HECI (Higher Education Commission of India) has been prepared,” in accordance with the “commitment of the government” to reform the regulatory mechanism to provide “more autonomy” to higher education institutes to “promote excellence” and “facilitate holistic growth of the education”.
The MHRD Note further proclaims that “Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has embarked a process of reform of the regulatory agencies for better administration of the higher education sector.”
What are the changes sought to be introduced through the proposed Bill, which the Minister incorrectly refers to as an Act even though it has not been placed before or passed yet by Parliament?
- HECI will not determine, allot and disburse grants to Institutions of Higher Education (IHE); these will be directly handled by the MHRD;
- All new courses will henceforth have to be approved by HECI;
- HECI will have the powers to shut down and initiate criminal action against IHE that fail to act according to its decisions;
- HECI will be advised by an overarching Advisory Council with Minister and Secretary MHRD as Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson respectively and its `advice’ will be “implemented” by HECI;
- Overriding the specific Central and State Acts establishing universities and the other related legislations of states, the HECI Bill, if passed, will legislate on a concurrent subject thereby encroaching on the rights and powers of the state governments and jeopardising constitutional federalism. According to the Article 246 read with Entry 32 of List 2 and Entry 44 of List 1 in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, the “Incorporation, Regulation and Winding up of a University is an exclusive domain of the State Government” and the Union Government cannot legislate on these matters.
The direction of the changes is significant. On the one hand the HECI will have punitive powers to `discipline’ IHE, and on the other hand the Central government’s role in the composition and the day-to-day functioning of the HECI will be enormously increased.
PRESS RELEASE ON THE RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AT NIRMAL HRIDAY, MISSIONARIES OF CHARITY HOME AT EAST JAIL ROAD, RANCHI
(Missionaries of Charity Mother House, Kolkata- July 17, 2018)
We are deeply saddened and grieved by the recent developments at Missionaries of Charity Home – Nirmal Hriday at East Jail Road, Ranchi. Even while we place our full trust in the judicial process that is underway, we wish to express regret and sorrow for what happened and desire to express in unequivocal terms our condemnation of individual actions which have nothing to do with the congregation of the Missionaries of Charity.
We are fully cooperating with the investigations and are open to any free, fair and just inquiry. In this context, specially in view of the many myths being spread, information distorted and false news being diffused and baseless innuendos being thrown about regarding the Mother Teresa Sisters, it is expedient to lay down the turn of events as they actually transpired.
Sr. Concelia MC (the arrested nun) was appointed as the sister-in-charge of the ‘unwed mothers’ section at Nirmal Hriday, East Jail Road, Ranchi on June 06, 2011. She was responsible for admission, hospitalization, counselling, record keeping, accompanying mothers and babies to CWC when necessary and for discharge of the unwed mothers from the Home.
Mrs. Anima Indwar (the staff member arrested) began working at Nirmal Hriday from January 2012. Initially, she worked as as a ward helper and then as a staff member to care for the unwed mothers. She learnt the work very well and ably assisted Sr. Concelia MC. Mrs. Anima Indwar thus, came to enjoy the trust of the Sisters at Nirmal Hriday. As and when Sr. Concelia MC got engaged in pressing responsibilities, Mrs. Anima Indwar would escort the unwed mothers, their babies and their guardians to Sadar Hospital, RIMS and CWC Office as and when required, by herself.
On June 29.2018, at around 12.30 pm, the child Protection officer Ms. Seema and other Social Welfare officers about five of them came to Nirmal Hriday. They called for the admission and attendance registers containing information about the inmates at the Home. They seized the registers and records maintained by Nirmal Hriday without providing the receipt for such seizure to the Home.
From the records maintained for unwed mothers, the said officials particularly enquired about Ms. Karishma Toppo and her baby. Mrs. Karishma Toppo had taken admission in Nirmal Hriday on March 19, 2018 and had delivered her baby on May 01,2018. After her delivery. Ms. Karishma Toppo had declared in the Home’s register that she would surrender her child to CWC. Mrs. Anima Indwar, Ms. Karishma Toppo and her guardian thus took the baby from Nirmal Hriday to surrender the child. Neither Nirmal Hriday nor the Sisters had any way to ascertain whether the child was actually surrendered to CWC. This is because CWC as matter of practice did not give any acknowledgment to the Home after obtaining the custody of a child from an unwed mother.
On July 03, 2018, Mrs. Anima Indwar when summoned by CWC admitted that Ms. Karishma Toppo’s child was not surrendered to CWC. Upon such admission, she was handed over to the police by CWC. Mrs. Karishma Toppo’s child too was surrendered to CWC by Mrs. Anima Indwar and Ms. Karishma Toppo on the same day.
On July 4, 2018, Sr. Concelia MC and and Sr. Marie Deanne MC, Superior of Nirmal Hriday were also questioned by the police. Sr. Concelia was arrested by the police while Sr. Marie Deanne MC after being kept in police custody till 7 PM the next day was finally let off.
On the evening of July 04, 2018 CWC along with Child Protection Officer. Ms. Seema without serving any notice to Nirmal Hriday, carried away the 11 unwed mothers, one unwed mother along with her baby and one guardian from the home. The said women were subjected to utmost humiliation and public embarrassment by the officials as they were carried in full view of the media.
For reasons unknown, our Sishu Bhawan Home at Hinoo was raided by CWC with a police force consisting about 7 members on July 06, 2018. 22 children lodged in the said Home were carried away by CWC, which included a one month old baby. One such baby took very ill in the custody of CWC and was admitted in the ICU at Rani Hospital. The records and registers of this Home too were carried away by the officials without providing the Home a receipt of such seizure. It is distressing that CWC has meted out such treatment to a Home, which its officials themselves had described as having an “excellent environment for the care of children” only about two weeks before.
The Missionaries of Charity, following the footsteps of our foundress St. Mother Teresa is caring for the poor, destitute and the afflicted since 1950. Today. there are 5,167 sisters, both active and contemplative, with 760 houses in 139 countries. The Missionaries of Charity have 244 houses in India including those in Jharkhand.
Our works include running homes for leprosy patients, TB patients, AIDS patients, physically and mentally challenged children and adults, night shelters, indoor primary health care facilities, homes for women in distress, girls in danger, abandoned pregnant women, for women whom poverty and starvation have driven into the streets.
The Congregation of Missionaries of Charity vows to continue their whole-hearted and free service to the poorest of the poor by serving the needy and vulnerable even in the middle of the unprecedented and unfounded criticism that it faces today. We have full faith in the courts of law and the investigating authorities and are confident that justice shall prevail.
We pray for all those who have been hurt by the recent developments and we ask God to bless all those who are standing by us in these painful and difficult moments, and we lift up to God in prayer all people of goodwill.
May our Mother, St. Teresa of Calcutta intercede for us before our Almighty Father.
Sr. M. Prema MC
Source: “Mother Teresa Nuns explain Ranchi Incident,” http://india.ucanews.com/news/mother-teresa-nuns-explain-ranchi-incident/37760/daily, July 18, 2018.
National Consultation on Interfaith Engagement with Human Sexuality and Gender Diversity
July 13-14, YMCA Tourist Hostel, New Delhi
While awaiting the judgement of the Honourable Supreme Court of India on Sec 377 of IPC — we the participants of the National Consultation on Interfaith Engagement with Human Gender, Sexes and Sexuality Diversities — organised by Aneka, Bangalore; and the National Council of Churches in India –ESHA, Nagpur; held in Delhi from 13th to 14thof July 2018; declare the following statement as an affirmation of our conviction — that human beings with diverse genders, sexes and sexuality minorities are God’s creation and are a part of natural order. This affirmation is done in the context of LGBTQHI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Hijada, Intersexual) phobia that attempts to criminalize gender, sexual and sexuality minorities in India.
We believe that love is the basis of all religions and hatred can have no place. However, historically there have been dominant interpretations that have been used to perpetuate oppressive systems against these minorities. As a result, gender, sexual and sexuality minorities are often rejected and alienated by many religious leaders and faith communities.
9th July 2018 marked 13 years since Palestinian civil society gave the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and respects Palestinian human rights. It is a moment to remember what a simple idea of non-violent resistance can achieve if people decide to organize around it. For a background to the Palestinian call for BDS, please follow this link: http://indianculturalforum.in/2018/07/09/13-years-of-the-palestinian-bds-movement/
Some of the recent victories of the movement, which people across the world have achieved through grassroots efforts are noted here:
- Socialist International, an association of 140 global political parties, several of them in power, have adopted BDS and have also called for a Military Embargo on Israel: https://bdsmovement.net/news/socialist-international-140-global-political-parties-adopts-bds-calls-military-embargo-israel
- The Argentinian national football team, following sustained efforts in Latin America, Barcelona and Occupied Palestine, cancelled the ‘friendly match’ they were set to play with Israel in Jerusalem: https://bdsmovement.net/news/we-applaud-argentina%E2%80%99s-decision-cancel-israel-football-match
- 11 artists withdrew from the Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival supporting the call to boycott the festival as it is a platform for Israeli pinkwashing i.e. cynical use of LGBT rights to cover up for its violations: http://www.pinkwatchingisrael.com/2018/05/29/tlvfest-hit-with-wave-of-cancellations/
- Dublin became the first City Council to endorse BDS and discontinued all contracts with Hewlett Packard and DXC Technology for their complicity with Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights: https://bdsmovement.net/news/dublin-becomes-first-european-capital-endorse-bds-palestinian-rights-drops-hewlett-packard-it
- Barcelona City Council has called for a comprehensive Military Embargo on Israel: https://bdsmovement.net/news/city-barcelona-endorses-call-comprehensive-military-embargo-israeli-apartheid
All of these successes have come about due to consistent efforts of people of conscience across the world.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We have heard the words addressed by the Apostle Paul to the Galatians, who were experiencing conflict and division. Groups were fighting and hurling accusations at one another. It is in this context that the Apostle, twice in the space of a few verses, invites us to “walk in the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16.25).
Walking. We human beings are constantly on the move. Throughout our lives, we are called to set out and keep walking: from our mother’s womb and at every stage of life, from when we first leave home to the day we depart from this earthly existence. The metaphor of walking reveals the real meaning of our life, a life that is not self-sufficient but always in search of something greater. Our hearts spur us to keep walking, to pursue a goal.
Walking is a discipline; it takes effort. It requires patience and exercise, day after day. We have to forego many other paths in order to choose the one that leads to the goal. We have to keep that goal constantly before us, lest we go astray. Remembering the goal. Walking also demands the humility to be prepared at times, when necessary, to retrace our steps. It also involves being concerned for our traveling companions, since only in company do we make good progress. Walking, in a word, demands constant conversion. That is why so many people refuse to do it. They prefer to remain in the quiet of their home, where it is easy to manage their affairs without facing the risks of travel. But that is to cling to a momentary security, incapable of bestowing the peace and joy for which our hearts yearn. That joy and peace can only be found by going out from ourselves.
An Ecumenical Call for Global Day of Prayer to End Famine (10th June 2018)
Did you feed me, when I was hungry? Though this was a question posed by Jesus several years hundred years ago, communities and nations who are starving for food and suffering from hunger put forward the same question to the world even today. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, 825 million people in the world are malnourished and therefore are deprived of a healthy life (2017)
Here are some alarming facts about hunger and famine in 2016:
- Ninety-eight percent of those who suffer from hunger live in developing countries. 553 million live in the Asian and Pacific regions, while 227 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Latin America and the Caribbean account for 47 million.
- India has the highest population of hunger. In 2014, over 190.7 million people were undernourished in India.
- Approximately nine million people die of hunger every year according to the World Hunger statistics; more than the combined death toll for malaria, AIDs and tuberculosis in 2012.
- Over 60 percent of the world’s hungry are women, who have limited access to resources in the patriarchal societies in which they live.
- Hunger in women of developing countries causes malnutrition and death of children. Approximately 3.1 million (8500 per day!) children die of hunger each year, and in 2011 poor nutrition accounted for 45 percent of deaths of children under five.
- The alarming tragedy is that such deaths take place when the world produces enough food to feed everyone. Food availability per capita has increased from approximately 2220 kcal per person per day in the 1960s to 2790 kcals per person per day in 2006.
In this context, the question of Jesus ‘Did you feed me, when I was hungry?’ in Matt 25: 35 – 40 is not only an indictment of Jesus, but also an experience of several people in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere in the world, who do not have accessibility to adequate food!
Many a time, faith communities( including churches) and even affluent States are comfortable in processing a few philanthropic services in addressing or combating poverty and hunger by providing food grains, rather than seriously looking at poverty and hunger as ‘Justice’ and ‘Human Rights’ issues.
Famine is mostly seen as non-availability of food due to various reasons including draught, war and ecological and natural catastrophes. Moreover, there prevails a view that it is also due to over population. However, the fact is that erroneous and unjust policies of the States and the unjust distribution of food grains cause famine conditions.
Therefore, the World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance facilitates this campaign, joining the World Evangelical Alliance and the All Africa Conference of Churches, inviting churches and faith communities around the globe to pray for God’s intervention in the healing of the lands, by sharing enough and healthy food (grains) among the people and also to facilitate the States to develop pro-people policies to ensure healthy food for all citizens.
This ‘Global Day of Prayer to End Famine’ motivates the participating organisations and individuals to affirm “food justice ‘FOR’ all – food-justice ‘OF’ all”.
The idea behind this ecumenical call for prayer is to:
- Unite the ecumenical partners and faith communities around the globe together in spirit and in action to ministerially and theologically respond to the issues related to famine, poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.
- Encourage and facilitate their congregations and constituencies to pray for, and reflect and act upon the situation of hunger with information and suggestions.
- Facilitate the Ecumenical Bodies and Partners to prayerfully work with their respective States to develop pro-people policies to affirm just-distribution of food and health.
- Bring about concerned awareness regarding impact of famines on the most vulnerable children, women and families and to help address its root causes.
- Connect with church-related and other humanitarian organisations that are currently working to bring immediate relief and positive long-term change so that children and families can live out God’s aspiration for a dignified, peaceful and violence-free future.
- Help communities and congregations to uphold each other in prayer and support, by sharing experiences, challenges and solutions.
Hence, the Unity and Mission of the National Council of Churches in India and the Ecumenical Council for Drought and Water Management (ECoDAWM) are jointly inviting all Members of the NCCI and other faith communities, people’s movements and action groups to observe this day to spread awareness and commit ourselves to act towards eradicating poverty.
We hope all concerned Church and Community leaders will support this effort by organizing meaningful programmes within our churches and organisations.
PLEASE JOIN THIS GLOBAL PRAYER MOVEMENT ON THE 10TH JUNE 2018.
To Know more about the Prayer Day please visit
<https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/wcc-calls-for-global-day-of-prayer-to-end-famine> and <https://www.wvi.org/learn-more-about-global-day-prayer-end-famine>
To Download Resources Please click:
To join the campaign Please click: (Register Your Church / Organisation)
Yours in God’s Mission,
|Dr. William Stanley
President – ECoDAWM
Rev. R. Christopher Rajkumar
Executive Secretary, NCCI – Unity and Mission
|Most. Rev. Dr. P C Singh
President – NCCI
|Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad
General Secretary – NCCI
Green Epistle to the Indian Churches :
“Curse devours the earth and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt ” (Isaiah 24:6)
World Environmental Day (June 5, 2018)
Dear Fellow Pilgrims in faith Journey,
Grace to you and Peace from God our Creator!
God created earth and heaven. In the process of creating the cosmos, God created human beings along with other earth communities. Unfortunately, due to human greed and irresponsibility, all of God’s earth is polluted with several toxic gases, degradable wastes including plastics. The deep seas are filled with plastic wastes and consequently the species in the deep seas are adversely affected by plastics. Every year 8-10 million tons of plastic is dumped in the sea.
So also the species on land are afflicted by plastics. Daily we see so many plastic bags lying scattered here and there. Plastic is such a material which cannot be reused. Plastic is damaging our existence. It is estimated that one third of all plastic waste ends up in soils or fresh waters. Most of this plastic disintegrates into particles smaller than five millimetres, referred to as microplastics, and breaks down further into nanoparticles, which are less than 0.1 micrometre in size. In fact, terrestrial microplastic pollution is much higher than marine microplastic pollution – an estimate of four to 23 times more, depending on the environment.
PLASTIC IS A DANGEROUS INVENTION OF HUMANS AND IT NOT ONLY AFFECTS BUT ALSO KILLS THE EARTH COMMUNITIES INCLUDING HUMAN COMMUNITIES. We as faith communities need to be dedicatedly engaged in eliminating the very presence of plastics in our day to day life. The use of plastic has to be stopped.
In this alarming context of the earth being filled with plastics, UN Environment is making its biggest global call and seeks to mobilize humans for action on 5th June, World Environment Day (WED). The theme for this year is “Beat Plastic Pollution”. While WED day has been observed every year since 1973, from the last couple of decades it is being observed on a larger scale.
We have been experiencing tremendous climate changes since the last few years. These changes have brought much suffering to living creatures in the various forms: global warming, drought, floods, landslides, incurable diseases, irregular climate changes and so on . Today the question is ‘How do we as Christians deal with this concern?’
One of the reasons why God created humans is that they should take care of the earth. God has entrusted us with this responsibility. Therefore, whatever good or bad happens, we are responsible. So far we have not done much in nurturing, sustaining and protecting God’s creation.
Prophet Isaiah talks about the earth being polluted by its inhabitants. In Isaiah’s context he was talking of earth being polluted by the inhabitants through their disobedience of God’s commandments. This situation continues even till today; in fact it has become worse. Humans are not only tempted to continue disobeying God but they are destructively tampering God’s creation. Chris Appleby, in one of his sermons states:
“The great temptation for Christians as well as for the Jews is the temptation to take God’s grace for granted; even worse, to feel a sense of superiority, of smugness, because we’re part of God’s chosen people. The way to overcome that temptation is to remember that with the privilege of being God’s people comes the responsibility to remain faithful; to allow God to be God in every part of our lives.”
Talk about issues faced because of pollution and what can be done about it, is often a topic of discussion in our family and friend circles, but we fail in taking appropriate actions. Global warming is a curse not only for human kind but also for all living beings.
We are responsible for the phenomena of global warming, climate change, and the ever increasing pollution, and we have to bear the consequences. We have to do something about it. Today is the time to get into action! Now the question arises ‘Where do we start?’ and ‘When do we start?’
Therefore to start with, the NCCI – Unity and Mission encourages all its members and the public at large to give up the use of plastics in our day today life. We have to start someday, so why not today? The UN has a very practical slogan this year “If you cannot reuse it, refuse it.” There are few alternatives for plastic which we need to start using. Let us make our campuses and neighborhood ‘PLASTIC-FREE’.
Let us boldly and publicly declare “NO TO PLASTIC !”
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad
Rev. Christopher Rajkumar
Executive Secretary – Unity and Mission
Populism, (understood in terms of fundamentalism, communalism, or nationalism in our contemporary Indian context) is a global challenge for democracy. Nationalist populist movements endorse exclusionary strategies that fragment societies and marginalize people. Churches should respond by strengthening respect and equal participation, and by widening the civil society discourse on this critical issue. Presented below is the summary of major findings of an International Public Theology Conference held in Berlin.
We encourage churches and ecumenical bodies to take on the important responsibility to serving as advocates for justice and pluralistic democracy, and therefore resisters of populism.
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad,
General Secretary, NCCI
Churches as Agents for Justice and Against Populism
Summary of Major Findings
When truth falls away from the public square,
righteousness stands far off, and justice is turned back.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
From 2 until 4 May 2018 over 65 participants from 25 countries around the globe gathered at the Dietrich-Bonhoeffer-Haus in Berlin to confer on the theme “Churches as Agents for Justice and Against Populism: Public Theology in Global Intercontextual Dialogue”. The conference opened with words of welcome from the organizers of the event: Evangelische Akademie zu Berlin, the Lutheran World Federation, Brot für die Welt and the Church of Sweden. The opening addresses identified recent trends that suggest a crisis in democracies around the globe. Data shows that the space for meaningful participation of all in political processes and for jointly deliberating on matters of public concern is shrinking. Operational space for civil society actors is narrowing, including for churches and faith based actors, as they encounter difficulties to contribute to critical social and political discourse. Through interdisciplinary dialogue between theologians, ethicists, church leaders and social and political scientists, the conference sought to reinforce and reform the public role of theology, and strengthen the churches’ agency to create inclusive, just and safe participatory spaces within society.
This summary offers a précis of some of our major findings.
Understanding “Populism” and exclusionary politics
A variety of political, cultural and economic forces are root causes for the phenomena of shrinking democratic space in different contexts. At the outset, the conference discussed that the term “populism” is used to describe a broad range of alleged anti-elitist, anti-establishment reactionary and exclusionary movements. Such movements arise from very different historical and cultural contexts, and therefore deploy diverse conceptual differences, goals and methods that must be understood in their complexity. Exclusionary populism can be understood as a symptom of the crisis of democracy and unjust economic systems, as well as a factor
contributing to the crisis. In Europe and in the US especially, though not exclusively, ethno-nationalist populist movements are a threat to the functioning of democratic principles in societies, and these developments currently threaten to have repercussions in other parts of the world as well.
Exclusionary populist movements make use of some democratic processes to subvert and destroy essential preconditions and values on which democracy depends: a sense of honesty, sincerity, responsibility, respect for the other, compromise etc. Where hate speech, fake news and methods of shallow propaganda enter the center stage of the political discourse, the space for solid and serious democratic negotiation is severely narrowed. The conference sought to identify common features of exclusionary populist discourses that seek to restrict public space and deprive people of their right to participate in democratic processes and to access just living conditions.
Exclusionary populist movements often refer to concerns about unjust distribution of power, wealth or social representation and political participation. They claim to amplify the voice of “the people” and seek “popular sovereignty” against the political power of the so-called “intellectual” or economic “elite”, which gives rise to the term “populism” for this discourse in Northern American and European contexts. When these aspects are coupled with nativist ideologies, ethno-nationalist forms of populism can quickly colonize the public discourse. Nativism circumscribes “the people” in exclusionary terms, putting “the natives” over against others. The conference discussed that these underlying dynamics of exclusionary populism are not restricted to European and Northern American contexts, but are present in other global contexts as well (e.g. the Hindutva ideology in India).
Ethno-nationalist populism seeks to redefine “the people” in binary terms through a process of “othering”. Within that, those in the majority or dominant culture will identify the cultural, linguistic, religious, sexual, racial or gendered “other” as the scapegoat for social or economic anxieties and disparities. By propagating a post-truth climate of distrust of the media and other critical voices, the bases of social cohesion are eroded, and power is consolidated into patriarchal, authoritarian systems.
Ethno-nationalist populist discourse is rooted in a fundamental fear of ambiguity and the complexity of diversity. But the desire to resolve ambiguities through narratives of cultural, religious, racial or national purity results in exclusionary forms of identity politics that deny individuals’ belonging to “the people” and restricts their right to fully participate in society. Exclusion shrinks the public space and restricts access, and is the cause of the crisis as addressed above.
Churches as Agents for Justice
As a way of creating public space for civil discourse, the conference opened with a public evening panel on the role of the church in times of populism. EKD Presiding Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm called the church to answer the nihilistic populist narratives in Germany with an alternative narrative of hope that is rooted in the good news of God’s love revealed in Christ Jesus. Church of Sweden’s Archbishop Antje Jackelén underlined that the church, even if it also can be influenced by populist discourse, needs to see beyond the short-sighted and reactive politics in societies and act steadfast as a holder of visions. She highlighted the importance of being church as part of a global communion of churches, transcending boundaries of ethnicity and nation.
One of the insights of the conference was that church must always be self-critical. The church should continually ask, is the church different from society, or do we mirror patriarchal, authoritarian, discriminatory or exclusionary structures? Are churches creating spaces that encourage the full participation of every human being? During the conference we were reminded of times in history when the churches have not been able to answer in the affirmative. Churches have denied full participation of women, especially of women of color; churches have denied welcome to the stranger and succour to the needy; churches have denied love to their enemies and to their neighbours. In every generation Christians need to return to the marks of the church and the diverse epistemological sources of faith and wisdom. There we find the theological and spiritual resources that will shape and reform public theology and motivate vocation in civil society as a priesthood of all believers.
Many of our discussions revealed the difficulty of acting in unjust spaces where political persecution, the influence of media and religious fundamentalism challenge the church’s ability to proclaim this inclusive narrative. Racism, sexism, xenophobia make it difficult to consistently bear faithful witness to radical inclusion that overcomes populist binaries. However, we remembered that we are called to be the salt that gives the world a taste of freedom and dignity of all, affirming meaningful participation in democratic procedures. The spiritual and theological heritage of the church provides the tools to challenge the desire to overcome creative ambiguity with simplistic binaries. The church embraces diversity as a gift and complexity as beauty. The church is a people, embodied in a diversity of genders, races, languages, ethnicities and cultures in majority and minority contexts around the world.
Belonging to the church does not depend on purity of any one society, culture, ethnicity, or political system. Rather the inclusive nature of God’s love, which grants justice for every diverse and differently abled body in the world, defines this community and calls people into deep solidarity with every other creature. One implication of this call is to continually redraw the lines of belonging to include those bodies who live under marginalized conditions into new just relationships. The church is a community that witnesses to the life affirming nature of creating communities of ever widening complexity and full participation.
Conference participants encouraged churches and theological institutions:
to promote education and spiritual formation as a means to continually transform our communities into non-violent spaces of full, just and safe participation for all,
to acknowledge that there are different, sometimes conflicting perspectives within the church regarding populism, and to create spaces where these perspectives can be in sincere dialogue with one another to deepen discernment,
to create spaces for neighbours to experience the transformative nature of ecumenical and interfaith encounter, and to build trust in “the other”,
to form networks with other actors in civil society, and to establish partnerships with civil society allies who share values and commitments,
to critically remember where church and theology have been complicit in ethno-nationalist populist agendas and point to the need for repentance,
to learn about the root causes of injustices, reclaim agency for justice and give prophetic witness against oppressive, exclusionary systems and structures,
to share narratives of hope, inclusiveness and dignity and reform the narratives that will shape public theology,
to renegotiate the meaning of justice, liberation and freedom and to rediscover democracy in its contexts.
The conference recognized that while the church has not always acted democratically or used its agency for the liberation of all, the church strives to grow in the knowledge of how to engage in the public space. Democracy needs to be renegotiated in each generation, and churches, while not commensurate to any political system or party, must reinforce their capacity to engage in civil society, and proclaim a prophetic narrative of hope in the public sphere. In this way, we drew on the thinking of two theologians, among others, whose works were important not only for the context where the conference was held, but also for the wider ecumenical movement:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power, and with its apologia for the weak. – I feel that Christianity is rather doing too little in showing these points than doing too much. Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much more offence, more shock to the world, than it is doing.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Evening Sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:9 (London 1934), in: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke 13, Gütersloh 1994, 411)
Dorothee Sölle wrote, “In a theological perspective it is evident that the content of this [right wing Christianity] contradicts the message of the Jewish-Christian tradition. The God of the prophets did not preach the nation-state, but community between strangers and natives… Jesus did not make the family the central value of human life, but the solidarity of those deprived of their rights.” (Dorothee Sölle, The Window of Vulnerability: A Political Spirituality, Minneapolis 1990, 138)
Conference participants came from: Argentina, Austria, Bethlehem, Brazil, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Haiti, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Italy, Lesotho, Myanmar, Norway, Poland, Rwanda, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, USA, Zimbabwe.
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