PROMOTING GOOD CITIZENRY: BUILDING SECULARISM – A Report

The National Council of India (NCCI) – Youth Concerns in collaboration with the Church of South India (CSI) organised a two-day programme on the theme “Promoting Good Citizenry: Building Secularism” on 4-5 May 2018 at the CSI Synod Center, Chennai, focusing on the rise of intolerance,  promotion of individual responsibility, and building secularism in the country especially among the youth.

Mr. Liju Kuriokose, Youth Vice President, NCCI delivered the welcome address. In his address, he expressed disappointment that the world is getting conservative and exclusive; however youth have the capacity to rise above the situation and to challenge the world to strive for change. Youth need to be prophetic which is beyond foretelling; rather they should be engaged in forth-telling, reforming the situation and being responsible to the future generations to come.

Rev. Dr. D. Rathnakara Sadananda, General Secretary, CSI and the Vice President, NCCI, brought the keynote address on the main theme “Promoting Good Citizenry: Building Secularism”. Questioning the notion of India as a nation where minorities live under the threat of majority and where the country is under a monolithic majority, he asserted that India is a nation of minorities. Whereas people look at secularism as a threat to Christianity in the West, there is a  distinctive positive understanding of secularism in India. Referring to the concept of Sarva Dharma Sambhav (a Hindu concept  which asserts  that all Dharmas (truths) are equal to or harmonious with each other.), he observed that Hinduism – basically a caste-based religion, is now being promoted by right wing elements as an all-embracing religion. Therefore  Dr. Sadananda asserted that Christians have to be vigilant and should be ready  to become a community of hope for all. The theology of prayer is not a prayer to God alone but a prayer with commitment to action. He reaffirmed that the Christian community needs to rethink its being. The Church should never become the majority; it is called to be a minority, to be the salt of the earth. Church should join the choirs of life, a choir that empowers and enriches. He concluded with a challenge to the young people to become the choir that makes a choir of minority.

Rev. Asir Ebenezer, Director, CSI-SEVA, deliberated on the theme “Rise of Intolerance: A Threat to Indian Secularism – Socio-Political Perspectives.” He admitted that a citizen can be of any religion; however the state should be a-religious, being equidistant from all religions and instead focus on all its citizens. Secularism is fundamentally  proactive and progressive, encouraging people not only to tolerate one another but also to live in love and friendship. Rev. Ebenezer added that intolerance is non-juxtaposed to secularism, and it distorts the values and principles of the constitution. Concurrently, a minority community cannot practice selective secularism and secular sectarianism. Intolerance should be checked when churches are engaged in the proclamation of the gospel. Power to fight for secularism comes from our status as rightful citizens under the constitution, and not as having a minority status. Therefore he urged the young people to fight for secularism from the Indian citizenship platform.

Dr. Christopher S. Baskeran, Associate Director – Church Relations & Interfaith Engagement, World Vision India, reflected on the notion of justice and social transformation under the topic “Justice and Social Transformation – Marginalised Perspectives.” Drawing inspiration from Plato’s Republic (c. 380 BCE), he talked about  justice as the quality of being fair and reasonable; theory and practice of administering fairness; and justice as being drawn from law. Dr. Baskeran maintained that social transformation implies a fundamental change in society. In conclusion he asserted that the marginalised sections of the society should be acknowledged and should be given transformative justice (which is biblical), a justice of redemption and restoration, what would  bear witness to  social transformation.

Rev. Solomon Paul, Youth Director, CSI, led a  Bible Study from Matthew 25:14-30 (Parable of Talents) highlighting  the capitalistic approach,   the unequal distribution of wealth, and the exercise of power and authority over the poor.

The programme concluded with a vote of thanks and a prayer by Mr. Jianthaolung Gonmei, Executive Secretary, NCCI-Youth Concerns and Fr. John C Matthew respectively.

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