It was 4th December 1998 several million Christians had gathered all over to observe a national day of protest. It was not without a reason. The year had seen a spurt in the violence against the Christian community. Nuns had been raped, priests killed, churches and cemeteries desecrated. The community had reached its tethered end and it was time to come on to the roads and protest. Though we do not generally subscribe to an activist engagement on any issue and rarely come on to the public space in protest yet on this occasion we did. We knew we had to register a strong disapproval and so we took to the streets. We wanted people to understand our crisis and step in for support and action. The Christians wanted justice in a country where human rights were fundamental to its constitution. While it is laudable that the Christian community came together in unison to fight for its cause, it would be more laudable to go beyond this.
Issues or Non-Issues
In this context, the questions that we need to ask ourselves are: ‘Are we gripped as much for other issues as we were for this one?’ Have other issues that grabbed national attention been less grievous as far as we are concerned? What has been our response? It’s time we thought about them. Should they or should they not bother us? Do we have a role to play? Or do we play it safe and speak only when the Christian community’s rights are infringed? What is the raison d’être for our involvement? Most of us agree that we need to involve but are stuck in arguing about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of our engagement refusing to go beyond it. The raison d’être for our involvement is all the issues that hurt the Heart of God. And yet why are millions of Christians not responding to the other issues as they did when it concerned their own?
Every day all through our country several protests of different kinds and at various levels take place for want of any other way out. People are constantly struggling with issues of deprivation, injustice, marginalization, violence and many more. Innumerable farmers have committed suicide being overwhelmed by debt, people are constantly displaced to make way for development projects and programmes which pamper the haves and further alienate the havenots, discrimination on the basis of caste goes on even in the most progressive of places, abuse against the children and elderly is a regular phenomenon and the list can go on endlessly. Many people lend their voices for these causes in different ways. Some have spearheaded the movement against injustice being moved by their plight and not necessarily being victims themselves. Who are those in our times standing on behalf of and speaking for those oppressed and suffering? They definitely are not people professing to be Christians.
Advocacy - Not for Christians?
Advocacy is a process to wield influence over misguided policies, plans, programmes, processes, structures. We have our greatest and most powerful tool of advocacy when we go to God in prayer. But we cannot just hide under prayer and say that it begins and ends there. Then apply it in all situations by all means. Why are we selective when it comes to actual engagement? There is a call for definitive action.
The Bible in several instances urges us to speak up or stand up for those who are poor, the marginalized meaning those who are wronged or defenseless, and fight against injustice. When oppression was in its severest form, we find leaders and prophets chosen by God condemning and leading the fight against it. In most instances in the scripture we find leaders such as Moses, Nehemiah and Esther advocating on behalf of the other and not so much
just for themselves. They may have done it for their community but they were not directly under attack. It would have been most easy for them to take cover in their proximity to those in power. Yet we have examples galore of the Christians, with some exceptions, raising their voice loud when it concerned them and completely silent when it concerns others. The point to ponder is when we do not stand, are we doing what we are called to do?
What level are we at?
Why is that most issues fail to bother us? There could be primarily three reasons for this. Either we are ignorant of what is happening around us, or we are indifferent and could not care less, or we do not have the time nor inclination to do anything about it.
Some of us may be truly gripped by the issues but the demands of our jobs, family, church leave us with no time for participation. The majority of us have an other worldly existence such that events and issues in this world are not much of an issue to us. Most times we exist in a self-absorbed state. We are known as the most cautious of the minority communities. Sunday after Sunday we can join the great chorus singing hallelujah my saviour is alive and yet ignore most of the risen saviour’s directions for our existence as Christians in this world. What will it take for us to show a greater concern? Will the kingdom concern for the soul move us a little further to address the factors that harm the body and the mind leaving them in a state of utter helplessness?
Travelling in rural
Advocacy a choice
Involvement has also been the lot of some in contrast to the majority of those ignorant or indifferent to the issues of significance in our country today. And this can definitely be at various levels. The city scene of Mumbai does not require a special introduction for most of us. Besides all the great things about the city some of the negative and sad issues that constantly confront us include street children, destitute people sick on the roads, women involved in prostitution, struggling migrant communities, other marginalised groups of people and the list can be endless. A group of us visiting the city met with numerous church groups who were actively involved in the lives of these people. Their involvement went beyond meeting their immediate needs. Their causes were taken up by many of them at various levels. They chose to be involved.
There is a conscious choice, a choice to be involved and a choice also to actively seek to know the needs of those around us who cannot take up their own. Is God calling me to that? It is not that all of us need to put on the garb of activists or social workers but a need for issues to move beyond the headlines of the newspapers we read or the television coverage that we watch. What could they translate to? There are many things that we could do which are mentioned in the other articles in this issue. The mandate is huge but we need to begin somewhere. We may be able to bring some changes in situations closer to us but in situations far removed from us and where we think it is beyond our influence we can create awareness in our various groups that can lead to small actions. We have no choice to look away.