Nation Current Affairs 11 Mar 2019 When shepherds go as ...

When shepherds go astray

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | VALSON THAMPU
Published Mar 11, 2019, 5:57 am IST
Updated Mar 11, 2019, 5:57 am IST
The good thing about the youth of today is that they will not be coerced into conforming to church practices against their conviction.
A group of faithful stages a protest in front of Major Archbishop’s house in Ernakulam demanding implementation of the Church Act in Kochi.
 A group of faithful stages a protest in front of Major Archbishop’s house in Ernakulam demanding implementation of the Church Act in Kochi.

Ask any Christian in Kerala who cares for his faith about his foremost concern. You are sure to get the reply, "Rid us, please, of this curse of corruption in the church." I continually interact with thousands of Christians via my Facebook and LinkedIn pages -some 23000 of them- besides having direct personal discussions and group meetings in diverse parts of Kerala. It is unmistakable: there is widespread, and mounting anger and disenchantment with what the church has come to be.

During my tenure as the principal of St. Stephen's College (2007-2016) I had to interview thousands of Christian candidates, about 75% of them from Kerala. I found a vast majority of them alienated emotionally and spiritually from their churches. There have been candidates who did not want to be identified as Christians, despite the enormous advantage it implied for securing admission. At least one in every two candidates I interviewed told me that he or she finds church life spiritually hollow and uninspiring, humanly tepid and morally hypocritical. They have given up on the church. This is known widely in the Christian community.

 

There is a reason for this. It may be put simply as, "Mammon in, Jesus out". I have had a lot to do with churches of all description in the last three decades. I haven't come across a single church, where loyalty to Jesus remains unaffected by covetousness. Jesus is no longer the Lord of the church: Mammon is. As regards our educational institutions, most of them have become synonyms for corruption. The problem, then, is that church cannot sustain any longer the pretension of being Christ-centred in the eyes of the Christian youth. A tree, Jesus said, is known by its fruit. Church, as a Mammon-centred tree, cannot yield fruits of Jesus-centredness. The Kerala Christian community is languishing in a spiritual famine.

 

The good thing about the youth of today is that they will not be coerced into conforming to church practices against their conviction. In my generation, Christians maintained church-dictated practices out of deference for their parents and elders. The youth of this generation, thank God, will not playact a religiosity they do not feel. They refuse to be hypocrites. I find their disenchantment with the churches more spiritual than the pious hypocrisy of priests and bishops.

The curse of churches is that they are burdened with material assets. The Church of South India, to take just one example, owns landed property worth Rs. 100000 - 300000 crores! These assets are administered by Trust Associations, all of which function as dens of mega corruption. The details of these assets are kept blacked out of church members, who are the real owners. Parcels of prime land are sold off and the spoils shared among a network of parasites led by the bishops in charge. The former Moderator of the Church of South India was in jail recently, accused of gigantic corruption. The case of bishop Alancherry is too well known to need any mention.

 

There is a reason why most protestant bishops get sucked into mega corruption. They invest huge sums of money in their elections. It is through money power that a priest transforms himself into a bishop. Episcopal elections are worse than political elections. Political candidates are accountable to the Election Commission. Episcopal candidates are accountable to none; neither to God nor to believers. If any question is raised about any aspect of ungodliness and corruption by sources outside the church enclave, a hue and cry is raised, "The church is in danger!" At the same time, they crush questions from within the community with iron fists.

 

The bishops, once elected, encircle themselves with wheeler-dealers, who, under pretext of protecting them, keep them hostage. Most bishops are happy to be in this state of profitable incarceration. They get addicted to its huge advantages. Though pledged to poverty and chastity, the lifestyle they maintain is, in itself, a scandal. Consequently, there is hardly a bishop today who stays focused on the two most fundamental duties of episcopacy: defending the faith and nurturing the faith community, including priests. Only two things move them: power and money.

 

This lamentable state of affairs will not change so long as the present mode of administering churches and church assets -derived entirely from the Roman model of state administration, corrupted serval fold- holds the ground. The church preaches accountability, but resists the need to come under it. Church leaders mislead and incite 'believers' when any attempt is made to bring in bottom-line levels of accountability. They show off the size of their following -the flocks of which they are presumably shepherds- and swell their clout with politicians, who buy the canard that Christians vote according to the whims and fancies of bishops. This is a laughable piece of fiction.

 

I had the privilege to know Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer personally. I would never hesitate to trust his intentions. I was happy when he formulated the "The Kerala Christian Church Properties and Institutions Trust Bill" (2009). I found every provision in the Bill -with the possible exception of the one pertaining to 'Church Commissioner'- eminently acceptable. I would rather have a retired judicial officer, not below the rank of a high court judge from any religious community, as commissioner. There is absolutely nothing, otherwise, in the Bill that hurts or interferes with the religious freedom of Christians. Rather, the bill, if rendered into law, would alleviate the spiritual anguish of Kerala Christians. It will also uplift the church from being a source of corruption in the society.

 

The fact that bishops have united in opposing this bill only proves the extent of their hypocrisy and how zealous they are in perpetuating their indefensible vested interests. Nothing else can agitate and make them come together. Church leaders are traditionally and habitually disunited; each mindful only of his ownparochial importance and supremacy. There is much about the needs and struggles of the Christian community over which they could have united; but they never do. They wake up from their slumber when their vested interests are feared to be affected. This is a shame.

 

It is indeed disappointing that the Pinarayi Vijayan government has succumbed to the antics of a motley bunch of bishops, who do not, clearly, represent the spiritual inclinations, hopes and aspirations of Christians in Kerala. I can understand that this government is apt to be blackmailed on the pretext the Sangh Parivar uses against it: "an atheistic government out to crush religion under its iron heels." The government should know that Christians are no longer mere sheep herded by episcopal shepherds. Beating a hasty retreat from this timely reform could prove electorally costlier for the Left government. This has dented its credibility in the eyes of sincere and long-suffering Christians, who feel let down in the process.

 

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