Declaration of Faith or Demonstration of Faith?

  • “But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith…You see that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2.18, 24).
  • “The only thing that counts is faith WORKING through love….Through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”” (Galatians 5.6, 13-14). Faith is demonstrated through love, and love is demonstrated through loving service. Therefore, faith, love and service are interconnected and are the pillars of Christian life.

 

The issue of the status of SCs (Scheduled Caste Students and Graduates who have believed in Jesus Christ) in certain Christian organisations is a long debated issue. It is also an emotionally driven, rather than an informed debate. Because of this, powerful leaders, aided by an indifferent attitude of the silent majority (mind you, indifference towards evil is more evil than the evil itself), have introduced and are maintaining segregation within the organisations.

When a person or persons are in leadership for a long time, s/he becomes powerful. A secular understanding of the elevated position of leadership and thus the underlying distinction in rank and status between the leaders and the members has made some members of the Christian organisations to be associated with one or the other of these leaders for their own selfish interests (cf. I Cor. 1.12). On the one hand, these members are like a parasite plant which winds around a tree for its sustenance and existence, and so have associated themselves with the leaders. On the other hand, the leaders are “men in enjoyment of praise and honour; moreover, they are healthy, stout and vigorous; living delicately, nursed in luxury, strangers to labour, living in constant company of pleasure.”

The leadership of the Christian organisations has cunningly manipulated casteist images. This is what any racist or casteist society does. In order to maintain the hegemony of a section or certain sections of people, it projects a section or sections of people superior and others inferior. In Indian society some belong to “high” castes and others to “low” castes. The “high” caste people do not allow the “low” caste people to draw water from the same well, use same roads, live in the same locality, enter the same temples and churches, marry members of their communities and become leaders. In other words, the “low” caste people are deprived and marginalised. They are deprived of basic facilities and survival to life. In short, they are deprived of their basic human dignity, value and rights.

However, the “high” caste people expect, at times demand, “low” caste people to work in their fields and do menial jobs in village or town. Without the manual labour of the “low” caste people, the survival of the “high” caste people is very difficult. Who are the manual scavengers? They belong to the “low” castes that are considered as “untouchables”. Just imagine the plight of “high” caste people, if these manual scavengers stop working as manual scavengers, and do some other jobs. Will the “high” caste people do this work? That’s why the “high” caste people perpetuate casteism, on the one hand to maintain their hegemony and control of power and resources, and on the other hand to exploit the labour of the “low” caste people, to continue to keep them poor, weak and oppressed, by not allowing them to the center of power and resources.

Mostly, the perpetuation of discrimination and stigmatisation by the “high” caste people, with the aim to maintain their domination and control, makes the “low” caste people to internalise it. After internalising the manipulated casteist images, the “low” caste people start looking at themselves with the eyes of the “high” caste people – inferior and worthless. This makes them to hate themselves – their state, their identity…. This internalisation of their manipulated casteist image makes easier for the “high” caste people to have domination over the “low” caste people and to use them to serve their self interests at the cost of the interests of “low” caste people.

Similar method is followed by the advertising agencies. They tell us what it means to be a “desirable” or “ideal” woman or man. Advertisements of cosmetics, hair colouring and skin products aimed at girls and women show their models as “beautiful”. The “flawless appearance” of models with airbrushed blemishes and wrinkles, bleached teeth and eyeballs, created by makeup artists, photographers and photo retouchers, captivates girls and women. What happens when a girl or a woman is exposed to these artificial, manufactured images? They get dissatisfied with their REAL SELF. They hate their nose, eyes, teeth, skin colour and body. Poor self-image results in higher levels of anxiety and depression. It can cause them to avoid activities they normally enjoy, and lower their self confidence and self-esteem. This makes them weak and vulnerable for control and exploitation. Only by creating low self image and self esteem in people can advertising agencies sell their products to public.

Once a person allows her/his self-esteem and self-image to be destroyed by an outside force, s/he becomes a slave to that force, doing whatever that force demands.

This manipulation of images, I am afraid, is also happening in certain Christian organisations with the introduction of “Declaration of Faith”, instead of “Demonstration of Faith”, and casteist categorisation of committees as “official committees” and “unofficial committees”. This creates an image that belonging to a particular caste is bad, unacceptable, and not worthy to be proud of and to be “an official leader”. This section of people are projected as inferiors by those who are in leadership and power for a long time and have got used to imposing their yardstick to judge others. Thus, the leadership of the organisations is indulging in emotional abuse and degrading humiliation of the SC students and graduates.

In fact, Jesus Christ emphasised more on “Demonstration of Faith” rather than “Declaration of Faith”. He was amazed by the “Demonstration of Faith” of the centurion in Capernaum who was a gentile (Mt. 8.5-13). The faith of the GENTILE in Jesus Christ was not found among those who claimed to be the CHILDREN OF GOD. For Jesus, faith is active, not passive. Because even the evil spirits professed their faith in Jesus Christ by DECLARING that Jesus was the Son of the Most High God (Mk. 5.7). In the story of the temptation of Jesus Christ, the tempter Satan confessed that Jesus was the Son of God (Mt. 4.3,6). In these passages the correct translation is not “IF you are the Son of God”, but “SINCE you are the Son of God”. In other words, even Satan and his followers professed that Jesus was the Son of God. Although Satan and the evil spirits DECLARED that Jesus was the Son of God, they never DEMONSTRATED their confession by becoming DISCIPLES of Jesus Christ. That’s why the writer of the Book of James considers mere DECLARATION of FAITH as DEAD FAITH and DEMONIC FAITH (James 2.14-26). James contends, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says (OR PRAYS OR “ENCOURAGES” THEM TO TRUST IN GOD) to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead…You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the DEMONS BELIEVE and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?”

Jesus makes it clear that mere “Declaration of Faith” does not make a person to enter the kingdom of God: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, BUT ONLY THE ONE WHO DOES THE WILL OF MY FATHER IN HEAVEN,” (Mt. 7.21). The FRUIT that a person bears in her/his life DECLARES her/his faith. A good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bad fruit. If so, how can a believer in Christ indulge in speaking lies, deception, oppression, exploitation and GREED for POWER. Jesus says, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the evil heart that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly” (Mk. 7.20-21). Therefore, it is DISCIPLESHIP (following Jesus, his life, attitude and values), not mere DECLARATION, that is decisive of a person’s FAITH.

Remember that GREED is the root cause of SIN (Gen. 3.5-6). The consequences of sin are hierarchy, domination and separation (Gen. 3.8, 14-16). Jesus Christ, in order to redeem human beings from the bondage of sin, has come to install the kingdom of God or the rule of God, which is characterised by love, compassion, service and equality. The first message of Jesus at the beginning of his Galilean ministry was about the kingdom of God: “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (Mk. 1.14-15). The manifestation of God’s rule or the realisation of God’s redemptive purpose can be seen in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. Jesus told the disciples of John, the Baptist, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them” (Lk. 7.22; cf. 4.18-21).

However, the gospel of liberation became the gospel of bondage when Christianity was co-opted by the Roman empire during the time of Constantine. Christianity became an imperial religion. The sign of the cross was put on the Roman battle standards (war flags/military flags/battle flags). Thus, the symbolic meaning of the cross was changed from a symbol of shameful, violent suffering of the innocent at the hands of religious and political hierarchy to an imperial symbol of oppression, exploitation, violence, war and conquest. Eusebius, 4th century Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, wrote that during the daylight hours of 27th October 312 AD, Constantine and his 98000-man army said to have seen “a cross-shaped trophy formed from light, and a text attached to it which said, “By this conquer”” (Eusebius, Life of Constantine 1.28).

Cross has been used by the western “Christian” empires as the imperial symbol of occupation and colonisation. In the 15th century AD Christopher Columbus planted the cross in the lands he took over in the New World (Central/South America), which he “discovered”, signifying that the land belonged to the emperor of Spain. He presumptuously exploited native people for their natural resources, such as gold, and for human resources, such as slavery. Of course, he had also resolved “to make them Christians”.

As David Stannard wrote, “At the dawn of the fifteenth century, Spanish conquistadors and priests presented the indigenous people they encountered with a choice: either give up your religion and culture and land and independence, swearing allegiance ‘as vassals’ to the Catholic Church and the Spanish Crown, or suffer ‘all the mischief and damage’ that the European invaders choose to inflict upon you.”[i]

The National Council of Churches rightly summed up, “For the indigenous people of the Caribbean islands, Christopher Columbus’ invasion marked the beginning of slavery and their eventual genocide.”

Ironically Christopher Columbus believed that God directed him to set sail on a westward journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In a journal he wrote, “It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel His hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to Indies…There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because he comforted me with rays of marvellous illumination from the Holy Scriptures.”

Thus, cross and colonisation have been together during the imperial rule of Spain, Britain, and now the US. In this context, for the imperial and colonial powers cross is a symbol of power, domination, hierarchy and control, whereas for the colonised people cross is a symbol of oppression, exploitation, plunder, slavery and bondage. Bishop Desmond Tutu once said, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had Bible and we had the land. They said, “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened our eyes, we had the Bible and they had the land.”

In order to avoid questions about and opposition to their evil intentions and practices of violence, plunder and oppression, the Christian colonisers interpreted the scriptures in such a way that the gospel was concerned only with the redemption of soul, and not the entire person, who also has body and mind (cf. Lk. 7.18-23, 4.18-21). If they had preached the gospel of Jesus Christ truly, they and their governments could not engage in dehumanising slave trade, and colonise other nations and plunder their natural resources. The listeners of the gospel would have questioned the Christian preachers why they were not condemning their own governments’ policies and practices of injustice, exploitation and oppression.

The same imperial and colonial gospel, which is concerned only about a person’s soul, is being preached by most of us, thus perpetuating injustice, exploitation, oppression, domination and control of the weak, poor and the marginalised. If someone speaks against injustice, hunger and poverty, s/he is taunted as preaching the social gospel. What these accusers fail to notice is, when people were hungry Jesus did not say, “Now, is that spiritual or political or social?” He said, “I feed you.” Because good news to a hungry person is bread. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the WHOLE PERSON. Good news to the marginalised persons is bringing her/him to the center of the society, so that they will have access to power and resources. In the case of the Christian organisations, it is recognising human dignity, value and rights of SC students and graduates, and acknowledging them as fellow believers and partners in the ministry of the establishment of God’s kingdom and its values.

The manipulation of caste image by the casteist leadership not only dehumanises and marginalises the SC students and graduates, but also creates a sense of low self esteem and low self image. This makes them silent spectators and bearers of humiliation and hardship inflicted upon them. Some of the mistreated may seek to deny their helplessness and humiliation through “identification with the aggressor”. They live and act according to the dictates of the casteist leadership. From the demeaning feeling of being “inferior”, these collaborators with the aggressors may vicariously feel a satisfying surge of “power over” those who can conveniently be scapegoated.

Since the marginalised are controlled by the manipulated images of casteism, they do not perceive the hypocrisy of the highest degree of the leadership of Christian organisations. When segregation is followed, how can “fellowship” among the members of these organisations be possible? How can there be brotherhood when there are some who consider themselves “superior” and look down upon others as “inferior”? How can they preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, when they themselves are in bondage of sin by practising segregation?

Segregation is evil because it stigmatises the segregated SC students and graduates as “inferiors” in the caste system. It relegates them to the status of THINGS. They are THINGS to be used, but not persons to be valued and respected. What is segregation but an existential expression of human beings’ tragic estrangement, their awful separation, their terrible sinfulness?

Racist, apartheid South Africa practised what it preached – racism, discrimination and segregation. But the “saved communities” of Christian organisations fail to demonstrate what they preach, i.e. freedom from the bondage of sin, if one believes in Jesus Christ.

THIS IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF HYPOCRISY!!!

If anyone points out this hypocrisy, that person is denounced and witch-hunted. Whenever a person shows signs of an uncompromising attitude towards injustice, discrimination and casteism, s/he is projected as radical, rebel, irresponsible and extremist. The hypocritical leadership intelligently directs extremism towards those who are defending themselves and other victims against the extremism of casteism and hypocrisy.

However, the prophetic voice against the hypocrisy of the leadership should, first of all, make SC students and graduates to love themselves and their identity. It should help to restore self-image and self-esteem in them. Secondly, prophetic voice should expose the LIE and make the leadership introspect its own sinfulness and bring it to the foot of the cross for repentance and divine forgiveness.

Patience, perseverance and persistence, coupled with God’s wisdom, strength and guidance for the establishment of God’s kingdom and its values of justice, compassion, goodness, love, mercy and equality, will surely take you to the GOAL. Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.”

Carlyle said, “No lie can live forever,” because TRUTH is stronger than LIE. As William Cullen Bryant thundered, “Truth pressed to earth will rise again.” In spite of mountains on the way, we join in faith with James Russell Lowell:

Truth forever on the scaffold,

Wrong forever on the throne.

Yet, that scaffold sways the future

And behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow,

Keeping watch above His own.

 

With this faith we will be able to transform the discords in the Christian organisations into a symphony of brotherhood. That will be a DAY when “every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” That will be a DAY when ALL GOD”S CHILDREN – SCs and Non-SCs, Women and Men, Servant Leaders and Grassroot Workers – will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro Spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we are free at last!

[i] David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 255.

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