Christmas time for a Christian minister is always tiring, but it was doubly so this year. With so much hate, so much falsehood, so much violence, so much injustice in India, one can’t help but feel weary.
It was my first Christmas as a young minister and it was the usual Christmas routine and tradition. The star was up in our home, and the tree was lit up. There was cake, good food, carol singing and time spent with family and friends. Greetings and gifts were exchanged. There were the usual advent services at church where we meditated on the birth of Jesus. I preached from the Bible, administered the sacrament, and discharged my pastoral responsibilities to my congregation.
Nothing was out of the normal, except that the whole of India was burning.
Students were out on the streets protesting against a fascist government armed with an ideology keen on spreading bigotry. In urban centres, where the affluent middle class generally don’t get involved in politics, tens of thousands of took to the streets. Men and women of all ages and beliefs were united together. The message was clear: there are some things that are worth fighting for. Some things that are worth suffering for.
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The India I grew up in was a vastly different one, even though it was only a few years ago. It was an India where I played cricket in sweltering summers with my friends from all religions and we regarded each other as brothers from another mother. Our home was always filled with friends (Hindus, Muslims and others). We came from different parts of India, looked different, yet were together.
Even now as a minister, some of my closest friends are those whose beliefs are poles apart from mine. Some of the most open and honest conversations I have are with my atheist friends, who, despite their love for me, believe I have lost my marbles when it comes to the issue of faith.
Yet there are some who do not like that image of India – the image of India where people of different beliefs, ideas, cultures, and race can not only live together harmoniously but flourish together.
That’s the idea of India that I grew up with. The idea of India that our founding fathers – such as Gandhi, Ambedkar and Nehru – fought for. The idea of India that our constitution envisions. Sadly, that idea is now being threatened. Justice is being mocked and liberty being arrested.
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Ministers are expected to be neutral in the realm of politics, as faith does not play favourites. The Church does not owe its allegiance to any political power or party – contrary to what many people think.
However, does that mean one is to remain on the sidelines and merely watch when injustice occurs? Is one to remain quiet when liberty is under attack? Is one to do nothing when brute violence is given free rein? Is one to do nothing when the very republic we live in is slowly dying?
When fascism rose to power in Germany, one of the loudest voices of dissent was the German Lutheran minister, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In 1933, when Nazi Germany began its systematic persecution of the Jewish minority and remove their liberties, Bonhoeffer wrote,
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
The religion of Jesus is one of love. Love so strong that Jesus commands his followers to even love their enemies. Such love wages war against bigotry. It rages against oppression. Such love hates injustice, discord and evil, for love is not the absence of hate but the presence of compassion.
It is only because I love justice, equality, peace and goodness that I cannot tolerate injustice, discrimination, discord and evil. The enemy of love is apathy.
In matters of justice, human rights, and liberty, one simply cannot stand apathetically in the middle. There is no safe, neutral ground. Complacency will not suffice. As Bonhoeffer famously said,
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
As a loyal son of India, I love this country with all its cultures, chaos, and confounded contradictions. That is why I protest. Because I love.
Christopher P. David is a minister from Bangalore. He is writes on religion, life and culture.
Featured image credit: Jon Tyson/Unsplash