as I was preparing for this paper, a friend from India, sent me a copy
of a poem written by a Hindu, Sanjay Trehan, and printed in one of the
major national papers in India. Trehan writes this poem in the context
of the religious violence (what we in India call communal violence),
which took place in the State of Gujarat in February-March 2002. Gujarat,
ironically, is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence.
This violence is reminiscent of the aftermath of the partition of India
and Pakistan in 1947.
I renounce religion
visceral fires burn - gujarat
vivisect and be merry
sings the politician
tap dancing on dead stinking bodies
what kind of madness is this
that makes bonfires of little children
torches pregnant women
turns neighbour against neighbour
and makes monsters out of ordinary faceless men
leading dull pitiless lives
marx said religion was opium
it shadows senses hides inequities.
poem reveals the deep rage that many right thinking Hindus feel about
the senseless massacre of some 600 Muslims - men, women and children
in the state of Gujarat over the last month. This violence perpetrated
by Hindus has momentarily, been brought under some form of control.
But, we know that it is only temporary - and sporadic incidents of violence
continue. Any small provocation will result in new waves of violence.
Many activists and intellectuals in India, of all religious persuasions,
and the Christian churches are concerned and feel helpless. Such conflicts
are often blamed on "fundamentalists" who would go to any
length to protect their religious interests. However, the poet contests
crimes of hate
are not perpetrated by people
benumbed by the drug of religion
but risen to a frenzied hysteria
by mob reveling in the seething rage
of impotent power
a collective orgy of ritual
you kill a man because he doesn't share
your obscurantist ideas
your bloated belching beliefs
women and children are most often not the initiators of religiously
motivated violence - but they become its primary victims, as the poet
so powerfully expresses it:
because he was born into a religion
he has no role in seeking
and you don't just surgically kill
you torture maim burn and then laugh
your sardonic devilish laughs
he ends the poem in strong and passionate language - he renounces
religion. For many right-thinking Hindus in India, Hinduism is not
an organised religion. It is a faith that governs the way one lives
in the world, a way of life that calls for respect for all and for living
in right relationships with each other and all of creation. And now,
as they see the way religion is being used to legitimise the abuse of
political power, they feel deep rage at the killing of innocent people
because of their beliefs - therefore they feel that they cannot but
renounce the form of religion all this represents. In the words of the
you wretched son of the soil
you messiah of hate
you mindless miserable soul
you pawn in the hands of politicians
you make me ashamed of being
i renounce the sordid religion you embody
religion the slayer of innocent kids
religion the one way ticket to lunacy
i renounce you.1
I proceed further on the topic presented before us, I think it is important
to briefly situate the poem in the context of the violence in India
at this time. The present violence can be traced to the 6th of December,
1992, when a 17th century Muslim mosque called the Babri Masjid in a
place called Ayodhya, was razed to the ground by a band of Hindus (calling
themselves Kar Sevaks). They claim that the mosque was built on a sacred
site - the birthplace of the Hindu deity, Lord Rama. The religious violence
that ensued spread across the country and a stay was brought on the
plans to build a Hindu temple to Lord Rama, on the site where the Babri
Masjid once stood. But, now we have a Hindu nationalist party in power
at the centre and they have been "allowing" preparations for
the temple building. Reports say that the police was quite inactive
as the carnage of Muslims took place in Gujarat. The present violence
was provoked by a group of Muslims trying to stop a train from carrying
Hindu devotees to the site to build the temple on 27 February 2002.
The Muslims torched the train and some 58 passengers were killed. In
retaliation, the Hindus have gone on a rampage killing, raping and burning
- independent sources say that it is in fact over 1000 Muslim men, women
and children who were slaughtered in a period of some 10 days.
India, but the religiously provoked violence in the Mallukas in Indonesia
is far from over; and then there was the incident of the 5 people killed
when grenades were thrown into a church in Islamabad, the capital of
Pakistan, just two weeks ago…….the list is endless. Religious
tensions are not a new phenomenon in the history of the world, but there
is a new language of hatred and violence emerging in many parts of the
world fuelled by political interests that makes it particularly frightening.
new forms of conflict - between political groups. Most often they are
not religiously motivated, but are covered under the garb of religion.
We have to acknowledge that some are creating "terror" in
the world, in the name of religion. I have decided not to use the word
"terrorist" here, as it has been one of the most abused words
in recent times. Suicide bombers, who are willing to give their lives
for the sake of religion, is another ethical challenge the churches
need to address.
what makes it even more worrying is that new instruments of violence
are being utilised in conflicts between religious groups. The kind of
"religious" language used by President George Bush in the
so-called "war against terrorism" and in the destruction of
Afghanistan, and now in the continuing threat against other "Islamic
nations" - all have been couched under what could be termed "Christian
language" - the language of Crusades. There is no doubt in the
minds of those advising Bush in his war, that this is a "just war".
This was the language used when Iraq was bombed in 1990 and the present
wars are no different.
For the World Council of Churches and for its programme on a Decade
to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace (2001-2010)
- this concern has without a doubt, become one of the major foci and
challenges. This has to be addressed if we are to overcome violence
in the world.
But, we begin on the premise that all religions in their essence teach
peace and justice. In a meeting held in March this year, in the World
Council of Churches, of women from conflict situations, we had with
us 50 women representing various religious traditions. Hinduism, Islam,
Judaism, Sikhism and Brahmakumari religious institute and of course
Christianity were represented. We were immersed in the spirituality
of the religions we represented as we reflected on the extent of violence
in the world and we looked for resources from our faith traditions to
overcome violence. In the interventions, in the readings from various
scriptures and in the inter-faith worship that accompanied the discussions,
one thing was clear - all religious traditions have at their centre,
a commitment to peace.
in a world of globalisation when pluralism is threatened and the tendency
is to impose a monoculture generated from the centres of economic and
political power largely from Europe and North America. In a context
of major social change, there is a tendency to cling to the familiar.
This gives rise to aggressive individualism and a kind of "fundamentalism"
- or of going to the roots of what one believes in and placing this
in competition with belief systems of others. This also blocks from
our vision the diversity within each religious group. The acts of violence
against all Muslims, or even of anyone who looked like a Muslim, in
the US after the September 11th bombing, is a case in point. All Muslims
were branded as "terrorists" and therefore to be feared -
sometimes to be hurt physically and on occasion even to be killed. Muslims
have been "demonized" globally, and as a Roman Catholic theologian
in India describes what follows when this is done: "From 'demonization'
follows militancy. Militancy becomes an essential part of politics,
involving not only struggle but also violence. And violence is raised
to the status of a virtue.2 "
not the time for us to be pitting one religion against another, putting
them in a hierarchy of which religion speaks most of non-violence -
this is particularly not the moment for Christian triumphalism and arrogance.
We are in a time when we need the greatest coalitions, when all religions
are challenged to discover their potential for creating harmony and
for being agents of reconciliation and peace.
If we take
this as the basic challenge then, what are the questions we need to
address as Christians committed to Recognising Violence and Overcoming
first mandate is to recognise violence in all its forms.
I am grateful
that this meeting acknowledges this. Sometimes we tend to believe that
this is not important and that we can overcome violence without recognising
violence in its many forms. We need to go to one of the Latin roots
of the word, which is violare, which means, "to violate".
In this sense, anything that "violates" another, by infringing
upon or disregarding or abusing or denying that other, whether there
is physical force or not, is a violation of the personhood of the other.
This could be by physical force that can harm - as in the case of religious
or ethnic conflicts, or in war, or in racially motivated violence, or
in domestic violence committed against women and children - all of which
can lead to the death of the victim/s.
violence can also take place in more subtle ways that are not obvious
at all, except to the victims. Here I think of prime importance is the
question of economic violence and economic globalisation and the depth
of suffering that poverty causes. We often don't recognise this as violence
and in fact we often hear the claim that there is no alternative to
globalisation - which ensures that those of us who enjoy the fruits
of economic growth can turn a blind eye to the grotesque violence of
poverty in our world. (We have to be cautious however, of the new language
that emerged particularly after the Monterrey UN Conference on Financing
for Development where leaders such as Bush have popularized the notion
that poverty has to be eradicated because "poverty breeds terrorists".
This gives our governments globally the right to now demonize the poor!
Just struggles for dignity and survival could be branded as terrorist.
A recent debate in the Indian parliament over an Anti-Terrorism Bill
being introduced by the ruling party is a case in point.)
other forms of subtle violence that we need to recognise and address.
The violence of racism and of any sense of superiority, the violence
of consumerism, the violence of words and language that can be exclusive
and could hurt. Simone Weil the feminist thinker reminds us that violence
can transform a person into a thing. We need to boldly stand by the
Christian concept of personhood, because we must recognise victims as
persons - as subjects of our compassion and not as objects of our charity!
from the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America meeting at the historic
Medellin conference, wrote:
The violence we are talking about is the violence that a minority of
privileged people has waged against the vast majority of deprived people.
It is the violence of hunger, helplessness, and underdevelopment. It
is the violence of persecution, oppression and neglect. It is the violence
of organised prostitution, of illegal but flourishing slavery, and of
social, economic and intellectual discrimination. (From the 900 Roman
Catholic Priests meeting in Medellin, in 1968)
So as early
as 1968, they were challenging the world to recognize violence in all
its forms. A refusal to recognise all forms of violence as equally important
leads to the trivialisation of violence. We therefore become immune
to violence and even the worst forms of violence we see on the news
day in and day out becomes ignored. And we don't see more subtle forms
of violence as violence at all.
second challenge is to recognise our own complicity in the violence.
the church is once too often silent when it should speak because it
is itself complicit. The role of the Christians in Northern Ireland,
in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda and Burundi, cannot be ignored.
We also are well aware of the actions of right-wing Christians in "sanctioning"
wars. (It is a well known fact that Billy Graham, the TV evangelist
was invited to pray at the Whitehouse, before the US bombed Iraq in
theory of just war, of pacifism and the use of force as a last resort
We cannot forget that the "just war theory" has been used
by the church has been part of the parlance of the church from the time
of Luther and Calvin, who carried this classical teaching into the Reformation
movement. This theory and its use have been abused over the years to
legitimate a variety of unjust wars. There is but a narrow line between
the theology of just war and that of a holy war or crusade. Additionally,
there is the theology of pacifism which is part of the life of the churches,
particularly the historic peace churches, but which other churches find
hard to accept. Then, there is the question of the use of force as a
last resort. All these questions need to be addressed by the DOV.
is not an easy discussion was made clear in at a meeting on DOV held
in February this year, in Geneva, when a Roman Catholic feminist theologian
from the Philippines and a Dalit theologian from India, both warned
against glib affirmations of non-violence. They asked a simple question
- if a woman who is being raped (say by a powerful upper caste landlord)
and she fights back, and perhaps even kills the aggressor - can we condemn
her as being violent?
the question of whether it is legitimate to use force to deal with structural
violence, there has been much debate throughout the history of the WCC.
The WCC World Conference on Church and Society addressed this question
The question often emerges today whether the violence, which sheds blood
in planned revolution, may be a lesser evil than the violence, which,
though bloodless, condemns whole populations to perennial despair…..
It cannot be said that the only possible position for the Christian
is one of absolute non-violence. There are situations where Christians
may become involved in violence. Whenever it is used however, it must
be seen as "ultimate recourse" which is justified only in
It is an
issue that has been on all the debates around the conciliar process
on Justice Peace and the Integrity of Creation and remains with us.
For me the dilemma is whether violence finally solves problems or whether
it simply breeds more violence. South Africa is a case in point.
issue of just war Charles Villa-Vicencio, the South African theologian
writes: "The theology of just war was originally written from the
perspective of the dominant classes of society. Re-written from the
perspective of the poor and the oppressed, just war theory acquires
the character of a theology of just revolution."4 But he goes on
to affirm that "Theological continuity requires that such a theory,
just like that of just war traditionally intended to limit war, be used
only in the same restraining way."5 This raises important ethical
challenges that need to be addressed, especially because of all the
misunderstanding and sometimes abuse of the concept of the term "jihad"
by Muslims. It is important for us to understand that for most right-thinking
and peace-loving Muslims, this too refers to action for the sake of
justice for a community and is not a sanction for violence. But, as
the trend is to see the Muslims as "the enemy", we seem unable
to make this distinction, often ignoring the church's own history and
complicity in violence.
other forms of violence
are other issues the churches need to address - for example there is
the silence of the church on the unabated violence against women, or
the violence of racism (or in the case of India casteism), which happens
even within the body of the church. This reduces the church's moral
authority to challenge the violence of other religions. I have so often
heard Christians make it sound like only other religions legitimise
these forms of violence against members of their own body - ignoring
the ways in which the church seems to do the same.
At the DOV consultation referred to earlier, the group, which discussed
the church's role in legitimising violence, made the following points
that I paraphrase here:
third challenge is to see the liturgy of the church as providing a sacred
space that challenges violence
here as a Protestant Christian, that too of the Reformed tradition,
the form of worship I am most familiar with. Too many times, I have
sat in Sunday morning worship services wondering why I am there. Too
often the worship life is far removed from the realities in our world.
The language and symbols of the church can themselves be violent. I
remember sitting in church on the day when the whole of India was aflame
after the razing to the ground of the Babri Masjid - and the pastor
did not say a word to refer to this. The pastor was very careful about
following the liturgy for a service of Holy Communion, but did not seem
to connect the context of the bleeding nation with the body and blood
of Christ that we were commemorating. I felt a deep sense of sadness.
I believe the liturgical life of the church ought to reflect the world
we live in, challenging each one of us to live our faith to the full,
in the world.
my hope in the church is often renewed in unexpected ways. It was appropriate
that the Good Friday worship service this year (Friday 29 March 2002)
at the Evangelical Lutheran Church, in which I worship in Geneva, connected
the symbol of the crucifixion with the struggles for life and survival
of the women of Argentina. The women of Argentina are protesting against
the economic violence that their country is going through because of
global economic policies and programmes. The empty pots that formed
a Cross, on the floor of the church symbolized the pain of the women,
transforming the violence of the crucifixion into a symbol of the struggle
for justice and human dignity. The reading of St. John's account of
the passion and the prayers from the book of Psalms and the book of
Lamentations, and deeply moving songs from the struggling people in
Latin America formed the theological under-girding for the worship service0.
But, what was most meaningful in the service was the song from Palestine.
As we sang this together my heart was listening to the sounds of the
guns in the Middle East and the to the pompous and loud words of the
super powers…. and the strange silence of most of the rest of the
world! "Waha bibi, waha bibi, ay yu halen anta fih, dzuq ta ka'
sal mauti kaima yah-ya sha-bon tafta dih" we sang in Arabic. This
is translated as: "My beloved, my beloved, tell me where can I
find you? You who drank the cup of suffering that your people might
have life." The people of Palestine are longing for life, and for
peace with justice. This worship experience reinforced my conviction
that religion can offer us words of hope in our violent world.
language of "crusades" evaluated - moving to a new mission
The violent language of present day evangelists and the aggressive tactics
used by those who claim a commitment to "evangelize" the world
continues to be problematic and calls for transformation. A friend recently
pointed out to us the violent language used by some Christian 'fundamentalists'
in India - a language that brands people of all other religions as lost
and as sinful. Language such as "Crusades for Christ" or "soldiers
for God" reflects a militancy that makes no sense in a world so
filled with violence.
our mission history has been built on an over-emphasised project of
the conversion of the world to Christ. This is because, in the words
of Wesley Ariarajah, Sri Lankan theologian and former Director of the
Programme of Dialogue with People of Other Faiths of the WCC, "Protestant
missiology took shape before the concept of the 'mission of God' became
a key concept in mission, and within a Theology of Religions that saw
no possibility of a life in God through other faith traditions. The
intention to be the majority also became the imperial and colonial history
of the church, where political power held out the possibility of Christianity,
in one way of the other, becoming the religion of the people."7
challenges Christians to re-look at biblical resources that we often
gloss over. St. Paul, for instance, commissioned to build the early
church, demands of the congregations a sacrificial lifestyle - which
he calls the "In Christ" experience. Paul does not make conversion
a primary vocation of the church.
speaks of what he considers to be a very "troubling" aspect
of Christian life in many of our countries. According to him the problem
lies in the assumption that, "the advance of mission has to do
with numbers, and that the success and failure of mission, like that
of a commercial corporation, can be quantified. It is troubling because
of the enormous emphasis it puts on individual conversions and its incapacity
to understand the rich biblical concept of vicarious representation."
that we move from "conversion" to "healing" as our
mission. In a world so fragmented and bleeding, a world with so much
physical and structural violence, our mission is to work with people
of all faiths for healing and reconciliation. The artificial divide
between the social and evangelistic tasks of the church needs to be
broken down. The oft-held assumption that the explicit acceptance of
Christ is the basis of salvation needs to be questioned.
This requires us to also re-look at missionary history - and the role
of the missionary Church in overcoming violence. This has caught the
attention, particularly of women, in recent times. Women have begun
to re-read history so as to re-claim, particularly the story of women
missionaries and their contribution to the life of "native"
women. Stories of how missionary wives worked together with "native"
women to challenge practices of discrimination and "violence"
are now being unearthed form the archives. For example Nyambura Njoroge
has explored the partnership between local women and the missionary
women in combating the practice of female genital mutilation by Gikuyu
women in Kenya.8
are also all aware that tragically; the missionary movement was sometimes
part of the problem. Much has been written about this, but more recently
this concern has captured the attention of particularly a group of theologians
who are "post-colonial" scholars. They explore particularly
how Christianity had become part of the project of imperialism and colonialism,
alienating the subjugated from their own languages, their cultural values,
religious beliefs and philosophies. This has been perceived as violence,
as the Christian message came with a strong message of occupation and
subjugation. Musa W. Dube, a feminist theologian from Botswana has been
particularly articulate in this. Her challenge is to all of us to become
post-colonial subjects, to together as both from the Northern "sending"
churches and from the Southern "receiving" churches to critique
a historical past that violated the person-hood and dignity of peoples.
This requires us to challenge the "politics of forgetting",
which seems to be the dominant discourse of the day and to, with compassion,
deal with that history so that we can together move into a more hopeful
present and future.
it is regrettable that the development agencies set up by the churches
to undo the "damage" done by the missionary agencies (which
were considered to "be paternalistic"), seem reluctant to
support the churches in their efforts to raise questions of justice
and dignity. The imposition of new conditionalities for support to the
churches in the South reflects the injustice of the present world order.
It is unfortunate that the churches mirror this rather than challenge
it. We seem to be better at doing charitable acts than at raising fundamental
structural questions that perpetuate injustice and lead to violence.
calls for a new ecumenical hermeneutic based on the present missionary
challenges, particularly in the context of the extent of violence in
our world. The churches can make important contributions here. There
is hope in the liberating core of the gospel - the fundamental affirmations
of the Christian faith. To boldly shift to a new theological paradigm
of mission demands the courage to be credible each in our own context
- as churches in the North and in the South. Today our three-fold evangelizing
role can be summed up thus: