Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Jesudas M Athyal

Gospel And Cultures: A Subaltern reading of the history of Christian Mission in India
Home
Passion of the Christ of the Indian Road
From Permeation to Protest:
The Lost Tribes of Andaman
Conversion Debate in India
Metropolitan Chrysostom's Message
Ethical and Economic Challenges for Education in a Globalized Era
Identity And Mission: Towards A New Ecclesiology
Relevant Patterns Of Christian Witness In Pluralsitic Societies: An Indian Perspective
Religion, Marxism & Humanism In Dialogue
Gospel And Cultures: A Subaltern reading of the history of Christian Mission in India
Come Holy Spirit, Diagnose, Heal And Reconcile: Lingering Questions from Athens
Gospel and Cultures: An Indian Perspective
New Challenges for Dalit Theology
Diaconal Ministry of the Church
Public Mission of the Church
Witnessing Christ in a Pluralistic Society
The Return of the Sacred
Contact Me

                       

Gospel And Cultures: A Subaltern reading of the history of Christian Mission in India

 

Missionary movement

 

A review of the modern missionary movement which became dominant in India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is an important component of the current ecumenical discussions on gospel and culture. What was its impact? Did it play a constructive or a negative role in Christian witness in India and in ‘nation building’? What are their lessons for today? These are among the several questions being raised today.

 

At the outset itself, it must be clarified that any generalization of the impact of the missionary movement would be too simplistic and inaccurate. The rich contributions of the missionaries, especially in the areas of health care, education and social upliftment has been widely acknowledged, not only within the church, but even by the secular society and the state. There are, however, criticisms too. One major criticism, especially voiced today, is the way in which the missionaries imposed “Western culture” as an integral part of the Christian faith, grossly undermining the cultures of non-western societies. It has also been pointed out that the missionaries often colluded with the colonial powers to have dominion over the local people. One historian notes that ‘colonizers and missionaries sailed on the same boat; gun and gospel were carried on the same ship’.[1] This may be an extreme view, but there is a fair amount of consensus among church historians and ecumenical theologians, especially of the third world, that the missionaries in general supported the process of colonization of the non-western world.

 

There is great support for the understanding that the Christian mission and colonialism, in most cases, went side by side. The process of colonization is often seen as ‘the colonization of non-Christian peoples by Christian nations.’[2] David Bosch feels that Europe’s colonization of the peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas has roots that go deep into the Christian history:

 

In fact, it can be argued that the roots of the later conquistadors and the entire phenomenon of the European colonization of the rest of the world lay in the medieval teachings of just war (Kahl 1978:66). On closer inspection one might even say that colonization was the ‘modern continuation of the crusades'’(Hoekendijk 1967a:317 - my translation). In the words of M. W. Baldwin (quoted by Fisher 1982:23), ‘Although Crusade projects failed, the Crusade mentality persisted.

 

…There is undoubtedly an organic link between western colonial expansion and the notion of manifest destiny…(p. 298) also, …since the sixteenth century, if one said “mission”, one in a sense also said ‘colonialism’. Modern mission originated in the context of modern Western colonialism (cf Rutti 1974:301)[3]

 

The idea of Christendom characterized by the union of colonization and Christianization was manifested in the mission of the church from the time of Constantine till about the middle ages. The alliance between the church and state remained more or less intact during this phase. With the Enlightenment period, however history began to change. ‘Henceforth, theocratic dreams would belong to the past; colonial and ecclesial expansion were to be two separate things’[4].

 

The affirmation of faith in humankind characterized by Enlightenment however was not the only factor that undermined the symbiotic relationship between church and state; the great evangelical awakening too played its role. Under the pietistic and puritan notions of ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’, the distinction between ‘home’ mission and ‘overseas’ mission disappeared rapidly. Salvation was understood primarily in terms of the salvation of souls; societal changes were only of secondary concern. The spiritual and material realms had parted company. Christendom was breaking up.

 

Curiously enough, in the nineteenth century colonial expansion would once again acquire religious overtones and also be intimately linked with mission! There came a time when the authorities enthusiastically welcomed missionaries into their territories. From the point of view of the colonial government the missionaries were indeed ideal allies. They lived among the local people, knew their languages, and understood their customs. Who was better equipped than these missionaries to persuade unwilling “natives” to submit to the pax Britannica or the pax Teutonica?…As it became customary for British missionaries to labor in British colonies, French missionaries in French colonies, and German missionaries in German colonies, it was only natural for these missionaries to be regarded as both vanguard and rearguard for the colonial powers (cf Glazik 1979:150). Whether they liked it or not, the missionaries became pioneers of Western imperialistic expansion. [5]

 

Ecumenical Missiology

 

Coming to more recent history, the ecumenical and third world theological thinking during the past few decades too shared this understanding of the nexus between the missionary movement and colonial expansion. The focus of the third world theologians however is on the ‘devastating effects’ of the missionary movement on indigenous peoples and cultures. A booklet titled ‘Gospel and Culture: An Ongoing Discussion within the Ecumenical Movement’, published a few years ago by the World Council of Churches, reviews ‘how the gospel and culture discussions have been conducted within the history of the modern ecumenical movement, in order to uncover the different facets of the debates and the presuppositions that have governed the discussion’[6].   The ecumenical discussions on gospel and culture focus on a critique of the missionary impact on the non-western world, mainly from the perspective of the indigenous people.

 

Several decades after the end of colonialism, churches that have emerged from Western missionary activities are beginning to look at what they have inherited as the gospel message and “Christian” culture. And they have a fuller awareness of the need to own the gospel anew in their own culture and in an idiom that makes sense to their own people. There is a new self-confidence on the part of those who do theology from the perspectives of women and the marginalized in society. At the same time, there is a growing impatience with those who deny the legitimacy of this quest.[7]

 

The ecumenical movement acknowledges the role of ‘individual missionaries’ who worked selflessly for the upliftment of people. There were also missionaries who tried to work out the meaning of the gospel in a specific culture. These were however the exceptions. The mainline ecumenical thinking affirms that the missionary enterprise as a whole undermined the local cultures of the non-western world. One of the characteristics of the new self-confidence of the emerging churches in the third world was the rejection of the missionary pattern. The feelings in the churches were so strong that the General Secretary of the National Christian Council of India hinted at the World Mission Conference in Tambaram (Chennai) in 1938 that it was perhaps time for the missionaries to “go home” and leave the task to local churches.[8] Nacpil from the Philippines too, called on the mission societies to leave the churches in Asia alone for some time so that they could discover themselves and their ministry to the people and cultures of Asia.[9] The ecumenical thinking on the impact of the missionary era is clear: it was one of insensitivity to and arrogance in the context of mission; it undermined indigenous people and their cultures; the churches that were planted by the missions were potted plants, remote controlled from the West.

 

A good portion of the current theological thinking on mission too promotes the concept that the missionary movement was little more than ‘imperialism at prayer’. In this framework, the movement was the ‘outcome of the eighteenth century evangelical revival which gave birth to the Evangelical Party in the Church of England and to the multiplication of the new denominations of Wesleyan and Calvinistic Methodism, an integral part of the colonial political structure and the accumulated result of western cultural practice’. It was the nexus of political power, cultural manifestations and economic interests that guided both the colonial powers as well as missionaries in the non-western world. In Colonialism and Christian Missions: Post-colonial Reflections, one of the books published on this topic, Jacob Dharmaraj raises the question whether a good part of the missionary idea and practice in India was not controlled by the colonial climate of thought which did not belong to the essence of the gospel. In his own words,

 

I see the domineering European political structure in India on the one hand, and the colonial evangelistic theology on the other, as a single constitutive reality. Attempting to separate colonial ideology from missionary theology, or colonial hermeneutics from a mission model and its epistemological methodologies in evangelistic action, would be futile. Since this kind of functional relationship between colonialism and mission spanned the nineteenth century, mission and colonialism in effect favored and facilitated each other and helped carry out certain ideologies over others.[10]

 

It is thus obvious that there is a fair amount of consensus among church historians and ecumenical theologians that the missionary movement in general aided and abetted the process of cultural and political conquest of the non-western world during the last two centuries.

 

Unlike the given history and theology however, there is a subaltern perspective on history. It is to this aspect that we will presently turn.

 

Subaltern Perspective

 

At the outset itself, it must be clarified that the current ecumenical and theological thinking on mission and colonialism - especially the role of the missionary era - is influenced heavily by the thinking and composition of the indigenous leadership that emerged in the third world churches towards the twilight of the colonial period. In most parts, the transition was from the missionary leadership to local hands. Even after the formal transition of leadership to indigenous hands, the missionary presence lingered on in a strong way, in the form of the church structures, financial support and most of all, the cultural identification of the church as an appendix of western culture and religion. As such, several questions remain: Why was there no serious exploration of the questions of power and hegemony, especially in the context of the conflicting cultures and religions that the missions met with in the non-Western world? Why was it that while some of the indigenous cultures and religions were accepted in the name of ‘inculturation’ and ‘indigenisation’, several others were rejected as ‘pagan and heathen’? Was there a standard yardstick for such acceptance and rejection? What was the position in this hierarchy of cultures, of the sections that eventually inherited the missionary mantle?

 

Several of these questions are important. A subaltern perspective would insist that the complexities of the Indian situation have not been sufficiently appreciated in easy generalizations on ‘mission and colonialism’ (The term ‘subaltern’ is understood and taken to be ‘the inferior and less important consciousness of the people’ on the fringe who are socially, economically, culturally and politically marginalised. There is a dominant national consciousness in India. It is called the ‘mainstream’ of the nation, though it may not represent the consciousness of the majority of the people. Beside and behind the dominant consciousness, there is the subaltern consciousness [11]). While “the collusion of the missionaries with the colonial powers and the insensitivity of the missions to the indigenous people and culture” was a common approach in ecumenical historiography till recent years, a careful look at the history of the missionary movement, at least in contexts such as India, would reveal that the relationship of the missionaries with the colonial powers was often far from being cordial. Analyzing the Indian situation, David Bosch notes that the interest of the colonial powers in India was primarily mercantile and thus it clashed with the concerns of the missionaries. ‘.…the Dutch, British and Danish trading companies, at least in the early stages, usually refused to allow any missionaries in the territories under their jurisdiction since they saw them as a threat to their commercial interests’.[12]

 

Lamin Sanneh’s analysis of the impact of the missionary period on indigenous people is more comprehensive.  He questions the widely prevalent view that mission was little more than “imperialism at prayer”. Apart from missionaries being out of tune with the commercial interests of the western political powers, Sanneh says that colonialists also felt that missionary work might interfere with the traditional lifestyle and practices of the indigenous people.  Taking India as a case, he traces the problematic relationship William Carey had with the British colonial authorities:

 

Carey had earlier experienced difficulties with the East India Company authorities in Calcutta. After he moved to Serampore, these difficulties did not abate. There, between 1806 and 1812, attempts were made to restrict the work and to halt all missionary endeavors in India. The authorities argued that mission was a threat to British rule by inciting a spirit of religious animosity, which, by some explicit chemistry, undermined the basis of colonial rule. [13]

 

The main focus of Sanneh’s monumental critique of mission and colonialism is the recognition that translation and vernacular renewal played a crucial role in not only the spread of Christian mission in the non-western world but in the liberation of the indigenous people as well. This factor has also been recognized in India. Analyzing the work of William Carey and the Serampore Mission which he led, in relation to the Bengali cultural renaissance of the 19th century - especially at the development of the Bengali language - M. M. Thomas says, ‘They were Vernacularists in the 19th century debate about the medium of education, unlike the Anglicists who suppressed the local cultures and languages and missed “a rare opportunity of constructive combination” of eastern and western cultures through dialogue. Such suppression, Thomas notes, had devastating effects on the future course of the country, and holds a lesson for the church’s mission today:

 

Perhaps a good deal of the religious fundamentalism and communal passion which bedevil public life even today may be a continuation of the people’s revolt against the earlier neglect of their traditional cultures. In contrast, the Serampore Mission emphasized vernacular languages as the sphere of intense cultural interaction between western culture, Christian religion and India…In this light, I am afraid that the Indian church’s concentration on English medium education, today as in the past, may lead to the church’s continued neglect of the renaissance of the national languages and cultures necessary for building India as a community of diverse cultures.[14]

 

The commercial interests of the colonial powers in promoting Western languages thus clashed with the focus of the missionaries in translation which made mother tongues the centerpiece of missions. The continuation of the missionary era however went far beyond mere evangelisation and the numerical growth of the church, though those admittedly were their chief objectives. Translation and vernacular renewal had a profound impact on the cultural and social renaissance of the indigenous people. The sections that had ‘no place’ so far found a place under the sun. Their awakening to a new identity and self-dignity enabled the indigenous people to struggle against all forms of oppression. Far from being ‘the running dogs of colonialism’ as some sections of the current thinking holds, the new converts were at the vanguard in resisting colonialism. As Sanneh puts it,

 

Missionary translation was instrumental in the emergence of indigenous resistance to colonialism. Local Christians acquired from the vernacular translations confidence in the indigenous cause. While the colonial system represented a worldwide economic and military order, mission represented vindication for the vernacular. Local Christians apprehended the significance of world events, and as such the purposes of God, through the familiar medium of mother tongues, with subject peoples able to respond to colonial events in the light of vernacular understanding.[15]

 

The primary context for Sanneh is Africa. In India, the role of the missionaries, the new converts and the indigenous people in resisting colonialism has gone largely undocumented, partly due to the class-caste nature of the secular and theological thinking here. During the several decades of the transitory period from western colonialism to national independence in India, the paramount question in the church and theological forums was, to what extend can the Indian church be truly indigenous. That the leadership that was posed to replace the missionaries was an upper caste, elite, male leadership was often forgotten. It was also forgotten that the primary arena of the missionary activity - the Dalits and the adivasis, the truly indigenous people - were still nowhere in the picture. The awareness that Dalits and the adivasis too have perspectives on mission and theology, is a recent one. The emerging Dalit, adivasi/ tribal and womanist theologies today question the established notions of Christian mission in India.

 

Such criticisms have enormous relevance in today’s context of neo-colonialism characterized by the process of globalisation and the universalisation of the ‘American way of life’. The mission enterprise had several dimensions to it. While rejecting the history that undermines the role of the missionaries in the cultural rejuvenation and the awakening of the indigenous people, there is the need to critically approach the missionary era also. Like all the other phases in the history of the church, the mission era too will be scrutinized closely and judged for its contributions and shortcomings. Such a historical process, though inevitable, cannot however be based on given history alone. Historians and theologians, like others, are children of their times. As history extends to accommodate the subaltern people also, mission perspectives too change. In the Indian context, the mission era would be reviewed not only from the perspective of the elite, upper caste and male nationalist, but from the perspective of the Dalits, adivasis/ tribals and women too.

 

Re-reading History

 

One of the characteristics of the modern period is the vigorous awakening among the subaltern sections in India. While suffering for millennia from the baneful consequences of the myth of pollution, they have been marginalised to such an extent that economic deprivation, and social discrimination with religious sanction were heaped on them. Inspired by creative leaders conscious of their own experiences and above all of their power, the people are now seen to be asserting themselves as subjects and agents of their own deliverance. In the church too, the subaltern perspective of mission is characterized by a re-reading of the church history and the missionary movement. To cite just one instance, in the context of the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala, a major landmark was the ‘Synod of Diamper’ which was convened in 1599 by the Portuguese Archbishop Menezes. Following the Synod, the Kerala church was brought under the control of the Roman Catholic Church. There was stiff resistance among the St. Thomas Christians to the Roman control and in 1653, an oath was taken by a section to be free. The mainline church history is that this incident, popularly known as the koonan cross oath, marked the liberation of the church from Western domination.

 

With the tools of modern analysis, the Dalits however are today challenging this part of the church history. The Dalit perspective of history is diametrically opposed to that of the St. Thomas Christians. According to Vijaya Kumar, the Synod of Diamper marked the starting point of an anti-caste movement within the church in India. Before the arrival of the Portuguese, St. Thomas Christians were believed to have followed, like upper caste Hindus, a caste system and norms of untouchability, and also resorted to oppression of the lower castes. In this context, Menezes attempted to purge St. Thomas Christians in Kerala of their Hindu values and to make them “real Christians”. His attempts were ‘revolutionary’ since among other things, he opposed untouchability and wanted equal rights on family property to be granted to women. These progressive steps however were short lived as the church reverted to its traditional patterns.[16]

 

Dalit historians today ask whether the resistance of the St. Thomas Christians was to ‘foreign control’ or to making the church open to people of all castes. It is significant that, in order to extricate themselves from the hands of the Jesuits, the Thomas Christians sought allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch, under whose dominion, the St. Thomas Christians continued for several more centuries, as “high caste” churches. That the fellowship in Christ did not enable the Kerala church to transcend caste barriers has been underscored by several other historians too. According to Lesslie Brown,

 

..it was in consequence of the place which the community occupied and accepted in the Hindu caste-structure of Kerala that they observed untouchability with respect to the outcast groups like the Hindus and ‘never attempted to bring their non-christian neighbors to the knowledge of Christ and so into the Christian church’.[17]

 

It is also significant that several mainline church historians agree with the Dalit re-reading of history. According to Mathias Mundadan, it was the coming of the Portuguese and the first contact with them in the early sixteenth century which helped the ancient Christians of India to break through their traditional pattern of life and enter into a meaningful communication with world Christianity. The initial encounter with western Christianity set the pace for their history in succeeding decades and centuries.[18] The most significant change perhaps was that this encounter with the foreigners compelled the Indian church to redefine its cultural and religious identity as a caste based community.

 

Thus, caste exclusiveness, the practice of untouchability and the lack of Christian mission, all seemed to have gone together in the history of early Christianity in India. The rigidity of caste in the Syrian Christian church was first challenged by the western missionaries - the Portuguese in the 16th century and the Protestant missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and the London Missionary Society (LMS) in the 18th century. The missionaries combined their evangelistic mission with radical social action that sought to liberate the marginalised people. That the given history chose to disregard this phase perhaps indicates the caste/ class orientation of the historians themselves. As the subaltern people attempt to find their place under the sun, such re-reading of history has an important place.

 

Another marginalsied section, the tribals too are today contributing greatly to a rethinking on the history of Christian mission in the country. Tribals are among the indigenous people of the country and are concentrated in North East India, Jharkhand  and Chattisgarh. By and large, the tribals, all through history, were marginalised by the mainstream. Though Christianity has been indigenous to India for almost two thousand years, the tribal Christians affirm that it was the western missionaries that brought them the faith. Christianisation in the tribal areas was accompanied by radical social changes too, especially with regard to literacy and translation. Nirmal Minz, analyzing the context of Jharkhand says, ‘missionaries gave a written form to Mundari and Kudux languages and the Bible or portions of the Bible were translated into these languages. Dr. Alfred Nottrot translated the Bible in Mundri by the year 1895. Fr. Ferdinand Hahn translated the gospels into Kudux language. Education and medical ministries were part and parcel of mission and evangelism’.[19]

 

Along with vernacular renewal and translation, the missionaries concentrated on basic social changes too. India being primarily an agrarian society, the ownership of land is central to radical social transformation. Historically, it was the ‘landlords’ who owned vast stretches of land and the marginalised people in most cases toiled as bonded labourers on the land. The ownership of land meant wealth and security in traditional India and the landless tribals  were entirely at the mercy of the exploitative landlords. That the missionaries realized this social situation as part of their concern is evident from an instance cited by Minz:

 

The secret of attraction was that Fr. Lievens took up the land question of Adivasis (tribals) and fought on their behalf and won cases in their favor in the Court. He worked for the liberation of the Adivasis from exploitation and oppression by the Jamindars (land lords). To protect the land meant literal protection of the Adivasis. He accepted dealing with land issues and other social justice activities as an integral part of mission and evangelism in his ministry to the people.[20]

 

In short, the subaltern perspective today questions the hegemonic reading of the given history of Christianity in India. The contribution of the missionaries in translation, vernacular renewal and social change is a historical reality. Perhaps their most significant contribution in India was to break the spiritual sanction of caste. The spiritual fervor created by western education and the renaissance of traditional religions, both closely associated with the missionary period, contributed, perhaps more than any other factor, to social reform and the consequent awakening and humanization of the marginalised communities.

 

While acknowledging the rich contributions of the missionaries, it is also significant that the subaltern theologians do not consider the missionary era as an unmixed blessing. The general approach of the missionary movement was to lead people to renounce their respective religious affiliations and to become Christian. It was assumed that Christianity which had taken shape in the West was normative.[21] Plurality is to be seen as God’s gift and the Christian mission needs to respect the religious integrity and faith commitment of the people of other religions. The approach of the missionaries was often perceived as being insensitive to the local cultures. Analyzing the theology of Arvind P. Nirmal, considered as one of the pioneers of Dalit theology in India, J. Russell Chandran writes,

 

Nirmal’s theology does challenge us to abandon the traditional missionary policy and call upon people of all faiths to believe in Jesus Christ and become disciples of Jesus, telling them that when they believe in Christ they are not required to renounce their religious beliefs and practices unless they are contrary to the mind of Christ, such as idolatry, superstitions, caste discrimination, corrupt practices etc. Christ came to fulfill, not to destroy; to enrich not to impoverish. We certainly have the responsibility of helping the people of other faiths to know Jesus Christ and become his disciples and to discern which practices are against Christ.[22]

 

V. Devasahaym, another Dalit theologian, also question the missionary approach asking whether their strategy was ‘not only in favor of upper caste people but was also biased against the low caste people and Dalits because it was feared that their entry into the church would lead to ‘baptized heathenism’ and become a deterrent for upper caste people from embracing Christian faith.[23] It was generally when the upper castes and the Syrian Christians rejected the missionaries that they turned to the Dalits and the other lower sections. ‘It was the Dalits, (not missionaries) who took the initiative in mass movements and the missionaries were forced to respond to this Dalit initiative’.[24]

 

These criticisms are not entirely unfounded. In several respects, the identity and structures of the church established by the missionaries in most parts of India to this day retain several aspects of the western church. The general image that the Indian Christians are mere appendages of the western culture is too deep rooted to be easily changed. Did the missionary, directly or indirectly, aid the process of colonialism in the country, as charged by several historians? Did they really favour the elite and the upper castes over the marginalised people, as the subaltern theologians themselves charge? Did the initiative for liberation come primarily from the missionaries or the subaltern people? There are conflicting accounts on all these, about the real intentions of the missionaries. What is important however is not so much the intentions, as the consequence. As Lamin Sanneh puts it, ‘Western missionaries provided some of the most important categories for understanding intercultural encounter, whether or not such encounter conformed to their motives and intentions or in other ways was to their credit’.[25]

 

The distinction that Nirmal draws between ‘religious beliefs and practices’ in general and those that are ‘contrary to the mind of Christ’ is significant. The role of the missionaries in undermining the religious beliefs and practices of the country has been well documented, both in academic as well as church history. Equally important is the missionary perception that a casteist society and Christianity can never go together. For long years, traditional Christianity in India sanctified the tribal, caste, class and folk divisions without opening them up for transformation in the light of the New Humanity in Christ.[26] The first effective challenge to the caste - class hegemony of both the Indian church and society was posed by the missionaries. That also partly accounts for the resistance to the missionaries, especially when the country was at the threshold of independence. It is significant that the call to the missionaries to ‘go back home’ came generally from the western - educated, upper caste, male, Indian Christian leadership. Their attempt was to make the Indian church ‘truly Indian’. The criticism of the subaltern sections is that the church has been trying to become ‘Indian’ in terms of the Sanskritic culture. While the desire of the Indian leaders for the church to take local roots was truly a reflection of the anti-imperialistic climate of that period, the virtual exclusion of the marginalised people from the leadership would raise questions such as, whose concerns were the church leaders really representing? 

 

Conclusion

 

In short, it is neither by endorsing entirely nor condemning the history of the missionary era, but from a critical review of the period, especially from the perspective of the victims of history alone that a truly Indian Christian mission theology, representative of all Indians, can evolve. A reappraisal of the history of Christian mission in India in general and the role of the missionary era has enormous contemporary relevance. The socio-political context of India today is surcharged with the rise of religious fundamentalism and attacks on minority communities. Hindu fundamentalist forces, comprising largely of high castes and landlords, have shed their inhibitions and have assumed centre-stage roles in re-defining the history of the land and threatening the very secular and social fabric of the country. The primary targets of the fundamentalist forces are the Christian mission work, especially among the Dalits and tribals. The underlying assumption is that the awakening of the marginalised sections will threaten the very social structure of the caste system and landlordism. In such a context, a generalized call for ‘Indian Christian theology’ or an ‘Indian church’ would be futile. As long as caste and the ownership of land continue as the fundamental realities of the Indian social structure, the authenticity and relevance of the church and theology will be judged by their sensitivity to this situation.

 

In the pluralistic context of India, the search for relevant patterns of mission and evangelism in most cases is also an encounter between the Christian faith and other faiths, raising questions of gospel and culture at the theological level. The intrinsic relation between religion and culture also thus becomes central to our search for new paradigms of mission and evangelism.

 

The search for relevant patterns of Christian witness needs to be rooted firmly within the complexities of the Indian Church, religions and cultures. There is also the need to raise questions about the ongoing ecumenical discussions on ‘gospel and culture’ (often used in the singular). There is the danger that the complexities (or plurality) of societies such as India will not be sufficiently appreciated in these discussions. India is a land of diversities. Diversities in religion often tend to overlap with social hierarchies. There is therefore the need to situate the ecumenical mission discussions on gospel and cultures in relation to the Indian social realities. The perspective of the indigenous people that it is the Christian faith, brought to them by the missionaries, that liberated them from their traditional bondage and exclusion, is significant in this context. Such insights also call for a re-appraisal of the role of missions and missionaries, from the perspective of the people. The debate on mission at this stage becomes elevated from the plane of a singular indigenous ‘culture’ versus western mission, to the complexities and hierarchies within the indigenous cultures  and their diverse responses to Christian mission. It is equally important to distinguish the missions of the church in relation to the mission of the church. As D. T. Niles put it, ‘There is no task greater right now than that of re-defining the missions of the churches in terms of the mission of the church’.[27] Indeed, the subaltern perspective of mission becomes the Indian contribution (or corrective) to the current ecumenical discussions on gospel and cultures.

 

 


 

 



[1] Jacob S. Dharmaraj, Colonialism and Christian Mission: Postcolonial Reflections, ISPCK, Delhi, 1993, p. xvi

[2] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in Theology of Mission, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1991,  p. 227

[3] Ibid., pp. 226-227

[4] Ibid., p. 275

[5] Ibid., pp. 303-304

[6] Wesley S. Ariarajah, Gospel and Culture: (An Ongoing Discussion within the Ecumenical Movement), WCC Publications, Geneva, 1994, p. viii

[7] Ibid, p. vi

[8] Ibid, p. 19

[9] Ibid

[10] Dharmaraj. op. cit., p. xix

[11]  Nirmal Minz, Meaning of Tribal Consciousness (Religion and Society, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2), p. 12

[12] Bosch, op.cit., p. 303

[13] Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1989, p. 102

[14] M. M. Thomas, A Diaconal Approach to Indian Ecclesiology, CIIS, Rome & CSS, Tiruvalla, 1995, pp. 65-66

[15] Translating the Message, p. 123

[16] R. Madhavan Nair, In solidarity (Frontline Online, Vol. 16, No. 3), p. 2

[17] M. M. Thomas, Towards an Evangelical Social Gospel, CLS, Madras, 1977, pp. 18-19

[18] A. M. Mundadan, History of Christianity in India (Vol. I), p.1

[19] Nirmal Minz, Mission and Evangelism in Jharkhand context (Unpublished paper)

[20] Ibid

[21] J. Russell Chandran, Rev. A. P. Nirmal - A Tribute, National Christian Council Review (Nagpur, India), January, 1997, p. 32

[22] Ibid., p. 33

[23] V. Devasahayam, Outside the Camp: Biblical Studies in Dalit Perspective, Gurukul, Madras, 1992, p. 37

[24] Ibid., p. 38

[25] Lamin Sanneh, Encountering the West: Christianity and the Global Cultural Process: The African Dimension, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1993, p. 152

[26] A Diaconal Approach, p. 67

[27] D. T. Niles, Upon the Earth, p. 16