Saturday, August 17, 2013

In no particular order -reflections on my 2nd visit to India. 1) Multi faith society

I was intrigued when I got home from Bangalore on Wednesday to see that the media was busy reporting Rowan Williams' recent interview in which he suggested that UK Christians claiming persecution should reflect on the true persecution that their brothers and sisters in other lands experience and, not to put too fine a point on it, "grow up".
I'd very much agree with the former ABC...there is a wealth of difference between being asked not to wear a cross at work and facing actual physical violence, and I've come home impressed by the way that different faiths seem to co-exist quite peacefully, even respectfully, in Karnataka.

In India, Christianity is very much a minority faith - owned by just 2% of the population - and of course in some parts of the country it IS under threat. Just google "attacks on Christians in Bihar" to read about the sort of persecution that the early martyrs might have encountered. However, in the diocese of Karnataka Central, and particularly in that great melting pot that is the city of Bangalore, things seem very different. 

We were there during Ramadan, at a time when you might have expected tensions to escalate. After all, nobody is at their best when trying to function on an empty stomach - but we encountered neither sight nor sound of religious tension. Instead, wherever we went we heard stories of co-operation between neighbours that reminded me of the idealised community we imagine was the English village of yesteryear.
Out at Kannapura, Revd Shilpa told how her Hindu neighbours were great supporters of the tiny church that meets in her home, how they always attended harvest and Christmas celebrations and would work alongside her congregation to raise funds for the new church building that will soon become a reality.
In Bangalore, almost every school we visited welcomed children of all faiths, many had special arrangements in place for Ramadan but not one of them compromised their Christian identity even for a second. Thus it was that at the CSI Zenana Mission School one morning we found ourselves singing Sunday school choruses my mother learned at the feet of CIM missionaries in Chefoo before WW2 with a congregation of 100% Muslim children - in the shadow of a Hindu Temple arch. 
The whole multi faith situation in microcosm.

I asked repeatedly if there were any problems, any tensions - and was assured that no, the Church was respected and appreciated. When I pushed a senior cleric as to why this should be so he summed it up very neatly
"For you in the west, the cross is seen as a sign of victory. Here in India it is a sign of service. Our neighbours respect us because they know that we will work tirelessly for the well-being of the community. If we do that because of our faith, then our faith is worth reverence..."

Perhaps that's the issue which should concern those Christians who feel that that they are being oppressed in 21st century Britain. Have we done anything to EARN the respect and love of our neighbours - or do we, by treating them with suspicion and alarm, pave the way ourselves for misunderstanding and division? 
Perhaps we should focus rather more on love in action and less on imagined slights.Who knows, perhaps if we visibly loved our neighbours, they might feel more inclined to love us!

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