Sunday, March 20, 2011

The church and elections in Kerala

There is less than a month to go for the assembly elections in Kerala. The results usually depend on the vote of an undecided 15-20% of the electorate. That is the swing which gives the winning coalition the final boost to tip the scales. The steady voters usually vote for their party which belongs to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) or the United Democratic Front (UDF). The undecided voters wait and then decide largely influenced by the anti-incumbency factor against the outgoing government. Even as the LDF has momentarily tided over the Achuthanandan factor, the UDF is still waiting to release its list of candidates because of the scuffle for seats both within and outside the Congress party.

The Christian church in Kerala comprising of many denominations has in the past kept out of politics by and large. The past decade has seen the church reverse this trend with keen interest being shown to ensure that the church gets a good deal from the government in power. This has now developed into a masked and open demand for candidates from respective churches to be selected from the two alliances. Christians in Kerala are divided into two groups. One group which says that the church should not involve in politics and the other group which says that the church should whole heartedly involve itself in politics and even determine the direction of politics in the state.

Bishop letters are being read in churches and church members are openly being asked to vote for a particular party/candidate. The Kerala populace is being divided further on the basis of religion and caste. Bishops are openly canvassing in front of television cameras and in church pulpits urging and even forcing the people to vote for a particular candidate. The ‘vote for our man’ usage betrays in a way what the church stands for.

Is the church political? It is in as much as its members belong to various political dispensations. Can a bishop or priest have political leanings? He can as long as he does not force a church member to follow those leanings. As an ordinary member of the church respects a church leader he/she will listen to the church leader in various ways. Some may blindly listen while others will follow their own discretion. A church leader thus may preach that people should vote against corruption, injustice and social evils. But he should also give a balanced view while going about this. What otherwise happens is that the entire church suffers the consequence of the decisions of one or two leaders, as bad political acumen may bring about irreparable differences with a particular political party.

The politics of the cross is that Jesus forfeits his power for the sake of humanity. How then can his followers urge capturing power and seeking seats saying that it reflects their strength in Kerala society? One can understand if churches in Kerala join others in rooting out corrupt politicians for the good of all in the state. But how can one come to terms with pressurising political parties to offer seats for the sake of seeking power? The power of the church lies in its powerlessness. So threatening and pressurising is far from what the church should be involved in. As good citizens all church members can use their vote for the good of the state/country and this good may be differently seen by people. Jesus would never stand for elections, never campaign and never pressurise anyone. If we start doing it, it is a time for a vote. A vote for change in the churches of Kerala!

35 comments:

Paul said...

Those who're aiming at seats on behalf of their denominations are capable and shameless to do bitter and worser things....and they call themselves as Christians.

Fr Jerry said...

Thanks for the comment. I would still find myself comfortable with those who are political. But one should preferably not use one's post in the church to lobby for one or another political party. And one should not lobby with a political party showing numbers in a church as part of a veiled threat!

Vinnie said...

Just to wish u a Happy Holi, Fr!
May ur life n those around be filled with colors n happiness:)

will read this post later...

Fr Jerry said...

Happy Holi to you too from my wife and me. May each colour be a sign of the great things in the year ahead for you. Take good care.

Anonymous said...

Vincent Rajkumar, facebook, 20-3-2011- Its very unfortunate. our poor voters have no option to vote for good candidates

Fr Jerry said...

Yes sir, it is true. Our church leaders should not pressurise people so much that voting finally becomes a ritual done for someone else and not for the good of the state or country!

Anonymous said...

In a democracy one has a right to vote, but does that right also imply an obligation?Leave that right to our members.Let us pray for their great wisdom to caste their vote for better future.
Best of Luck Achen.
Chev.Joy Thanangadan

Fr Jerry said...

Thanks for the comment Chev. Joy. The rights of the people are being taken away one by one. The church can guide people to vote for candidates who work for the welfare of all. If we go beyond that, we will end up dividing society more and more as each day passes!

Fr Jerry said...

The latest is that the Congress party has come out with its entire list of candidates. Church pressure may have resulted in the selection of a few of the candidates. The CPM on its part is reaching out to the various Christian denominations. During elections it is not just the political parties which stand exposed but also religious groups like the church. Who will have the courage to tell the emperor that he is wearing no clothes?

Zach George Arapura said...

‘Argumentative selfish power-monger’. After seeing the political situation in Kerala, in the backdrop of impending elections, I am convinced that the aforementioned adjectives are most suitable for describing the Christian Church, the bride of Christ. Would Christ choose such a bride? If he does and the bride does not let go of these undesirable qualities, the marriage is more likely to end in a divorce than be consummated.

Fr Jerry said...

Dear Mr. Zach sir, "Argumentative selfish power-monger" sounds good. And yes, if the church turns out to be that, then there is need for some serious soul searching.

"Would Christ choose such a bride? If he does and the bride does not let go of these undesirable qualities, the marriage is more likely to end in a divorce than be consummated"- Very strong words indeed! The church should be a place where criticism is also encouraged as much as self praise.

As I have mentioned in the comment before your's. "During elections it is not just the political parties which stand exposed but also religious groups like the church. Who will have the courage to tell the emperor that he is wearing no clothes?" And we have emperors both in political parties and the church as well!

Anonymous said...

Benoy John Varghese, facebook, 25-3-2011- well said achen...speck in brothers eye and the log in yours.Mat7:3!!!!

Fr Jerry said...

Hmm. True.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Vincent Rajkumar, facebook, 25-3-2011- It is unfortuante our leaders are worse than the corrupted political leaders.

Fr Jerry said...

That is a statement which should be discussed in our churches I suppose. We could see what church members feel about this!

Anonymous said...

Viji Varghese Eapen, facebook, 25-3-2011- Courage is needed to tell the emperor that he is wearing no clothes?" Much more courage is needed to tell the emperor to wear no clothes...clothes of pomp and glory.

Fr Jerry said...

Yes, that is a different matter all together. The story of the emperor without clothes is also about the emperor who went for the richest of all clothes and is then deceived. The people are too scared to tell him until a child finally speaks the truth. So your concern is also well within the symbolism of the story.

Fr Jerry said...

Thomas Samuel, facebook, 26-3-2011- But who will tell the ecclesiastical kings who run after pomp and glory that they too are running nude? If some one from the circle of the ecclesia tell this truth they will loose their throne and "career" it is easy to judge the society and polity from withing the ghettos of the ecclesia, but we need prophets who expose the corrupted institution called "the church" too.

Fr Jerry said...

I think the last sentence "And we have emperors both in political parties and the church as well!" answers your concern!

Fr Jerry said...

Benoy John Varghese, facebook, 26-3-2011- Bishops and priests can have personal political ideologies and can support anyone they want, as a citizen of India. But it would be ideal if they keep their political ideologies to themselves since the people whom they lead have their own ideologies politically and this conflict of ideas, (esp. Indian scenario) can cause the members of their churches to differ in other aspects of church issues with the persons concerned.

Fr Jerry said...

True, everyone can have their own ideologies as long as no one is forced to accept one or the other.

Anonymous said...

Benoy John Varghese, facebook, 26-3-2011- We respect them as spiritual leaders and for spiritual guidance not for their political ideologies. Church is not a political system, its a worshiping community(basically intended!)

Fr Jerry said...

The church not being political is not completely true. The church is also political but this goes beyond the narrow politics practised both outside and inside the church.

Anonymous said...

Benoy John Varghese, facebook, 26-3-2011- Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him. Mark 12:17 This seems to prove your point . Well i also understand what you mean to say, i guess since both are necessary social systems that co-exist within the same society, they will have some influence on each other. Biblical connections to the High priests and rulers of Jesus era.

Fr Jerry said...

That is a good way of looking at it.

Anonymous said...

Benoy John Varghese, facebook, 27-3-2011- For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3

Anonymous said...

Rohan Gideon, facebook, 27-3-2011- It makes christology relevant when we extend our imagination of the possibilities of Jesus' participation in elections. That jesus did not contest elections in his times was for the fact that there was no possibility of one in an empiric context. But the fact that he "contested" the dominant interpretations and garnered a movement is something that should inspire us. This movement led to an alternate polity within the empire. This movement would possibly have led to a stronger resistance, an overthrowing of empire, and a possible democratic elections had Jesus lived longer. Then Jesus would possibly have contested the elections.

Anonymous said...

Viji Varghese Eapen, facebook, 27-3-2011- I am reminded of an election where I was a teller. Someone, instead of voting for the candidates (name printed in the ballot paper)added the name of 'JESUS' in the ballot paper. As we were tabulating, I read aloud 'Jesus' and the election commissioner announced, 'INVALID'. Isn't this very true? Is not Jesus' role 'INVALID' in our church elections?

Jerry Kurian Kodiattu said...

Benoy- I have to take a look at the text and see in what regard it was said.

Jerry Kurian Kodiattu said...

Rohan- I can see Jesus being part of an alternate way of looking at elections. Perhaps opposing what was wrong in the system. But whether he would contest himself, I am not sure. But I can certainly see the practicality of your statement and the inspiration the Jesus movement will give all of us.

Fr. Jerry Kurian Kodiattu said...

Viji- This is a very thought provoking example. Jesus' role invalid in our church elections! Hmm.

Rohini John said...

Hello, Achen.. your blog post, the church and elections in Kerala speaks the truth. I am a by product of both the sabhas. so I rather not take side. AS someone who love Jesus and want to speard the Word of God to those who are weary and tried, I am ashamed to see my brothers and sisters fight over very material things. All I know is our Lord is not partial. He loves each of us and he will not be judging me at the end asking which sabha you are in.. I feel He will be judging me by my actions and how others could see more of His love through me.

Fr. Jerry Kurian Kodiattu said...

Thanks for dropping by Rohini. I can agree with what you say and can feel the hurt inside you as well. I assume that there will be several other people like you too. The aim of the Christian church is indeed to spread the love of Jesus as he did during his life time. Everything else is indeed a corruption of the truth in that sense.
For many reasons religions these days are being fundamentalist in nature. The reason being given is 'survival.' I don't agree with this though. Religions should serve their purpose. Survival is not one of the purposes. That is our very own selfish want.
Everyone will indeed be judged at the end by his/her actions. On the one hand we have those who fight for their survival and on the other hand we have people like you who seek the survival of all through the love of God. We have to wait and see how this develops. Till then, keep expressing your thoughts. Thanks again.

Rohini John said...

Achen for me survival is highly about support from God. Once I believe that God is the ultimate Decision maker in my life, my Protector, then why worry on survival. What He has built will never fail. I guess, we wall tended to take matters into our hands and solve problems. Everything I go through some problem, and I try desperately to solve it, I feel God telling me, Mole, why are your struggling, give it to Me, I will sort it out.. :) The minute i say, OK God, you take a decision on it, You know how to perserve me after all His is our Creator... then things become easy.. :) I learned this lesson the hard way.. but I believe that with a little patience, we can survive

Fr. Jerry Kurian said...

Rohini- I suppose with spiritual maturity we will come to the stage where we are not bothered about survival. All of us will live out our purpose and then make way for others to do the same. Being material and spiritual at the same time is the greatest predicament of human beings.