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!