The Emergent Gospel: Theology from the Underside of History
Edited by Sergio Torres & Virginia Fabella, M.M.
Chapter 12: The Indian Universe of a New Theology by D.S. Amalorpavadass (India)
The author, Director of the National Biblical Catechitical & Liturgical Centre of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India in Bangalore, examines the two main realities and sources of theology in India, as part of this report from the Ecumencial Dialogue of Third World Theologians, held in Tanzania in 1976. He says that India is “the cradle of great religions that are ancient, alive and have a long following,” pointing out also that the nation is in the process of liberation and development, to create a just and human society and a well-integrated nation. He attempts to articulate how the church must fulfill its prophetic mission given this background. He quotes mainly from the Declaration of the 1971 Nagpur Theological Conference, which he finds “comprehensive and creative,” saying that the “religions of the world and realities of the temporal order must be viewed as including in God’s universal saving plan,” and that confrontation must yield to dialogue. According both to Nostra Aetate and the DNC, other religions also reflect a ray of the Truth, and recognize them as paths to salvation, but this recognition “does not in any way lessen the urgency of the Christian mission.” Believing that missionary activity remains necessary, he takes up the question whether the church’s mission in India could be of dialogue and/or evangelization, since the Nagpur Declaration did not fully settle the relationship between them. Since “genuine dialogue requires a spirit of openness and humility, and a willingness to learn and receive from one another,” he points out that it is “through common searching and sharing that we come closer to the truth.” Laying out the aspects of Indian reality – the presence of ancient and living religions, and the process of development and liberation – he points out that the division in the world is between the oppressors and the oppressed. The main points he reviews are: 1) the Indian scene, where there is a daily increase in poverty and suffering; 2) the various approaches (and confusion) in the minds of the Christian leadership with regard to the relationship between evangelization and development; 3) the view of Christ as the liberator in the India of the seventies; 4) the church as the living sign of Christ’s liberation for today – where evangelization and development “compenetrate each other in one redeeming movement of human progress and salvation”; 5) the notion of [an integral human] development, whence the church must join forces in the struggle for liberation, contributing to humanization and community building; 6) a call for political action, so that one can hope to bring about change in the economic system; and 7) the roles of ministry and the laity – where the priest should keep to the spiritual, and laity should should be involved in development.
Finally, the author concludes that no genuine commitment to development and liberation is valid until there is conscientization, a method and strategy of liberation in the context of a society divided into oppressors and oppressed. The goal of evangelization is to “unleash the power that is in the oppressed masses to change their situation and to convert the oppressors themselves by a process of love.” In this context, evangelization is meaningful and necessary, as long as it calls for a correct understanding of the religious traditions of humankind, such as the “age-old spiritual quest for moksha and mukti, a process of self-realization through the discovery in the depth of one’s being to identification of one’s self with the self of the universe.”
I began to read this chapter with trepidation, wondering how a Catholic Bishop from India would treat evangelization in the framework of liberation and development. My context is based on churches today in the US, in my own neighborhood which go to India to “graciously save people out of Hinduism,” (Kensington Community Church: http://www.kensingtonchurch.org/global/missiontripsdetail.php?id=9). My knowledge of Christian evangelization is colored by acquaintance with missionaries who have little understanding of the culture and spirituality that are inherent in the region. The theological presentation of the issues by the author filled my heart with hope that there are people who understand that the spreading of God’s love must be done consider the true liberation of the oppressed and suffering masses. I fully understood and appreciated how he explained evangelization as the way to “unleash the power that is in the oppressed masses to change their situation and to convert the oppressors themselves by a process of love” and the respect he holds for the ancient religions of the region. However, I didn’t feel that this fully addressed how the relationship between dialogue and evangelization is “and/or” and especially didn’t feel that the message has reached the churches in India, where the reality is that the tensions and violence between the Hindu and Christian communities have increased from what they were decades earlier, and the gap between the oppressors and oppressed seems even worse.