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"It is quite nice to love bishops. Bishops like it. Actually, it makes the church grow better"- Archbishop Welby tells CSI and CNI Church leaders

"It is quite nice to love bishops. Bishops like it. Actually, it makes the church grow better"- Archbishop Welby tells CSI and CNI Church leaders
Archbishop Welby with the Moderator of the Church of South India - PHOTO

By Rev. Dr. Joseph Muthuraj
Special to Virtueonline
September 13, 2019

The recent tour of Archbishop Welby has come to a close, and I am still struggling to describe the entire visit under a single topic or emotion. The visit was a matter of joy, anger, intense anger, frustration, affection, and suspicion for both Indians and Indian Christians. I changed the topic four times before deciding on the one above as these touches on the key issue as far the Church in South India (CSI) is concerned.

Archbishop's Historic Apology

We observed earlier that expectations of what the Archbishop might say or do are being swapped out for an anti-climax, as the visit to India was showing signs of moving towards a dull or disappointing ending or result. There were some perceptible changes as days went by. Welby was moving away from the jargon of climate change: but still he was seen as superfluous in addressing matters relating to the CSI and the Anglican Communion. Yet there are a number of observations to make.

At the fag-end of his 10-day long trip, the Archbishop's apology over the tragic massacre of hundreds of innocent Indians committed by the British army on 13 April 1919 stunned the Indians.

The kin of those who lost their family members welcome it as a courageous act by a religious leader when Government authorities have fallen short of apologising. I am sure this gesture from the Archbishop, as he prostrated himself on the floor, is a sign of reverence and submission in the eastern custom of asking for forgiveness and it will be remembered for a long time. It will touch even Hindu Nationalist hearts who suspect this humble act from a Christian religious leader, will be viewed as an effort to convert Indians to Christianity.

Apart from his statement of apology, he registered his views in the Visitors' book. The Archbishop wrote, "It is deeply humbling and provokes feelings of profound shame for me as a British Christian...' I do not think it is easy for the erstwhile colonial kingdom subjects to say what the Archbishop has said: "I recognise the sins of my British colonial history, the ideology that too often subjugated and dehumanised other races and cultures." He further tweeted, "The souls of those killed, injured and bereaved cry out to us about the misuse of power". It is hoped that it is not just a momentary upsurge of guilt translated into a statement. If each word is genuine expression (I hope it is), it should then bring more moral energy to the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the Anglican Communion faces internal divisions and the challenges of the modern age.

Archbishop Uses Self-deprecatory humour to overcome opposition

In my opinion, the major factor that impelled Welby to say more than what he had said in April 2019 on Jallianwala Bagh murder is the ten-day experience of inculturation visiting churches and institutions in different parts of India. He and his wife were given ceremonial welcomes and gala receptions everywhere they went about and spoke. They underwent an experience which was more than a mere cultural immersion that happens during any travel. It was an occasion for understanding each other far more closely. If it were so, the cross-cultural experience should slowly change into partnership and friendship in the social and ecclesiastical realms of life though hardness of heart and feelings of supremacy and revenge may continue to exist in some quarters.

On the eve of Welby's visit, there were strong opposing voices within the CSI unlike during his previous visit. "The Archbishop of Canterbury has no relevance for faithful in the state," wrote Valson Thambu, a former Principal of St. Stephen's College, New Delhi founded by the Anglicans. Another layperson said that 'this Church (Anglican) is a remnant of the British colonial empire, which has no relevance as far as the Church of South India is concerned,"

In a similar vein, Dr. Israel Selvanayagam, a presbyter ordained by the CSI who is now ministering in the Methodist church in England, was quite vociferously arguing in his write-up in Church Times, 'It is time to bury once and for all any possible hint of Anglicanisation, whether by stealth or design,.... This is not the time for any creeping recolonization.'

Being aware of this negative trend, Welby resorted to what he knew best, namely using self-deprecatory humour in his sermons by humbling his office of Archbishop of Canterbury and making fun of his mitre. I found this definition for self-deprecatory humour in a Quizlet, 'Make a joke or tell an embarrassing story about yourself, don't have to worry about offending anyone.' To cite an example, Welby said in his sermon at St. Mark's Cathedral, "It is that none of us are more important than anyone else. We can be archbishop, wander around the world with all kinds of special attention and clothes and a funny hat. (Laughs) You may laugh, you may well laugh, you don't laugh as my wife first laughed when she saw me put it on. She said I looked like a self-propelled tulip. What was worse was she was right. You have to be about 6 foot 3 to wear a mitre and look really sensible." (more laughs)

Archbishop's use of self-deprecatory humour throughout his trip helped him to connect with his audience and spark laughter. It helped to ease the conflict and disagreements and as a result the rate of appreciation for him soared high. But audience should realise that it is a rhetorical device being used to good effect!

It is time to ask the question 'How united is the united church?'

The Press release from the CSI Synod on 30 August 2019 was influenced by anti-Anglican remarks and it minimized the importance of CSI's relationship with Anglicanism by pointing out that the CSI is holding memberships with other bodies such as the World Methodist Council and World Communion of Reformed Churches. Historical connections with Anglicanism were relativized by the CSI hierarchy.

The CSI has to tell the world what it means to be 'united and uniting church'. Is it 'united' and 'uniting' at the same time? There is a funny view about 'organic unity' means that one constituent tradition will be the watchdog of other traditions. One will be the funeral director or mortician of the other without realising that it is a type of unity in which one embraces the other; one rejoices over the other. It is not a trade union type of confederation where one is always keen and watchful to claim and demand an equal percentage of worth and recognition in a united state of the church. It will be quite impossible to fight for an equal footing on every time and occasion among the four constituent traditions as they all differ in their origin, history, mission and other kinds of inputs they brought to the unified church in South India. The world should not see the CSI only as an organisationally united church of four denominations but each one thinking and operating separately by pulling and pushing others. It would then mean that unity has not touched the mind and the social behaviour of the CSI Christians.

The old denominational heritages in some dioceses are either forgotten or devalued and in others denominational divisions are more pronounced than before. There is no concept of united ecclesiology worked out in the past 70 years to be the foundation and the backbone of the CSI. This reality characterises the general life-situation of the CSI.

Welby defends a tainted and discredited Episcopates of the CSI

A tainted and discredited episcopacy at the empirical level is the major reason for this derailment. Did the Archbishop realise this? Yes, he did, but in spite of it he spoke in support of the bishops at St. Paul's Cathedral, Calcutta. He read Ezekiel Ch. 3: 16-21 in which God used the figure of the 'watchman' to describe Ezekiel's responsibility as a priest and a prophet. He, whom Welby called 'obscure and awkward person', fulfilled his role by faithfully proclaiming God's word and bringing God's warning to the shepherds.

According to the commentator John Trapp (1601-1669), a seventeenth century Anglican Bible commentator whose commentary was quoted frequently by CH Spurgeon and Ruth Graham, the wife of Dr. Billy Graham is read even today with great interest. He wrote, "A watchman is an overseer, not a byseer; a watcher, not a sleeper.' He further comments, 'Herodotus telleth of one Euenius, a city shepherd, who for sleeping and allowed the wolf to enter the fold and kill sixty sheep, had his eyes pulled out. God threateneth the like punishment upon sleepy watchmen, idol shepherds.'

In his sermon, Welby created a space to defend the corrupt bishops of the CSI. He distinguished between power and authority. He interpreted that power should not be misused but authority should be respected. This handling of text opened up the way for him to say "It is quite nice to love bishops. Bishops like it. Actually it makes the church grow better" To support this, he chose to refer to similar acknowledgement made by Nicky Gumbel one the starters of Alpha course who received much favours and help from the bishops for his project.

There are more First Investigation Reports (FIRs) registered against the CSI bishops with the Police on charges of cheating, forgery, illegal sale of church properties and sexual misconduct. Several criminal cases have been filed against at least a dozen bishops, past and present, including the former Moderator Dyvasirvadam who spent 40 days in prison under a judicial custody early this year. Dyvasirvadam is using tactics to delay the filing of charge-sheet against him which is full of sins of commission and omission. The proceedings of the legal cases indicate that there are bishops who are en route to go to jail. Some are rushing to get anticipatory bail from the court. Love them? Will the church grow with these type of shepherds? The Church needs Nehemiah and Ezekiel...? No defence from the Archbishop of Canterbury can save them.

We tend not to take seriously corruption committed by those persons in power and authority. An article has it: "White collar criminals are physically distant from their victims. Many times, such victims are shapeless and amorphous. Hence the human instinct of "visceral guilt" which guards against causing harm to others never kicks in. Nonetheless, the damage white collar criminals cause to the society can be massive. Such perpetrators are smart, in the position of power, and know how to avoid getting caught. They are driven by greed, invincibility and a desire to win at all costs." The corruption and fraud committed by the bishops are similar to the misuse of power by General Dyer and his troop.

Welby could not appreciate and sympathise with the efforts of some of the CSI members who toil to put the house in order by identifying the bishops given to corruption, fraud and other illegal activities and obtain suitable punishment for them by appealing to the Judiciaries. Loving and paying respect to the corrupt bishops will not make the churches grow. The CSI should always hold this position.

Archbishop invites the people of the CSI to be fellow-pilgrims

Welby began his sermon in Medak Cathedral. "I have never seen a welcome like that. My fellow bishops in England will be very jealous indeed. And I will make sure I remind them regularly." He repeated; "I need to go back to England to restore hope for the church and to say we must learn better to journey together. I want to thank you for what you are teaching me on my pilgrimage." Should we take him seriously with these remarks and promises?

As Pilgrims together, this place (Medak Cathedral) which is a sign of holiness and a summoning of the presence of Christ I come as a pilgrim, said Welby. The Medak Cathedral in Gothic Revival style was originally built by Charles Walker Posnett of British Wesleyan Methodists, it was consecrated on 25 December 1924. The Medak diocese is geographically the single largest diocese in Asia.

At this point, Welby spoke only about his trip as a pilgrimage to India and now he invites the CSI Christians to be co-pilgrims - to journey together. He then invites them to come on a pilgrimage to Canterbury which is one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in Europe where people began to come as pilgrims soon after the murder of St. Thomas of Canterbury. He mentioned The Canterbury Tales, by the 14th century author Geoffrey Chaucer.

Anglicans must shed the misconceptions about the East: Allowing Leaders to Emerge from Global South

Adrian Hilton of Archbishop Cranmer blog wrote "He (Welby) is presently touring Sri Lanka and India, helping to feed the starving, house the homeless, heal the sick,..."The Anglicans in Global North construe the East as extremely different and inferior and therefore in need of Western intervention and rescue. It often involves seeing the eastern culture, in an Orientalist manner, as exotic, backward, strange, uncivilized, and at times dangerous. Such views have to change and it is no use saying that the future of Christianity rests with the Global South when the leadership of Global Christianity is still firmly in the hands of leaders from the Global North. The leaders of the Global South are often humiliated and put down with criticism that southerners are after power and they have yet to learn. Northern leaders look for Southerners who can carry out the plans and agendas of the West without any murmur or criticism. Hilton praises Welby stating that the Archbishop can speak to the conscience of every nation he visits. The leaders from the East are capable of speaking to the conscience of the nations in the West if the West is prepared to listen.

If Archbishop Welby can guide the Anglican Communion utilizing the gifts possessed by the churches in the East, there will be a revival and revolution in the Anglican Communion. Let us go beyond mere expression of appreciations for the East! Can it be realised in the institutional and leadership structure of the Anglican Communion?

Learning and Appropriating 300 years of Anglican History in India

As a first step, there is a need to know about the history of Anglicanism in India. The Archbishop emphasised once again that the CSI and the CNI are the successors of Anglicanism in the East while he also recognised respectfully the roots of other heritages that are part of the united churches. But at no point, did he show evidence of having read the history of the relationship between India and Anglicanism. He was alluding to the history of the Church of England making reference to Lollards, Geffrey Chaucer, St. Thomas of Canterbury, St, Benedict, Nicky Gumbel, Canterbury Cathedral etc., but he used no example from the three hundred years of the different phases of Anglicanism's interaction with India. Although Anglican history in India ran parallel to the British colonial history and at times intertwined with it, still Anglican history in India is a separate stream of knowledge and experience. It is expected that the archbishop has good knowledge about the history of Church Unity in the first part of the Twentieth Century with particular reference to the formation of the CSI and the CNI.

Let us engage in a historian's task. D. D. Kosambi (1907-1966), an Indian Mathematician (who was a friend of the child prodigy Norbert Wiener to whom Harvard awarded a PhD when he was 18 years old) observes, 'History not used is dead. So use it to keep it alive. It has left impact on us whether we like or not.' He adds, 'The function of history is to promote a profounder understanding of both the past and present through the interrelation between them.' A historian is caught up in this challenging, risky and laborious task. A historian has to move along with history like in a procession to attain new vistas and new visions for the present.'

In India, we are optimistic about the future of Evangelicalism at the global stage. We need proper leaders both in the North and in the South who can unify the diverse forms of evangelicalism to make it into a global force.

Virtueonline's Stupendous Job

I want to thank Virtueonline for giving importance to the Archbishop's visit to India by publishing different views and assessments of the trip from various authors when other blogs online gave little or no attention to it. The archbishop himself said in one of his sermons, 'What am I doing that is reaching out to those who are critical of me in tweeter etc. Not angrily and neither ignoring them.' One could notice changes in his emphasis and approach as he went on to fulfil his commitments in India. This gives us a mild clue that he was either reading or being informed by what was published on VOL. VOL was hot on his heels!

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Muthuraj is former Professor of New Testament at United Theological College in Bangalore, India, He has been one of the strongest voices in the global theological communion appealing for a renewal of Episcopacy to bring an end to the corruption in the Church of South India. He is VOL's India correspondent

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