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Ex-Anglicans are being Choked and Starved within the 'borderless' Church of South India

Ex-Anglicans are being Choked and Starved within the 'borderless' Church of South India

PHOTO: St. George's Church Madurai, India.

This story updates the ongoing corruption in the Church of South India

By the Rev. Dr. Joseph G Muthuraj,
Nov. 26, 2017

'Borderless Church' is a style expression that the fashion leaders of the Church of South India propagate these days. This is hypocrisy, as their actions are as remote as the distance between the south and north poles.

Recently, the Moderator broke the bond of the united church by splitting the CSI Synod into regional areas and had the first unconstitutional meeting (to decide for the entire church) in his own region of Kerala, gathering only those who can speak the language he speaks.

This is an unlawful activity, fit to be called institutional racism as it makes a mockery of the united character of the CSI. Ecumenism does not work in India at the level of uniting societies and cultures, transcending fences and borders. It was acceptable to have overcome the ecclesiastical divisions imported from the West by saying that the denominational divisions were not ours.

However, the CSI is unable to redeem itself from the local sins of regionalism and casteism that are often used for achieving and sustaining positions of power and control in the church. Because these sins are attached deeply to the very fabric of Indian society, no courage is shown to fight against them let alone being critical of them. Hence a bystander mentality has begun to take hold of the members of the CSI.

The General Secretary of the Church of South India, Rev. R. Sadananda who is an agent to advocate the gospel of 'borderlessness' (as if it is his discovery!) reflects on a firmly circumscribed 'bordered-church' when he actually attempts to speak of a 'borderless' church. In his write-up entitled 'Towards a Borderless Church' (CSI Life, September 2017, pp. 3-5) he is stressing and asserting the borders that serve as identity markers one time too many, rather than working out in moral and administrative terms the meaning and importance of borderlessness.

He is captive within the borders socially and psychologically, and is unable to come out of them to speak boldly of the concrete existence of the borderless church. Defending the borders, he writes, 'A borderless Church calls us to look intently at our borders. Normally, borders are identity markers. Borders do inform us about what we are and what we are becoming'. (p.3) He shows no sense of shame in strengthening and protecting the divisive borders, and he thinks that he is seeking to walk towards a future borderless Church, and hence borderlessness comes in benediction form at the end of his article.

He says, 'May she (the Church) be educated, empowered and emboldened to share, cross and redraw borders in order to set the energy of the margins, the crucified people, free.' (p. 5). For Sadananda, a NT teacher, to establish a 'borderless church' is thus to affirm and redraw borders not that the borders should be erased and in many cases dismantled. 2 This extreme ecclesiastical double-talk is seen in this statement of the General Secretary of the CSI when he states, 'As a sign and sacrament of the reign of God, the Church has distinctive, discernible identity markers and borders, yet calling and exhorting people to the borderless reign of God.' (p. 5) The borders are never removed or submerged but may be crossed from time to time to return safely to each one's borders. He exclaims, 'Borders do exist ...At times we share borders, we cross borders, we merge borders, we redraw borders and we dream of borderlessness. Thus, we live with borders, yet borderless' (p.3). Thus, a borderless church is a mere pipe dream. And it is only a theme for group discussion and a public rhetoric!

The leaders of the CSI Synod hierarchy do not address the problems of hatred and division within the CSI, and they are content with writing in flowery language without examining their hard-core ecclesiastical decisions and actions that are against justice, unity and truth. Naturally, their actions and inactions promote and retain borders of all kinds to disrupt and defame the church.

Here is an example: The Problem Seeking for a Solution The former Anglicans in question are the three major churches in a city called Madurai in Tamil Nadu state, South India. Madurai is considered as a city representative of typical Tamil culture and language, and the Tamil language is one of the classical languages of India. The city which is 2,500-years old has Hindus as the majority population.

At the centre of the city stands a temple for the goddess of Meenakshi which was built during the 16th century. When I was a student at Durham and also an honorary Assistant Priest in the Durham diocese (1991-1995), my friends used to tell me that I should appreciate the beautiful and the mammoth cathedral there which has a central tower as high as 66m. I used to tell them that I am overwhelmed by emotions to see and worship at the Cathedral because I am used to viewing a Hindu temple with 14 towers with the tallest of them rising over 52m. One can easily compare Madurai Meenakshi temple to the Temple of Diana in Ephesus in Acts 19.

When the British took over the city in 1801, they financially supported the festivals of the Meenakshi temple as a mark of colonial benevolence. The three churches living and witnessing in this city are: St. George's church, founded in 1885 by the officers of the British Government in India and the oldest church among the three. It has at present 1,600 communicant members and has 14 small congregations attached to it. This main church has sent so far 133 missionaries all over India and those missionaries are being supported by contributions from the people of this big church.

The second church is called Christ Church, established in 1930, which has about 1,000 communicant members including two small churches; this church supports 90 Indian missionaries. The third is All Saints' Church with about 900 communicant members. The church has appointed 114 missionaries to 3 proclaim the gospel in the city and in the villages around.

All three churches have built a few educational institutions in the city and the total membership has risen to 10,000. The important point to note is that the members of these churches were Christians who migrated from the adjacent Tirunelveli diocese, where the SPG and the CMS worked nearly for two centuries. These migrant Christians settled in Madurai several generations ago on account of education, business and other occupations. They were deeply entrenched in Anglican faith and worship. When the Church of South India was formed in 27 September 1947 and when a new diocese called Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad was founded on the same date they showed reluctance to join the united Church. The diocese was a mission station for the American Congregationalists for over hundred years, and St. George's and Christ Church found themselves living within the geographical area of the said diocese.

The three churches wanted to follow the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and maintain most of the Anglican customs taught by the western missionaries in Tirunelveli diocese. The relationship between these churches and the Madurai-Ramnad diocese turned so sour that suspicion and hatred developed between them. Several debates and negotiations did not yield success in solving the problem and bringing peace and harmony between them.

We pick up the events from the beginning of this century. The Minutes of the Executive Committee of the Madurai-Ramnad Diocese dated 28 July 2001 records a joint agreement reached between the diocese and the three churches. On the basis of this agreement, the diocese accepted them back into the fold after those churches had separated themselves for a few years functioning independently under the name of Anglican churches in Southern Asia, Madurai.

The Minutes say:

1) The Bishop of the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad, CSI shall be the spiritual head of the St. George's Church, its branch churches, Christ Church, and All Saints' Church, Madurai and all the said churches will be under the spiritual care of the Bishop, the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad.

2) The above-mentioned churches are allowed to follow the Anglican mode of worship and use the Anglican liturgy in their services and the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad will not interfere in any way at any time in their mode of worship.

3) The above-mentioned churches are allowed to continue to enjoy full autonomy and independence in their administration and management of their finance. However, situations changed with the appointment of new bishops and Moderators, and the contract was not respected and was broken. After several unhappy incidents,

4) The Executive Committee of the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad held on 14 November 2015 decided on its own as follows: 'It was clarified to the members that the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad had made many attempts to unite All Saints' Church, Ilanthope Church (i.e. Christ Church) St. George's Church and their branch churches into the fold of the Church of South India, but all the attempts were dragged on by the above-mentioned churches. These churches also refused to accept the Constitution of the Church of South India and the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad, whereas they use the banner and emblem of the Church of South India."

It was further stated, 'The above Church members vehemently criticise and pass fierce defamatory comments against the Episcopal Head of the Diocese of MaduraiRamnad, which is highly condemnable. The decisions therefore were: I) The Executive Committee of the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad after a detailed discussion and deliberation unanimously resolved to record that the possibility of amalgamation and reunion of Christ Church, All Saints' Church, St. George's Church and their branch churches into the fold of the Church of South India and the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad is FUTILE. II)

Further, as Christ Church, All Saints Church, St. George's Church and their branch Churches function independently, it was unanimously resolved that the congregations of the above-said Churches CANNOT AVAIL ANY PRIVILEGES with the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad and Church of South India and to set aside all the earlier resolutions with regard to the reunion of All Saints' Church, Christ Church, St. George's Church and their branch churches with the Church of South India and the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad. III) Resolved unanimously NOT TO PUBLISH BANNS FOR MARRIAGE with those who hold membership in these Churches.' (This means that young people from the three churches cannot have official marriages announced and conducted in the CSI churches.)

The same hostile spirit was at work in the Executive Committee of the diocese held on 8 December 2016 in which the following decisions were made:

i) 'Resolved to request the Moderator CSI to take necessary steps for not publishing Banns for marriage for the members of the St. George's and its branch churches in any of the dioceses of the CSI.'
ii) 'Resolved to take legal action to acquire the properties being used by St. George's Church.' 5 After this meeting, the bishop of Madurai-Ramnad a) refused to confirm the candidates belonging to these churches for Holy Communion, b) refused to ordain priestly candidates from those churches. c) refused to bury the dead, and d) denied employment to the educated young members of the three churches. The CSI synod has remained a spectator all these 70 years, and is watching from the distance as the Madurai-Ramnad diocese unfairly disadvantages a group which wants to maintain its individuality and a certain level of independence by following sincerely what was inherited by them.

Moral laws are disregarded in treating these ex-Anglicans equally and fairly. Sympathy and compassion are withheld, and pastoral care is officially denied. The local bishop advised by his committee refuses to visit them by putting blame on them.

The diocese has acted ultra vires in banishing the three dynamic churches from the Church of South India. There is envy and resentment between individuals from both sides which extend to their church tradition and the community-culture in which those three church members are embedded.

There is, therefore, a fervent appeal coming from the ten thousand members of the three churches of ex-Anglicans in Madurai that the Church union in south India is a failure as far as they are concerned. They would like to follow Anglican beliefs and practices with freedom and good conscience. They are choked and starved by the bishops and the other administrators of the diocese of Madurai-Ramnad. The 'borderless' church is an 'orderless' church as an Executive Committee of a diocese has taken decisions ultra vires to alienate thousands of Christians from orbit of pastoral care and Christian fellowship. Yet the CSI Synod is drumming up for a borderless church. It is the members' wish to be adopted by an Anglican diocese/Province either near or far so that they can continue to live as Anglican Christians committed to good Christian faith and missionary involvement.

They request the Anglican Communion not to turn a deaf ear by bureaucratically saying, 'It is your internal problem. We have nothing to do with it'. The three churches welcome bishops and visitors from Anglican Churches from any part of the world to come and talk to them and discuss the problem further in finding a solution. They are just eager to join the Anglican fellowship if it is offered anywhere from the world.

This can be done through prayer and proper negotiations so that entering into the full membership of an Anglican diocese will be as smooth as possible. Plurality of culture, race and nationality are the hallmarks of membership in many Anglican provinces around the world.

The diocese of Singapore has Deaneries in other countries of Asia such as Cambodia, Nepal, Indonesia and Laos, and they are all part of the Province of the South-East Asia which includes another country Malaysia. The diocese of Europe, geographically the largest diocese in the Anglican 6 Communion has dioceses covering almost all countries in Europe including the Archdeaconry of Gibraltar and its jurisdiction extending until the territory of the former Soviet Union. The Province of the Indian Ocean covers the islands of Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles.

I do not need to stress the plurality of different national units in the Anglican province of the South Pacific. The Church of Ceylon is the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka which is an extra-provincial diocese of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Such a support and recognition are extended to this church despite its existence close to the Church of South India, also established in the country. Why cannot the three churches in Madurai, who do not like to be called 'ex-Anglicans' and who are proud to consider themselves still to be 'Anglicans', find Christian care, spiritual nurture and pastoral leadership from the Anglican dioceses/provinces?

They do not expect financial support or charitable help as they are missionary-sending churches themselves and do not wish to be financially dependent on others. The church doors are always open. The members of the three churches may be contacted through Dr. David Virtue who is kind enough to publish this appeal.

The Rev. Dr. Joseph G Muthuraj is Professor of New Testament at United Theological College in Bangalore, India

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