Friday, July 23, 2021

Didactic times

The church is a power construct made up of a quaint blend of political, economic, social, cultural, patriarchal and paternalistic forces and factors ~ much like the spiritual formations of all institutionalized religions. In Nagaland, the Nagaland Baptist Churches Council (NBCC) is considered as the parent body of all Baptists Churches but what is the scope of its “parenthood”? From the outside, it appears as a union or association of all Baptists Churches of the various tribes and communities here, which are autonomous. Therefore, the NBCC’s power of these autonomous Baptist Churches are quite indeterminate ~ in the sense it doesn’t seem to dictate or intervene in the management of these autonomous Churches or have a say in their financial and other organizational activities. Possibly, the NBCC may also be funded by these Churches ~ we really don’t know how the deal works amongst the NBCC and the various autonomous Baptist Churches. Then there is the Churches of Baptist Churches of North East India (CBCNEI) of which the NBCC and other Northeastern States’ Baptist Church Councils are members ~ which should mean all Baptists churches of this region through the State Baptist Churches Council. The whole thing seems very institutionalized and unionized. Now, let us consider the recent criticism of the Church regarding it’s invisibility in Nagaland’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the alleged absence of Pastors and Reverends at cemeteries to perform the last rites of those who passed on due to COVID-19 ~ much publicized by Dimapur’s Nodal Officer for COVID related activities. Now, who do we blame ~ the NBCC or the individual autonomous tribal and community churches and their branches in every town, every village, every colony and every neighbourhood, or the aforesaid Officer for having blown out of proportion something that our Government should have thought of and worked out when it decided to impose a lockdown? In our May 19, 2021 issue, the report: Church censuring: The other side of the story, Church representatives explained the dilemmas of Pastors and Reverends under these strange situations in these tragic times. Indubitably, District Task Forces have taken serious note of that and have already worked out the modalities for consecrated burials. The matter should now be laid to rest. However, there is also another criticism directed at Churches ~ besides being perceived as insensitive to societal adversities and tribulations, these criticism also spells parsimoniousness. These perceptions owe their origins to several factors ~ historical, social, economic, cultural, political and psychological. Ultimately, it boils down to the church’s own and the laity’s perceptions of the church and expectations thereof. Biblical descriptions of the church and the church on earth are not the same but the laity’s concept and expectations of the church on earth is that of the Biblical descriptions. The chasm between the spiritual and the temporal creates disillusionment hence criticism. Moreover, the church, having institutionalized itself in such iron-clad rules and regulations and immured itself in racial and other biases and prejudices, remained static and seems unable, perhaps unwilling, to understand a laity vastly different from their forebears of even 50 years ago, not to mention over almost 150 years ago, hence appropriately respond to the needs of the times ~ and it’s not just COVID-19. For almost one and a half centuries, the Church in Nagaland has been the principal nucleus of temporal power ~ sitting on a spiritual throne wearing a robe of opacity. It has come to believe that it is untouchable and above criticism. It has also failed to differentiate faith and church attendance. So discontent and the sense of shame is but natural when the laity has seen the difference between faith and church attendance, especially in these COVID times when the church has made itself extraneous to the service of God and humanity. Nobody can fail to ignore the fact that since last year, it was non-Christian communities who led in feeding the hungry, irrespective of race and religion. That the church became a follower in the cruelest months of the lockdown in 2020 is hard for anyone to miss. So, it took just a tiny spark of a bureaucrat’s craving for publicity to light the fire of Church censuring. The important question Nagaland’s Church needs to ask itself is: what’s the lesson here? How can it make itself relevant in these unprecedented times by de-constructing and re-humanizing itself? Hard times are didactic. But let’s take heart ~ His Grace is sufficient unto us.