12th Assembly 2009

Great challenges in India

Following a surge in Christian belief in India, religious fundamentalists are now bearing down on Christians.

That is according to the Most Rev. Dr J. W. Gladstone, Moderator of the Church of South India, Bishop of the Diocese of South Kerala.

The Church of South India, with 22 dioceses and a population of four million, is a significant presence in southern India but the growth of Christianity has led to a backlash.

july 18_am_overseas visitors gladstone_ma 10“Christianity was in India from the first century, as we understand from the tradition of St Thomas,” said Dr Gladstone, interviewed while attending the 12th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Sydney.

“We have a continued understanding of Christianity at least from the fourth century on. Christianity is not a foreign religion in India but it’s a minority one.”

“After the missionary movements, the Church expanded in India,” Dr Gladstone said. “Now this expansion is being questioned, and objected to, by the fundamentalists. The Constitution of India guarantees religion freedom but it is being challenged.”

While Hindu Dalits get special privileges in relation to education institutions and employment opportunities, those privileges are denied to Christian Dalits.

“We are fighting against this injustice and are looking forward to the day justice is given to Christian Dalits,” he said.

Dr Gladstone identified the strengthening of ecumenical relationships as another challenge. “We are looking forward to wider unity. Negotiations are fruitful.”

Describing the Uniting Church as “good partners”, Dr Gladstone said the Church of South India was seeking new ways to “work together and pray together”.

The first of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals — the elimination of poverty — was the priority, he said.

“We look forward to the day when nobody is starving or in need of shelter. The church is one of the ingredients for national progress.”

Dr Gladstone has not previously attended a Uniting Church Assembly. “The Church of South India has looked forward to my coming here to deepen our participation with one another in the days to come.”