REVISITING NATION BUILDING
The contribution of the church and the Christian community (and I use the terms interchangeably) to Indian nation building is not in dispute. Christians have long been known to run excellent institutions in the areas of education and health care, and though institutions like CMC Vellore and St Stephen’s College are renowned, there are many such institutions spread throughout the country and generations of Indians have benefitted from them. However, like everything else, the notion of where the most key contribution to nation building lies needs revisiting from time to time.
Due to the spiritual-secular fracture in our thinking and the de jure as well as the de facto teaching in our Bible studies and sermons that some professions are ‘nobler’ than others, a significant number of believing Christians end up training to be Bible teachers, evangelists and such (full time workers as we call them!), and then doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers (the so-called serving professions). It is typically left to the secularised Christian who is not brought up in Bible studies to join the Armed Forces, become a lawyer, judge or film actor or many of the other myriad professions. Of course, doctors, nurses, teachers, Bible teachers and all others will always be needed. A nation also needs economists, historians, lawyers, judges and media professionals among others to thrive; Christian students should actively consider entering these professions.
A Good Citizen
Let us leave vocations and professions and look at another aspect. The first step in nation building is to be a good citizen; although that itself needs a critique, let us look at one simple thing. The country currently suffers from an acute lack of governance, and one of the simple ways in which we can help is to simply go and vote for a candidate who appears honest and competent at election time. But I don’t know how many in our own constituency have their names on the electoral rolls. In the last week of July, the electoral rolls for Delhi were being revised and I asked how many had availed of it. None of the people I asked was aware of this and even after being told, no one I know availed of the opportunity.
The right wing Hindu parties often look back to a golden Vedic era that they want to restore as their dream –no English being used, etc. Bereft of a future-looking vision, we Christians too look backwards and talk of Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah and their glorious era under various kings and emperors of other faiths. While these are good examples, and we ought to attempt to get to those positions if we can, not everybody will.
But there is a role for all of us though. In recent years, ‘nation building’ has been transformed from a concern of diplomats into an issue of global importance. Millions have watched the efforts of America, Britain and the United Nations to rebuild Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other struggling countries. While it is shocking to see the devastation and suffering caused by war, it has also been sobering to witness the difficulties, frustrations and intrigues that have accompanied these human-driven attempts to intervene and rebuild nations where millions have been abused and exploited.
The Bible reveals much more than a sweet promise that ‘Jesus loves you.’ Much of Scripture describes God's dealings with the children of Israel—the descendants of Abraham—and how God moulded them into a nation, He called His ‘special people’ (Deut.26:18). This process of nation building is recorded as history in the Bible. When God began to work with Abraham, God revealed His overall intent and purpose,“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing (to the world)… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen.12:2–3). This was not an account of some local deity consoling an insignificant tribal group in an arid and insignificant corner of the world. The God of the universe was initiating a process of nation building that was to have global implications with lasting significance!
However, when we look at the present Christian responses in the country, we sense a real problem. I suspect that many think that if they can only win the battle in the ballot box, they will be able to save the nation from our present mess! Even if this is the answer and proper course of action for the moment, nevertheless, it is short-term at best. It is naďve to think that there is all that is to it, if we are truly concerned about our nation’s future.
Today we are faced with an extremely complex national situation, as well as a deeply divided nation. Christians need to avoid merely knee-jerk reactions and think hard about how we respond. Our actions must be based on both carefully thought-out short-term actions and long-term strategies that will truly enhance nation-building in India which we need to embrace willingly, without counting our numerical strength or political clout. The question is – will we?