WCC explores Christian self-understanding in context of Hindu religion

With the rise of religious fundamentalism
and religious extremism in the world, as well as recently emerging tensions in
India over the issues of conversions, a genuine need exists to review
Christian-Hindu relationships afresh, according to the participants of a
consultation organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) on Christian
self-understanding in the context of Hindu religion.

The consultation took place at the Bossey
Ecumenical Institute in Switzerland from 12 to 15 October, with thirty
participants of diverse Christian backgrounds from India, Nepal, Bangladesh,
Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia, where Christians live with Hindus in close
proximity.

The discussions focused on “Christian
self-understanding in relation to Hindu religion” emphasizing dialogue of life
and action. Mapping these changes, as well as exploring historical contexts was
a focus of the consultation.

Recalling the challenges of churches, the
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in his opening address urged
churches to “make creative responses to religious plurality, to foster harmonious
relations between religious traditions, and to explore in greater depth the
significance of religious plurality to Christian theology, practice and
self-understanding”.

The consultation emphasized the importance
of recognizing, affirming and enhancing the ongoing “dialogue of life” which
had been prevalent and continues to be the bedrock of Hindu-Christian relations
over the centuries.

The participants also affirmed the need for
“dialogue of action”, where the adherents of Hindu and Christian religions join
forces in their struggle for justice, peace, human dignity and issues of common
concern to the community.

Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of
the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, in a presentation
on “Hindu nationalism and politicization of religion” stated that “proponents
of Hindutva ideology represent only a small sector within the Hindu
community. However, the increasing trend of politicization of religion becomes
a hindrance to the spirit of nurturing the long tradition of religious
tolerance and communal harmony in India”.

While acknowledging “the rich traditions of
spirituality and tolerance of Hindu religion” the participants agreed that
“they do not equate Hindutva ideology with that of the Hindu religion”.

The consultation also called for alliances
across the religious and secular divides in search for greater justice for all,
especially in a context that Hindu social structure and organization on the
basis of caste hierarchy marginalize a significant segment of the population as
“outcastes”.

A communiqué adopted at the end of the
consultation says, “A genuine encounter with the spiritual dimensions of
Hinduism can enlighten and enrich Christian experience and theology.  In
this regard, recovering the spiritual dimensions and the interiority of
Christian life as a community of Jesus, and a renewed emphasis on the Reign of
God, were seen as important to the life of the church in the Hindu context”.

The WCC has been engaged in exploring
Christian self-understanding amid religiously plural world. This includes
strengthening interreligious trust and respect through dialogue efforts with
other faiths.  The consultation was one of such efforts.