“The root cause of the the flood and water-logging in Patna is not the rains but corruption,” reasoned Vishal Mangalwadi, a noted Indian-American public speaker. Referring to the growing politician- public servant- builder nexus that has grown in the country since Independence, he pointed out that this diminishing of honesty is responsible for the growing sense of hopelessness.
He was delivering a lecture to a gathering of international students, Church leaders, and academicians from various denominations at the Lodipur Baptist Church in Patna.
Speaking on the topic “The struggles and the hope for the Indian Church in the present times”, the theologian and writer, whose own non-profit organisation was burnt down in the aftermath of the Sikh riots of 1984 , said that the struggles of the Church in India is not limited to the Church, but to the whole nation.
The economic crisis in India today is also largely because of political favouritism, crony capitalism, and yes, bank managers with weak wills who can’t stand up to their masters, and that’s how the hard earned money of the common man goes into the pockets of a coterie of industrialists who don’t pay it back, he inferred.
An autocratic regime doesn’t need to change the constitution, all it needs is to have opposition members with records of corruption, so they can be intimidated.
When leaders of the opposition have skeletons in their closet, they can be threatened into silence. A Chief justice can be intimidated if somewhere along the line he has been a party to corruption. The judicial system is destroyed by corruption. The challenge before the nation is that corruption and greed is destroying the economy, the political constitution and system, the judicial system.
Authorities can intimidate theologians and bishops as well, if they have indulged in corruption, especially if they are from churches which hold a lot of colonial real estate. Church leaders who have indulged in corruption have no moral authority to stand up against evil. Actually many church leaders are compromising with evil in the fear of losing their FCRAs, he said.
Compromising with sin has not only ruined the economic, political, and judicial system of the country, it has ruined so much of Christianity.
Basically, the speaker made a strong call for renewed commitment on the part of Christians who should be aware of their priesthood, no matter what their secular professions are.
He harked back to the philosophy and theology of the Protestant work ethic that built capitalism, and postulated that the secularization of that ethic was the root cause of the exploitative form that world markets have today. He didn’t mince words and pointed to the reality that the Church in India will face political pressures and persecution, and stressed on the Biblical image of the Good Shepherd, who doesn’t run away, and faces the wolves, in order to protect the sheep.
He is no stranger to government opposition, a brief search on the internet reveals. In the 1976, in his village in Chattarpur District in Madhya Pradesh, Mangalwadi founded a non-profit organization, the Association For Comprehensive Rural Assistance, to serve the rural poor and transform their caste-based feudal social system. His work was opposed and violently resisted by political and vested interests. In 1980, he was briefly incarcerated in Tikamgarh Jail.
Mangalwadi, it will be recalled, is no novice to politics, having been associated at some level both with the Janata Party, when in 1984, he was appointed the Convenor of the Peasant’s Commission. Four years later, he was an assistant to Kanshiram, the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party, whom he served for six years.
In that context, his stance that Indian history as we learnt it was basically the Indian National Congress version of events, and his brief rant against Nehru’s vision of India may be taken with a pinch of salt. But put in perspective, Mangalwadi’s stance that one can’t be prevented from rewriting history in their own version, holds true. To put it lightly, the speaker, himself, is a rather successful dabbler in that department. He has written several books, his second one The World of Gurus ( published in1977 and serialized in the Sunday Magazine) received some notoriety. His latest book Why Are We Backward?: Exploring the Roots, Exploding the Myths, Embracing True Hope (2013) is not as popular as The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (2011), available, by the way, for Rs 855 on Amazon Prime.
Mangalwadi , in his lecture, said that the hope for India lies in education. He proposed his own model, his vision of church and Internet based higher education. The vision of Church and internet based college education has been institutionalized in two organizations: CACHE (Church and Community Centred Higher Education) and Virtues Inc. He encouraged local protestant churches to double up as centres of learning and service, offering tuition-free, internet based college education. If every village could have such a learning centre, the students would inculcate Kingdom values and have an outlook that rejects corruption and affirms their duty towards their country and fellow human beings.
The talk was somewhat disappointing as it was a rather intellectualized view on the ‘struggles’ of the “Indian church”. The central thrust of his arguments and his vision is a history in the perspective of Lutheran protestant ethics. Most of the cross references that he made were from chapters of his own work, The Book That Made The World. (I visited his website, www.revelationmovement.com and it won’t let you in unless you ‘subscribe’.) The solution he offers to save India, is for evangelical churches to affiliate with his educational ventures, now running in Indonesia, Africa, and in parts of the US. A tie-up with a Korean Christian university is in the offing.
Incidentally, Mangalwadi’s blog, which he started and abandoned in January 2009, has gems like, “Although secular despair has overtaken the West’s biblical optimism, the fact is that hope is still written into the cultural DNA of the West.”
His blog also says, “The Greek and Roman religion of Stoicism taught that each of us is like a dog tied behind a moving wagon. You have no say in where fate is taking you; to be wise is to resign yourself to it, rather than struggle in vain against it. Human existence is essentially one of suffering. The only thing you can do about it is to detach yourself from the things of this world and occupy yourself with the world beyond.
“Indian thought is very similar. The Buddha’s First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. There is no point in trying to fight suffering. The best that you can do is to meditate and seek a psychological nirvana – the bliss within, in an altered state of consciousness. All of this thinking leads to resignation, for we are locked into a cosmic cycle. Societies with such outlooks do not produce leaders with vision.”
The most useful insight that the lecture gave us was this, that as long as the evangelicals keep harping on the last days and the coming of Christ, they are really doing nothing about bringing the Kingdom down here on earth. Ours is a gospel of Hope, not Hopelessness. And we need properly educated and aware pastors to preach it.
My beef is that he took one hour and forty minutes to say this.