world council of churches

Statement from the Hindu-Christian consultation held in
Varanasi, India, 23-26 October 1997

We, 19 Hindus and 19 Christians, men, women, lay and clergy, from India, Fiji, Nepal, Canada, USA and Switzerland met under the auspices of the World Council of Churches and its Office on Inter-Religious Relations (OIRR), and the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), to discuss Hindu-Christian relations in the perspective of our final aim of "Ek Dharti Parivar ki ore" (Towards One World Family). This consultation followed two previous consultations, one held in Varanasi in February 1992 organised by the NCCI and the CBCI (Catholic Bishops' Conference of India) on "Our Heritage and Our Commitment to Harmony and Integration of Human Community" and another consultation in Madurai organised by the NCCI, Madurai Kamaraj University and the OIRR in October 1995 on the theme "Issues in Hindu-Christian Relations".

The meeting took place in the holy City of Varanasi, a city built not only with stone and wood, but with faith and longings of people through the ages. The dialogue did not only take place around a table but also on a boat on the river Ganges in the early hours of the morning before sunrise, from darkness to dawn. Together we witnessed the cremation and bathing ghats side by side, reminding us of the play of life and death, which coexist as a part of human reality. The spiritual atmosphere, created by the chanting of shlokas, the journeying on the river and our mutual prayer, the meditation and silence throughout the meeting, opened our hearts in communion with each other.

We opened our consultation by sharing our experiences and perceptions as pilgrims in dialogue. This exercise made us listen and interact and to discover on a deeper level the reality of the other. A keynote address by Prof. Anantanand Rambachan identified some of the major problems and possibilities in the Hindu-Christian relationship, challenging us to examine the roots of our reluctance to enter into dialogue and our tendency to see dialogue as the sole responsibility of the other. Prof. Rambachan suggested that dialogue and discourse are most enriching when participants integrate the life of the mind with that of the spirit. We must approach each other with deep humility and attentiveness. While searching for our commonalties we must not ignore our differences.

Consideration of case studies brought by the participants highlighted many other issues and out of these emerged four significant areas for discussion:

-What is our responsibility as Hindus and/or Christians, when proselytisation and religious extremism destroy the fibre of the "one world family?"

- What is our responsibility as Hindus and/or Christians to ensure that our religious traditions do not condone discrimination based on caste?

- What is our responsibility as Hindus and/or Christians to really understand the self-definition of the other, respecting the language and meaning used for it?

- What is our responsibility as Hindus and/or Christians to take further steps in Hindu-Christian relations on the local, regional, national and international level?

What is our responsibility as Hindus and/or Christians when proselytisation and religious extremism destroy the fibre of the "one world family?"
Proselytisation is understood as an effort to bring people of another religion to one's own through such methods as coercion, socio-economic and political incentives, aggressive marketing, and massive propaganda sometimes with the help of external funding agencies. The consultation found proselytising to be deplorable in whatever form it takes whether by Christians or Hindus.

As people committed to the genuine cause of religion, the participants dissociated themselves from such activities and agreed to stand together in affirmation of religious plurality as a gift of God. People of religion should affirm with joy and gratitude their own true heritage and experience of God within their particular tradition and should celebrate their freedom to share their respective faiths with others freely and openly. This must be done with an attitude of deep respect for the other.

Religious extremism is in all its forms and in every religion a threat to religion itself. It places at risk the fibre of peaceful living. The Hindu participants declared that a true Hindu cannot engage in religious extremism and remain a devoted Hindu. The Christian participants deplored a narrow perception and interpretation of scripture, which leads to exclusive claims to truth and its imposition on others. Religious extremism breeds hatred and violence, unleashing destructive forces that desecrate and destroy the very places of worship that witness to the presence of the divine.

Religious extremism has had a long lasting and destructive effect on Indian society. Wounds have been created that require great sensitivity in healing and restoring harmonious and humane relationships.

The participants condemned such violence. They acknowledged the need to build new relationships of trust through dialogue and the free sharing of each other's religious experiences for mutual enrichment and growth. This will require new initiative in the sharing of resources between communities.

What is our responsibility as Hindus and/or Christians to ensure that our religious traditions do not condone discrimination based on caste?
The participants acknowledged the evil of discrimination and oppression based on the caste system, which not only affects Hindu society but also the life of the Christian community. Caste is a political issue as well as a deep-rooted social and religious problem, which has parallels in other societies in such forms as class, race and gender discrimination. Though there is no sanction for such practices evident in any faith tradition, painful experience shows that people have theologically legitimised such unjust practices to sustain their power. A Hindu society without caste is a possibility and a compelling necessity. The Hindu diaspora bears witness to this fact.

Although there is now sensitivity to various kinds of discrimination, Christian communities must be radically committed to condemning and uprooting any form of discrimination due to gender or class.

The participants noted the need to inculcate a value system which respects human dignity and equality, regardless of birth. Together Hindus and Christians must educate each other to bring awareness of the problem and seek to provide equal opportunity for all within their own communities.

What is our responsibility as Hindus and/or Christians to really understand the self-definition of the other, respecting the language and meaning used for it?
The participants recognised the need of the other in his or her own otherness. To understand reality in ways and through language that one may lack, brings us to search out the ways that we can learn together and from each other. The other as other, is not a problem to be overcome, but is someone to be cherished as a friend for a common journey, a mystery. We therefore acknowledge the genuine experience of truth by others, noting that all religious traditions have made contributions to the welfare of the human family. We appreciate and respect the inner logic of the language that the other makes use of for expressing religious meaning, and the inappropriateness of using our own perceptions and world views in defining, and in discussion, of the other.

It is the responsibility of each faith community to engage each other in a deep search for understanding, which honestly acknowledges differences and cultivates respect. Such communities are less likely to be threatened by differences in times of communal conflict and crisis.

What is our responsibility as Hindus and/or Christians to take further steps in Hindu-Christian relations on the local, regional, national and international level?
Through four working groups the participants identified the following primary directions for the future development of this Hindu-Christian dialogue.

Communication and action
The working group explored the options of publishing articles, books and journals on interfaith related topics, the establishment of an Internet site for dialogue, and the distribution of a list of publications influential in the field. The creation of a new journal, or the use of existing publications, for this purpose will be explored. The WCC will be asked to provide access to its WEB site. An editorial team is necessary to facilitate this programme. Oversight of these objectives and such editorial responsibility will be undertaken by volunteers drawn from among the participants. Media persons should be invited whenever there is an interfaith consultation.

The working group identified the need for the formation of a network of groups sharing a common commitment to interfaith dialogue and collaboration. A team of co-ordinators will be chosen to facilitate regional networking programmes in the south, north, west and central-east of India. They will identify interfaith organisations, faith communities, academic institutions and related bodies committed to interfaith understanding. The network will seek to be non-structured and committed to the objectives of information sharing. Regional networks will be formed over the next year. Within one year regional representatives will come together to explore options for national initiatives including the possibility of a national meeting of these groups and organisations.

Education, Conscientisation and Training
The working group identified conscientisation and education of student communities as an outstanding obligation and mentioned as examples four institutions providing four distinct models.

The India Peace Centre educates college students to train students in schools, establishing interreligious relationships.

The Institute of Gandhian Studies conducts workshops and residential study camps on conflict resolution, religious studies and Gandhian studies.

Dharma Rajya Vedi engages in interreligious work for peace education in four modules: peace, national reconstruction, enlightened leadership, integral human development.

The Department of Interreligious Relations, Kamaraj University, Madurai organises a P.G. Diploma course in peace and value education and conducts extension programmes in Madurai schools on interreligious understanding.

Themes and methodology for future dialogue
The working group proposed that the following topics be addressed at future consultations:
Mission-dialogue: conversion, proselytisation, fundamentalism and religious extremism; influential religious leaders, observers from the WCC and the Vatican should be invited and the consultation should take place within two years;
Dalit-caste discrimination;
Scripture, interpretation and tradition;
Basic philosophical structure of religious faiths;
The working group proposed:
  • that an informal group from among the participants be formed to monitor whatever is being reported against interreligious relationships in the media and to initiate steps to correct such reporting;
  • that on a long-term basis schools be established to provide multi-religious education;
  • that a central documentation research centre on interreligious relations be established;
  • that new developments in society be furthered to create "one world family".

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copy right 1998 World
of Churches. Remarks to: webeditor