Training India’s Rural Pastors to be on the Frontlines of Justice
By ICC’s India Correspondent
6/11/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – It is all too common for rural pastors in India to turn the other cheek in the face of their enemies. While this is commanded by Jesus Christ, it is vital to remember that our Savior also longed for and loved justice.
In the rural parts of India, pastors living in under-educated communities are often unaware of the intrinsic rights that they legally hold. India is a democratic country, and therefore, it gives certain unassailable rights to its citizens. Among those rights are religious freedoms.
While these rights do not insulate Indian Christians from persecution, they are a vital tool that minorities can utilize in defending themselves and their livelihoods, especially among rural pastors.
When taking a pastoral oath in India, each individual knows that at some point in their ministry they will be persecuted for their faith. This is not a risk that they could possibly face; this is part of the job description and something that all of them agree to willingly.
When that happens, International Christian Concern (ICC) believes it is important, if not vital, for pastors to be prepared mentally as well as spiritually for the persecution they will face. ICC’s Persecution Preparedness Trainings were born out of this very belief in 2014.
“I feel that I am empowered by attending this training; I did not know that the FIR (First Information Report) is my basic right,” explained Pastor Yuvaraj, a pastor who attended a recent Persecution Preparedness Training. “On [a] number of occasions, I was denied justice by denying [myself] the FIR in the police station.”
ICC’s Persecution Preparedness Training is designed to help rural pastors like Yuvaraj be their own advocate. Like a legal first aid kit, the course walks participants through the Indian Penal and Criminal Procedure Codes. The purpose is to give these men of God the opportunity to defend themselves and their churches in the face of legal injustice.
The latest course was given in the Mahabubnagar district of Telangara state in April 2016. It was attended by more than 30 pastors, many of whom serve the Lord in rural parts of India.
According to recent media reports, Telangara state is ranked fourth in India for religiously motivated violence.
“This training gave me courage and the tools in my hand. I can go back to my church and encourage the members of my church,” Pastor P. Joseph told ICC. “I have learned to use the law to protect myself and my church.”
Under Article 25 of the Indian constitution, Indian citizens have the fundamental right to profess, practice and propagate their religion of choice. When perpetrators of religious violence and inept or unwilling authorities fail to recognize this, Indian pastors can cling to it as their defense.
“Pastors need to be equipped on how to make use of the law in order [to] protect themselves and the community of believers as a shepherd of the flock,” one Christian rights activist explained.
As religious discrimination is ever growing in the subcontinent, Indian pastors need to prepare themselves for the worst. Having this understanding will only serve to strengthen the Church’s resolve in India, especially in the face of growing persecution.
Gaddapati Raju, president of All India Christian Federation, told ICC, “The time has come where every Christian needs to be prepared to face more difficult situations.” He continued, “What ICC is aiming to do is exactly in line with what needs to be done, and it is a vast need.”