Why the ‘Indian Church’ Should Not Die

Several weeks ago, my friend Charles Samuel wrote a thought-provoking article with the provocative title, “The ‘Indian Church’ Must Die,” and the response was nothing short of incredible. People whole-heartedly agreed, vehemently disagreed, or sat somewhere in the middle. Some were just upset with the title. This post is not a rebuttal to Charles’ post because as a product of the “Indian Church,” I agree with most of the sentiments in what he conveyed. This is about recasting the vision of the local Indian church for the glory of Christ.

The main idea behind Charles’ article was this: there is something dangerous and unhealthy about an ethnocentric church that solely exists to promote an ethnic ideal. Here’s what we mean by “ethnocentrism”: it is when an ethnic identity, heritage, values, or even church, sees other ethnic identities, cultures, or churches as inferior to their own. It is when there is more talk about traditions and the way forefathers did something than about what Christ has done and the implications of the gospel.

For our purposes, ethnocentrism is when a church’s identity and purpose is primarily found in its ethnic culture, and Christ and what he has done in his death and resurrection is secondary.

The gospel, the good news of Jesus, was given in a cultural context, and it will always be so, but it was never confined to a cultural identity. Whenever we present the gospel to someone, it will always be within the medium of the context of culture, whether it be Indian or American or hipster or conservative or urban or affluent culture. Culture isn’t a bad thing: it’s what you naturally get when you have multiple people together who share some characteristics.

The gospel was also given in an ethnic context, but it was never confined to an ethnic identity. In fact, the Bible promises a day when every ethnos (Greek word for ethnic people groups) will worship Christ as King. The book of Revelation has a glorious vision of this:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number,from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

 

Revelation tells us that a day is coming when every believer of Jesus, regardless of where or when they were born, will worship Christ together. Until then, we continue to meet in ethnic and multi-ethnic congregations, working to continue making disciples of all nations. Ethnic churches aren’t bad! But ethnocentric churches are dangerous and a distortion of what the gospel calls us to.

We can argue about how insular Indian churches can be, but instead I want to talk about how they can be used to accomplish the picture we see in Revelation 7.

The Indian church in America is uniquely equipped to reach immigrants from India in a way that other churches aren’t. Indian churches know the language, customs, and traditions that new immigrants from India are familiar with. They eat a lot of the same food, hold many of the same values, and can identify with Indian immigrants in a  way that most other organizations can’t. South Asian Christians in America know what it’s like to move to a new country full of promises, and to feel a little lost and overwhelmed. They know how reassuring it is to find comfort in befriending other Indian immigrants because they’ve done it too.

To my Malayalee churches: there are lost Malayalees in America that don’t know Jesus! Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, apathetic. Malayalees that understand the Malayalam spoken and sung in Keralite churches. Malayalees that enjoy eating South Indian food offered at weekly home meetings. Malayalees that are looking for community and recognizable culture in a culture that is far different than the one they know. Lost Malaylees that, apart from the grace of God in saving them, will be eternally separated from God. And this is true of all the Indian cultural groups. Of every culture and ethnos.

What if we reached out to our immigrant neighbor or coworker or friend? What if we invited them into our homes and lives? What if our Indian churches didn’t lose their ethnic identity or traditions or language, but used them to actively pursue the growing Indian immigrant community? What if we realized that God has sovereignly placed us in our city and around the people we know, not to be an inward-focused holy huddle, but to be an outward-focused catalyst of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

What if we realized that the Church exists primarily to glorify Christ and spread the gospel?

The Indian church in America should live because she is uniquely equipped to reach immigrants from India in a way that other churches aren’t.

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In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the church to the body of Christ, and individuals as members of the body. In a very real way, the whole Church universal is the body of Christ as well, and different congregations are members of this body. If one member suffers, the whole body suffers. If one part hurts, everyone hurts.

The Indian church, for all her flaws, is part of this body of Christ, and there are parts that aren’t functioning well. But what if, instead of cutting this dysfunctional part off, Christ redeemed it and made it new and whole and functioning?

What we need is not amputation. We need healing, and thankfully, Jesus is pretty good at that.

 

 

Photo courtesy of ©Sten Dueland under the Creative Commons License 2.0

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let’s talk about sexual abuse

*Disclaimer: This post is directed mainly at South Asian Christians, though certainly not limited to them. This is not a light-hearted, optimistic or cheery post. It is a heavy and painful subject matter, and I had to stop several times while writing this to compose myself. I will reference some things that may be uncomfortable or bring back horrible memories. My aim is not for you to live or relive what may have happened, but to shine light on something that is destroying the South Asian church.*

I remember the first time I heard it. A friend in college told me how she had been sexually abused by an older family friend, an “uncle” as we would call in the Indian community. And it tore me up to know that she was the victim of such a heinous crime when she was young, but then came the real shock: she told me almost every South Asian girl she knew had a similar story. A cousin. An “uncle.” A neighbor. A clergyman/pastor.

Now over the years, I have lost count of the amount of women (and even men) I’ve talked to who have had a story about someone, a trusted person, fondling them, or sometimes worse. Every one has told me they’re not the only one. And most of them never tell their parents or people of authority because they’re afraid.

Last night, I wept for yet another friend who confided about a “visiting pastor” staying with her family that took advantage of his position and molested her when she was much younger. This same pastor then went on to preach revivals the next few nights, and no one was any wiser to his actions. Other friends had experienced the same with other older men and pastors, she said, including the pastor of the church they used to attend. Someone who continues to lead his congregation.

It is a prevalent pandemic, and everyone seems to know things like this happen. But no one talks about it. If you’re reading this, I guarantee you know victims of abuse. You might be one yourself, and my heart breaks for you.

It’s enough to make my blood boil in righteous rage that these wolves in sheep’s clothing prey on innocent lambs, those in our community who are the most vulnerable. And it breaks my heart for the brokenness and depravity of people. Sin is no respecter of persons or titles, be it family member or man of the cloth.

First, let me offer a word to those who have fallen prey to sexual abuse: it is not your fault, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, be it parent, minister, or yourself. That is a lie from hell. Grown men and women cannot blame children for their wandering hands or deviant sexual desires. Second, God does not love you any less because of what has happened to you. You’re not damaged goods. It is a tragically horrific thing that happens, one that no one should ever have to go through, but there is healing and restoration found in Christ, counseling, and biblical community. At the cross, our disgrace and shame are transformed by what Jesus has done. Jesus is in the business of redeeming broken people and offers freedom in light of  the day when he returns to finish making all things new.

For too long, far far too long, this issue has been kept under wraps within the South Asian community. There are whispers here and there, but no one wants to talk about it outright. Instead, it is brushed under the rug with the hope that no one finds out. In the attempt to keep it “in house” and not cause a public scandal or shame, churches and families try to deal with it on their own. The problem is that we are not equipped or able to deal with abuse, especially sexual abuse (let’s call it for what it is and not try to sugarcoat the term). When abuse is hidden and not reported, you get incidents like what happened at Penn State or what has been uncovered at Sovereign Grace Ministries. They knew about the sexual abuse and tried to deal with the issue and the perpetrators on their own, but for years, it continued, and stories like these are being brought to light all over the country. The thing is, most churches do not have the resources to handle those guilty of sexual abuse, and almost never know how to help the victim of abuse cope with what has happened. By not bringing the issue to light and justice, the cycle is just repeating over and over and over in countless families, churches, and communities. In trying to protect the “dignity” or family of the perpetrators, we are sacrificing the innocence of the most vulnerable members of our community: the kids. Children are enduring physical and emotional abuse so that grown men do not have to deal with the consequences of their evil acts. And victims are left alone to suffer with what has happened and to wrestle with how to get past the hurt and shame and move forward. Sexual assault claws through its victims and can affect every aspect of your life: faith, emotions, relationships, identity, sexuality, and self-image.

So now let me implore us to not keep silent about this any longer because chances are that if someone has abused you at least once, they’ve done it before, or they will do it again to someone else. As a victim, someone who has experienced abuse myself, I know how hard it is to talk about it. I know it can feel like you’re betraying a family friend or respected person. Let me implore you to not hide it or keep quiet about it. Those who are guilty should be brought to justice by the justice system of the land. Let the state do what the state does; God has them there for a reason.

“For rulers [government] are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” – Romans 13:3-4

This is not something we can continue to keep silent about by saying we’ll solve it on our own. We can’t. And every time we don’t report sexual abuse, we are putting other boys, girls, women in danger of being victims of the same thing. We are doing a disservice to the Christian faith by not bringing this sin to the light and protecting those left in the wake of abuse. The church must be a safe place for the innocent and weak and wounded, not a safe haven for wolves in sheep’s clothing. There is grace and redemption and healing in Christ available for both the one who has abused, and the victim, but we can’t get there by covering up cases of sexual assault. We can’t get there by leaving opportunities for abuse to continue.

This is not a smear campaign. This is not a witch hunt. This is about defending our boys and girls, our women and our families from those who would take advantage of their power. Those who take advantage of the fact that this is a taboo subject. This is about dealing with a rampant sin issue in our community.

Parents, ministers, and peers, we should report cases of abuse to the appropriate authorities. We must embrace and show compassion and love to the victims as Christ has embraced and shown love and compassion to us. And we must begin this change of culture by talking openly and honestly about sexual abuse.

**UPDATE** There is a blog that has been created to help girls share their stories. It is http://shhh7214.com/

If you have a story to share and would like to do so on the site, you can go to http://www.wordpress.com and log in.

Username: shhh7214

Password: psalm7214

You can then proceed to add a new post.

Defining Us

What defines America?

Is it our culture? Our religion? Our politics? Our landscape? Our race?

And therein lies the tricky part. You can’t compartmentalize America into any of those categories, because we are more than just that. There is more than one culture in America. More than one religion represented. More than one way of thinking, of looking at things, of living. We are the steamy stew of the West, a cauldron of every culture, religion, and idea on earth.

I was recently asked to write a very brief article on how Christianity has enriched America. I did so, and you can find it alongside other articles about the impact of other religions and faith ideas.

Now, let me lay some things out. I very much believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. He is not just “a way”. Jesus takes our brokenness and redeems it, restores us to how things should be. And if you are a follower of Christ, your role is to be His image, to restore the world through Christ.

This article is not meant to be an evangelistic piece, but was solely to show Christianity’s role in our country, and to encourage others to learn more about the faith. Several other faiths and ideas are presented on this website, and they all talk about how America has been enriched by their ideas. I think it’s a very good idea to engage in dialogue with other people who don’t think, talk, or act like us. How do we know how to reach those who don’t know Christ if we ourselves don’t know who they are or what they really believe?

I also encourage you to check out the website. The movement is called DefineUS and it’s purpose is to highlight the diversity in our nation and for greater dialogue between people who think differently.

You can find the link here. To read my article, simply click on my picture.

And if you don’t know yet… I’m the Indian guy with the beard… and a cross on my palm.

So what defines America? Well, that’s a tricky question. But what defines a Christian?

Simple. Jesus.

Curried Culture

Identity crisis.

As a South Asian American, I have heard that term being thrown around a lot lately. Conferences. Seminars. Books. Church. It is used in an attempt to describe the conflict between being raised in two cultures: immigrant desi and domestic American.

Which culture do I embrace?

Who do I identify with?

Who am I??????

Maybe you claim you haven’t really thought about these issues, you just live “normally.” Maybe you think it’s a silly thing to talk about. But I guarantee you that while you were growing up, your mind was in overdrive, trying to figure out who you would be. The “fob” with the accent and out-of-style attire? The “cool guy” with the Express wardrobe and perfectly coiffed hair. The “gangster,” complete with tall tee and hat. The “white boy/girl” with the surfer I-don’t-care look. One of the nearly countless other niche groups.

But in the meantime, you had your parents harassing you over what your hair looked like. Coconut oil looks way better in your hair than your gel/mousse/wax concoction! They complained that your clothes were either too tight or too loose. Rap music made them uncomfortably angry, rock left them bewildered. Why were you hanging out with this group of friends? You “hang out” too much.

At school, your skin tone immediately gave you away. And if you’re Malayalee, probably the fact that you have 3 first names. You came to school with the unmistakable aroma of masala on your clothes. Your parents played HolyBeats and Binoy Chacko a little too loud as they dropped you off, always turning heads. You made (mostly) A’s. You grew facial hair before you hit puberty.

And so, your mind decided at some point to either appease your parents and ethnic culture or completely adapt to the American niche of your choice. Most walk a line, trying to balance both. But you’re never going to completely balance it.

Understandably, this causes a bit of a tension between groups of first and second generation-ers who disagree over how you should live, look, and behave. “Cultural” or “western.” All sides look at the others with a bit of derision, creating cliques and factions.

Yay to diversity!

But maybe that’s what’s so great about having this opportunity to create new cultures. America is the great melting pot of the West, and unknowingly, we’re making the same moves that scores of immigrant groups have done for the last 3 centuries.

Culture has always been a part of the human race. And it is always adapting. And it always leaves a mark on the individual. So I’m not sure what path you’ve taken in your quest to find yourself….

But me? Well, I still like a bit of curry in my culture.