Often times when India and Christians are in the news, it usually has to do with persecution of Christians at the hands of Hindu nationalists. However, in a recent story, the Indian courts were forced to intervene after a village in a primarily Baptist area decided to expel all Catholics from it and refuse to bury a Catholic woman who died in it, saying that the village was “Baptist only”. The courts ruled against he Baptists, and told them that no village could establish an edict banning another religion:
The top court in India’s eastern Manipur state has declared illegal the expulsion of four Catholics from a Baptist-majority village.
They were expelled on the pretext of a village edict banning other religions.
Manipur High Court last week struck down the edict imposed by authorities in Leingangching village after four Catholics petitioned against it saying they were expelled after they converted to Catholicism in 2009.
Chief Justice N Kotiswar Singh said the regulation goes against the guarantees of the Indian constitution, which provides every Indian citizen the freedom to profess, practice and propagate a religion of choice.
“The villagers of Leingangching have every right to follow Baptist Christianity and accordingly, also manage their affairs in tune with the Baptist principles and practices,” the court said.
But that right does not authorize them to deny the same right of others who chose to follow another faith or denomination, the court noted.
The Baptist-Catholic row made headlines last August after the village denied a burial plot for a woman who converted to Catholicism.
Christian leaders have also condemned the sectarian provisions in the village rules.
Baptists form the majority of the 1.14 million Christians, or 41 percent of the 2.8 million people in the state. (source)
Shoebat.com runs the Rescue Christians Project, and as part of the mission we have been helping Christians of all denominations facing persecution throughout the world. Thankfully, most Christians of good will recognize similarly that in spite of differences, we need to work together as much as possible in order to fulfill the words of the Gospel, “that all would be one.”
In response to this incident, there have been local Baptist leaders who have come forward with local Catholic leaders and said the entire matter was uncalled for, detrimental, and that having it finally resolved will be put to rest so that both groups can continue to maintain friendly relations with each other:
Rev. Raja Peter Chiru, president of the Manipur Baptist Convention, an umbrella body of some 40 Baptist Church denominations, told ucanews.com that the issue was “surely blown out of proportion.”
“The incident is condemnable. And we did condemn it at the convention level discussions,” he said adding that the convention will “do all within its capacity” to persuade the villagers to allow the burial.
“The basis of the problem comes from a slogan — one village, one denomination — that some tribal groups follow. I do not approve of it. It is a condemnable slogan,” Rev. Chiru said.
He said the issue gives a wrong impression that Baptists are against Catholics. “It is utterly wrong. We maintain very friendly relations,” he said adding that the problem will soon be sorted out after discussions with Catholic Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal. (source)
Now it is good to see that the Baptists have formally condemned what happened, and that the court issue has for the moment, resolved the conflict. Likewise, it is good to see the Catholics dealing well with the situation. Given the difficult history of Protestant-Catholic relations, it seems that for an imperfection situation most people have done their best to resolve what they could.
There are three points of interest with this incident.
First, this case is a reminder that conflict between Christians over theological issues is real. Christians have engaged in debates and conflicts throughout history, going back to the New Testament with the Judaizer scandal (see Galatians 2:14). Most of the intra-Christian conflicts of the last half-millenium have involved the Catholic-Protestant divide. The Thirty Years War, which was the most destructive war in European history prior to the 20th century, was fought over this central issue in the Germanic territories. While the Christian religious tensions of the past have declined in continental Europe, they still continue to this day albeit primarily in other parts of the world.
While the USA is certainly not a Christian country in a European or even historical sense, there are many Christians in her and owing to the population size and diversity of people in the USA, the Protestant-Catholic conflict has continued in American public discourse. As recently as 2014, the President of the Southern Baptist convention, Alfred Mohler, famously invoked the revolutionary language of the 16th century and while he did not explicitly call the Pope the “whore of Babylon”, he did say the Church teaches a “false gospel”:
The president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has called the Roman Catholic Church “a false church” that “teaches a false gospel.”
Appearing on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Al Mohler was speaking on Pope John Paul II’s pilgrimage to Israel and his recent apologies for the past sins of the Catholic Church. While stopping short of calling the Catholic Church a “cult,” Mohler said the Catholic hierarchy is unbiblical._
“As an evangelical, I believe the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel,” Mohler said. “I believe the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.”
Mohler was asked if he shares the views of Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist college in Greenville, S.C., in the center of a firestorm of controversy after Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush appeared there.
The university believes Catholics and the pope are agents of the anti-Christ. When Bush failed to speak out against the school’s theology, he was dogged by several weeks of criticism until he apologized to New York Cardinal John O’Connor for failing to criticize the school. Bush called it a “missed opportunity causing needless offense, which I deeply regret.”(source, archived here)
Likewise, the Catholic Church independently the same year came out and reaffirmed the always-taught doctrine, which is that while a person becomes a Christian by baptism, there is only one Church in which there exists perfect communion, and any group outside of it is not a true church but an ecclesiastical community:
On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery,61 are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. (source)
Second, it is interesting to note that in the particular area of India where this took place- Manipur Province- was visited and evangelized by American Baptist and Presbytarian missionaries beginning in the late 19th-century. The Catholic missions were nearby, but took place generally in the surrounding provinces of Meghalaya and Assam.
America has a long history of anti-Catholicism fueled by a unique arrangement of nationalism/nativism and eugenics, which is what Philip Jenkins writes in his book The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice. American Protestant Christianity from colonial times through today has propagated the idea that the Pope is a “foreign agent” and that to be Catholic is to be “anti-American”. Baptists have been central to propagating this myth because after the Catholic Church they are the largest single Protestant religious bloc in the USA. A simple search for “baptist bible tracts” immediately yields a wealth of tracts that are anti-Catholic. You can even buy tracts at Baptist book stores from the infamous fraud Jack Chick, whose lies about Catholicism, Islam, and basic history are as egregious as they are easily disproved by a simple high-school history book:
The Death Cookie. One of my favorite anti-Catholic tracts, with a bunch of blasphemous nonsense and ignorance about the Eucharist and published by Jack Chick and his associate. If you want to really read about the Eucharist, Fr. Barron has a good explanation here.
Unfortunately, many people of good will take brochures such as this seriously.
While the story does not mention a history of teaching anti-Catholicism, one cannot help but wonder if the American missionaries who worked in these areas of India also taught these people anti-Catholic ideas.
Third, the idea that the village would expel these four people for becoming Catholic harkens back to a saying from the 16th century Peace of Augsburg- cujus regios, ejus religio– meaning “whose realm, his religion.” This meant that the ruler of a particular area would be able to dictate to his subjects what religion they should have. This was practiced in the German-speaking lands and was an attempt to make a peace between the warring princes, divided between Catholics and Lutherans- it did not include Calvinists or the other sects that existed at that time.
While it a well-intentioned effort by the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to stop the sectarian violence that was consuming Central Europe, it ultimately continued the idea that which Luther and his revolutionaries had already established and for which the Protestant Revolution came into being, which was over the subjugation of the Church to the state and making religious adherence synonymous with national identity. The Peace attempted to stop the intra-territorial violence but it did not, and this eventually lead to the Thirty Years War the following century.
The Catholic Faith makes very clear that when it is followed properly, the Faith serves as both a binding and buffering force in society between the government and the governed, partaking of both while remaining separate from both at the same time. Even in the most “Catholic” of governments, this separation still persists and will cause conflict when abuses arise because the Church is not bound to any one civilization, race, or land mass. She is Catholic because she is bound to care for all people regardless of race, place, or political state. Protestantism, to the contrary, along with most heresies, is whether intending to or not ultimately rooted in nationalism and identitarianism. I do not speak of many genuine converts and their descendants, but of the original roots from the 16th century and the major heretics of the past and the current day who choose to persist in error not because they struggle with questions of truth, but because of willful disobedience to rightful authority.
I do not want to assume what the people were or may have been thinking when they expelled the four converts from their village in India. However, the idea that as the article mentioned “one village, one denomination — that some tribal groups follow” is exactly the Augsburgian saying of cujus regio, ejus religio applied to a modern setting. It is the identifying of a religion explicitly with a place, race, and people, and those who are not part of this must be treated in the same way that millions were during the population movements of the 16th and 17th centuries that ensued because of it.
Again, I do not want to assume malicious intentions, but it appears that whether they are aware or not, the rebellious ideas that Luther and those of his time propagated by equivocating religious practice with national identity are beliefs inherent to Protestantism that appear in ways one may not even be aware of such as with this small village. It does not matter if it is in a major European city or in a tiny village in the remote parts of Asia, for philosophical principles and consequences of heresy mete out consistent results with the only differences being their particular cultural expressions for the time, place, and people in which they arise.
This is the reason why St. Juan de Ribera, Archbishop of Valencia, famously commented that no more of a pernicious idea in society can exist than one which promotes the “multiplicity of religions,” because true religion is the axis around which all functions of a culture revolve. Being that the Catholic Faith is universal, it functions like a master key that can open any lock, being able to fit into any society in spite of difference that exist. Outside of the Faith are ideas that while even if well-intended lead to nationalism, identitarianism, and ultimately the same pagan tribalism that Christ came to fight and for which he was crucified by his own.