• Jules Gomes

Archbishop Welby pontificates on climate change, but clams up on persecution of Christians in India

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been admonished for remaining tight-lipped on the persecution of Indian Christians, while sounding off on climate change and religious pluralism during his ten-day trip to India.

“Climate change is happening. You in India have seen the effect of climate change first hand,” Archbishop Justin Welby told a select audience at the United Theological College in Bangalore, while turning a blind eye to a petition addressed to him from the Environment Support Group in the same metropolis.

The petition accuses the Church of South India of secretly selling a biodiversity “sacred grove” belonging to All Saints Church, Bangalore, to allow dumping of construction equipment of the new Metro and the construction of a Metro station inside the church campus.

The archbishop, however, announced that the Anglican Consultative Council had declared a “climate emergency.”

“If we do not prepare ourselves for the rapid and monumental changes coming our way—not only in terms of climate, but technological development—we too shall find that things will fall apart. The centre will not hold,” Welby said, quoting the Irish poet W.B. Yeats at a lecture to India’s most leftwing seminary.

“I was also expecting him to confess Christ in the media when questions regarding religious conversion will be thrown at him.”

“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?’” Welby asked, citing Psalm 11:3.

Welby lauded Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg and called on young people in India to have a “similarly transformative impact on our world.”

The archbishop also addressed climate change when he visited Kuttanad in Kerala on Sunday.

However, Indian theologians and lay Christians described Welby’s visit as an “anti-climax” which “not only disappoints the public expectation” but was “also a breakdown of the trust between the Lambeth Palace and the Indian Christians.”

We were “given to understand that the archbishop will make a courageous statement stressing to the Indian Government, in the wake of persecution of Christians, the protection of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution which upholds the freedom of religion, giving right to citizens to profess and to propagate religion,” noted Rev’d Dr Joseph Muthuraj, Church of South India historian.

Muthuraj, former professor at the United Theological College, said he was expecting Welby to “show at least 10% of the spirit found in the Truro Report in support of persecuted Christians.”

“The Archbishop will rather choose to focus on the environmental and economic challenges, just as predicted, than on persecution of the minorities,” he added.

Expressing his disappointment at Welby’s spouting of religious relativism, Muthuraj remarked: “I was also expecting him to confess Christ in the media when questions regarding religious conversion will be thrown at him.”

Sources told Rebel Priest there had been a disappointing lack of media coverage over Welby’s visit in the Indian media, which may have been the result of the archbishop’s choosing to meet only select audiences.

This may have been because the archbishop was desperate to avoid questions of fraud and corruption that have become endemic in the Churches of South India and North India and have been widely publicised in the local and national media, they pointed out.

“Indian Christians are seeing a leader who may be admired and respected by Christians worldwide but in reality has feet of clay,”

“Those who might ask awkward questions on the corruption and other issues relating to the CSI and Anglicanism will be screened off… Any talk on corruption that is plaguing the CSI leadership will be decently avoided,” Muthuraj commented.

“It seems that the Archbishop has taken a humiliating U-turn. Indian Christians are seeing a leader who may be admired and respected by Christians worldwide but in reality has feet of clay,” the historian told Rebel Priest.

The day before Welby’s address in Bangalore, an investigation was launched into the alleged sale of ‘defence’ land by the Church of South India (CSI) for the Bangalore metro project at a price of 600million rupees, according to Bengaluru Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) Chetan Singh Rathore.

In April 2018, a criminal case was filed against the CSI bishop of Bangalore P.K. Samuel after a Dalit (untouchable) woman attempted suicide following alleged molestation and threats from the bishop and another cleric.

In December 2018, the former Moderator of the Church of South India, Bishop G. Dyvasirvadom, was jailed on numerous criminal charges of corruption, including the sale of church properties. The moderator is the supreme head of the Church of South India and the equivalent of an archbishop.

Just before Welby’s visit, lay members of the CSI urged Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan not to receive Archbishop Welby as a state guest, arguing that invitation would gloss over the deep corruption within the CSI.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury has no relevance for the faithful in the state. The CSI is according him such a mammoth welcome to cover up the rot that has set in the Church and the state guest status provides a semblance of respect to the church,” said Rev’d Valson Thampu, former principal of St Stephen’s College, Delhi.

“The Anglican Church is facing massive erosion in its membership and this Church is a remnant of the British colonial empire, which has no relevance as far as the Church of South India is concerned,” Jacob Mathew, secretary, CSI Trust Association stakeholders association told the New Indian Express.

Welby’s home supporters nevertheless eulogised his Indian visit.

“He is presently touring Sri Lanka and India, helping to feed the starving, house the homeless, heal the sick, and praying with those who mourn or have been maimed by bombs detonating in the churches as they worshipped. He speaks boldly to the conscience of each nation he visits, and ministers to individual hearts with the peace and love of Christ,” Adrian Hilton wrote in his Archbishop Cranmer blog.“

“He isn’t afraid to grapple with the awkward questions we find all around us” — Archbishop Cranmer

He understands the sacred realm and people’s spiritual longings, and he isn’t afraid to grapple with the awkward questions we find all around us,” he added.

However, Bishop Gavin Ashenden told Rebel Priest: “After the Truro report highlighted the increasing dangers Christians faced through persecution, it is greatly to be regretted that Archbishop Welby chooses to ignore the suffering of Christians in India, and used the platform of his visit to lament climate change.”

“It was recently observed by a government scientist that we are likely to be killed by a pandemic resulting from our abuse of antibiotics long before climate change overcomes us. In the same way, daily persecution of the body of Christ in Asia is far more threatening to the ‘least of these brothers and sisters’ of Jesus than eco-threats,” Dr Ashenden commented.

Earlier, the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent, Martin Bashir, who is a Pakistani Christian, bluntly asked if the archbishop would challenge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu fundamentalist, about the persecution of Christians in India.

However, Welby wrote in The Times that it was the responsibility of political leaders to “speak out on universal principles, such as the rule of law,” hinting that he would avoid the thorny subjects of persecution or corruption.

“I may be told of the difficulties some religious groups, especially Christians, are experiencing in India today,” he remarked, euphemistically downplaying the serious persecution facing the Indian church.

According to Open Doors, since the current ruling party took power in 2014, Christians have been targeted by Hindu nationalist extremists more and more each year. The view of the nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith—including Christianity—is considered non-Indian.

Because radical Hindu militants view followers of Jesus as alien to the nation, all Christians in India are suffering persecution. Driven by a desire to cleanse their country from Islam and Christianity, these militants do not shy away from using extensive violence to achieve their goals, it noted.

Welby’s visit to Sri Lanka also met harsh criticism with Prof Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka describing the global Anglican Church as “on the verge of fragmentation.”

“All the razzle-dazzle media hype and pompous ceremony surrounding the current visitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the island belies the humbug of an apostate primate who has failed to take a stand against the abomination of homosexual marriage and has become irrelevant…,” the scientist wrote in the Colombo Telegraph.