“Men of Straw” Christian Leadership in India Today

When Mr. Clement Attlee, Prime Minister of United Kingdom, in June 1947, introduced the Indian Independence Act in the British Parliament, Sir Winston Churchill, war time Prime Minister of England, is said to have argued:- “———-Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low caliber & men of straw. They will have sweet tongues & silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power & India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air & water… would be taxed in India.”

The prediction about politicians in India may not have been justified at the early days of independence. Churchill was initially proved wrong as we had tall leaders of the calibre of Gandhiji, Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Ambedkar. But he may well have been right considering the calibre of the politicians of today. No wonder that people have overwhelmingly voted for a change in the last Delhi state elections and a miracle has happened.

The same story of decline is sadly true about Christian leadership in India today. Whether it is the Church leadership or that of Christian Institutions, it may be wise to introspect why our situation has declined to what it is today from the time foreign missionaries gave their all to build institutions in healthcare and education in India.

A classic example that can illustrate this predicament in the Church in India today can be observed by what is happening at the more than hundred year old St Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi. Highly reputed for its service to the poor, Dr Lucy Oommen one of the past greats of the Hospital had received the Padma Sri award from the Government of India.

So, in the case of St Stephen’s, Churchill’s prediction that “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low caliber & men of straw” may be an unfortunate reality today.

The head of one of the prominent Christian hospitals in South India mentioned that it may not be appropriate for him to intervene in this as the situation cannot be all that bad. He said that there cannot be something seriously wrong as at least some members of the board will certainly raise an objection. But, sadly, no one seems to be willing to do anything.

Ela Bhatt, during the NDTV recognition of her as one of the greatest living legends of India in December 2013, said that “Poverty is violence. It is a violence that is perpetrated with the consent of society. A society that is silent or looks the other way in the face of poverty, is giving consent to exploitation, injustice and war.”

The destruction of St Stephens is happening with the consent of the Church and the national Christian leadership, starting with the board of the Hospital to those at the helm at the large Christian Medical Institutions in India!

Is this silence because there are “men of straw” at the helm of the organizations like CMC Vellore, Dr Sudhir’s Alma Mater, CMC Ludhiana, Emmanuel Hospital Association and the Christian Medical Association of India? Is that why they are silent?

Is it not time for an “Anna Hazare” and an “Arvind Kejriwal” to appear in the Church of today? If the Lord has done this in the political administration in the country, should we not pray for that to happen in the Christian Church in India?

Are there no Christians out there who will stand up and be counted?


1 Comment

  1. admin August 8, 2014 1:36 am 

    Dear Brother in Christ,

    Your piece disturbed me a lot…made me feel guilty also. Churchill’s words should be viewed more prophetic than all the pious pronouncement of our national leaders after getting independence. That quote was the most valid point in the piece.

    If power has corrupted Indian politicians, it is equally true that it has also corrupted Indian church leadership. Men of character do not get elected to parliament and other legislatures; likewise those who come to the leadership positions in Christian institutions are not those who have a Christian commitment, but those whose elections are determined in the same worldly ways.

    The charges of corruption against leaders of the Church are testimony that the right persons are not chosen to lead. Corrupt bishops, it would seem, are the rule rather than the exception!! Then what to speak of other lesser mortals? If some bishops happen to be honest, they are often found to be honest and ineffective! That is proving the point that only the strong and corrupt can remain in power. That is the way it is in our world…

    Your’s is a cry in the wilderness because no one wants to disturb the status quo. There must be many who must be feeling just like you do. But individually they all feel that they can do very little to change the situation. It will be a hopeless effort.

    When Dr Monica, neurologist, was summarily sent out of St Stephens’ hospital, very few paid attention to the points she raised; but the discussion turned around personalities—her charges were taken as mere accusations against the director.

    And a good doctor was sent out for showing the courage to speak out against policies she considered un-Christian. All her charges were made to appear as an attempt to malign the director.

    I have heard at least some persons lamenting her departure because she was such a good doctor; many patients were drawn to the hospital because of her; she was very accessible, considerate and compassionate. The authorities who dismissed her did not for a moment think these are important factors. That pained me.

    She and others who stood with her were charged with attempt to malign the institution and spoil its reputation! But they were blind to the fact that she and these others wouldn’t have preferred to air these differences in public if only a fair chance was given to discuss and solve issues within the institution. There was a governing body; it proved dumb and deaf and simply endorsed the views of the director.

    It is certainly true that there are those outside waiting for an opportunity to tarnish the reputation of every Christian institution, even everything that is Christian. Does this mean that those handling power inside Christian institutions should be allowed to exercise it in an irresponsible, unwise and harmful manner? Yet that is happening. I sense it but can not quote instances with authority because I must confess I am not one with access to inside information.

    I will not for a moment say that the present director wants to destroy the institution. He follows policies that he thinks are in the interest of the institution. But he must be willing to listen to those who differ with him. This trait is sadly lacking. And this is tragic because those who differ with him are also men of character who want to see the institution to reach greater heights. They are serving through the institution because it is ‘Christian.’ If he alienates all those who have Christian convictions, how will he promote those very values for which the institution came into being in the first place?

    This mindset, ‘that those who are not with me is against me’ is a threat to the pursuit of right policies and growth of any institution. This stand negates democratic functioning. That is what is happening at Stephens and in a majority of Christian institutions because this trait is so much part of human nature. That humility which can acknowledge that ‘my opponent can also be right’ is rarely found in human beings! That is why a person like Gandhiji could level false charges against missionaries!!

    I recall your earlier suggestion to call a meeting of well meaning Christians from all over the nation to raise these issues. However I feel that such conferences could achieve little. If the Christians of Delhi can’t stand up for a cause, how do you hope that the same kind of Christians at the national level would succeed? I may sound pessimistic…but then think for a moment. If we had a good number of sound Christians to begin with , this whole country would have turned Christian.

    I just poured out my heart, provoked by your article.

    Warm regards,
    MPK Kutty

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