Constructively critiquing and engaging with institutions that heavily influence a people’s thoughts and actions is always useful. In the Naga context, the Church assumes a foundational position which makes its participation in a process of self-criticism and growth all the more necessary.
The Naga Church does not exist in a vacuum as its existence is located within a particular historical and social context. The Naga Church’s reality has been shaped by its interaction with historical forces that have influenced present day patterns of behavior.
The Church needs to clearly and decisively choose the path of active nonviolence as a means of liberation against all forms of oppression and domination. All too often we hear Church leaders saying, ‘I am neutral; I am for nonviolence.’ This is a contradiction in terms because neutrality is a vote for the status quo and the true nature of the status quo is unjust, conforming and oppressive. Although nonviolence is not neutral, it opposes all forms of injustice and is part of the framework supporting transformation.
Niall O’Brien tells us that, “Evil is not to be located in the person, but in the structure. Removing the person does not remove the evil. When we locate and identify evil in persons rather than in their actions, we prepare the way for crimes, but when we locate evil in structures a way is opened to bring about change that will also liberate the person from their own bondage, not eliminate them.” The Church can engage with premise and help remove unjust systems that give rise to future violence and corruption. At its core, nonviolent action is against the injustice from which all forms of violence emerge.
Too often the tendency is to define power in terms of economic and financial status, weapons, or simply put, who’s got the most money and the biggest and most destructive weapons. In actuality, these are only the tools to enforce their perceived power over the people. Their real power lies in the strategies, planning and actions in terms of what can be done to promote self-interest through manipulation which is implemented by force and coercion through a violent system. People’s oppression and poverty is largely a product of how society has been organized and its resources shared with them. Consequently, the Church’s ability to critique these structures that perpetuate and justify violence, oppression and inequality is essential. The Naga Churches can help lead the discourse, the pursuit of justice and rights in order for basic societal changes to be possible.
Many people feel uneasy about what is considered to be political. As Archbishop Tutu remarked, ‘If one says that religion cannot be concerned about politics, then we are really saying that there is a substantial part of human life in which God’s writ does not run. If it is not God’s then whose is it?’ He goes on to say that, “the prophets are deeply involved in politics because politics is the sphere where God’s people demonstrate their obedience or their disobedience.”
The vision of justice is central to the Church and to Christianity as justice is based on right relationships. Unfortunately, the fear to act against these injustices increases the suffering, and also prolongs it. This ability to act is directly limited by the fear of losing even some ‘minor privileges and benefits.’
When the people are passive and afraid, the Church is there to remind the people that the message of the gospel is identical with their struggle for liberation from political and economic bondage. Jesus modeled noncompliance, nonconformance and resistance against oppression perpetuated by the powers that be by using nonviolent means. Fortunately using nonviolent means can restore human dignity.
Many global examples of how the church has provided protection and sanctuary against various forms of repression exist. The Naga Church can take a leadership role in this rediscovery process based on a clear theological vision, a truthful stand that leads to a shared humanity.