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India - Expression of solidarity with Christian leaders

01 February 1999

Letter to the Rev. Dr Ipe Joseph, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, 1 February 1999.

Dear Brother in Christ,

Your letter of 29 January and the information you sent on the initiatives taken by NCCI and its member churches on the tragic events in South Gujarat and elsewhere in India were very welcome. We have been following the unfolding situation with growing anxiety, and many of the member churches have sought our advice about how they could helpfully respond to reports of the violence on Christmas against churches and Christians, and to the tragic murders of Dr Graham Stewart Staines and his sons, Timothy and Philip.

We are grateful for the witness the churches of India are giving on behalf of the worldwide ecumenical fellowship in this time of trial. Our hearts go out to all those who have suffered, to their families, to their churches, and to all those in your beloved land who are bereaved as a result of these senseless and brutal acts of violence.

We understand, and shall respect your wish that the World Council of Churches issue no public statement on the matter for the moment, and will share the information you have sent with concerned churches and ecumenical councils around the world.

We are grateful to know of the meeting scheduled tomorrow at CNI Bhavan between leaders of the several Christian traditions to consult together on the situation and on next steps to be taken. We await eagerly the results of your deliberations and your further guidance. We assure all those present of our prayers that this night of darkness will soon be dispelled by the light of the love, tolerance and interreligious harmony to which the people of India have been so committed.

We are especially dismayed that some of the media in your country have so falsely and maliciously mis-stated the positions and intentions of the churches joined in the World Council of Churches. From its very beginnings, the ecumenical movement has stood for the principle of religious freedom and tolerance in a way which is in consonance with Art. 25 of the Constitution of India. From the first time this concern was mooted, at the 1910 International Missionary Conference, the churches advocated that religious freedom is a basic right shared by all citizens, irrespective of their faith, and warned Christians and churches against claiming this right as their exclusive privilege. Throughout this century, the WCC has actively defended the equal claim of all religious communities to the full rights of religious freedom articulated in Art. 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As your appeals make clear, it is the responsibility of the Central and State Governments to maintain the present Constitution of India, to guarantee respect for its provisions related to the rights of religious and other minorities, and to uphold the obligations India has assumed by ratifying the International Covenants on Human Rights. Only when the rule of law prevails, when the rights of all, of every community and individual, are respected, can there be hope for justice, peace and well-being of both the majority and the minorities. As a result of their bitter experiences with religious intolerance at the time of the birth of their nation Indians know this better than most. The founders of the Indian nation thus provided constitutional guarantees to protect against a recurrence of such tragedies. The present-day leadership must assume its responsibilities to the Constitution, to fairness and equity, and to maintain order in the face of extremist acts.

We pray constantly that God may give you the strength to persevere in your commitment to serve the whole Nation and the people of India. We remain with you in spirit as you consider what you are called to do now as Christians together with people of other faiths throughout the land who share your devotion to peace, progress and mutual respect.

In the name of Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever,

                                                                    Konrad Raiser
                                                                    General Secretary