Christianity in India

*NOTE: I am not the expert in this, however my opinions have been formed by those experts. If you would like me to have a question answered, please post it in the comments.

It seems like the so called caste system is eroding (if it ever existed). The way most Westerners are described caste (and Hinduism in general) is just academic and does not match with the reality on the ground.

More than caste or the general class categories (Brahman, non-Brahman, Dalits), Jātis is what matters in India. Jātis means “birth” or the community you’ve been birthed into. There are hundreds of Jātis and people can range in their Jāti from poor to rich, urban to rural. More than caste Jāti is identity. In America our identity question is either “What do you do?” OR “Where did you graduate from?” In India it is “What is your Jāti?”

So when Hindus become Christian they often add the Christian label to their Jāti and become “Christian-Jāti.” The Christian label is now a modifier and separates one from their Jāti.

Well what do missionaries (& national Hindu background believers) do with caste?  The dual identity doesn’t usually work.  So the perceived solution is you have to get rid of the Jāti, since caste breaks up the church in India.  So now you have Hindu background believers leaving their communities and spheres of influence to join the church and become “Christian.”  What is really happening is their idenity as Christian becomes its own Jāti.  That cannot work.

Those I agree with have proposed instead of dropping the Jāti of their identity, dropping the Christian label out of the identity.  Instead of calling oneself Christian, they now call themselves by the same birth identity.  They are a [blank] who happens to be a follower of Christ.  This keeps all the networks in tact and causes no identity crisis for the new believer.

What do you think?  Do you disagree, should caste of all kind be eliminated from the Christian sphere in India?  How would you handle the situation if you were a missionary on the ground in India?

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

11 Responses to “Christianity in India”

  1. Rick L. Says:

    My understanding of the New Testament churches is that when they gathered in the context of the church there were no classes. Slaves worshipped with masters. That’s what much of the 11th through 13th chapters of 1 Corinthians is about – in the body of Christ there are no haves or have nots. In fact, the rebuke of the Corinthians for missing the point of the Lord’s Supper was about allowing the “haves” (the free/wealthy) to arrive early and eat all the food while the “have nots” (slaves and working poor) arrived later only to find the meal eaten. We’re “one” in Christ.

    Just as the Gospel, by its nature, undermined the institution of slavery in other pagan cultures, it will undermine and eradicate the caste system among Indian believers as they grow in grace. You never read Paul preaching the end of slavery. But it happened as the Gospel took root.

    If I was the missionary? I would proclaim the Gospel and how it frees men and women from the chains of sin and sin’s byproducts. When believers would ask about the relationship of caste to Christ I’d point to the Scriptures and let the Holy Spirit work it into their hearts and lives. It would be unchristian and futile to preach social change without first there being new birth.

  2. Adam Hoffman Says:

    That’s a great argument. The truth of the gospel will align those groups (jatis) and bridge any division they may have. Theologically I firmly believe this.

    Sociologically and missiologically I have doubts that this is the best strategy. Can/should these jatis treat each other as equals, as brothers and sisters and be the body of Christ together? YES. But does this mean that these Jati background believers need to give up their cultural identity in order to join the body of Christ? I believe they should work together in cooperation with mutual love but I think they would be more fruitful to stay in their context and share how the Holy Spirit has instructed them to be a follower of Christ in their Jati cultural context.

    Ultimately I think in practice it has to be reliance on His guidance, and allowing the leaders of the new indigenous church to make those decisions. As you said, all this starts with the Truth, infiltrating their lives and a new birth from the inside out.

    I really appreciate you commenting and look forward to hearing more of your points of view (with this post, along with future posts).

  3. untilwehavefaces Says:

    I am not sure if you have seen the website about the ‘Rethinking Forum’, of which H.L. Richard is a part. It has an outline of necessary action-steps to make the above-stated thesis plausible on a greater scale.

    It is hard for me to empathize with this situation, as the idea of Jati is completely foreign to how I see the world. Although you listed our equivalents of a Jati, I perceive that Jati to them runs much deeper than my trite allegiances.

    Something to wonder about though is what culture would emerge from Indian believers who pray not as Christians, but from their own Jati..I cannot help but think a different kind of ‘Christianity’ would be created, even if we weren’t going to call it Christianity.

    I guess what I would like to see is a working model of the thesis lived out in a Jati over a sustained period of time and what the outcome paints.

  4. Adam Hoffman Says:

    Untilwehavefaces,

    I understand the need to see this play out more in reality. You mentioned the possibility of the Jati tainting the way Christianity works in peoples lives. I would say this is always a possibility, however I think the point of contextualization is the opposite process – putting the gospel to the skin and flesh of the specific culture. I see this the same with Jati. Of course syncretism is a possibility (what culture is void of syncretism?), but overall I think this is a strategy to consider in getting church planting movements growing fast.

    I know there is more from the Rethinking Forum, and thank you for bringing this up, however the content of this post came from a morning session from H.L. Richard.

    Thanks for posting, I look forward to being challenged by more of your thoughts.

  5. Chuck Says:

    I’d like to be able to support a cross-cultural church planting strategist working in the city of Calcutta (Kolkata), India. Would you know where I might send funds to accomplish this?

  6. Rejser til Finland Says:

    OP: I might be daff (lord knows I have been told lol) but you made absolutely no sense what so ever…

  7. John Says:

    Adam:
    I’m not sure on what basis you can assert that the caste system is “eroding” in India and doubting its existence. I don’t think you’ve have ever visited India or personally observed the Hindu society from close proximity.

    Secondly, could you please further clarify the distinction between caste and jati that you’ve tried to make?

    When you talk of Christian-jati for believers in Christ from Hindu background, I wonder which particular area of India are you talking about?

    Thanks and blessings.

    • Adam Hoffman Says:

      John,

      As I stated my knowledge of the subject comes from accounts of friends living in India for 20+ years, I admit my personal, first hand account is limited. Therefore my basis for the first statement is their opinion I have repeated.

      The distinction between jati and caste can be vague since they somewhat overlap. Caste refers more towards varna or major (4 or 5 primary) categories. These categories are actually in the Manusmriti text (some consider to be scripture). Jati is primarily based on community identity. Wikipedia actually does a fairly good job of differentiating the two: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C4%81ti & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varna_%28Hinduism%29

      As for the particular region I am talking of, it is where one of my friends was for the majority of their time in India. They are actually in India traveling all around so not easily accessible. When they return, I will make a point of asking specific provinces. It is my assumption that it is not pervasive or centralized but spread out through prominent Hindu areas.

      • John Says:

        Well, it will be better that we get our sources right before making such sweeping statements. If your sources are Westerners living in India, no matter for what duration, then I would say that their knowledge of Indian social system is shallow.
        The distinction that you are trying to make is unwarranted. The Hindu social system is made of varnas, castes, sub-castes, and gotras. The most common Hindi word used for caste/sub-caste is jati. The community identity is called mostly quam in northern part of India. It will be better to read an Indian sociologist for understanding the Indian social order and caste system than relying on half-baked sources.
        India is quite vast and a nation of 1.3 billion people of different cultures. According to the Anthropological Survey of India, there are over 4600 people groups in India. Therefore, it is difficult to make generalizations about Christianity in India unless we locate the culture we are referring to.
        Thanks and blessings!

      • Adam Hoffman Says:

        John,

        I agree with the sociological criticisms of making broad claims in India with such a diverse peoples. I should have referred to the specific context my friend spoke of and avoided generalizations. I appreciate you bringing this truth to light, however I take offense to the slandering comments.

        The main intention of the original post was to explore the role of religious conversion. The main question was does someone from a Hindu background have to leave who they are to become a “Christian” in order to follow Christ. Whether this is in relation to caste/jati/varnas/gotras, ect., does an individual have to take on a new identity or can they legitimately follow Christ without leaving their background.

        Related to this question is how do new believers in Christ stand on the issue of caste? Do they want to reject it and come together with other followers of Christ or do they still conform to the ways of caste? This question I leave for debate with the indigenous peoples.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: