Religious Leaders’ Role in Trouble Times

“Religious leaders have a special responsibility to act as perceptive and committed leaders within the social fabric of a nation,” says Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, a special invitee to the Synod of Bishops currently in progress in the Vatican. Reflecting on the current anti-Christian persecution raging in Orissa’s Kandhamal district and to eleven other Indian states he insists that, “they ought to be particularly leaders in the world of thought and of values.”

Politically motivated people tend to embellish and interpret the event according to their own political allegiance. Reporters are tempted to serve particular political or commercial interests. A wrong interpretation or presentation of a case of violence spreads anger and anxiety and can lead to further violence.

Religious leaders who rush in and take public stands before issues and events are clear, may be taking the risk of finding themselves on the wrong side or emphasizing a less important aspect. They make the mistake of those over-ardent justice-fighters I have mentioned above. That is why time and energy spent on study, reflection, analysis (I am referring to realistic analysis, not mere ideological analysis in which facts are forced to fit in with theories) and interpretation are never wasted. A good cause has a sturdiness of its own even before any battle is waged.

Mao thought that political power flowed from the barrel of the gun. Mahatma Gandhi’s political power flowed from the strength of his ideas and the rightness of his cause. This intelligent, righteous and balanced approach won him both admirers and followers on every continent.

The greatest contribution of religious leaders in times of crisis is to help people to discern the right manner of handling the problem that they are facing. Though many social activists today would consider denunciation of evil is the right manner of exercising their prophetic mission and the main contribution of religious leaders, I would consider inviting people to think and helping them to make intelligent and value-based decisions as the more important responsibility and the more useful assistance.


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