In an official letter, President of Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches (APFC) Archbishop Thumma Bala and CSI Moserator Bishop G. Dyvasirvadam urged Christians in Andhra Pradesh to “participate actively in the democratic process by exercising their right and duty to vote discerningly to elect service-minded, secular and sincere leaders who are free from crime, corruption and communalism.” Reproduced below is the letter for BH readers. – Editor
Pastoral Letter of APFC – State and General Elections 2014
Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Greetings of Peace and Joy in the name of Lord Jesus Christ!
As you are aware, at this point of time our beloved State of Andhra Pradesh is in a very critical situation. In the last few years, we have gone through much tension and agitation due to the struggles for and against the bifurcation of the State. Finally, the Parliament passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act and the Central Government has fixed June 2, 2014 as the appointed day for the formation of two states of residuary Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Meanwhile, the State and General Elections have arrived and we are preparing for them. This is an important moment for us since the direction that our State and Country takes and their progress largely depends on our Assembly and Parliament.
Our Duty as Patriotic Citizens
At this critical juncture, the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches (APFC), which is a state-level apex body of Archbishops, Bishops and Heads of Churches, held its Seventh General Body Meeting on March 27, 2014 at St John’s Regional Seminary, Hyderabad. During the meeting it was resolved to issue a Pastoral Letter on the ensuing state and general elections. As Pastors of our people, we consider it our duty to address you through this Pastoral Letter on behalf of APFC, so that, joining hands with all people of good will, we can effectively contribute to shaping the future of our State and Nation.
At the outset we wish to make it clear to all that the APFC, including its member-Churches, do not identify itself with any political party. But we have a responsibility as Bishops / Heads of Churches to urge every eligible citizen to exercise his / her right and duty to vote and do so prudently, carefully and judiciously. All our parish priests / pastors are urged to impress on the people their obligation in this regard. We must remember the value of our vote and admonish our people not to dishonor it by trading it for money and liquor and by casting their vote basing one caste, creed and clan. We must be convinced that every vote does count. We owe it to ourselves, our children and our families not to let go of this opportunity to get involved in bettering our State and Nation.
We need to elect leaders who are close to people and respond to their needs; who uphold the secular and pluralistic character of our Nation and promote communal harmony; who strive for social justice and equality of the marginalized groups like the Tribals and Dalits especially Dalit Christians and protect the rights of the Minorities; who are determined to advance an inclusive economy that supports the poor especially to the unorganized labourers and marginal farmers by ensuring their basic human rights to food, water, shelter, health, education and employment; who strive to ensure the safety and security of women and children and their essential rights to life and livelihood; who lay focus on youth for ensuring their holistic development with character building, critical education and life skills; who make every effort to curb corruption and bring about good governance with peoples’ plans and decentralized, transparent, accountable and responsible administration; and who endeavor to protect the environment with sustainable development and safeguard the rights of Tribal and Local communities over land, water and forests.
Concerns of our Christian Community
We are deeply concerned about the pressing needs of our Christian Community in State that call for the urgent attention of the political leaders. Our State records one of the highest numbers of atrocities committed on Christians and pastors. During the recent months these attacks have increased in some districts. Organized mob attacks are taking place on Christians during their worship. There is a plot to prevent the spread of Christianity for last six decades by denying to the converted Dalits their Constitutional rights and privileges. There is a ploy to prohibit our mission of evangelism and spreading of the Gospel through legislations and government orders (GOs). There is a sinister design to block our educational ministry by stopping the grant-in-aid and not filling-up the aided teachers’ posts. Hundreds of our Church-run schools had to be closed and thousands of posts remain vacant. There is a conspiracy to take over the properties of our Churches and educational institutions by passing a Bill.
To restrain these evil designs and to rein-in the communal forces behind them, along with APFC we must insist that Political Parties include the following demands of the Christian Minority in their Manifestos, which have been already submitted to them by APFC, and strive toimplement them in earnest after the elections both in the residuary Andhra Pradesh and Telangana:
- Extend SC status to the Dalit Christians by deleting the unconstitutional and discriminatory Para 3 of Constitution (Presidential) Order 19 of 1950.
- Continue the grant-in-aid to the Church-run Educational Institutions and fill up vacant aided posts pending from 2004 without further delay.
- Remove the ban on propagation and practice of Faiths by withdrawing G.Os Ms. No: 746 and 747 both dated 02-06-2007.
- Enact “Prevention of Communal Violence Act”; and “Prevention of Minorities Atrocities Act” in line with the “Prevention of SC ST Atrocities Act”.
- Constitute the State Christian (Minority) Finance Corporation fully and allocate at least 15% of the funds and schemes under the Prime Minister’s 15 Point Programme and Minority Welfare budget.
- Provide representations to Christians in the legislative and civil bodies, administrative panels and in various commissions / boards. At least one Assembly seat in each district and two Lok Sabha seats in the State can be assigned to Christian Minority.
- Allocate government lands for the construction of churches, community halls, education institutions and burial grounds.
Pressing need of Our Political Ministry
Although we Christians in India are just about 2% of total population, we serve the people of our country, basing on the values and example of Jesus Christ, in various fields. Our contribution in education, health and social welfare and rural development amounts to more than 20%. Nearly 80% care centers and homes for the persons affected by the diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB, Leprosy and Terminal Cancer, and for the disabled, destitute and aged are provided by us. We are very much involved in poverty eradication, skill development for self-employment and the empowerment of the Marginalized in many ways. In doing all these, our primary mission is to transmit the love and mercy of Jesus Christ to the whole of India beyond caste, creed and community. But, often we forget that this mission includes also spreading of His message and building up His movement for the Kingdom of God. This demands Church’s involvement in the public life, civil society and political filed, by engaging in advocacy for human rights, networking with other religious and social groups, and participating in the political action where we are conspicuously absent. Signs of times call for Church’s political apostolate and promote political service. Our political ministry is the need of the hour. Hence, as Bishops / Pastors we encourage our members to opt for political vocation and to take up political life and work.
We ought to bring Christian presence to the public life and political field to cleanse and transform it in accordance with the values of love and service, and justice and peace of the Kingdom of God (cfr. Rom 14.17). We must be involved in political ministry to implement the promises of Jesus Christ made in his Nazareth Manifesto (Lk 4. 18-21). For this, we need Christian political leaders with value-based politics and with service-motive which is inspired by our Supreme Leader and Lord Jesus Christ “who came not to be served but to serve” (Mt 20.28). Hence, we encourage Christians, especially the youth, to take up leadership roles in public and political life. We ought to strengthen our democracy by working for electoral reforms so that not only the rich and powerful and their kith and kin but all citizens can have equal opportunity to contest and participate in governance.
We urge the Christians in the State, to participate actively in the democratic process by exercising their right and duty to vote discerningly to elect service-minded, secular and sincere leaders who are free from crime, corruption and communalism. We urge our Faithful to pray ardently at home and in our churches, especially on the Sunday before the polling day (in Telangana on April 27 and in Seemandhra on May 4) that the elections may bring us good governments. We request our Priests / Pastors to read this Pastoral Letter on that day or any Sundaybefore the polls and distribute the copies of the same to our church members.
Soon we will be part of two separate of states of residuary Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. All the same, the people both the states must cooperate and support each other as members on one joint family putting aside resentment. With the God’s strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can all work unitedly for a bright future for all the Telugu people. As we conclude, we lift our State and Country to our Guru and Lord Jesus Christ to guide, protect and bring us abundant graces.
May God bless us!
With prayerful wishes and God’s blessings,
Archbishop Thumma Bala
Presidents of A.P. Federation of Churches (APFC)
CSI Moderator Bishop G. Dyvasirvadam