"Son of man, can these bones live?" (Ezekiel 37:3)

Rev. Thomas John

It was at the behest and insistence of the people of Israel that Yahweh, the God of Israel, allowed Samuel to anoint Saul as the King of Israel. Yahweh, through the prophet Samuel, communicated to the people the oppression and exploitation that would entail the appointment of a King over Israel. (1 Samuel 8: 10-22) But yet, "the people refused to listen to Samuel. 'No!' they said. 'We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.'" (1 Samuel 8: 19, 20) Subsequently, the same people who insisted on having a king went through some of the worst experiences of monarchical rule under both, Saul and Solomon.

During the negotiations for church union, the non-episcopal churches cautioned that episcopacy as a form of church polity is fraught with dangerous consequences especially in a society steeped in a feudal culture. Yet, despite their warnings, the negotiators, imbued with an urgency for union, went ahead and accepted episcopacy as a form of church government that was in existence since the inception of the church (historic) without subscribing to any theological position associated with it which has a history in the western world. Today, the prophetic warnings of the non-episcopal churches have become a reality and the chicken has come home to roost. In the CSI, episcopacy has become monarchical; it has become ruthless, tyrannical, and exploitative without any regard for the calling and mission of the church.

The Bishops in CSI, without any exception, either by their active participation or silent complicity have allowed themselves to be, both literally and figuratively, like the shepherds of Israel as described in the book Ezekiel, Ch. 34, "Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally."

On 11 December 2018, the Crime Investigation Department (CID) arrested the former moderator of the Church of South India, Rt. Rev. G. Dyvasirvadam for his alleged involvement in the misappropriation of church funds and properties. He was produced before the local court, which remanded him to a 14 day judicial custody. The former moderator is languishing in jail even as I write this article. His arrest has happened in the light of various financial scams that the CSITA has been involved in. In 2015, the Registrar of Companies had found that the CSITA was not providing a clear picture of its accounts and had not maintained a list of its properties. Subsequently, it was also found that the CSITA had made amendments to its rule book without the Centre's approval. Considering the financial irregularities unearthed so far, the CID estimates that the scam runs into several thousand crores of rupees. The arrest and role of the former moderator in this scam is only a tip of the iceberg. The CID is continuing the investigation and there are more skeletons yet to tumble out of the closet, involving not just moderators, but several other bishops too.  (For detailed news reports, see: CID Arrests CSI Archbishop Dyvarsirvadam for Church Fund Scam; Misuse of Church Funds: CID Inspects CSI Office)

The Church of South India has had several saintly souls who served as bishops and moderators. The Rt. Rev. Isaiah Jesudason, was the last of such moderators. He was the moderator from 1982-87, and was someone who had to be persuaded to become a moderator. They were illustrious, yet humble and always adopted a simple and penurious lifestyle, keeping in mind the distinctiveness of the episcopacy in CSI. Since 1987, electoral politics and money changing hands became necessary for one to become a bishop. Associated with that came the formation of mafias that made and unmade bishops and decided on the politics of the CSI Synod. These mafias subsequently thrived on selling and leasing of CSI properties and "developing" church properties involving crores of rupees for shopping complexes etc. Mission ceased to be an agenda for the church. Bishopric became a good investment one could make expecting good returns.

Matters came to worse with the globalization and liberalization agenda of the state in the 1990s. Private agencies were allowed to establish self-financing educational institutions, especially professional colleges to be run almost as commercial ventures with capitation fee for admissions. This also marked the death of mission schools and colleges. They no longer were in the mission priorities. Though they (aided schools and colleges) continued to be milking cows that fetched enormous money for the appointment of teachers, they continued to face neglect. Minority rights, provided by the Indian constitution for minorities to establish and run educational institutions came in handy for this power seeking, wealth seeking, mafia to make enormous black money and acquire associated social and political clout, through starting self-financing professional educational institutions. It is these goons that decide the diocesan and synod politics. The ordinary people in the pew were made happy with a veneer of revivals and miracle crusades which further ensured unreserved obedience to ecclesiastics. "Mafiasation" of the church was thus made complete, and Jesus Christ and his mission was left to fend for itself.

One apt example of this is the Dr. Somervell Memorial CSI Medical College, Karakonam. This medical college determines to a large extent the politics of the diocese. This college has become the hot-bed of corruption; and often the existing ruling political formation plays second fiddle to it. The diocese, with its Nadar (caste) base and strength as a vote bank, is decisive in determining the politics of the state too. The medical college was able to influence the government to issue G.O (Rt) No. 2031/2018/H&FWD dated 25.06.2018, that revised the seat matrix for two colleges, Dr. Somervell Memorial CSI Medical College and the Believers Church Medical College, Thiruvalla for the academic year 2018-19. As per this government order, an additional 5th category was added to augment the minority community and NRI quota seats by including "Members/Associate Members of CSI other than South Kerala Diocese and Members/Associate Members from CMS Anglican Church" and thus privileging the management to broaden the scope of admitting all and sundry under minority community quota and indulging in gross sale of seats for medical education.

On the plea of a few students belonging to the South Kerala Diocese (SKD)/South India Union of Churches (SIUC) that their rights to community quota seats have been denied by fraudulently bringing in students from other communities, the High Court of Kerala ordered that the Admission Fee Regulator Committee (AFRC) headed by Hon. Justice R. Rajendra Babu must review the admission of students for the year 2018-2019. The committee as part of its inquiry, had cross examined the Bishop of the SKD, Rt. Rev. A Dharmaraj Rasalam and the Moderator of CSI, the Most Rev. Thomas K Oommen. The following are excerpts from the AFRC report/order. They are highly revealing of the collusion of these ecclesiastics in this fraudulent action.

"The Bishop (Bp. Rasalam) stated before the committee that the reason for change in the seat matrix from the Government order dated 23.06.2018 to Ext. P11 dated 25.06.2018, including CMS Anglican Churches/Diocese was as per the recommendation of Admission Committee of the CSI Church, of which he was the chairman... Though such a statement was made, no reliable evidence could be produced to establish the same and the above version cannot be believed in its face value... In the above circumstances, the assignment of 15 seats to the CMS Anglican Churches could be with ulterior motives of collecting bribes as alleged in the complaints filed before the committee."

The committee pointed out: "The reservation of seats under minority community quota is available only to the community which established the college, viz CSI (SIUC). The evidence in this matter would show that CMS Anglican Churches are totally independent separate religious denomination which has no connection with CSI or SIUC. It would be relevant to note that CMS Anglican Churches were not included in the community quota in the prospectus. The assignment or inclusion of CMS Anglican Churches in the minority community quota at a very late stage appears to be with ulterior motives."

The nine students who sought admission with certificate from a certain Rt. Rev. David V. Lukose under this category do "not belong to the community CMS Anglican Church and they belonged to other denominations of Christian community and the certificate issued by Rt. Rev. David V Lukose are fake. Further, the committee finds that the admission of the above students in the minority community quota "Members/Associate Members of CMS Anglican Church" cannot be approved and are liable to be rejected."

Any person with some common sense and integrity would not believe that Bishop Rasalam and the Most Rev. Thomas K Oommen were unaware of the fact that this bogus bishop (David V Lukose) is a creation of the mafia working around the medical college to hood wink the authorities. The Rt. Rev. David V Lukose is a fraud created for the purpose of swindling money by those who are in positions of power, including the Bishops. How cleverly have they tried to cheat the system and make money!

According to the committee, one of the candidates, Mr. Aaron Abraham Philip got admission in the category Members/Associate Members of CMS Anglican Church. When examined, he stated that he belonged to the CSI Church and that CSI and the CMS Anglican Churches are one and the same. The Most. Rev. Thomas K Oommen had also issued the minority community certificate to Sri. Aaron Abraham Philip stating that he belonged to "Members/ Associate Members of CMS Anglican Church." The Moderator, when examined "stated that CSI (SIUC) and CMS Anglican Churches are totally different religious denominations and he issued the certificate without verifying any documents."

The committee points its finger to the premeditated lie of the Bishop when it states: "Even the above certificate issued by the Bishop would reveal that Aaron Abraham Philip is a member of CSI Christ Church, Thiruvananthapuram. The certificate issued by the Vicar Rev. C. Y. Thomas also would show that Aaron Abraham Philip is a member of CSI Christ Church. In fact, the Bishop of CSI, Madhya Kerala Diocese is not competent to issue a certificate as "Member/ Associate Member of CMS Anglican Church... The evidence would establish that Aaron Abraham Philip is a member of CSI Church and not Member/ Associate Member of CMS Anglican Church and hence, his admission to the MBBS course in the above community quota cannot be approved and is liable to be rejected." Should we then just assume from all this that our moderator is ignorant and foolish? (For detailed news reports, see: 11 MBBS Admissions at Kerala Medical College Declared Void by AFRC; Admissions to 11 Seats Declared Void; സർട്ടിഫിക്കറ്റ് വിവാദം: ബിഷപ്പ് ഡേവിഡ് വി ലൂക്കോസ് വ്യാജനെന്ന് ആരോപണം)

The church has been facing an extremely difficult situation ever since the National Company Law Tribunal removed all the directors and office bearers managing the CSI and installed Retired Justice K. Sampath as its chairman in 2016. In October 2016, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs had engaged the Serious Fraud Investigation Office to probe the alleged balance-sheet irregularities of the CSITA. Subsequently, the National Company Law Tribunal stated that "there is an urgent need to regulate the affairs of the R1 company (Church of South India Trust Association)" and hence, it removes "all the directors and managing committee including office bearers..." Further, "the erstwhile management committee is directed to hand over all the documents and books of accounts and other records of the R1 company to the Registry of this bench is a sealed cover within a week from the date of pronouncement of this order..." (For detailed news report: Company Law Tribunal Dismantles Top Order at Church of South India: Appoints Retired Judge; Church of South India Caught in a Web of Irregularities)

Instead of squarely facing the facts and trying to set the house in order, this news was conveniently kept hidden from the people and everything seemed to go on as usual. The ousted Honorary Secretary of the trust, Daniel R. Sadananda and the Honorary Treasurer, Robert Bruce moved the High Court seeking to quash the order.

But the law has been catching up and the High Court (Madras) dismissed the appeal on 23 December 2018. The Times of India reported: "In a major setback to the erstwhile management of the Church of South India T.A, the Madras high Court has dismissed the appeal challenging the order passed by the NCLT, removing all directors, management committee including office bearers of the Trust and appointing a former Judge of the Court as the Chairman to manage its affairs." 

The boat that is the church is still drifting. The thugs in it may still be planning for other legal options. They can still appeal to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT). It is doubtful whether they would take recourse to such measures before an extremely competent professional investigating body. The CSITA does not even have a register of its immovable assets including landed property.

This is a time for all of us to repent in dust and ashes. The silent majority fails to take up their discipleship seriously; they fail to recognize the church as the called out people, sent out by Jesus Christ, to carry forward Christ's mission in the world. We also have turned the church into a member's only club that would add to our respectability. We pay obeisance to these bishops and pastors to add value to our baptisms, weddings, and funerals. We work with a false missiology and ecclesiology (theology of mission and church). We have failed in realizing that the whole paraphernalia of ecclesiastics is to equip the saints, us the laity, for their mission in the world. We have somehow mistaken the church for the ecclesiastical and have been pumping enormous resources to maintain it. We have elevated pastors, shepherds to 'priests', and failed to realize that we as the church have been called to be God's holy and royal priesthood. We have allowed ourselves to be slaves to these shepherds in wolf's clothing. It is high time that we retrieve our rightful place in the church.

The ecclesiastical heads, who have brought the church to this impasse can still continue to allow the boat that is the church to drift. We cannot expect from any of these people an iota of repentance, unless God intervenes. As I write this, instead listening to the voice of sanity, they are ruthlessly stifling all voices of dissent, without any constitutional morality or civility. They have lost their cool. They have become like Saul who was possessed by the evil spirit. "Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him" (1 Samuel 16:14) He was possessed by a sense of revenge. But, still let us pray that finally God's Spirit to prevail.

I suggest that we consider taking the following infant steps to deal with this Goliath in front of us:

1. We must network among us and create a Fellowship that covers the entire CSI jurisdiction. We need to work first for a spiritual revival/renewal; something of what John the Baptist demanded. I am not asking for retrogressive emotional piety, but rather reminding us of our calling to be Jesus' disciples transcending our church-going and church-centered Christianity that we often wear over our shoulders. We need to rediscover our mission and our vocation as a Church. We should remind ourselves and our friends that we are the Church, not the bishops and the Presbyters. The Church - the one, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church - is present in all its fullness in the local worshipping community. Congregation must become the focus; people must become the focus and not the ecclesiastics or ecclesiastical paraphernalia.

2. We should bring to the awareness of people the real situation we are in as a church. We should not allow an information overload to clog information from reaching our constituencies. We should find a way to use our social media in a more streamlined manner and not merely for our self-expression.

3. We should get our theologians, retired and serving pastors and a wider group of informed lay leadership together to talk about an alternative church polity and church governance that would remedy the kind of dangers we are in and facilitate our Christian witness in this land. If the church administration goes into the hands of a secular administration, it is important that we reach a consensus at the earliest regarding the way we should organize ourselves as an institution and present the same to the appropriate bodies so that we could start on a clean slate with clear sense of direction.

Let me conclude by drawing your attention to an article, The City in Ruins: the Story of an Ecumenical Vision Betrayed, that I had written in 2011. It is a reflection on the present reality of the church and posing an alternative model of church governance that we can think of. I invite your comments on it. You can also access me in my email address: revthomasjohn@gmail.com.

May God use us despite our frailties to turn the church around to fulfil its mission! Let us continue to pray and work for its revival and renewal.

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