Evangelical Reading of the Cross in the Context of Political Violence


2014 has been a turning point in leading to the spurt of articles, monographs, and discussions related to the topic of political violence[1]. Sections of the society ranging from scholars/academicians, philosophers/intellectuals, politicians, religious heads, and even comedians, have all rendered their views in relation to the context of political violence. This paper intends to take a step back and think through the reality of political violence from a Christian theological point of view.  It begins by scanning the present violent situation. In the light of the present violent reality, it proposes an ’evangelical’ reading of the cross to facilitate a theological engagement with and response to political violence. It proceeds to demonstrate that at the core of an evangelical reading of the cross is the ‘reconciliative-humanity of the cross.’ In the final section it sets out the implication of this understanding in relation to Christian identity and witness. It especially makes the case for “reconciliative justice” as a viable and urgent need to address our context of political violence.

The Context of Political Violence

The context we are talking about is political violence. By ‘political violence’ do we emphasize the ‘political’ behind the violence, or the ‘violence’ behind the political. The former gives the impression that there is a structure or a system that sanctions “the force that negates life.”[2] While the latter presses for the recognition that this life negating force is intrinsic to and permeates those structures that are meant to ensure peace, stability, harmony, and justice in society at large. As a working definition the paper understands political violence as any structure, system, or entity which uses force of any kind (ideological/religious, physical, psychological, financial, legal etc.) to harmfully manipulate circumstances and situations to achieve political and/or violent goals.[3]

The ghosts of the demolition of places of worship (1992), Godhra pogrom (2002), and Kandhamal (2008) continue to haunt minority communities in the form of the recent Delhi riots which claimed the lives of at least 50 people, and the CAA of 2019, and recently the Gyanvapi Case. The state of our democracy slipped from being a ‘free nation’ to a ‘partly free nation.’ Indications of emotive politics gaining an upper hand are reflected by neo-logisms like ‘post-truth society,’ ‘mobocracy,’ ‘lynchistan,’ and ‘communal laboratory’ to describe the Indian society. Fake news seems to be the current route to slap sedition charges against ‘disssenters.’ The arrest of 22-year-old Climate Activist Disha Ravi from Bangalore, for sharing a toolkit by Greta Thunberg, in support of the Farmer protests, is a prime example. Ravi’s arrest was also used as a ploy to target the Christian community by claiming that she was one of them when in fact she is not. The use of state instrumentality like the NIA is another example of cracking down on dissenters. 83-year-old tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy, who was also suffering from Parkison’s disease was falsely accused and arrested, and died in a private hospital in Mumbai on 5 July 2021. Though he requested bail on medical grounds, it was rejected multiple times. Disrupting elected governments and poaching ministers (MP, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa) are done with the single intention of obliterating the opposition (opposition-mukt bharat). These are clear indications that we are transitioning towards an ‘electoral autocracy.’ As for the economic condition, one only needs to consider the lockdown woes and the world inequality report which reflects the disparity between the rich and the poor. In the course of the Covid-19 pandemic as 10.6 million people walked for thousands of kilometers to their homes to escape the threat of hunger, the wealth of India’s billionaires increased by 35% during the lockdown and 90% since 2009. We could go on about the Farmer Protests, rape of Dalit girls, muzzling the media, and so on.

            Scholars, intellectuals, and ideologues, all have joined the bandwagon of ‘concerned citizens’ to address this quandary of political violence. It is multifaceted and complex, and must be thought beyond the ‘electoral’ process. Sample recent works that address this predicament are those of Shruti Kapila and Neera Chandoke.[4] Kapila traces the genealogy of violence in India from Bal Gangadhar Tilak to Sardar Patel. By repositioning the “power of ideas” at the core of modern India’s political foundation, she problematizes the question of ‘life with others’ or what she calls as “fraternity” in relation to these “ideological innovators,” leading to the conclusion that violence, fraternity, and sovereignty constitute a triangular concept leading to the emergence of “the Indian Age.”[5] To summarize her view, at the heart of the political idea of India lays the ontology of violence.[6] Chandoke on the other hand engages the reality of violence more pragmatically. Though she is convinced that violence should have no place in a representative democracy like India, she concludes that it is an integral part of politics. Violence is in our bones to the point that it has become a “routine way” of doing politics. This echoes what sociologist Shiv Visvanathan described years ago as the “everydayness of our violence.”[7] He warned us that these are signs of a “deeper crisis.” Calling us out as a “deeply violent” nation, he brooded that we are not willing to analyze our violent situation. This paper in a sense takes up this concern to think through the reality of violence from a Christian theological point of view. I do it primarily as a Christian theologian of/for the faith community, mainly by asking what should be the basis for a theological engagement and response to the context of political violence. The crux of the paper is that an ‘evangelical’ reading of the cross can facilitate a theological engagement with and response to the contemporary context of political violence.

An Evangelical Reading of the Cross

It is important to clarify how this paper means by the term ‘evangelical.’ Today evangelical is understood in distinction from ‘Ecumenical,’ ‘Catholic,’ ‘Orthodox,’ or even ‘Liberal.’ It is a welcome move to see scholars representing the ‘evangelical tradition’ presenting “new perspectives” for evangelical theology.[8] To put it in simple terms, by evangelical this paper means ‘gospel affirming.’ In understanding evangelical as ‘gospel affirming,’ I vouch for a ‘theology of gospel affirmation.’ At the heart of the gospel is an event – the Christ-event. Were it not for the Christ-event there would be no evangel, and hence no evangelical message or theology. It is the Christ-event that mediates to us the sum and substance of our theology. As far as theology is concerned, the Christ-event is the decisive event. Every imagination of the gospel is based on the Christ-event as given to us in the four gospel accounts. In relation to the theology of the cross, the focus is on the Christ-event in particular, as it is this event to which the four gospel accounts bear witness. Gospel affirmation theology refrains from seeing the person and work of Christ in separation and isolation from each other. It takes the Christ-event as a whole – that is the incarnation – life, ministry, passion, crucifixion, death, resurrection, ascension, and the Parousia – and reimagines it afresh in relation to the cross. While speaking of an ‘evangelical’ reading of the cross, a re-reading of this evangelical or gospel affirming event is what is intended.

But then how does one account for the diverse interpretations/hermeneutic of the Christ-event. It is here that the relational-critical nature of the Christ-event needs to be recognized. The nature of the relation is such that it functions critically to examine the diverse interpretations or hermeneutics of the cross; and likewise, the critical component sustains the continuity of diverse interpretations with the actual Christ-event. As one engages with the diverse hermeneutics of the cross, it is important to underscore that it is the particular historical and decisive Christ-event which funds all diverse interpretations of itself. In other words, the ‘stuff’ of interpretation is the Christ-event. Going a step further, it is also important to acknowledged that the Christ-event does not subsume diverse interpretations of the cross. It is only natural that there will be diverse interpretations of the Christ-event as it is understood and conceptualized from different contexts. Though space is opened for contextual and/or traditional interpretation, no ‘one particular perspective’ is allowed to serve as the final horizon for the interpretation of the cross. To privilege any one particular interpretation of the Christ-event over and against another will be guilty of contextualism or traditionalism.[9]

Further, by evangelical reading of the cross I do not mean the reduction of the cross to just one component of Christology, viz., the doctrine of atonement. Rather it calls for repositioning the Christ-event as the epistemological starting point and the framework for reconfiguring the Christian understanding of the cross. Though the cross is a sign, a symbol, and the prism through which humanity comes to know and understand God, this knowing (epistemological) and understanding (hermeneutical) dimension is mediated by the Christ-event itself. Hence theology of crossis understood inclusively as the whole narrative of the life of Jesus Christ as found in the gospel accounts. Theology of the cross plays a critical role in terms of evaluating and assessing the wider range of hermeneutical models and their validity in relation to the diverse criteria of relevance[10] that gave expression to particular strands of the theology of the cross. From a relational-critical point of view what this means is that across history different contexts of political violence gave rise to a wide range of immediate concerns or criteria of relevance – leading to diverse hermeneutics of the cross. Though one must concede the inevitability of diverse interpretations, one cannot do it by negating the actual Christ-event.

To allay the fear and suspicion of some, it must be answered whether such a view will also mean the hegemony of an evangelical approach. To this the answer is a firm ‘no.’ The relational-critical nature of an evangelical reading of the Christ-event does not function in an absolute, hegemonic, dominating, and authoritarian manner. On the contrary it is critical of any “context-relative or ethnocentric understanding[11] of itself to claim final authority. The horizon of understanding in a relational-critical theology of the cross transcends any relative criteria of relevance. This does not negate the criteria of relevance, neither does it absolutize any particular criteria of relevance. A relational-critical theology of the cross provides the larger conceptual horizon for envisioning itself in relation to particular criteria of relevance. However, it also has the potential to open and create the space for new, fresh, creative, and constructive articulations of the theology of the cross in emerging contemporary contexts. By this standard it has to be pointed out that the theology of the cross without negating local criteria of relevance-oriented conceptualizations of itself, it provides the scope for broadening understanding in the light of the larger horizon of the cross as mediated to us by the Christ-event. An evangelical reconfiguration seeks to bring into focus the transformative and transcontextual function of the Christ-event. In pressing for the categorical distinctiveness of an evangelical reconfiguration of theology of the cross, it seeks to recast the evangelical traditional understanding of the cross, which is demonstrated by diverse forms of evangelicalisms. However, this evangelical configuration can be of service to the evangelical tradition to rethink its understanding of the cross.

Reimagining Reconciliation and What it means to be Human

This brings us to raise the question of repositioning the criteria of relevance for engaging this evangelical reading of the cross in our contemporary context of political violence. The paper takes as its criteria of relevance the theological themes of reconciliation and the humanity of the cross by way of a fresh reading of the cross. As a nation though we strive to heal painful and divisive wounds fuelled by a culture of hate and animosity, we continue to wrestle ideologically and practically with the “everydayness of violence.” Avijith Pathak sums up the contemporary Indian context well when he states:

 Living in contemporary India – a society characterized by toxic nationalism, triumphant majoritarianism, heightened socioeconomic inequality, and simultaneous ethical impoverishment – is like breathing violence everywhere.[12]

            Under the assumption that we are aware of the sensitive nature of our times, if there is one theme that needs to be reinforced today, it is that of ‘reconciliation.’ In a context of hate, animosity, and estrangement, to reinforce love and embrace of the other is the need of the hour. If reconciliation is a socio-political issue, how can theology contribute to this discourse? It is interesting to note that the idea of ‘embracing’ is catching up with the churches at large on a global level. In the context of the recent Delhi riots and the CAA, and the NRC, the NCCI has issued statements to the effect of an urgent call to peace and harmony, especially by upholding the secular values and ethos of the constitution.[13] It is also interesting that the recently concluded WCC Assembly at Karlsruhe, Germany deliberated on the theme “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.”[14]

It is customary to discuss the theological theme of reconciliation as result of the atonement work of Christ. By contrast, an evangelical reading of the theology of the cross help us to see that reconciliation flows out of a “reconciliative” God, which in turn imagines a reconciliative cross. Such a reading of the cross presses for the recognition that reconciliation permeates the whole of the Christ-event. Three key biblical passages that deal with the theological motif of reconciliation are Rom. 5:6-11, 2 Cor. 5:18-21, and Col. 1:20-22. What is of importance is that the action of reconciliation as used in these texts clearly indicate that God is the ‘subject’ of reconciliation. God being the subject of reconciliation, it means that the act of reconciliation initiates with God and not human beings. Reconciliation is God turning to humanity. Reconciliation is an act that is attributed to divine initiative. Human attempts at reconciliation are responses to the divine initiative. To be reconciled is to have a change in status from being hostile and condemned to being justified and in a state of friendship and cordiality with God. An exchange happens wherein by the death of the Son, humanity is no more seen as an enemy of God. The cross mediates a change in the status of humanity from being the enemies of God to having peace with God (Rom. 5:1). This change in the human condition and status was made possible by a prior disposition, which forms the basis for the kind disposition of God to humanity in Christ. Understanding this prior disposition points us towards a ‘reconciliative’ God.

An important aspect of reconciliation is that of being well disposed to the other. The Japanese theologian Kitamori held that “the cross is in no sense an external act of God, but an act within himself.”[15] So also is the case with the Kosuke Koyama who speaks of the cross as a passionate event of God in search of humanity. This interpretation of reconciliation is important for it forces us to think of the ground (ontological basis), knowledge (epistemological basis), and goal (teleological basis) of reconciliation. The basis for this is the evangelical reading of the cross given to us in the gospel narratives. A theological reimagination of reconciliation would enquire into how the cross of Christ gives us a hint of God’s treatment of violence in consonance with God’s nature. Texts like Jn. 1:18 – where we read that the Son was close to the Father’s heart[16] – clearly indicate that reconciliation means to be well disposed or kindly disposed to the other. Reading this in the light of the prologue of the gospel of John, further hints at the nature of the Son’s relation with the Father. If this is also read in conjunction with John 14, it becomes even more evident that prior to the work of reconciliation on the cross, is the nature of God as being reconciled within Godself.  

Between the Father and the Son, and within the Godhead, there is a communion of love.[17] The self of God is always in communion. This understanding points to us the “reconciliative” nature of God. Especially considering the perichoretic relation between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, where God the Father is eternally disposed to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, we come to acknowledge the reconciliative self of God. This also becomes clear from Jn. 17:26 when we read that the Father loved the Son from all eternity. It must be clarified however that reconciliation within the Godhead is not in the sense of restoring a broken relationship. On the contrary it is a benevolent reaching out, an outflow, a relationship of deep communion between the person of the Godhead.[18] In short, reconciliation is communion. To acknowledge the communion nature of God is to affirm the reconciliative God. The ground of eternal benevolence, the communion nature, or the reconciliative nature of God is made concrete via an evangelical reading of the cross or the Christ-event.

            The logical implication of this theological meaning of reconciliation is that prior to the work of reconciliation of Christ on the cross, it is important to acknowledge the nature of God as ‘reconciliative.’ A ‘reconciliative’ God initiates and effects reconciliation in the God-human and God-cosmos relation.  By virtue of the same it is possible to extend this reconciliative nature between humanity and the whole of creation. The basis for this knowledge is not just the event of the cross, but the whole Christ-event as imagined from the point of the cross. The theology of the cross, or the whole Christ-event as given to us in the gospel accounts is a narrative-commentary on the reconciliative nature of God. The benevolent disposition of Jesus to the poor and marginalized groups in society, demonstrates that prior to the completion of the work of reconciliation on the cross, Christ was extending and revealing his reconciliative nature. It is the historical Christ who helps us to understand and acknowledge the reconciliative God. The goal or the telos of this event is reconciliation with God through Christ, and being formed into the image of Christ. To be reconciled with God is to be restored to a state of perfect harmony in the God-human relationship. It is with this understanding that we now need to discuss the humanity of the cross. 

Understanding a reconciliative God comes in the service of imagining the humanity of the cross. Jesus by identifying with alienated humanity, changed their condition and transformed it into one of harmony and cordiality with the Father through his death. The cross reveals to humanity what it is intrinsically by virtue of being created in the image of God. The humanity of the cross vouches for the truth that every single human being, irrespective of gender, caste, creed, colour/race, and socio-economic status is equal and has a common identity worthy of the highest dignity – created in the image of God. The humanity of the cross does not leave any space for discriminating against any human being on any grounds whatsoever. A reconciliative person is always disposed to the welfare and the highest good of the other. Likewise, a reconciliative community does not need a situation of hostility to be what it is intrinsically. Contrary to violence which is in most cases perpetrated by groups that are exclusive in their thinking and ideology, the humanity of the cross has space for every community. By affirming the inclusive nature of the gospel, they bear witness that God’s reconciliative nature extends to the whole of humanity leaving none outside its scope. The humanity of the cross shows that violence can be overcome and that it empowers and beckons humanity to bring down the dividing walls between hostile communities and move in the direction of an irenic environment. 

A word is in order regarding the cross and the perpetuation of violence.[19] Though it is true that the cross was a result of religious and political violence,[20] it has nothing to do with the perpetuation of violence. The cross serves to remind humanity that it puts an end to the spiral of violence, and also demonstrates that God subsumes violence. An evangelical reading of the cross demonstrates that God in Christ takes the side of the victims of violence. Beyond that, the cross exposes violence for what it is – the negation of life. It lays open the diabolic nature of unjust and oppressive systems – religious and political. In the face of violence, the cross reminds humanity that God is a participant in their violent history. From the Christ-event it is clear that in acting consistently with his reconciliative nature, Christ reached out to the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the outcastes of society. The Christ-event mediates to us the reconciliative-humanity of the cross. The humanity of the cross helps us to understand that in the face of suffering and violence, Christ empowers us to remain reconciliative and reach out to the victims and perpetrators of violence in love. Such an empowering to be a reconciliative people/community will inevitably lead to the liberation of oppressed communities and the subversion of violent systems and forces. This is especially seen in the cases of the perpetrators of violence. Revati Laul observed in the context of the Godhra pogrom that “people who are filled with hate are in a sense victims of circumstances.”[21] Hence in the case of the perpetrators of violence, we need to remember that they too are victims in need of reconciliation. The humanity of the cross reveals to us a God who embraces victims and perpetrators of violence. In as much as violence is unfortunate, the humanity of the cross gives us hope to stand up against violent forces.

Reconciliative-Humanity of the Cross, Identity, and Christian Praxis/Witness

In the light of the reimagination of a reconciliative-humanity of the cross, we need to discuss how it implies to the faith community in the contemporary context of political violence. Though many points can be highlighted, here the scope is limited to two aspects, viz., identity and witness. In relation to identity, an evangelical reading of the cross demands a total change in the person of the theologian and/or the theologizing community. The Christ-event was a ‘taking sides with’ suffering humanity. When one takes the side of suffering and oppressed humanity, it brings about a radical change in the way a person understands the ‘self’ and world as a whole. The cross disturbs the equilibrium in one’s perception of self-identity and reality as a whole. The person inspired by the cross cannot look at the world from a position of privilege and comfort. To embrace the way of the cross is to embrace pain, suffering, oppression, violence, poverty, hunger, injustice, ostracization, marginalization, and even death itself. Lest it be (mis)understood that this encourages an attitude of ‘passive suffering,’ the idea here is that engaging the cross must remain as a scathing whip on a theological conscience of privilege and convenience.

An evangelical reading of the cross will lead us out of our privileged positions/spaces to act alongside and on behalf of the marginalized sections, to the point that they are no longer seen as the merely ‘oppressed other,’ but we transcend the boundaries of ‘otherness’ and identify as one with them. When this happens, a theologian of the cross not only remains true to herself as a reconciliative person, but also brings into focus the humanity of the cross. When the cross is realized and understood from the perspective of the crucified people, it brings us closer to God who is hidden and realized in the pain, suffering, and oppression of the victims of political violence. This closeness to God via the medium of the crucified people, brings about a radical transformation in the understanding of our socio-political responsibility in the light of the cross. The way of the cross redefines our soteriological horizons to bring into perspective the socio-economic, cultural, religious, and political function and responsibilities. Hence, it takes us beyond the mere ‘personal’ dimension of salvation to the wider concern of striving for full humanity. 

A reconciliative-humanity of the cross challenges us to envision the church as a ‘reconciliative’ community, that will strive for the full humanity of victims of political violence. The important question here is what would be the contours of a reconciliative church. The majority of the Christians in Indian are represented by the marginal communities.[22] A reconciliative church affirms the other by nature (ontologically) and by design or purpose (teleologically). Deliberating on the ‘reconciliative’ nature of the church, means the ‘intra-ecclesial’ understanding of the church. By reimagining the church as a reconciliative community I mean the church’s understanding of her nature as a community of love, justice, and reconciliation. Very often discussions on the church’s ministry of reconciliation centers on the church’s relation towards those outside of the church. However, prior to the doing of reconciliation is the need for the church to understand her self as reconciliative. Reconciliation must not be reduced to a mere program of the church; rather it should be the very thing that defines the church. Hence it is important to recapture the vision of the reconciliative nature of the church. 

Taking its cue from the reimagination of a reconciliative God, the church must look within herself and pattern her self-understanding in consonance with the reconciliative nature of God. The key pattern or model of the church is the Trinitarian model. Without a Trinitarian understanding of God it is impossible to conceive a reconciliative God. A reconciliative-humanity of the cross beckons the church as a whole to think of who she is within before she proceeds to demonstrate to the world who she is without. In this regard a critical question that the church needs to reflect upon is how she treats her own members. If being reconciliative is about reaching out to the ‘other’ and about being disposed to the other, and about caring for the life and existence of the other, the church as a whole must reflect on how she treats members of and within the body of Christ. In the Indian context, this would especially mean how she treats the marginalized collective.[23] A non-reconciliative church will fail to be effective in the ministry of reconciliation.

When a church is truly reconciled within itself, then true liberation is effected. A reconciliative church will first and foremost strive for the liberation of all those who are subjugated due to oppressive structures. The reconciliative church will identify herself as a community of equals. One of the issues plaguing the church is the issue of caste. Reconciliative-humanity of the cross beckons the church to engage in soul-searching and to be reconciled within herself, and to liberate those who are oppressed and marginalized in the name of casteism. Just as the divine persons in the Godhead reach out to the other, the church in India is called to be reconciliative towards every single person and community that constitutes the body of Christ. Reconciliative-humanity of the cross ensures that there are no “outsiders within” in the church. In an age and context when caste is being politicized and politics is given a caste tinge or image, the church is cautioned to rise above all forms of caste-politics and be what she is meant to be – a reconciliative church affirming the humanity of every single member. This is not to deny that each community has its own particularity. In as much as particularity is to be appreciated, it must be done inclusively and not parochially. If the church reimagines her self from the point of view of a reconciliative-humanity of the cross, she can avoid being captive to casteism. Difference is inevitable, but exclusion is avoidable and unacceptable. The church in India must take extra caution to guard against what may be termed as the politics of exclusion and the politics of casteism – which are tools of political violence today. A reconciliative-humanity of the cross reminds and challenges the church in India to take up the cause of victims of political violence and to be their voice in society at large. This is the socio-political function of the church. In a context of political violence, one area where the church’s socio-political responsibility has to be demonstrated with urgency is justice issues.

To introduce it in an embryonic form, the need today is for “reconciliative justice.”[24] Reconciliative justice is derived from an evangelical reading of the cross. Beyond abstraction it is a relational and concrete concept. Intrinsic to the evangelical reading of the cross is the eschatology of the cross – or the hope of the resurrection. Resurrection is the negation and the subversion of death. In the context of the struggle for justice, the cross beckons the community of faith to subvert and resist every form of injustice that works to divide and dehumanize society. Politics is about people and justice issues. In talking about people, we are talking about just relationships. Reconciliative-humanity of the cross reminds us that justice is a key aspect of human relationships. Justice is a relational concept and it reinforces reconciliation. Reconciliation can never happen without justice. The best example of this is the Christ-event itself. Jesus’ life was directed towards reaching out to the marginalized sections of society. Jesus demonstrated divine justice in concrete terms to humanity. The nature of this justice is such that it not only served to critique power relations in society, but balanced power relations by means of sacrificial or agape love. The Christ-event served to put an end to totalitarian power relations, to usher in an egalitarian community where there is no distinction between Gentile and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, male and female, slave and free (Col 3:11). In the light of the cross the aspect of ‘othering’ is negated by virtue of the reaching out of God to humanity in Jesus Christ. Reconciliative-humanity of cross reminds us that justice is embedded and affirmed in the theology of the cross.  

In the function of theo-praxis, reconciliative justice seeks to effect reconciliation between the victims and the perpetrators of injustice. Certain forms of justice call for bringing the offenders or the violators of the rights of the other to justice – most often by way of penalization or punishment. However, when the idea of justice is characterized as reconciliative, it seeks the humanization of not just the victim(s), but also the offender(s) and strives to ratify the ruptured relationship between the victims and the violators of justice. Reconciliative justice is concerned for the justice of society as a whole and not just a select few. Though punishment becomes unavoidable in certain cases, reconciliative justice calls for exercising it in a way that does not compromise our nature as reconciliative persons in community. In the course of rendering justice, the humanity of the violators must not be violated. Rather it must be directed towards helping them to realize their true nature as reconciliative persons. Further, the violators of justice and their actions must not be taken to represent the whole community to which they belong. This is especially important considering the tendency to demonize a whole community because of the violent acts of a few. Reconciliative justice ensures that justice is done to the larger community to which the violators belong, so that they are not treated in the same manner as the violators. It is important to emphasize that political violence need not create an irreparable breach between the victims and the violators of justice. A good example of this is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. In the light of the injustices done to the people of South Africa, the African National Congress chose to forgive rather than to demand retribution from the offenders. Forgiveness is a very important feature of reconciliation. This is especially articulated in the Ubuntu theology of Bishop Tutu, where he states:

To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. What dehumanises you, inexorably dehumanises me. Forgiveness gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanise them.[25]

When one thinks of justice in the light of the cross from the point of the victims of political violence, what we need today is ‘reconciliative political will.’ By reconciliative-political will I mean the motivation to be proactively involved in the liberation of the socio-politically and economically oppressed, and strengthening their quest for justice. It is generally observed that Roman Catholicism and Ecumenical Protestantism are strongly grounded in “social teaching tradition.”[26] In the Indian context, the history and development of Christian thought has never been without some form of critical engagement with the political situation of the times. Christian theology cannot afford to ignore the contemporary political climate. A reconciliative-political will seeks to engage in a form of public witness that unashamedly declares its solidarity with the marginalized collective. It seeks to translate the Kingdom of God in tangible and concrete terms by demonstrating a reconciliative-political will. This is done not only by demonstrating solidarity with the marginalized collective, but also being open to initiating and/or joining others of like-minded will to achieve these goals. The goal is the common good of the whole of humanity irrespective of religion, caste, or gender. In the face of the complexities of the violent socio-political context, reconciliative-humanity of the cross inspires us to struggle for justice. The model for this is a Christ who underwent political violence not that it may glorified, but that humanity may discover the ground for becoming reconciliative persons in community and work toward genuine reconciliation. 


            The phenomenon of political violence will continue to puzzle us. One thing that cannot be denied however is its reality. No doubt we need to reason through it intellectually, academically, ideologically/philosophically, and religiously/theologically. But any imagination detached from the existential/experiential reality of political violence will remain handicapped at best. More than abstractions, the challenge is to articulate it in concrete terms. An evangelical reading of the cross imagines the Christ-event as ‘the word of the cross’ with the potential to reposition our understanding of the gospel to strive for reconciliative justice. In the face of political violence which is characterized by hatred, hostility, animosity, and the violent negation of life, this paper vouches for the life/gospel affirming “reconciliative-humanity of the cross” as a promising theological model and method to effect reconciliation and affirm humanity which is at the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ. Could it be that such an understanding of the cross is eclipsed on our churches and needs to be urgently rediscovered!

Dr Amritraj Joshua Paul is Associate Professor of Theology, Department of Theology and History at SAIACS. His areas of interest are Contemporary Critical Theories, Indian Christian Theology, Karl Barth and M. M. Thomas. His work revolves around the hermeneutics of the Cross and violence. Prior to his theological studies he served on the Staff team of UESI-Kerala and the Ministry Team of RZIM.

[1] Sample works are Upinder Singh, Political Violence in Ancient India (Massachusetts, 2017); and Ali Riaz, Zobaida Nasreen and Fahmida Zaman, Political Violence in South Asia (London: Routledge, 2019).

[2] See Samson Prabhakar, ed., Overcoming Violence (Bangalore: SATHRI/BTESSC, 2004), v.

[3] It is manifested in the form of war, terrorism, ideological tensions, religious tension, communal tensions, vigilantism of various kinds, vendetta politics, mob-lynching, retaliatory killings etc.

[4] See Shruti Kapila, Violent Fraternity: Indian Political Thought in the Global Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021); Neera Chandhoke, The Violence in Our Bones: Mapping the Deadly Fault Lines Within Indian Society (New Delhi: Aleph, 2021). 

[5] By “The Indian Age” is contrasted with the grand idea of India as envision by Nehru. It refers to the historical epoch of a new political thinking and a horizon of thought which engages the essential and fundamental questions of violence. See Kapila, Violent Fraternity, 12-13. 

[6] To understand this, see Aparna Vaidik, My Son’s Inheritance: A Secret History of Lynching and Blood Justice in India (New Delhi, Aleph, 2020. Her view is that “the essence of Indian civilization is also violence.” Especially see Chapter 4 Violence Forges Community.

[7] See Shiv Visvanathan, “The ‘everydayness’ of our Violence,” The Hindu, 10 May 2016, 10. 

[8] See especially Tom Greggs, ed., New Perspectives for Evangelical Theology: Engaging with God, Scripture and the World (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2010). 

[9] By contextualism/traditionalism I mean a situation where one’s particular criteria of relevance or context/tradition is taken to be the final or defining horizon of understanding. 

[10] Criteria of relevance means the immediate and larger concern of the particular theologian or theologizing community which served as the point of departure for thinking through the meaning of the cross.

[11] Thiselton, New Horizons, 613. Emphasis in the original.

[12] Avijit Pathak, “Nonviolence as an Art of Resistance,” The Hindu (Kochi), 4 February 2020, 9. Emphasis added.

[13] For the statements of the NCCI in the context of the Delhi violence and the CAA see Asir Ebenezer, “Rising from the Ashes,” NCCI (26 February 2020), https://ncci1914.com/category/statements/  (20 September 2022).

[14] This was held from Aug 28th – Sept 8th 2022. See  https://www.oikoumene.org/news/worlds-churches-converge-on-germany-city-of-karlsruhe-to-pray-and-act.

[15] Kitamori, Pain of God…, 45. Kitamori borrows this thought from P. T. Forsyth who affirms that “The cross was the reflection (or say rather the historic pole) of an act within Godhead.” See P. T. Forsyth, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ (London: Congregational Union of England and Wales and Hodder & Stoughton, 1910), 270.

[16] This literally translates as in the “bosom” of the Father. Being in someone’s bosom denotes the closest possible association with that person.

[17] A theologian who has developed this thought in detail is Jürgen Moltmann. See Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God: The Doctrine of God, translated by Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press [1981], 1991). Especially see Chapter II, §8 God is Love, 57-59.

[18] This thought is also not alien to Indian theological thinking. Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya (1861-1907) explored this same line of thinking in his theological engagement with Advaita philosophy. 

[19] It is a sad reality in the history of Christianity that Imperial powers marched to war and conquered with the sword under the banner of the cross. Even today this is a blot on Christianity and is a major reason for attracting strong criticism for Christianity having a violent angle to it.

[20] Crucifixion was alien to Jewish law/culture. This practice was introduced by the Assyrians and later adopted by the Romans. Historically and religio-socio-politically speaking, Jesus was a victim of the Judeo-religious and Roman political nexus. See Martin Hengel, Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, translated by John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1977).

[21] Interview with Revati Laul by Sudipta Datta, The Hindu (Kochi), 16 Feb 2020, Literary Review, 7. To quote her at length, she says that, “… we have to look at the perpetrators of violence – their uncertainty, their fear of fear, of each other, of belonging. When we understand that, we can work on rebuilding their identities in ways that are more secure than what the politics of hate can offer. The people who are filled with hate are in a sense victims of circumstances, and we need to change those circumstances.” Also see Revati Laul, The Anatomy of Hate (Chennai: Context, 2018).

[22] It is estimated that at least 70% of Christians in India are from the minority background. See Asir Ebenezer, “Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims Await Justice; 70 Years of Discrimination Based on Religion,” NCCI (9 August 2020), https://ncci1914.com/7579/2020/08/09/general-news/ (20 September 2022).  

[23] By marginalized collective I mean the the oppressed groups of people – the Dalits, the Tribals, the Women, the Adivasies, Children, Sexual Minorities, Victims of HIV/AIDS, Persons with Disability, etc.

[24] This is my own coinage and is in the process of being developed. 

[25] Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa: Random House, 1999), chap. II, Kindle.

[26] See David P. Gushee, “Toward an Evangelical Social Tradition,” in Christian Political Witness, edited by George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee (Hyderabad: Authentic Books, 2014), 196. 

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