A recent Facebook post by a young woman named Justey Alex declaring that she was resigning from the Mar Thoma Church, which she has been part of since she was four months old, has led to much debate on social media groups. The immediate reason she cited for her resignation was the participation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 90th birthday celebrations of Joseph Mar Thoma, the Metropolitan, at the Alexander Mar Thoma auditorium in Thiruvalla on June 27. The PM gave an address through video conferencing.
She has also cited the church's misogyny, hypocrisy and patriarchy as other reasons for her resignation.
However, the participation of the PM and Mizoram governor Sreedharan Pillai, former Kerala BJP President, in the event has invited massive flak from within the church. Apart from Justey, others too have resigned as a mark of protest.
In 2007, the Mar Thoma Church faced criticism for inviting LK Advani, then opposition leader, for the 90th birthday celebrations of Philipose Mar Chrysostom, the then Metropolitan of the church.
A statement signed by more than 100 members of the church said that the authorities did not consult anyone in the church before taking a decision to invite the PM.
"Why should some politicians participate in the birthday of a church head? While many of these prominent persons participated, the local legislative assembly member was not invited. So they have excluded people considering the politics," the letter says.
Joyal Suni Sakhi, a church member who also signed the letter, points out that the system is flawed and that the church needs reformation.
"The Mar Thoma Church hasn't taken a stand in the issue of the Citizen Amendment Act. They are siding with the powerful. The Syrian churches still believe in the caste system. Now they say inviting PM Modi was a plan suggested by the Mizoram Governor. But what does he have to do with the church? We are calling for a reformation in the church. We need Dalit, women leaders in the forefront of the church," Joyal said. He also added that the church did nothing to help people who are struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic, but spent a huge amount on these celebrations and to construct buildings.
Joyal alleged that through the church, the BJP was trying to establish itself in Kerala.
The letter by Justey also comes down heavily on the church's politics.
"Narendra Modi, the leader of that fascist ruling party which promoted mob lynching of minorities and Dalits across the country, which passed anti-minority bills such as CAA-NRC, and arbitrarily arrested human rights activists. The very man who propagates Hindutva ideology - the same ideology that burned Graham Staines and his family alive. The Mar Thoma Church never uttered a word against any of the political and social persecution of the minorities and oppressed castes in the country," she said. She also demanded equal participation and power to women, Dalits and Adivasis in the church.
Shibi Peter, who works at the National Council of Churches in India, a forum of protestant and orthodox churches, says that it was not right to invite political leaders to a church function.
"The same Metropolitan had visited Modi in Gujarat when he was Chief Minister. So in a way the church is supporting a politics that humiliates minorities, Dalits and Adivasis," he said.