J.C.Kumarappa’s Contribution to Creative Inter- faith Relationship - Solomon Victus
Introduction: Joseph Cornelius Kumarappa (1892-1960) is known to the Indian secular world as a Gandhian economist, Charted Accountant and Business Administrator who studied in India, the UK and the USA. Accidently he caught up with a discussion with M.K. Gandhi in publishing his thesis work in Young India and that led him to closer to Gandhi and Independence Movement. Later he had become a colleague to Gandhi in building up economic programmes for the newly Independent India. J.C.Kumarappa born and brought up in a staunch Christian Tamil family atmosphere in Tanjore and went on to develop fundamentally that Christian tradition he had inherited. His close association with Gandhi and with freedom struggle gave him a deep critical understanding of British rule in India and of the function of the Church that led him to interpret Jesus and his life in very distinctive ways especially from the Indian pluralistic context. It is unfortunate that the Indian Church did not seriously take care of Kumarappa’s arguments for the betterment of the church as well as society till today.
He saw, in general, that Christianity had lost its social function and adapted state functions. He maintained Jesus religion or the Movement of Jesus separately from others and considers that it is a pure religion. In the ancient world, religion played the part of a code of laws, regulating people’s daily conduct and mode of life. In this sense, he found, Judaism and Hinduism are religions, while Christianity cannot be brought into such a category. As he travelled from his faith road he was able to discover some thing creative for the rest of the believers and so he is standing tall in bold inter faith ventures.
Concern about the alien nature of theology: Undoubtedly the motivation behind the indigenous movement for evolving a more Indian church was mixed. Probably one of the most important factors was the nationalism of 1940s. Certainly patriotism was the motive that had brought the issue of indigenisation to the fore. In this atmosphere Kumarappa, a South Indian Christian and Economist, who had a strong taste for a theology in India based on the dynamism of Jesus’ precepts and practices and inter-faith relations, unfortunately found Jesus’ movement had become static and stagnant in India, through organised religious dogmas and creeds of the West. He felt,
Christianity, as we see around us, is totally foreign to our culture. The gorgeous ceremonies, the dependence on the priesthood, the aggressive proselytizing spirit and the obeisance the church pays to state are not found in our land.
Rather he found individual and family worships, simple forms of rites, non necessity of buildings, more time for meditation, decentralized form of religion, non priest centered religion of Jesus are closer to Indian culture.
Kumarappa did not use the terminology ‘theology’ or ‘Inter-faith relations’ for there were not much talk of the theology at the popular level, but of course many references are available over and against the Westernized imported knowledge of the teachings of Christianity. He used to compare such methodology of teachings with St. Paul, who himself, according to Kumarappa, was a denationalized Jew by birth, a Roman citizen with a coveted position of honour was brought up in a tradition of loyalty to a foreign power therefore his belief in the authority of the Bible would help only denationalized Indians.
Kumarappa was very much pained to see the Indian Christians who uncritically importing the Western mode of life style as it was, to India. He went to the extent of calling such Christians as belonging to a ‘House of Imitation’, who would imitate Westerners in every possible way and therefore he was very much ashamed and felt humiliated sometimes to belong to such a Christian community. He wrote,
These Indian Christians imitated them even in their mode and standard of living while they proposed to follow the Master who had nowhere to lay His head, while the cross they carried was a gold one on their watch chains! Unfortunately today, those of us who call ourselves ‘Christians’ have accepted Western ways and, having come under the tutelage of European mentors, have learnt to ape this fashion and manner of living.
Furthermore Kumarappa was apprehensive about the Indian Christians who had become like exclusive, White clubs with racial distinctions.
The Indian Christian community…. have been following apishly in the footsteps of their imperial masters to pick up a few crumbs that may fall from the festive board of the exploiters. It maintains a Western standard of life so as to gain their respect and patronage.
The Indian Christians had a false idea of alien status and were deeply uprooted for the same reason. During the time of British rule most of the Christians in India were more proud of identifying themselves with British than with Indians and pictured Jesus as an advocator of political and church authorities in India. Kumarappa exposed the majority of the Christians of his time saying,
The term ‘Christian’ denoted only a community with certain habits and standards of life - largely westernized and divorced from the national culture of our land, priding itself on its close association with Western culture and civilization....The Indian Christians who are thoroughly denationalized even to the extent of making English almost our mother tongue, and are taught from childhood to be loyal citizens proud of being British born subjects.
But there were exceptions too. There were a few British Missionaries as well as Indian Christians proving more sensitive to Indian Nationalism and seeking sincerely to understand the Indian National Movement and independent thinking. Some missionary Bishops like J. Waskom Pickett were exceptional in their understanding of the handicap of the foreignness of Christianity.  Similarly Bishop Michael Hollis could not advocate the denationalized culture and foreignness of the Indian Churches as a continued fashion. Apart from a few most of the missionaries fell in line with denationalized culture. Daniel O’Connor [U.K.] recognized the few Indian Christians including R.K. Rudra and J.C. Kumarappa who deeply shared the national awakening had a good deal to do with loosening the rigid theological position of distinctive Western character. Similar voices were later continued and raised by few Indian lay theologians like D.G. Moses.  Nevertheless it was high priority of Kumarappa that the Christianity needs to take deep roots in the Indian soil.
In Search of New Indian Christianity: J.C.Kumarappa’s theological search and religious journey was considered a highly polemic from the traditional Christian perspective but today in a secular and pluralistic context it gains more sense over his radical interfaith position. Although he hails from the context of high Anglican tradition practicing Christianity, he gradually developed a broader view of accepting religious pluralism and affirming secularism. Although secular views of religions were one of the fundamental concerns of the Indian National Congress, Kumarappa’s ideas of Inter-faith relations were considered to be significant from both Christian and secular point of view. It is also a unique model for secular Christians to understand how is it possible to have profound faith in Jesus, simultaneously accepting Inter-faith relationships in a very rational way. This position, although, is not completely been accepted amongst all the churches as well as a few other major religious traditions till today, his effort was highly noteworthy in the climate of the fervent Christian mission transmitters.
He never stopped searching the truth as he went on probing to find a breakthrough in different religious faiths. As a result he also developed a mutual respect for other religions rather than a sort of tolerance. During this development in his spirituality he was equally unhappy about the big-headed way Christians looked down on other religions too.
I am afraid, Christian churches have not been mindful of these instructions in their great hurry to make the world worships as they do. They have disregarded all other religions…. Some of the rituals now practiced by the churches are revolting to the fine sentiments of the people amongst whom we live.
His high sensitivity over other religions made him look at things reciprocally. Offending any religious minorities or little ones is a serious issue to him. Vegetarianism was one among the many issues. He understood Jesus’ love was extended to the whole human world, as Buddha extended love to all sentient creatures and Jains even extended love to all things having life. But the Christians by eating meat did so even at the risk of offending their neighbors, Muslims, by eating pork and Hindus, by eating beef. In the mean time he stopped eating meat and even started suggesting to avoid the symbolic words used by Jesus of blood and flesh especially to vegetarian contexts. Kumarappa wrote that the concept of blood and wine cannot be practiced in India and if Jesus knew the seriousness of the other religious traditions, rather he would have changed it for the sake of those from a vegetarian context. According to Kumarappa the doctrine such as transubstantiation is a perversion of the original figure of speech of Jesus and it has become a gruesome and almost cannibalistic rite performed in the name of Love and Truth.
His approach to Christian Worships: - Although Kumarappa was a baptized and communicant member of the church in India, as time passed, he developed less interest in the organised churches and the regular attendance to worship and rather he engaged in reinterpretations on the ecclesiastical elements and sacraments of the Christian worship. For him worship was something, which was not limited to a place or day or time but it was a life long devotion and discipline,
Worship of God is not to be confined or to be limited to this mountain or that cathedral, to this church or that chapel, or temple or mosque, but is to be open to all activities in every walk of life from cradle to grave, and to all mankind.
Since Kumarappa believed in the universal religion where God is the father, all humans are brothers and sisters and every newborn child attains fraternal relation with God and there is no necessity of baptism, which ultimately leads to a group. In the same pattern he understood the Eucharist by saying since God is the senior most person the friendship between God and human is a very intimate one. If we are in close communion with God, all our activities will bear the hallmark of him, and our faces will be transformed. Kumarappa also cautions any standard form of worship for its inherent problem of communalism rather he welcomes common inter-faith worship,
Spirit knows no rituals…. It is futile to lay down set forms and ceremonies…. At the same time we have to recognize that the experiences of others are helpful to us, and there are several spirits quite close enough in their make up to be able to fall in to convenient groups. Such groups may get together for common worship, for mutual aid and help, but such common forms are definitely sinful when they assume an exclusive aspect.
Based on these understandings Kumarappa could not continue to be a full member of an organised church but rather his ideas of God and revelation through Jesus were mostly in agreement with ‘Society of Friends’ (Quaker Movement). His alignment with Indian Ashram movement, especially with the experiments started by Dr. Jesudason and Dr. Paton at Thirupattur in North Arcot District also needs to be connected in this way. The Ashram report says that veteran leaders like J.C. Kumarappa, W. Ariyanayagam, P. Chenchiah and R.R. Keithahn were some the seniors who participated in the work of the Ashram regularly. Gandhi also visited the Ashram and wrote back to Vallabhai Patel that Kumarappa has good association with such Christian experiments by writing “You can more or less describe it all putting Christianity in an Indian dress”. Nevertheless those Gandhian Christians like R.K. Rudra, J.C. Kumarappa, S.K. George, though relatively small but important group, held national freedom was of supreme importance opposing British exploitative and corrupt rule along with their new understanding of Indian Christianity.
Kumarappa’s Thirst for an Inclusive Christianity: - Christianity in India somehow unfortunately inherited a sort of spiritual tradition which was fundamentally exclusive in nature in spite of its other considerable characteristics. The norms set by the early Western Christianity could be a stumbling block to the future posterity unless and otherwise we identify and correct it now. Most of the time we Christians do not know, how ourselves are caught in exclusion by excluding others. Kumarappa as a genuine Christian found it was necessary to identify with the cause of national freedom rather than identifying with the colonial Church, which was basically patronised by the imperial power. His theological positions were seemed perhaps anti establishment towards the ecclesiastical order, which found a self-righteous space under the shadow of the colonial expansion.
Moreover Kumarappa’s appearance with a bearded face, Gandhian cap, khadhi dressed bachelor, who relinquished family life, his understanding on the religious conversion, partial acceptance of scriptural validity of Old and New Testament, non-membership of the Church, indistinct relation with the theological forums, political party alignment, the confrontation with the ecclesiastical authorities and not favouring material accumulation all this would not be a problem in his own secular circles. But for the traditional ‘Good Christians’, this kind of life style and these sentiments of Kumarappa do not suit to Christianity. Such person was also not seen as a ‘successful man’ by the church in terms of money, wealthy, prosperity and family life, children with successful careers. Therefore the typical church found him to be sort of a non-fitting personality, holding extreme ‘heretical’ as well as diametrically opposite views on the accepted concepts of Christianity. Moreover, in my opinion by and large the Indian Christians must have followed a policy of distancing themselves from Kumarappa only for the sake of the Western authorities of the church and not because of their own convictions. But again those criticisms posed by Kumarappa, which are on and off taken by the Indian Christian Theologians as well the Third World and Post-Colonial Theologians today, still challenge and ignite the relevance of current theological discussion.
Emphasis on Theo-centric Understanding: - Although J.C. Kumarappa speaks about the Jesus movement quiet often, later he transcends from Jesus-centric approach to Theo-centric when it comes to pluralistic traditions in Indian spirituality. Having experienced with all the religious people probably he would have found it that theo-centrism a permanently safer position in the Indian multi religious context. When ‘Indian Fellowship of Reconciliation’ an organisation was to be formed as part of the Western Society of Friends, the Peace Pledge Union, the War Resisters International and the Fellowship of Reconciliation at Christava Seva Ashram, Manganam (Kerala), Kumarappa criticised the move of this Ashram that it is nothing much of ‘Indian’ but a branch of the Western unit. Why because the aim and objectives of ‘Indian’ Fellowship of Reconciliation read as, “I believe that the love demonstrated in Jesus Christ is the only adequate basis for personal, social, economic, national and international relationships”. But for Kumarappa the special reference to Jesus in the clause of the Indian Fellowship was ‘unintendedly dangerous, smacks of sectarianism, fountain head of fanaticism and conflict’ to ‘India, the home of many religions and tolerance’. In his opinion there was no call necessary in India for citing any particular brand of Love! But ‘all embracing love of the Universal Father of Humankind could be the common ground’. Finally he pleaded the concerned Christian people that ‘the outmoded approach to religion based on the form of “Superiority Complex” may now be abandoned yielding place to greater understanding and thus for tolerance and true reconciliation’.
Equality of Religions: - In the final part of his life, Kumarappa was engaged more on the aspect of equality of religions with a unique model of Indian secularism allowing no place to the claim of absolutism to any religion. Kumarappa had the courage to pick up goodness from all fields and he was so open to new positive experiments and willing to steer clear if it was not conducive to the common good of the people. In religion he started with a very extreme form of Christianity and eventually ended up with a new form of spirituality drawing from all experiences of different religious friends, which contributed to the common good. Slowly the religious boundaries in him were blurred. He was a firm believer of monotheism, one God with many religions as the broad base for the common religiosity, which understands that there are one sky, one sun, one moon and many stars for everybody. For him,
[m]ost religions are levers to attain this [advanced spiritual] stage. They all advocate love of our neighbours and service of the needy. They also point out how man, when he deviates from God’s ways, sins and comes under judgement. They warn people of the allurements of desire and of the danger of exercising our will our will to sub-serve worldly pleasures of the passing moment.
Kumarappa saw in all the religions their own uniqueness too. On the question of equality he felt that Islam proved to be superior to Christianity. While he dealt with purpose of separate existence of religions, understood each human differs from other humans in his/her approach to God. Since God is of infinite nature, one particular aspect of God appeals to a certain group, while some other aspect claims the devotion of another group.
Jesus reveals God through love…. The Muslims see God as a Father and regard all co-worshippers as their brethren…. The Hindus conceive God as the Creator and all life as his creation and so divine and sacred…. The Buddhist may even deny the existence of a God, yet their moral sense regards killing as sin and so all life becomes sacred. Thus though each may differ in its philosophy and application they are all one fundamentally. The separatist tendencies arise out of human limitations only. Therefore let us not emphasis these minor differences but recognize the fundamental brotherhood of human and work together for unity.
For Kumarappa, God and the function of religion are different and rather he classifies religions according to its functions - Authoritarian, Militant, Ethnical, and Social Religions. He understood that all common religious experiences were categorised for the sake of convenience but individual religion knew no label. Therefore, he understood that no need arises for any religious conversion and rather he wanted to iron out the existing outward difference of the religions.
[t]wo men or two groups of men may appear to act differently, but this fact in it self is no ground for pronouncing judgement on them. If they are guided by the same Spirit of Truth…. they will ultimately reach the same goal…. The goal of all religions…are the same… (there) is no cause for differentiation and condemnation. In another paper he raises the question, “if they (religions) are equal, then what the purpose of their separate existence is?” and he answers, that ‘man differs from man in his approach to God because the personality of one differs from that of another…. Accordingly, each group wishes to pay its devotion to the Infinite in the manner best suited to its genius’.
Kumarappa came to the conclusion that religious difference exists only due to the ignorance of human beings, but has nothing to do with God. Since he was not comparing and contrasting religions for his ideological reasons, we can neither treat him as a syncretist nor as unchristian since philosophically he dismisses the outward differences. He could foresee the secular India and religious minorities could survive only on the principle of no supremacy and that equality is essential in pluralistic situations.
Kumarappa was not a blind believer of other religions too. In the early stages his association with Ashram life at Sabarmathi, he had some reservations about Hinduism, believing that it was too individualistic. Gandhi also indirectly accepted some of his critical arguments over such practices of Hinduism. Gandhi never used to tolerate such criticism from non-Hindus because for Gandhi, they were incapable of discerning rightly from the Hindu viewpoint. But with Kumarappa, Gandhi admitted the limitations of Hinduism. Both of them also had certain common viewpoints on not supporting conversion from one religion to another. When the case of Mirabehn, a disciple of Gandhi, came up she was not allowed to get converted to Hinduism from Christianity. Thus all including Kumarappa, practiced a common spirituality by accepting individual freedom of faith in their Ashram life.
It is also very significant to point out here that Kumarappa desired to have an Indian ceremonial funeral after his death. Hence his body was allowed to be cremated by fire and a portion of the ashes was dissolved in the sea and other portions taken to different cemeteries. This was and is considered to be quite abnormal to a Christian in the Indian context, which means he allowed himself to be transcended the ‘Christian’ traditions even after his life in a very secular way. On the whole we shall understand that he never replicated triumphalism of one religion over other.
If we closely examine into the entire views and theology of Kumarappa, we shall find Inter-faith understanding of him highly secular in nature which is still relevant to our India. Therefore I feel if Gandhi could call himself proudly a ‘Universal Hindu’, we can call Kumarappa a ‘Universal Christian’ because he affirms equality of all religion and simultaneously affirming distinctiveness of the Religion of Jesus. My personal feeling is that people like J.C. Kumarappa, S.K. George and C.F. Andrews have set a pioneering model in the area of inter-faith relations and created a new climate of respect for the faith of other people and consequently it has led to real Ecumenism as well as Inter-faith Dialogue attempts in the early history of Indian Christianity. Thus they have become the pioneers in the field of Inter-faith relations among the Indian Christian circle. People like S.J. Samartha, interfaith theologian, was able to maintain such positions only in 1990s, ”All religions call for simplicity of life, a change within, a transformation of the human heart, and therefore, a change of attitude toward neighbours”. Still it is a challenge for us how far the theological institutions in India have acknowledged Kumarappa’s sensible contributions in the field of secularism.
There were similar attempts made towards such positions at the World Council of Churches and by a handful of theologians in recent years. Paul F. Knitter not only denounces such Christian claims today of ‘finality’ or ‘normativity’ but also appeals to all the religions,
The task at hand, demanded of Christianity and all religions by both the religious and the socio-political world in which they live, is that the religions speak and listen to each other, that they grow with and from each other, that they combine efforts for the welfare, salvation, of all humanity.
Conclusion: There is a tough tension among the religions on the question of uniqueness and equality. While staying in Christianity and critically looking at the practices of Christianity and correcting them and trying to learn positives from the other religious friends are not so easy. Kumarappa saw that such attempts would create healthy religious harmony in India. He never becomes aggressive with overriding attitude as Christians many times do. The new exposures in the secular field and personal friendship with Hindu, Muslim, Sikhs, Jains created by Indian National Freedom struggle opened his eyes. He was open enough that he could see ‘Christ events’ even in outside the religious boundaries. He also discovered that all communal, divisive and exclusive forces are not of God but of human beings. Therefore he condemned all the religions including Christianity who claim absoluteness and finality of revelation in multicultural contexts. By discovering all religious and cultural problems are rooted in economics and power politics, he extended the condemnation to British government plundering small nations in the name of Christianity. At the time of brutal Hindu-Muslim riots all over the country Kumarappa saw the need of a unique secular approach where all religions get equal importance in India. He started experimenting the same model in his own personal life. Unfortunately he was recognized by few Christians of his time. In his inter faith approach he lost the Christian identity as well as support of the Christian organizations. Uniqueness of Christianity lies in its acceptance of our neighbour as they are. In this context J.C.Kumarappa’s contributions are very valid today for all believers specially Christians journeying towards secular India and to overcome the communal and fundamentalist approaches which are predominant among Christian congregations.
* Prof. Rev. Dr. Solomon Victus is currently Vice Principal and HOD of Department of Social Analysis of Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, Arasaradi, Madurai, South India. His got his Ph. D. on Religion and Social Philosophy of J. C. Kumarappa. He is the author of nine books and hundreds of article.
 Kumarappa, J.C., Christianity: Its Economy and Way of Life, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishers, 1945, pp 53-56.
 I bid. P 58.
 Christianity: It’s Economy... I bid. p.47.
 Grant, John Webster, God’s People in India, Madras: CLS, 1960, p 39.
 Kumarappa, J.C., Christianity: Its Economy…, I bid, p.78.
 I bid. p.78-79.
 Kumarappa.J.C, Practice and Precepts of Jesus, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1945, p 104.
 Kumarappa, J.C, Economy of Permanence: A Quest for a Social Order Based on Non-Violence, Rajghat: Sarva Seva Prakashan (Fifth Edition),1984, p.59.
 Kumarappa, J.C., Practice and Precepts of Jesus... I bid. p.ix.
 Kumarappa, J.C., Christianity: It’s Economy... I bid. p.14.
 I bid. p 63.
 I bid. p.25.
 I bid, p.101-103.
 Kumarappa, J.C., Practice and Precepts...Ibid. p.ix.
 I bid. p.104.
 Alexander, Elizabeth Susan, The Attitude of British Protestant Missionaries towards Nationalism in India: With Special Reference to Madras Presidency 1919-1929, Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1994, p.107.
 Pickett, J. Waskom, Christ’s Way to India’s Heart, Lucknow: Lucknow Publishing House, Third Edition, 1960, p 109.
 Hollis, Michael, Paternalism and the Church: A Study of South Indian Church History, London: OUP, 1962, P 66.
 O’Connor, Daniel, Gospel, Raj and Swaraj: The Missionary Years of C.F. Andrews 1904 –14, Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Peter Lang, 1990, p 48.
 Moses. D.G, “The Identity of the Indian Church” in The Indian Church Identity and Fulfillment edited by Mathai Zaharia, Madras: CLS, ISPCK & LPH, 1971, P 208.
 Kumarappa.J.C, Christianity: Its Economy and Way of Life, p 68.
 I bid.,
 Kumarappa.J.C, Practice and Precepts of Jesus, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1945, p 38.
 Christianity: It’s Economy…p 68.
 Ibid, .p 68.
 Practice and Precepts of Jesus…I bid, p 68-69.
 Practice and Precepts….p .89.
 Christianity: Its Economy..,p. 63.
 I bid, .p. 66.
 I bid. p 61-62.
 Christianity: It’s…p 77.
 “Sixty Years in His Keeping”, Christukula Ashram, Thirupattur, [date not available]
 Sugirtharajah. R. S, Postcolonial Reconfigurations: An Alternative Way of Reading the Bible and Doing Theology, London: SCM Press, 2003, p 154.
 Theo-centrism means nameless almighty God centric. Here name of any deity is rejected.
 George. S.K & Ramachandran. G. (Eds), Economics of Peace: The Cause and the Man, I bid. p50.
 I bid. p51.
 I bid. p 75.
 Christianity: It’s…p 60-61.
 Economy of Permanence, p 29.
 Christianity: Its Economy.., I bid, p 77; Economy of Permanence... p 29.
 Kumarappa, J.C., Equality of Religions, New Delhi: MSS at Nehru National Memorial Museum, p.1 [date not given].
 Christianity: It’s Economy….p 46.
 Ibid. P59.
 Practice and Precepts….p 112.
 Kumarappa. J.C, “Equality of Religions” MSS at JNMM, New Delhi, p 1. [no date available]
 Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), New Delhi: The Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, Vol.65, June 22, 1937, p.328.
 Jesudasan, Ignatius, Gandhian Theology of Liberation, Gujarat: Anand, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1987, p.294.
 Pandya, Jeyant, Gandhi and his Disciples, New Delhi: National Book Trust India, 1994, p.6.
 The Gandhian Crusader, I bid. p.213.
 Samartha. S .J, One Christ - Many Religions: Toward a Revised Christology, New York: ORBIS books, Maryknoll, 1991, p 38.
 Knitter, Paul. F, No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitude towards the World Religions, London: SCM Press, I985. P.231
 Victus, Solomon, Jesus and Mother Economy: An Introduction to the Theology of J.C. Kumarappa, New Delhi: ISPCK, 2007.