An Open Letter from Rev. Roger James
At the request of the IELC, Rev. Roger James, LCMS Area Director for South Asia, wrote this open letter details events occurring within the IELC, particularly clearing up confusion regarding the commencement at Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil.
Download the Official Letter here:
TO: Members and Pastors
India Evangelical Lutheran Church
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!
No doubt there has been much confusion and many questions regarding the events surrounding the commencement at Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil. Rev. Raja Gambeeram, President of the IELC, has asked that I relate to you the events as I witnessed them.
But first, it would be helpful to provide background regarding the current conflict in the IELC. In May 2014, I and Rev. Dr. Larry Myers were invited to attend the IELC General Body Meeting as official visitors from the LCMS to witness the proceedings and to report on our observations. Dr. Myers and I filed independent reports confirming the legitimacy of the election of the Raja Gambeeram administration.
Some weeks later, another secretive “convention” was held in a remote location by a small opposition group. However, when the police intervened because the convener had been restrained by an Indian court from holding any elections, a written declaration was submitted by the official of this group to the police stating that no election was taking place. (The LCMS has a copy of this written declaration.) Even so, another man from this opposition group announced that he had been elected IELC president at that gathering, contradicting the declaration given to the authorities.
Over several months, the LCMS corresponded with both sides to try to ascertain the veracity of their claims. Finally, after about six months, the LCMS formally recognized the Raja Gambeeram administration as the legitimately elected IELC administration, because all evidence supported their claim. Indeed, the other side presented no evidence whatsoever and could not overcome the fact that the aforementioned written declaration had been given to the police stating that they had not been conducting an election. This splinter group, however, has nevertheless persisted in its claims, issuing baseless rumors, and using lies, intimidation, and physical force to create fear and confusion.
This state of affairs began with a power struggle that ensued upon the retirement of President J. Samuel in January 2013. It has become evident that certain parties in the opposition splinter group do not want to relinquish their positions in the IELC, even though they have long reached their term limits. In these positions they have dealt loosely with the valuable properties that the LCMS and her missionaries had transferred in sacred trust to the IELC. The situation had become so disturbing that, on 15 July 2013, LCMS advocates in St. Louis sent an unprecedented legal communication to all members of the IELC Trust Association. That letter concluded as follows:
We hereby demand (a) that no disposition of property take place except in compliance with the IELC and IELCTA governing documents and the Protocol Agreement and any Court Order that is applicable to such sale and that any such disposition of property be fully transparent, with sale documents clearly stating the terms of the sale made available to the officials of IELC, IELCTA and LCMS, (b) that LCMS representation be restored to the IELCTA as provided in the Articles of Association, and (b) that LCMS receive written assurances (1) that no IELC/IELCTA property will be the subject of an unlawful transaction, (2) that the proceeds of any conveyance that takes place in compliance with the various documents will be used for church purposes and not for personal gain and (3) that you will investigate any possible instances of wrongdoing in this regard and will intervene and prevent any such conveyance…
Our client is extremely concerned and saddened to hear of the violation of trust and dereliction of fiduciary duties of those charged to manage and protect the property that it has given for the ministry and proclamation of Jesus Christ in India. Please understand that time is of the essence, and we have engaged local counsel to assist us however necessary to investigate, enforce and protect the rights of the LCMS and the property that was donated to its sister Church there.
Unfortunately, even this stern legal warning was not heeded. These same parties within the splinter group are still trying to cling to their elapsed positions and for this reason oppose the Raja Gambeeram administration.
Returning, finally, to the events at the seminary commencement. I was invited by the Principal, Rev. Dr. D. Monika Raj, to be the preacher and special guest from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) for this graduation celebration. I was looking forward to joining IELC President Raja Gambeeram, IELC General Treasurer R. Vijayakumar, and others of the IELC administration at these festivities, scheduled to take place Sunday evening, 13 March 2016. I arrived in Nagercoil on Saturday accompanied by Mr. Ravi Jesupatham (LCMS Country Coordinator). We were joined by Mr. Harry Steffens the LCMS Project Manager who had been living on the seminary campus since December, assisting Dr. Monika Raj in beginning much-needed repairs and renovations to the facilities. Saturday evening Dr. Monika Raj informed us that a group of local people representing the splinter group came to campus, demanding that their own people be allowed to preside over the ceremony. Dr. Monika Raj rightly refused and said that he would cancel the program before he would let that happen.
On Sunday it became apparent that this opposition group was intending to insert themselves into the proceedings. Rev. Pres. Gambeeram, Rev. Dr. J. Samuel (former IELC President), Dr. Monika Raj, Mr. Harry, Mr. Ravi, all of the faculty, and I met on campus. I repeated to everyone present what I had already stated several times. The whole IELC should understand that the LCMS will have no dealings with any parties that are intent on lying, cheating, stealing, or otherwise disturbing the normal functioning of the legitimate IELC administration.
At the same time, we discovered that this opposition group had put a notice in the local paper falsely stating that the commencement was taking place under the auspices of their illegal administration with me, Area Director, South Asia, as the special LCMS guest. This was a brazen lie. As the LCMS does not recognize their administration, I would never accept an invitation from them. As an official representative of the LCMS, I have not and will not support such deception. I was there at the sole invitation of Pres. Gambeeram and Dr. Monika Raj.
Given all of this, President Gambeeram told those at the table that they should cancel the event. Even Dr. Monika Raj said that certainly they could not go forward. The Principal and faculty asked to meet alone, so we left them.
The opposition group was arriving and occupying a portion of the meeting area, wearing their white cassocks and red stoles, as if they were the official sponsors and dignitaries of this event.
As we were waiting for the faculty, I was informed that there was a large poster at the entrance of the campus, again deceitfully announcing the commencement was under the auspices of the opposition with my name as their LCMS guest. I tore down the poster because it was a lie.
While I was preparing to leave the campus rather than to be a part of such crass deception, I was told that Dr. Monika Raj wanted to speak to me. I met with the Principal and the faculty alone. It was decided that we should meet with the students alone in the chapel. I suggested to the faculty and Principal that we could, at that very moment, privately give the certificates and quickly end the proceedings without involving the opposition rabble who were disrupting good order. It was agreed. However, someone immediately opened the doors to the chapel, and the disrupting group began to push in. I urged Dr. Monika Raj to put them out, or I could not participate. He told them to leave, but they remained. The disruption and deceit was too much. In one of the saddest moments of my life, I told the faculty and the principal that I could not remain. I walked out. As Mr. Harry and I were leaving the campus, I was notified that two more large posters with my name and those of the opposition had been raised at the campus gate. So again, with many gathered, I went to the gate and tore them both down.
These sad events should make it clear that the LCMS will not work with those who are willing to post public lies and obstruct the good order of the church. The LCMS utterly denounces all corrupt plans and purposes. Having heard the shameful and deceitful things that this minority opposition party did at this commencement event, can anyone support them in good conscience?
Nevertheless, if this opposition group has any legitimate claims, we once again invite them to present the evidence for their case. Indeed, we have extended written invitations to them to justify their claims on at least eight occasions, specifically 4 July 2014, 4 September 2014, 6 October 2014, 8 October 2014, 31 January 2015, 16 December 2015, 28 January 2016, and 22 February 2016. These communications started out very cordially but gradually grew more terse since we received few replies and NO evidence of any kind to substantiate their claims, yet they continued to make their claims and interfere in the normal and good functioning of the IELC-LCMS relationship. Instead of proof of their claims, all we heard from them were lies, rumors, and personal attacks. Considering the fact that they have had no less than EIGHT opportunities to provide us with such evidence, who can blame us for disregarding their claims as spurious?
The LCMS and its President will not tolerate or facilitate corruption. That is why the recent Protocol Agreement signed at the LCMS headquarters by Presidents Gambeeram and Harrison included, by mutual agreement, the special provision that “properties are not to be alienated without written LCMS consent.”
Finally, one of their latest lies is that the LCMS is not keeping its pledges of financial support for various projects and that the LCMS is doing little to help the IELC. Please note the appendix on the next page that documents the project support that the LCMS has provided to individuals, churches, schools, Bethesda Hospital, and the seminary since 2013. If there are projects that the LCMS has sanctioned but not funded, please let us know so we can make it right. Frankly, if there were no corrupt opposition parties interfering with the normal and transparent operation of the IELC administration, then the LCMS and IELC would be able to work together with even greater benefit to the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ.
And yet, above all, we give thanks that it is the blessed, holy, joyous season of Easter! I pray that all the faithful in the IELC be filled with wonder that the Son of God gave Himself on the cross to rescue poor sinners like us and that same Lord Jesus Christ now also lives and reigns eternally our true Mediator and Advocate before the Father in the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Peace to you in Christ Jesus!
Rev. Roger B. James
LCMS Area Director, South Asia