Overcoming Church division in Manipur: Kukis’ perspective

Published on February 27, 2008

By Thongkhosei Haokip

February 28, 2008: Towards overcoming Church division in Manipur: A perspective drawn from the Kuki people's experiences.

M Thongkhosei Haokip[1]

We live in a world of changes. Changes mean challenges in every aspect. One of the ever present challenge for Christians the world over is the scandal of divisions in the church. The purpose and concern of the Ecumenical Movement is to overcome divisions among Christians. In fact Church Unity is the heartbeat of Ecumenical Movement.


This paper concerns particularly the division of the Church among a certain group of people in Manipur who are most disorganized and disunited and the efforts being made to bring unity among their numerously divided Churches.

This study has attempted to answer some important relevant questions connected with Church division such as: what were the factors responsible for the division among the Kuki people and their Churches? To what extent did the said divisions have impact upon their various aspects of their life as a people or community? Has any effort been undertaken to bridge this gap and what was the outcome?

1. Establishment of Christian Missions among the Kukis:

1.1. The Coming of Christianity: Christianity was brought to the Kuki people of Manipur by two separate missions, the Baptists in the North and the Independent non-denominational mission in the South. William Pettigrew,[2] the first American Baptist Missionary came under the auspices of a private society called the Arthington Aborigenes Mission, named after Robert Arthington.[3] Pettigrew worked for 4 years at Calcutta and Dhaka, but the massacre of 1891 in which the Manipuris killed seven British officials attracted his attention.[4] He came to Cachar in Assam where he met some Manipuris and learnt their language hoping to serve in Manipur. He was repeatedly denied entry to Manipur as the British power had not been fully established.

When this was done Pettigrew got permission and he began his journey to Imphal, the state capital, and arrived on 6th January 1894.19 He began his work by opening a school for which he was granted permission. The school did little else but provide tuition for the children of government officials. His preaching of the Christian gospel in the classroom had evoked bitter resentment among the plain people of Vaishnavite Hindus who succeeded in persuading the political agent to discontinue his work.

Pettigrew was sadly disappointed because the door for missionary work in Manipur was closed. But Major Maxwell, the political agent who was friendly with Pettigrew, came to the rescue by suggesting that it would be possible for the missionary to remain in the state if he would go to the hill areas that were under the direct British administration, but at “his own risk”. Pettigrew decided to accept this suggestion with the hope that one day he would be able to resume work on behalf of the Manipuris in the plains.20

But just as he as about to start the work Pettigrew was asked to leave the place for another field. Having no other alternative, Pettigrew resigned from the Arthington Mission and applied for membership to the American Baptist Missionary Union in Assam, adding that unless the Manipur field was taken over immediately, it would be closed to mission work, if not for good, at least for some years to come.21  Thus, the Arthington Mission transferred the Manipur field to the American Baptists in February 1896, and Pettigrew took up work at Ukhrul under the auspices of the American Baptist Missionary Union.

Once at Ukhrul, he established the mission headquarters and set about learning and reducing to writing the dialect used at Ukhrul by headquarter by opening a school for boys which became the seat of learning as well as the centre for dispensing the good news to the people. The school was attended by 30 boy students which included 8 Kukis- Teba Kilong, Longkhobel Kilong, Suhlut Singson, Jamkithang Sitlhou and Hkunga Hmar. These mentioned Kukis were responsible not only for the education of their fellow people, but also for their conversion to Christianity as well.

Though the Manipur state technically belonged to the American Baptists field it could not cover the south district practically. This vacuum was filled up with the advent of another mission called the Indo-Burma Thadou-Kuki Pioneer Mission (IBTKPM), an independent non-denominational mission started by Watkin R. Roberts. Watkin R. Roberts was born in 1886 at Caernervon. He was converted by R.A.Torrey’s sermons but continued to work as a quarry man. The 1904 revival made a still deeper impression on him and he decided to serve overseas. He was a close friend of Dr.

Peter Fraser who was his senior by some years. Roberts apparently came to Mizoram at Fraser’s expense and with the intention of helping him in his work. He was a Presbyterian and organized the Churches he later established on Presbyterian principles but without any denominational attachment.22 Travelling en route to Calcutta, Roberts went on with Fraser to the British out post in Aizawl in the Lushai Hills where Dr. Peter Fraser opened a medical clinic and appointed Roberts as his assistant. Roberts then learnt the Lushai language and began visiting programmes of evangelism apart from the clinic works.

1.2. The Establishment of the Church: The first convert among the Kuki Baptists was Nehseh Chongloi, a Thadou from Makui who had accepted Christ in the hand of Angami Christians while in Nagaland23 followed by Ngulhao Thomsong who was also from Nagaland. Both came to Manipur in 1910 to assist the mission work at Ukhrul centre. The mission began to expand to the Kuki areas and Tujangwaichong became the first Christian village among the Kuki Baptists in 1914 largely through the work of Ngulhao Thomsong.

According to Downs he was said to have converted 85 persons in this village including the chief Songjapao Kipgen and 70 others from the neighbouring villages24. The first baptisms were conducted by U.M. Fox (an American Baptist missionary who had served for several years in Manipur during the absence of Pettigrew who was on leave) in December 1914 while on his way from Imphal to Kohima for furlough.25 Altogether 26 were baptized on that event.

Rev. U.M. Fox also pronounced the establishment of the Church among the Kuki Baptists on 12th Dec.1914 and also laid his hand (consecrated) on Lhingkhosei and Letlam as pastor and deacon respectively at the wishes of the members.26 Those who came late on that day but wished to be baptized by the missionary at Karong River went after him and took baptism at Maram the next day. The Church was formally organized by Pettigrew in 1916 to become the third baptist church in Manipur after Ukhrul and Keishamthong village churches near Imphal and the first baptist church among the Kukis followed by Tongkoi and Chaljang in 1919, Karakhun, Songphel Khulen, Gelnel, Kachai Kuki all in 1920 and Lhongchin in 1922.

In the south, while assisting Dr. Fraser in this way and engaging in evangelistic works, some young men having slightly different outlook came to the clinic. These young men could not speak Lushai properly. They were Hmars from Senvon village of Manipur. Robert’s heart was greatly touched and wanted to give them something so that they learn about the gospel. He gave them a copy of St. John’ gospel which had been translated by Rev. Savidge and J.H. Lorrain, the Arthington missionaries in Mizoram. One copy was sent through some students to the chief of Senvon, Mr Kamkholun27.

Mr Kamkholun was believed to be the same chief who had earlier refused entry to the Baptist missionary Rev. William Pettigrew. He was happy and profoundly impressed by the booklet, so much so that he apparently invited Watkin Roberts to establish a school in his village and also tell him about ‘that book’ and ‘his God’. He sent three messengers with the same copy of the gospel and an appeal written on the flyleaf: “Sir, come yourself and tell us about this book and your God”.28 This appeal was taken as a ‘Macedonian call’ and accepted. Accordingly, Roberts set off for Manipur with his two Vaiphei students, viz. Thangkai and Lungpao, as his porters. 

The parties arrived at Senvon on 5th February 1910. No sooner had he reached than he preached the Gospel to them and visited the neighbouring villages preaching the good news. Six of them, including the chief, were converted to Christianity on that day. Since then regular meetings were held day and night. People from the neighbouring villages also came to hear the word of God with deep interest. Thus, the church was established at Senvon in 1910, which was the first Kuki Christian village in Manipur followed by Leisen, Khopibung, Malte, Bualtong and Chawngkhozo.

1.3. Growth and Development: The growth and development of the Church can be seen from the response of the different areas of the Gospel, the formation of associations and how the church came to be divided as it expanded.

1.3.1. The Response of the people: Earlier the Kukis had asserted that they would not serve a government that had not conquered them in battle.29 They also saw the missionaries to be hand-in-hand with the colonialists and therefore were not in the position to accept the new religion that they brought. True to their words, with their defeat they begin to be influenced by the culture and religion of their conquerors that resulted in mass conversion of the people. Moreover, this was reinforced by a great revival that came to Senvon in 1917 from Mizoram and spread to other parts of Manipur even among the Kuki Baptists in the north. As a result, many have accepted Christ and some of them went to preach the Gospel in Vuite and Gangte areas.30

Another factor is the relocation of the mission centre from Ukhrul to Kangpokpi, a Kuki-dominated area. This proved to be a blessing for the Kukis in evangelising their own people with the least intervention of the foreign missionaries. They also evangelised their neighbours, particularly the Rongmei Nagas31 and the Anals32. The evangelists were subjected to constant persecutions and contempt by their own non-Christian people. In spite of these the work was carried on and the number of believers and of churches gradually increased.

1.3.2. Formation of Associations: The second characteristic of the growth of the church is the formation of associations and missionary enterprises. The baptists in the north had their first ever conference at Ukhrul in 1917 that was attended by both Naga and Kuki communities. Later, all the baptist churches were organised into one association called Manipur Christian Association. Later, it was rechristened as the Manipur Baptist Convention having three separate associations that was purely regionwise.33 However, with the dawn of World War II and the subsequent independence a sea change was brought in the life of the people to form their own associations.

According to Downs, the Kukis were the first to form their own association bearing the name Kuki Christian Organisation (KCO) later changed to Kuki Christian Association with its office at Motbung.34 However, with the reorganisation of MBC in 1955 KCA was changed to Kuki Baptist Association (KBA) bearing the name Manipur Baptist Association No.5. In that same year, the Kuki Churches in the North East formed North East Kuki Baptist Association Manipur (NEKBAM) and was recognised as MBA No.6. Later on, both these associations were merged to form the Kuki Baptist Convention (KBC) that was recognised as a linguistic Convention.35

In the south, the missionary enterprise was known as the Indo-Burma Thadou Kuki Pioneer Mission (IBTKPM). Later on, due to alleged financial irregularities committed by Roberts and the leader of the native evangelists, a split was affected where Roberts’ group formed a separate but modified form of the old name calling itself the Indo-Burma Pioneer Mission (IBPM).

1.3.3. Further expansion and Division: The third characteristic of growth is that as the church expanded further, it also divided. Following the formation of associations on their tribal identities, they now began to form their own association based on clan. In the north, due to some problems the old associations, viz. KBA and NEKBAM were revived without losing KBC and renamed in a narrower identity as Thadou Baptist Association (TBA) and Chongthu Baptist Association (Ch.BA). Other associations were also formed bearing their clan/tribe name such as – Vaiphei Baptist Association (VBA), Gangte Baptist Association (GBA), Chin Baptist Association (CBA), Kom-Rem Baptist Churches Association (KRBCA),36 etc.

In the south too, the former IPTKPM was renamed as North East India General Mission NEIGM) which was divided into the following presbyteries based on their clan but without their outside identities. These presbyteries were rechristened as Evangelical Convention Church (ECC) for the Paite groups, Kuki Christian Association for the Thadou-Kukis, Manipur Christian Organisation for the Vaipheis, Evangelical Association Church for the Hmars, Evangelical Synod Church for the Gangtes, South East Manipur Anal Christian Association for the Anals and Evangelical Church of Manipur for the Baites37. The IBPM was also divided into two strong churches viz Independent Church of India (ICI) and the Evangelical Free Church of India (EFCI), both of which are confined to the Hmars only.

Meanwhile, many other missions and denominations started to pour in most of which were the result of discontentment in the two named missions. The result was that all the world’s denominations are present in these thinly populated tribes. Due to limitation of space and time I would mention only the name of their associations/missions and their presbyteries as follows: 38 The Baptists under MBC-CBCNEI are: Kuki Baptist Convention (KBC), Chongthu Baptist Association (Ch.B.A.), Thadou Baptist Association (TBA), Chin Baptist Association (CBA), Gangte Baptist Association (GBA), Vaiphei Baptist Association (VBA), Chothe Baptist Churches Association (CBCA), Kom-Rem Baptist Churches Association (KRBCA). The Evangelical Congregationalists Churches of India (ECCI) having at least six associations such as: Evangelical Churches Association (ECA), Evangelical Organisation Church (EOC), Evangelical Synod Church (ESC), Evangelical Association Church (EAC), Evangelical Thangkhal Churches Association (ETCA), United Evangelical Church (UEC). Presbyterian Church having six presbyteries such as Manipur Gam Presbytery (MGP) for the Zous, Tuthaphai Presbytery for the Lushais/Mizos, Manipur East Presbytery (MEP) for the Zous of the East, Manipur South Presbytery (MSP) for the Zous of the South, Khuga Sadar Presbytery (KSP) for the Vaipheis, Muollhangphai Presbytery (MLP) for the Thadou-Kukis. The Christian Churches such as Kuki Christian Church (KCC) and the Zou Christian Church (ZCC). Other Baptists includes such as New Testament Baptist Churches Association (NBTCA), for Simtes, New Life Baptist Churches for the Thadou speaking groups, Baptist Church of Manipur Mission, Indian Baptist Mission, Fellowship of Fundamental Baptist Churches, Biblical Baptist Church, Evangelical Baptist Church for the Paites, and Independent Baptist Churches. Other Evangelical groups include Church of Nazerene, Wesleyan Methodist Church of East India, Evangelical Church of India, Laymen’s Evangelical Fellowship, etc. Charismatics and Pentecostals include Salvation Army, Assembly of God, Revival Church of God, United Pentecostal Church, Christian Revival Church, Church of Four Square, Manipur Full Gospel Church, etc. The Roman Catholic Church having three different parishes. Sectarian or Cultic groups such as Seventh Day Adventists, Lal Sungko (Family of the King), Thoukit Chate (Children of Resurrection), etc. and etc.

2. Problems of Church Division:

2.1. Causes of Division: The division in the early period of the Churches could be attributed to at least four factors as mentioned below:

2.1.1. First and foremost was the coming of missionaries belonging to different denominational Churches and countries.  This was supported by writers like Matthew Muttuma39, Sebastian Karotempral40 and F.S.Downs41 while writing on the Indian and North East Indian condition. This has been found to be true for the cause of division among the Kuki churches at least in the early period. Thus, according to Downs, they (North East Indian people including the Kukis?) are what they are by a series of historical accidents, by virtue of decisions not made by the Christians themselves but by missionaries and mission societies sitting around tables with maps and red pencils demarcating comity areas.42

2.1.2. While this was an outside factor, the rest were from the people themselves. Language controversy was believed to be the main cause of division from which at least two divisions were effected. The language spoken by some tribes among the Kukis is known as Thadou since half a century back. Incidentally, this dialect is not only spoken by Thadou tribe43 but also shared by allied tribes and clans44 who wanted it to be called Kuki dialect. The first problem occurred in 1965 at the Bible School at Phaicham when two teachers disputed it that resulted to the break of the united Church.45 Another problem occurred when the Bible translator replaced Thadou with Kuki on the front page with the name ‘Holy Bible in Kuki”. All the Thadou clans fought tooth and nail against it and even sought court injunction. Khup Za Go writes:

A court injunction was sought, a very rare phenomenon in the North East, to prohibit the circulation of the Bible with the name “Kuki” printed on it. They (the Thadous) argued that since in the earlier New Testament the name had been given as “Thadou-Kuki” this should also be done for the whole Bible.46

The result was the division of the Church on clan lines and the reestablishment of the old KBA renamed as TBA.

2.1.3. The third ostensible cause is with regard to property. This was the outcome of a search for a plot of land for KBC Centre at Imphal that had so far been run on rent. The leaders applied to the state government that was eventually granted but not in the name of KBC but KCC much to their surprise. Not only the name changed but KBC also was asked to share the premium with KCC that was adding salt to the injury. The result was misunderstandings and accusations from both sides. With the matter beyond settlement, some members withdrew from KBC and formed a separate organisation called the Zougam Baptist Convention later changed to the present name of Kuki Christian Church.47

2.1.4. Another cause of division was clanism that played a vital role. Clanism is exclusive and therefore not healthy for any society. As mentioned earlier, almost all the associations and denominations are being formed according to clan-based, which is responsible for the division of the church among the Kukis.

2.2. Impacts of Division: The division in the church was found to have deep impact on the various aspects of their life. This is to be seen in all aspects of their life as a community. While there appeared to have some positive impacts such as creation of jobs and employment, development of infrastructure such as buildings, land, vehicles, etc, better feeding due to small members in one church, and producing competitive spirit, these are not really positive in the long run.48 The negative impact has been seriously felt more which are discussed as under:

2.2.1. Politically, they could not stand together as a people due to non-cooperation in village polity and other matters. In a village where two or more denominations existed allegiance to their respective church pastors or leaders have become a priority than allegiance to the village authorities thereby uprooting the traditional unity and fraternity. This was replaced by mistrust, jealousy, narrow-mindedness, groupism, clanism, etc.

Also, failures to elect peoples’ representatives, such as in the Member of Legislative Assembly election and in the Member of Parliament elections, and also failures to check the corrupted leaders are also the impact of such division.

2.2.2. Socially, it caused some people to be unresponsive to matters, such as not participating in the burial of the dead, dealing with problems in marriage, altogether weakening the communitarian way of life, etc.  Owing to divisions in the church even the death of a person became a concern only for the church where the deceased belongs and not the concern of the whole village anymore. Thanks to this scandal of division, a person can now go out or come in with least hesitation even if a dead was body lay next-door awaiting burial.

Also, in matters of marriage, a man is not free to marry a woman belonging to other denominations and vice-versa. Countless hearts had been broken mainly due to the folly of this division. Others like non-fulfilment in village functions and non-participation in village philanthropic activities are also the fall out of such division.

2.2.3. In the economic life, it led to abject poverty because small churches require larger donations. Though the churches are numerous and small it still needs money to meet the needs of the church for its existence and ministries/projects. The victims are the poor church members who have to support their family as well as their church.

2.2.4. But the worst impact is felt in the sphere of religion where it led to ineffective discipline among church members due to sheep stealing, unhealthy competition, misunderstanding and so on. The early church had discipline such as excommunication for those involved in drunkenness, fornication, adultery, divorce, abortion, elopement, etc. According to Lolly, “This (excommunication) was meant to clear the church’s good name which had been sullied by the act of one of the members”49. But this kind of discipline has become null and void due to loopholes provided by the presence of competing churches that are always ready to accept such excommunicated person. They do this on the pretext of God’s abundant and persistent love for everyone.

Another is sheep stealing, i.e. enticing some members of one church to join another through illegal means. Many churches are engaged in this form of “trade”. One example can be drawn from the writing of Prim Vaiphei who says: “The KCC Manipur has about 120 churches, all drawn from Manipur Baptist Convention (mainly from KBC) and the Presbyterian Church”50. The obvious result is always misunderstanding and non-cordial relationship between churches. This contributed to further complication on the matter of ecumenism hindering cooperation and fellowship among fellow Christians of the same community.

While referring to church division among the tribals Thanzauva has rightly summed up thus:

The impact of division in the Church in the tribal context is disastrous. The image of the Church is tarnished, the village community is disintegrated into pieces, huge amounts of money are wasted for the support of competing denominational interests, and the ministry of the Church at large is accordingly crippled. If this separatist tendency could have been kept as a movement within the existing churches, it would have been less divisive and less wasteful.51

This can itself explain the pathetic condition into which the Kuki Christians are in.

3. Efforts for Church Unity:

3.1. A Theological Necessity: If we turn to the pages of the Bible which itself is the rule of faith for all Christians, almost the whole message supports the idea of unity as the work of the Holy Spirit and separation as the work of the evil one. A few passages are taken to illustrate the importance of unity from the nature of Christ, the Church as the Body of Christ from the teaching/writings of St. Paul and also the Priestly Prayer of our Lord for his believers that they may be one.

3.1.1. The Nature of Christ:  Jesus is the unifier. If he is so as he claims to be then we have to demonstrate that we have been sufficiently freed to go beyond our divisions and begin to embody the unity to which Jesus the Unifier has beckon us. The path of repentance, confession and new common obedience is the only way open to us and because God’s healing grace can reach across our divisions, the final note of the Gospel is not division or tension, or condemnation, it is joy. Jesus Christ also unites us first to God and to humans. Without this there can be no unity on the human level.

3.1.2. Church as the Body of Christ: For Paul the Church is referred to as the ‘Body of Christ’ (Eph.4: 4), using an analogy of a human body to mean the organic unity or the inseparable nature of the Church. He also says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ” (Icor.12: 21). According to Fr Argenti, this mystery of the body of the risen Christ is the foundation of Christian unity and of the Eucharistic assembly as the laboratory that transforms the community of believers in the church.53 Paul also pointed out Christ as the head of the body, the Church (Col.1: 18). The unity of the church under the headship of Christ prepares the way for the unity of the world. Paton says that an organic unity or council of the church is really the visible expression of a unity of faith already lived out.54

3.1.3. The Priestly Prayer of our Lord: In his priestly prayer, our Lord has prayed, “that they may be one, even as we are one…so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:11,21). This phrase is one which is open to debate. For some this speaks only of spiritual unity of all Christians while others take it for organic unity. I, for one, take it for the latter. The Kukis, for the past 50 or 100 years have experienced many divisions due to clans, language, creed, etc. in which the divided Church fails to express the oneness that Christ brings.

There are too many secular elements in our disunity which go deep into our subconscious mind. We are more intensely aware of being Thadou, Kuki, etc. than of being Baptist, Congregationalist, Catholic or Christian. Our confessional label serves simply as an alibi to justify or conceal our real motives which contrives to those of the old self who still lingers in all of us. Our Christianity is skin deep. We must pray for conversion to the kingdom and be its citizens in exile in our respective native lands in this part of the world.

The unity that is being sought is based on that of the Godhead, i.e. three persons or the Trinitarian formula. According to H.M. Rapthap, it is a unity won and nurtured through the cross with which Christ has reconciled us to God; and it is a unity to be continually maintained and renewed by the Holy Spirit.55 That is why it is spoken as the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph.4:3). The need for Church unity efforts is not an end in itself for Christians to glory and be satisfied, but should provide as a means of proclaiming the gospel to everyone. T.V. Philip says that unity and catholicity are closely linked with the Church’s apostolicity.56 Thus, the work of church union is not seeking after what we want but affirming the unity and integrity of the believers for effective proclamation of the Gospel and the transformation of human lives.

3.2. Social & Political Necessity: While church unity is the universal need of all Christians, this is felt more among the Kuki people in their social and political contexts.

3.2.1. Politically, the Kukis were divided when their land was separated into three independent countries that created communication between them all. Jayaseelan has noted this when he says:

“Prior to 1937 the Kuki-Chins were living together in Indian sub-continent. In 1937 Burma was separated from India, Chin Hills and Upper Chin Hills have gone to Burma. Again, in 1947 when Pakistan got independence Chittagong Hill Tracts was given to Pakistan that became a part of Bangladesh in 1971”57

3.2.2. In the social aspect, the people are facing the problem of nomenclature. Though they are separated by boundaries in India and were given different nomenclatures such as Kuki in Manipur and elsewhere, Mizo in Mizoram and Chin in Myanmar, they can easily understand each other. And yet the coming and influence of Christianity has a very little effect upon them with regard to unity and harmony. They have not been so far successful to find out a common nomenclature acceptable to all. The sense of disunity is still strong. Jayaseelan observes that amidst the establishment of churches and planting of crosses there is open demand for the recognition of one’s tribe as a nation or as a separate entity such as Zomis, Hmars, Kuki, Mizo, etc.58 These and many other problems have placed the Kukis in an unenviable position. Thus, a crucial part of the unity effort has to do with the healing of Kuki nation.

3.3. Church Unity Efforts: Perhaps it was this realization that the Kuki Church leaders had made serious attempts to unite the Churches right from the start. This has been manifested in the formation of a united church, council, union and fellowships. The following are some of the attempts for Church unity among the people:

3.3.1. The Kuki Baptist Convention (KBC) was the first attempt for an organic union that took place when the two separate associations, viz. KBA and NEKBAM were amalgamated on 15-16th March 1958.59 But with the withdrawal of the said associations the attempted union became a failure though KBC continues to be the largest Church in terms of population and size.

3.3.2. The Kuki Christian Council (KCC) was formed for common Christian literature work particularly Bible translation and Hymn book among some tribes.60 This was a great achievement in so far as it includes Kuki Christians of other denominations such as in the south. However, as mentioned earlier, due to the problem involved in the translation of the Bible, and the subsequent conversion into a church i.e. Kuki Christian Church, the plan for later union was failed.

3.3.3. Kuki Chin Baptist Union (KCBU) was formed as a federal union among the Baptist denominations. It began as a consultation of the Kuki-Chin Baptist leaders. The constituent members were KBC, CHBA, CBA, TBA, VBA and KRBCA. The outcome of the various consultations was the publication of a research book entitled In Search of Identity 61 in 1986 and also the holding of a Conference from February 25-March 1, 1993 at Keithelmanbi village.62 For the first time the Union achieved to include the non-Thadou speaking groups such as the Kom-Rems, Chothes, Tedim-Chins, Vaipheis and Gangtes. However, it failed in three fronts. Firstly, it was confined only to the Baptist denominations, and secondly, the members were too much conscious of their own nomenclature rather than dialogue on unity. Also, the end of the conference also heralded the end of further activities.

3.3.4. Like KCC the Kuki Christian Evangelical Churches Union (KCECU) has brought together the Baptists and other denominations under one common forum, formed primarily to counter the problem created allegedly by the KCC churches in disturbing the peace and harmony of the churches particularly in sheep stealing and also certain discrepancies allegedly detected in the translation of the Bible by the KCC leader.63  The constituent members were KCA, CHBA, KBA (Nagaland), Ngalsong Presbytery (Assam), KBC, TBA and MLP. There was no specific attempt for church unity as such but cooperation in certain areas was achieved. Some of the outcomes of the Union are the observation of a Day of Prayer such as National Repentance Day and also the publication of the newly revised New Testament in Thadou-Kuki by the India Bible Literature.

3.3.5. The formation of Kuki Christian Leaders Fellowship (KCLF) was the outcome of Naga-Kuki conflict.64 Both the leaders of KBC and KCC met for the first time after nearly twenty years of silent communication to discuss how they would inform the plight of the Kukis to Joseph, a member of the Minority Commission who was sent to the state to inquire into the Naga-Kuki conflict. Their meeting resulted to the formation of a Relief Committee to cater to the needs of victims of the said conflict. The term KCLF was coined in its second meeting and office bearers elected.65

However it was the 14th meeting that matters relating to church unity were discussed and three persons were entrusted to present papers relating to church unity from historical, biblical and social perspective.66 In its 16th meeting the members felt the need for a further discussion on the basis of union and its structures. The 17th meeting was memorable as they resolved to work together under one united church.

A sub-committee was formed for the Churches’ Cooperation and Unity at its 19th meeting. The sub-committee report was heard and discussed at the 20th meeting. When the churches were asked to state what type of unity they wanted the majority of them responded in favour of federal structure at the initial stage till the goal of an organic unity is achieved. The name for union was given as “Kuki Churches Fellowship”.67

With the approach of the new millennium the year 1999 was declared as the year for preparation and AD 2000 as the Year of Union for many of the Kuki Churches particularly the same dialectical groups. To this end a Drafting Sub-Committee for Faith and Practices, Constitution and Service Rule was appointed. However, due to some reasons, the plan could not materialised. But it was decided to continue the dialogue for which a team comprising of Director and two assistants were appointed and the office inaugurated.68 

The next major activity of the fellowship was the holding of a three-day seminar-cum-prayer meeting entitled: 2000 AD Celebration-cum-National Day of Prayer that was attended by representatives from almost all walks of life and organisations such as the apex body of the Kukis viz. Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM), Kuki Women Union (KWU), Kuki Chiefs Association, Kuki Students Organisation (KSO), Kuki Khanglai Lompi (KKL), Ministers and MLAs from state government and Government employees. This was unique in that it was representative by all sections of the same dialectic groups which give a semblance of common platform as had been desired by many leaders and people. One remarkable feature of the meeting was the affirmation and declaration of a National Covenant.69

3.4. Failure of Church Unity Efforts: Since the 1950’s the Kuki Churches made serious efforts for an organic unity in the formation of KBC, KCC, and other unions including the most recently established KCLF. At first, there was a possibility for unity effort was successful as the plan and draft was said as approved. Yet this acceptance could not lead to Union negotiations. Why cannot the Kuki churches come together for a visible unity that the leaders of the churches longed for? Was it due to doctrinal and other differences that can be called theological or non-theological factors?

Therefore, an enquiry was made to find out the ostensible reasons for this "failure". It was thought that differences and doctrines such as those differences between the evangelicals and ecumenical were the main stumbling blocks towards Church Unity. It might have happened to be so elsewhere. But in the case of the Kuki people under study, it proved to be otherwise. A closer study revealed that, though conservatism plays a part, the real problems were non-theological factors rather than the theological factors.

These non-theological factors that still hinder the progress of the on-going search for Church Unity are mentioned briefly as under:

3.4.1. Clan Differences: As mentioned earlier, the various clans among the Kukis are socially and politically divided and this division may last for many years still. The churches being religious organisation, equipped with only spiritual means are not in the position to remedy the socio-political disunity of the people. The establishment of associations based on each clan has affected so much so that the members became “accustomed” to the associations they inherited from the mission. It is another thing to join the structure that included other clans of different missions and church traditions.

3.4.2. Communalism: The presence of communalism among them is another serious factor. In the aborted attempt for church union for North East India, Downs pointed communalism as responsible. He says, “Perhaps the most potent non-theological factors will be (is) communalism … a factor in the attitude both of the missionaries and the local Christians”70. Two types of communalism are indicated: the missionary communalism and the indigenous communalism. In the former, the missionaries who came to the state were from various countries and missions. Thus, Downs says that the question of church union is not just a matter of Presbyterians, Anglicans and Baptists getting together but also a matter of churches established by the British or Welsh people and churches established by Americans getting together.71 The same is true with the Kukis.

However, the indigenous type of communalism is more serious among the Kuki Christians as each clan and tribe thinks only for themselves rather than for the whole community. This feeling was transmitted even within the Church set up that becomes a real problem. It certainly does in almost all the churches, each church priding themselves in their own distinctive ways that certainly hinders the unity efforts among the people.

3.4.3. Denominational Ecumenism –The growth of strong and influential denominational churches is another major factor. By the time KCLF was formed in 1993, most of the churches having a number of presbyteries and associations had firm administrative channels, possessed property and strengthened their ecclesiastical ties with their respective mother churches in the west or elsewhere. Moreover, the theological import with its dichotomic attitude of seeing one’s own faith and institution as the only best way is another factor that adds to the woes. Over and above, this denominationalism appears to have become a new set of modern tribalism or clanism.

3.4.4. Property, Possession and Position: The hard earned property and possession, its transfer and future use with its historical and legal implications were major concern for bigger and established churches. Also, the future of foreign funds received by some churches for their administrative as well as projects becomes uncertain which worries some of them. On top of that the positions that the present leaders held and the amount of salary and the benefits they enjoy are increasingly “threatened” as these were sure to undergo a radical change if such union has to take place.

3.4.5. Differences in theological orientation: The emergence of different theological schools offering different theologies and biblical hermeneutics has added to the problem. Rather than being a force for uniting Christians, theological education among the Kukis became a dividing force that weakens their sense of oneness and unity. Many of my respondents have held theologians responsible for the disunity of the churches and also its failure of church union efforts.71

3.4.6. Human Dislike of Change: Humans, especially older people, are usually conservative and dislike changes in their habit. When innovative sacramental or liturgical changes such as church union are brought they resisted. They tend to think that every thing is quite all right the way it is and they have nothing to gain from the union.

3.4.7. Lack of Sincerity and Commitment: It is believed by many that the failure of the slow progress of church union efforts was also due to lack of sincerity and commitment on the part of many of the leaders involved in the negotiating table. This was admitted by one leader who says,” When we come together for discussion we all agreed to be united as one. But when we reached our respective homes we become master of our own selves and this is not right.”72 Another lay leader echoes this thought saying, “Had the leaders meant what they say unity would have taken place long before.”73 In such a lackadaisical attitude it is but natural to expect that any type of union will be rather slow, if not failed.

3.4.8. Lack of Mass Awareness: The Plan of Union failed also due to lack of awareness and education on the part of local congregations. To an average Christian ecumenical or church union was unheard of concept. Even the local church leaders and some pastors were mostly vernacular theological graduates having less or no idea of the ecumenical movement. The strongest opposition was from these sections. And, it was initiated by the KCLF rather than by local churches themselves.

Besides, there will be other factors such as vested interest, leadership struggle, and diversity of views, etc. which cannot be simply ignored.


Christianity came to the Kukis as a dynamic force that spread all over the region with the result that almost all the people have become Christians. However, the Christianity that the Kukis were exposed to was a divided Christianity, divided in doctrines, belief, theology and practices. Although the pioneers were from the American Baptists in the North and the Independent Welsh Mission in the South, different denominational bodies appeared in course of time whereby almost all the world’s denominations can be found among these thinly populated tribes.

Following the division that took place after the formation of the first union in Kuki Baptist Convention, an inter-denominational organisation was formed under the banner of Kuki Christian Council for literature work, particularly Bible translation and Hymn Book. When this was converted into Church, the plan for future union of all the Church organisations failed. Later, other forms of union were established, namely, the KCBU, KCECU, and more recently KCLF. These have encouraged Christian fellowship and cooperation in matters of common interest. After working for some years together in such organisations particularly in the KCLF, some of the leaders deeply felt the need for the Churches to come together into an organic union.

To explore such possibilities for union, a sub-committee was appointed. Since 1994 there have been four Church consultations, and one conference was conducted. In 1998, the Plan of Union and the Draft Constitution was formulated and circulated for study and response. At first there was a possibility for the unity effort to be successful as the plan and draft were said as approved. Yet this acceptance could not lead to union negotiations. Therefore, an enquiry was carried out to ascertain the ostensible reasons for this failure. These were non-theological factors, i.e. clan differences, the missionaries and indigenous brand of communalism, etc. that are related to each other. Others include property and position, considered to be a threat by many Church leaders, lack of sincerity and commitment on the part of the leaders and also lack of mass awareness on the need and importance of Church Union.

Since the church unity effort is not a dead issue but an on-going one, any further discussion and attempt should consider certain things. Firstly, efforts should be made to preserve the fragile tribe identity. Many Christians were afraid that with centralisation, members of other tribes (Clan) would come and control their churches. This is really an issue of tribe identity and control of institutions based on tribe. This was one of the main reasons many people were opposed to church union. They were concerned with the persons who are to be at the helm of affairs and not what benefits unity can bring for the tribes as a whole. To achieve the desired goal, it is also important to take into this cultural factor so that the people will not feel that their identity is threatened.

Secondly, while further consultation and discussion should be organised at the leadership level, education and awareness on ecumenical movement and church union is a must at the grass root level. It should not be the KCLF or any other large organisations, but the local churches themselves that should initiate the discussions. Local churches should long for it.  But this process is sure to take time and yet it would be genuine, fruitful and lasting.

Much of the opposition to Church union is based on ignorance or misunderstanding or the influence of the fundamentalist and sectarianism, which can be counteracted if proper teaching is given. Even now, there is much ignorance about other denominations among the Christians that gives rise to misunderstanding, non-acceptance and rivalry. This ignorance has to be removed early and Christians should begin to accept, respect and understand one another. Only when people at the grass roots level are educated the success of the Plan of Union will be ensured.

Thirdly, it may prove better if ecumenical cooperation takes precedence on that of ecumenical dialogue. Corporate ecumenical ventures such as education and literature, socio-economic welfare programmes both in rural and urban areas, medical services, literary ventures, exchange of teachers in church-sponsored schools and Bible colleges, joint celebrations of Christian festivals like Christmas, Easter and New Year Day, exchange of pulpit, joint prayer meetings, etc., both at the association level and local level should be organised.  This will help dispel mistrust and fear of one another and will increase the potential of achieving the desired goal.

Last, but not the least, effort should be given by church leaders to explore varieties of church union that will be feasible for the Kuki Christians. Organic unity may not be possible at this stage, but there are other models which should be looked into and adapted. The future growth and development of the Kuki Christianity would depend on how much its leaders and members give effort for unity.

[1] M. Thongkhosei Haokip is an ordained minister of the Kuki Baptist Convention. He taught History of Christianity at the Academy of Integrated Christian Studies at Aizawl (Mizoram). Presently, he is doing his doctoral research under South Asia Theological Research Institute (SATHRI), Bangalore.

[2] Rev.William Pettigrew was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on Jan.5th 1869 in an English family. He got his higher education at Livingstone College, London. He belonged to the Church of England (Anglican) but later felt (that) his infant baptism to be inadequate and therefore received believers/adult baptism while working as a missionary in Dhaka as a missionary under The Arthington Aborigenes Mission. However, he remained as Anglican and a missionary under the same mission till he was forced to resign and join the Baptist church at Sibsagar in 1896. He was ordained to the ministry in 1897 and was married to Alice Gorehome of Brighton, England in November 13 of the same year.

[3] Robert Arthington was a millionaire at Leeds near London and an English gentleman of the missions whose contribution was always for pioneer work, with instructions that only two workers go to a place, learn the language, give the gospel to the people, then more on to other field, not tarrying to perpetuate their work. K.M.Singh, History of Christian Mission in Manipur and Other Neighbouring States (New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 1982). Hereafter cited as Singh, Christian Mission.

[4] Jonah M.Solo and K.Masangthei (eds.) Forty Years in Manipur, Assam (Imphal: Modern Press, 1986), 2.



19 Downs, Mighty Works, 76.
20 Downs, Mighty Works, 76.
21 Lal Dena, Christian Mission and Colonialism: A Study of Missionary Movement in North East India with Particular Reference to Manipur and Lushai Hills (Shillong: Vendrame Institute, 1988), 35.
22 Meirion Llyod, History of the Church in Mizoram: Harvest in the Hills (Aizawl: Synod Publication Board, 1991), 157-8.
23 KBC, KBC Thusim (History of the Kuki Baptist Convention)(Imphal:KBC Press, 1887), 19.
24 Kim Vaiphei, The Coming of Christianity in Manipur with Special Reference to the Kukis (Delhi: Joint Women’s Programme, 1995),12. Hareafter cited as Vaiphei, The Coming of Christianity.
25 Vaiphei, The Coming of Christianity, 12.
26  KBC, KBC Thusim, 8.
27 D. Khaizalian, Thang Thupha Tunma leh Tunnung Thu (Before and After the Arrival of the Gospel) (New Lamka: Convention Press, 1986), 70-71. Hereafter cited as Khaizalian, Thang Thupha.
28 Khaizalian, Thang Thupha, 13.
29 S. Prim Vaiphei, Church Growth Among the Hill Tribes of Manipur North East India (Imphal: Goodwill Press, 1986), 56. Hereafter cited as Prim Vaiphei, Church Growth.
30 D. Ruolngul, Chanchintha Kalchawi (The Gospel Onward Movement) (Churachandpur: n.p., 1982), 16.
31 Namthurei MP, The Great Awakening (Tamenglong: Manipur Golden Jubilee Publication, 1972), 15-16.
32 Downs, Mighty Works, 170.
33 Downs, Mighty Works, 172.
34 Downs, Mighty Works, 175.
35 KBC, KBC Thusim, 11-12.
36 Manipur Baptist Convention, Annual Report 2000-2001 (Imphal: MBC), 51.
37 L. Jayaseelan, Impact of  Missionary Movement in Manipur (New Delhi: Scholars Publishing House, 1996), 91. Hereafter cited as Jayaseelan, Impact.
38 My own field research during the Master’s Thesis in December of 2001 and also based on respondents of my questionnaire.
39 Matthew Muttumana notes, “As the Christianity in Europe was divided into many churches, various missions were organized in the sub-continent, and no attempt was made for a long time to unify the missionary activities for the service of an Indian Christian and of a unified history of the church in India”. Matthew Muttumana, Christianity in Assam and Interfaith Dialogue: A Study on the Modern Religious Movement in North East India (Pune: Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra, 1984), i.
40 Sebastian Karotempral observes, “The Christianity that the tribals were exposed to was a very divided Christianity, divided in doctrine, history, catechism, ethical standards and emotional attitudes. Historical rivalries that were prevalent in Europe and America were transferred to a simple tribal society that had little historical acquaintance or judgement or judiciousness”. S. Karotempral, “The Impact of Christianity on the Tribes of North East India” in Impact of Christianity in North East India,ed. J. Puthenpurakal (Shillong: Vendrame Institute Publications, 1996), 43.
41 F.S. Downs states, “ It is, I believe, impossible to say that the present divisions of the Churches in North East India arise out of theological differences, nor do I think we will find that doctrine is the main stumbling block to church union. We belong to our present denominations due to the accidents of history and birth. This is certainly true of the Indian Christians among us; It is also true of the majority of the missionaries. We are not what we are because we have made an objective choice after a careful examination of the doctrines of the various denominations”. Downs, Church Union: Theological & Non-Theological Factors (The Church Union Committee of the NEICC, 1965),1. Hereafter cited as Downs, Church Union.
42 Downs, Church Union, 2.
43 The composition of what tribes constitute Thadou is open to debate. But historically it comprises of tribes such as Sitlhou, Lhouvum, Singsit, Chongloi and Hangshing. Some also included Haokip and Kipgen.
44 The allied tribes are Khongsai, Lunkim, Doungel, Mate, Touthang, Baite, Lenthang, Changsan, etc. most of whom are geneologically elder to the Thadou.
45 Interview with Rev. Seikholet Singson on 20/12/2001.
46 Khup Za Go, A Critical Historical Study of Bible Translations Among the Zo People in North East India (Churachandpur: Chin Baptist Literature Board, 1996), 94.
47 Alun Haolai, KBC Diary (Imphal: KBC Press, 1994), 19.
48 Some of my respondents of my Questionnaire pointed out these.
49 R. R. Lolly, The Baptist Church in Manipur (Imphal: Modern Printers, 1985), 12.
50 Prim Vaiphei, Church Growth, 126.
[5]51 K. Thanzauva, Theology of Community: Tribal Theology in the Making (Aizawl: Mizo Theological Conference, 1997), 50.
53 Argenti in  Paton, Breaking Barriers, 15.
54 David M. Paton, ed. Breaking Barriers (Nairobi, 1975: The Official Report of the Fifth Assembly of the WCC Nairobi, 23 November – 10 December 1975) (London:SPCK, 1976), 11. Hereafter cited as Paton, Breaking Barriers. 18.
55 H.M Rapthap, Issues Facing the Christian Church Today With Special Reference to North East India (Shillong:Author, 1997), 54.
56 TV Philip, Ecumenism in Asia (Delhi: ISPCK, 1994), 130.
57 Jayaseelan, Impact, 187-8.
58 Jayaseelan, Impact, 187-8.
59 KBC, KBC Thusim, 14.
60 Haolai, KBC Diary, 301.
61 Haolai, KBC Diary, 309.
62 Hawlngam Haokip, “Kuki-Chin Baptist Union Khoppi len akichaitai” (KCBU Conference is Over), A Report, 1-2.
63 Minutes of the First Kuki Christian Leaders’ Meeting held on 30/3/83.
64 Hawlngam Haokip in his keynote address on “Christian Leaders Consultation Seminar”, held at KBC Centre Church, New Lambulane, Imphal from 26-29 Sep. 2000, 1.
65 Minutes of the 1st Kuki Church Leaders Meeting held on 14th October 1993.
66 Minutes of the 15th KCLF Meeting held on 18th November 1995.
67 Minutes of the 20th KCLF Meeting held on 17th December 1996.
68 Minutes of the 28th KCLF Meeting held on 3rd May 2000.
69 A ten point charter which is a kind of pledge to be truthful and sincere to God and to fellow community for the reformation of individual life and society and the church.
70 Downs, Church Union, 3.
71 Downs, Church Union, 4.
71 Some respondents of my Questionnaire No.11.
72 Rev Douseh in the Report of AD 2000 Celebration-cum-National Day of Prayer from 28-30, 2000.
73 Interview with Thienkhogin Haokip on 17/12/01.

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