Mahatma Gandhi and Christianity

Published 14 August 2008  |  
If not Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Indian Independence struggle would have taken longer with more blood shed, division and war. When senior leaders of the Hindu political groups urged Gandhi to respond 'violence with violence' and 'sword with sword', he opposed insisting and exhorting the path of non–violence and peace, which was Gandhi's biggest sword to combat the trained and fully equipped forces.

For sure this great man is one of the most respected leaders of modern history, for not only his life, but also his ideals and his message to the people.

Although Hindu, Gandhi had a very close connection with Christianity and admired Jesus very much, often quoting from his favorite 'Sermon on the Mount' chapter in Mathew 5–7.

When the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi he asked him, "Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?"

Gandhi replied, "Oh, I don't reject Christ. I love Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ."

“If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today,” he added.

Gandhi's closeness with Christianity began when he was a young man practicing law in South Africa. Apart from being attached with the Christian faith, he intently studied the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, and was also seriously exploring becoming a Christian, which led him to his discovery of a small church gathering in his locality.

These strongly entrenched Biblical teachings have always acted a panacea to many of India's problems during its freedom struggle.

After deciding to attend the church service in South Africa, he came across a racial barrier, the church barred his way at the door. "Where do you think you're going, kaffir?" an English man asked Gandhi in a belligerent tone.

Gandhi replied, "I'd like to attend worship here."

The church elder snarled at him, "There's no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I'll have my assistants throw you down the steps."

This infamous incident forced Gandhi to never again consider being a Christian, but rather adopt what he found in Christianity and its founder Jesus Christ.

In a speech to Women Missionaries in 28 July 1925, he said, “…although I am myself not a Christian, as an humble student of the Bible, who approaches it with faith and reverence, I wish respectfully to place before you the essence of the Sermon on the Mount...There are thousands of men and women today who, though they may not have heard about the Bible or Jesus have more faith and are more god fearing than Christians who know the Bible and who talk of its Ten Commandments..."

To a Christian missionary Gandhi once said, “To live the gospel is the most effective way most effective in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. …Not just preach but live the life according to the light.... If, therefore, you go on serving people and ask them also to serve, they would understand. But you quote instead John 3:16 and ask them to believe it and that has no appeal to me, and I am sure people will not understand it...the Gospel will be more powerful when practiced and preached.”

“A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon…the fragrance of religious and spiritual life is much finer and subtler than that of the rose.”

In many ways Gandhi was right, the intense proselytization by Christian missionaries in India through force and allurement forced him to make many scathing statements against Christian missionaries, which several times inspired them to retrospect and change the way of approach in ‘Evangelism’.

"If Jesus came to earth again. He would disown many things that are being done in the name of Christianity," Gandhi said during his meeting with an English missioner.

Here I am remembered of Sadhu Sundar Singh who is said to have done more to "indeginize" the churches of India than any figures in the twentieth century.

"You have offered us Christianity in a Western cup... Give it to us in an Eastern bowl and we will drink of it," is a famous statement by Singh, who converted from Sikh to Christianity after his personal experience with Jesus, who appeared in his room on one morning in the year 1905, when he was just fifteen years old.

Stanley Jones once asked Gandhi: “How can we make Christianity naturalized in India, not a foreign thing, identified with a foreign government and a foreign people, but a part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift?"

Gandhi responded with great clarity, "First, I would suggest that all Christians, missionaries begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice it without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, study the non–Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people."

Mahatma Gandhi truly was the pioneer of Satyagraha—resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience, firmly founded upon ahimsa or total non–violence—which led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

He is officially honored in India as the Father of the Nation; his birthday, 2 October, is commemorated in the country as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and worldwide as the International Day of Non–Violence.

Reprints

More News in Editorial

  • A very human Pope

    Dr Thomas Schirrmacher, Chair of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), speaks about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, its implications for the Vatican and why it did not surprise him in light of the Pope's earlier statements.