This year marks the 50th anniversary of many events that continue to reverberate in our time. But this month I remember another anniversary: the 70th anniversary of the death of Mohandas Gandhi, who was assassinated on January 30, 1948. In his book Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth, James Douglass explores the circumstances of that death, showing how those who conspired to kill Gandhi hoped to destroy a compelling vision of peace, nonviolence, and reconciliation. The relevance of that vision—in a time of mounting fears of war and terror, of growing inequality, of intolerance between differing religions, and threats to our planet—has never been more evident. Yet is it simply an idealistic dream?
Gandhi believed that the same spirit of nonviolence he embraced as a principle of life could be harnessed into a principle of effective political struggle. That is because he believed that nonviolence offered a means of struggle rooted in the nature of reality itself—an underlying principle of unity deeper than the apparent conflicts and divisions of life. Among his contributions was to awaken Christians to the forgotten peace message of Jesus.
That is the focus of my own edited book, Gandhi on Christianity, which not only traces Gandhi’s teachings on Jesus and Christianity, but provides critical reflections on his contributions to interreligious dialogue, Christology, and Christian mission. Terrence Rynne, in Gandhi & Jesus: The Saving Power of Nonviolence, elaborates on a Gandhian reading of the Gospel—a theme that seems to have been taken up most recently by Pope Francis in his efforts to recover the radical peace message of Jesus. For an excellent guide to his “essential writings” see Mohandas Gandhi, edited by John Dear in our Modern Spiritual Masters Series.
As Gandhi noted, Jesus’ message of peace took form in a world of brutal violence and colonial occupation. That his homeland continues to be the site of violent conflict is a situation documented in Naim Stiffan Ateek’s A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict. Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest, offers a critical reading of biblical texts on “chosenness” that exclude certain people from God’s promises and thus justify ethnic cleansing and repression. Mitri Raheb takes up similar themes in his Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes, and more recently, with Suzanne Henderson, in The Cross in Contexts: Suffering and Redemption in Palestine, which relates the suffering of Christ on the Cross to the unjust suffering of the Palestinian people.
In the year ahead the struggle for peace in the world will demand ardent prayers, courageous action, and a commitment to that Truth, which both Gandhi and Jesus agreed, will set us free. In a season in which we have been assured that Christmas is now “bigger and better” than ever before, I remember Gandhi’s words: “The gaieties of the Christmas season have appeared to me to be so inconsistent with the life and teaching of Jesus. How I wish America could lead the way by devoting the season to a real moral stocktaking and emphasizing consecration to the service of humanity, for which Jesus lived and died on the Cross.”
Peace and blessings,
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