Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Most Christlike Man?

Just finished a fascinating biography of Mohandas Gandhi by Louis Fischer.  Published in 1954, this thing's been around for a while.  What really caught my attention was how Gandhi lived out Jesus' command to love our enemies.  I know it's a broad generalization, but I don't see this happening in our Western iterations of 'christianity' today.  Even among us missionaries, I see far more of "if you hose me, watch your back" than "let's go bless that guy who is trying to destroy our ministry."  Gandhi makes the following staggering observation:

Much of what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount.  And please mark my words, I am not speaking at the present moment of Christian conduct.  I am speaking of the Christian belief, of Christianity as it is understood in the West.

We hate those who bomb us (go read an evangelical blog), justify it with our theology, and don't bat an eye that this is in complete contradiction to Jesus' explicit teaching.  We are harsh with those who hate us.  Jesus was harsh too...but his harsh words were for the religious establishment who saw themselves as righteous (me?) and He was gentle and merciful with the sinner (sinners, by definition, um, sin).  We tend to be the opposite: closing ranks with those we consider 'in the fold' and launching caustic attacks on those who hate us or what we stand for.

On our last visit to the States, after hanging around American Christians for a few weeks, my then eight-year old son Cameron asked me, "Daddy, is Obama evil?"  This is the only message he picked up from listening to Christians converse about this man.  I turned to my boy and said, "Cameron, Obama's heart is sinful just like your heart and your daddy's heart--he desperately needs Jesus, and if we ever were to meet him, our whole objective would be to make sure that when we parted he had felt our love and the love of Jesus."

Gandhi lived a life of loving his enemies.  In the post-independence religious violence that tore a united India into the separate states of India and Pakistan, he steadfastly refused to respond to evil with evil, fasting to force his fellow Hindus to stop retaliating against Muslims, frequently protecting his enemies with his own life...and ultimately paying for all this by being murdered by one of his fellow Hindus, precisely because of his love for his enemies.

Charles Freer Andrews, a British missionary to India, was one of Gandhi's closest friends.  Gandhi said of him, "he is more than a blood brother to me."  Andrews found "no better Christian than Gandhi, the Hindu." Another of Gandhi's close friends was the American missionary Dr. E. Stanley Jones.  At the end of Gandhi's life, Dr. Jones said of his friend that he was "one of the most Christlike men in history."

If a Hindu--who didn't acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, but firmly believed that His teachings were completely true--can radically influence hundreds of millions of people by living out the Sermon on the Mount, imagine what could happen if a few of the rest of us start to take Jesus' words seriously.


Joan Morgan said...

The beautiful reality of God's upside down world... beautifully expressed. Thank you.

I too have been alarmed at the political hatred that has gripped the US. Watching from the distance of living in Canada and my third culture kid perspective (a West Papua MAF MK), things have seemed terribly wrong in the US. Too many assume that God is a Republican. Too many have made an idol of the US constitution. Too many are allowing the protection of money to drive their passions. Living in Canada doesn't let me off the hook...we are equally adept at finding ways to look away from God... but that's another conversation.

I hope that before this century has ended we will be priveleged to have West Papuan missionnaries ministering to us here in North America...correcting and guiding us back to the basics.

Anonymous said...

Great article but I must respond to Joan that to be balanced one would not assume either that God is a demorcrat. The U.S constitution also is the only article of (basically shredded/metaphorically) law that protects its citizens from tyranny... God is not a tyrant and I am SURE mr. Gandhi strongly disliked tyrants and also communism based on his conduct and teachings. The last time I checked there were equally as many rich greedy democrats as the problem is then? Rich greedy politicians on both sides in bed with corporate america would be a big part of it.

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