Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
Gandhi emerged as a force to be reckoned with in India’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule. His work in the movement against oppression started when he helped with the struggle of Indians to gain equality in South Africa while working there as an attorney at law.
While in South Africa, he developed the approach of using nonviolence and passive resistance as a means of stimulating change. Learning from the successes achieved there, he utilized the same methodologies in India.
At first it was organizing peasant farmers against the oppressive policy of British landlords who compelled the peasants to grow indigo, which was declining in price, and at the same time forcing them to sell the crops at a price the landlords fixed. Gandhi organized the farmers, who in block refused to work under those conditions. The landlords relented, and the people won.
Gandhi’s successful intervention caused his methods to gain the respect of the Indian people, from whom he gained great support for the salt march to protest the British tax on salt (reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party).
His success was in part due to his openness to all people, including women. His inclusiveness enabled him to unite opposing religious factions (Muslims and Hindus) in the nonviolent effort for independence.
He concluded that the British were holding India in its grasp because Indians were helping them. He encouraged his fellow countrymen to practice civil disobedience by not cooperating with the British colonial infrastructure or working for them. He encouraged the boycott of British goods and institutions, including schools.
The movement he created brought the British Empire to its knees, and India gained its independence in 1947, without his instructing his followers to fire a single bullet. His approach to life was more Christlike than that of many professed Christians in his country at that time.
The British, in the era of Britain’s colonial rule, took their churches with them but for the most part not the Christ of the church. That era did immeasurable damage to the Christian faith because although they carried with them the name Christian, their governing practices were rapacious, racist, segregationist, oppressive, and unjust.
They had such powerful influence around the world; there was a time when this song was sung:
When Britain first, at Heaven’s command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
Rule, Britannia! Rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves.
While they abhorred slavery for themselves, they had no problem inflicting it on other people, until those of conscience in their midst rose up against it and fought for and won the abolition of slavery.
A nation that was among the first to see the translations of the Bible into its native language and sent missionaries like Livingston around the world failed in its stewardship to God and is now reduced to a nation struggling with nationalism, cutting itself off from the rest of Europe.
A nation that opens itself to the rest of the world is open for the blessings of God. A closed hand cannot receive anything. Greed and selfishness are the downfall of any people. Self-sacrificing love is the path to a great future.
The United States must be careful in pursuing a policy of nationalism lest it become so insular that it loses its in- fluence for good in the world. The United States has become great because so many talented people have come to it from all over the world bringing the skills and the drive to create better lives for themselves and their children.
It is interesting that a country of descendants of immigrants has become a country that is anti-immigration. There is nothing wrong with a country protecting its borders and controlling the rate of influx of immigrants, but to have a politically generated anti-immigrant fervor is counterproductive to the nation’s spiritual well-being and its future prosperity.
When we forget where we are coming from, we forget the God who brought us this far, and we seek to go forward in our own strength and wisdom. That is a prescription for failure. This is a land to which some came to exercise their religious freedom, and others came for a second chance for a better economic future. Have we become so selfish that we want to deny others those same opportunities?