Mahatma Gandhi was a great spiritual and political leader who demonstrated the ability of one person to make a difference and to do so via methods of peace and nonviolence. Sadly, the man who lived the way of nonviolence was shot to death by a Hindu extremist who was tired of Gandhi’s acceptance and tolerance of Muslims. In his lifetime, Gandhi was arrested several times for leading peaceful demonstrations of civil disobedience which, in each case, were attempts to make better the plight of the poor, the forgotten and, in some cases, those who were grossly sinned against by the Empire. Gandhi was once quoted saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I think this was a very astute and powerful observation. In Jesus, Gandhi read about a Nazarene who lived the way of nonviolence and who in fact was an inspiration to Gandhi.
In the Anglican Calendar today is the commemoration of Charles I, martyr of the church. This man was executed because of his tolerance toward the Roman church. He had married a Roman Catholic and it was all downhill from there. After his capture, he was offered his life and could have perhaps saved his throne if he would turn away from the idea of the “catholicity” of the church and embrace congregationalism as a truer representation of the Church of England. When he refused to denounce the historic episcopacy of the Church of England, his fate was sealed. Because he held firm, he is considered a martyr of the church. Charles lived in a time when religious tolerance was far from the norm. By most accounts, Charles was peculiar in that he rejected religious persecution of any kind. His fight was for an understanding of the church that embraced the real presence of the Divine in the sacraments and in the leadership of the church. For that principle he gave up his life. The story of Charles I is quite interesting, and you can read more about by clicking here.
All of this history of fighting between the Roman Church and the Church of England brings me right back to “the great soul (Mahatma)” Gandhi. He was so right in his assertion for tolerance, for acceptance, and for respect. He was so right to, from the outside, offer a very candid criticism of the body faithful who profess Christianity. Gandhi had a lot of respect for Jesus, but could never figure out “the Christians.” Sadly, the story of King Charles I is one little piece of a large jigsaw puzzle of dissent, disrespect and, in some cases, even hate among Christians. Charles was put to death over 350 years ago. As we look around the church today can we claim to be much better? Just this past weekend the Anglican Network in Canada lobbied Anglicans in Windsor to adopt their brand of exclusion and intolerance, asking Anglicans to turn away from the universal nature of God’s love to embrace a singular way of being church. And make no mistake about the anger and vitriol that “the true believers” have for those of us who preach tolerance and respect for all people. One letter to the editor not so long ago went so far as to say that Anglicans should “not accept platitudes from their clergy about Jesus’ teaching tolerance and love.” It leaves me asking what they should accept from their clergy, if they cannot accept the very basic nature of what Jesus taught in his living and in his journey. Thankfully most people are not taking this very seriously and, apart from one parish in this city, there is no real audience for this brand of exclusion.
In looking at the many quarrels, disagreements and theological rifts that have permeated the years, including the present debate in the Anglican Church, it would be fair to say that Gandhi was right; “Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Let’s tear a page from history today and lament the times humanity has rejected tolerance, and seek to reflect in our actions Christianity based on Jesus – not on the few men who over the past number of years claim to speak for him.