July 5, 2015

Answering Gandhi’s Rebuke of Christians and Christianity

Mohandas K. Gandhi
The following quote attributed to Mohandas Gandhi has been used as a rhetorical cudgel against Christians; portraying them as vain, materialistic, hypocritical disciples:
I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. 
— Mahatma Gandhi

Another version elaborates on how Christians are unlike Christ: 
I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. The materialism of affluent Christian countries appears to contradict the claims of Jesus Christ that says it's not possible to worship both Mammon and God at the same time.
Despite the ubiquity of this saying on the internet and elsewhere, I find no evidence that Gandhi uttered these words. First, whenever it is invoked no source is provided. Second, Gandhi says, "your Christ" and "your Christians" as if he were addressing a follower of Jesus. Mohandas Gandhi was a consequential figure whose life was intensely chronicled. Yet, I've found no primary or secondary source (i.e. interview, memoir, oral history, press account) providing context for this statement. The closest is this anecdote which may have been based on an account from E. Stanley Jones' The Christ of the Indian Road (published in 1925 by The Abington Press, New York City):
Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most respected leaders of modern history. A Hindu, Gandhi nevertheless admired Jesus and often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. Once 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 your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Apparently Gandhi’s rejection of Christianity grew out of an incident that happened when he was a young man practicing law in South Africa. He had become attracted to the Christian faith, had studied the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, and was seriously exploring becoming a Christian. And so he decided to attend a church service. As he came up the steps of the large church where he intended to go, a white South African elder of the church barred his way at the door. “Where do you think you’re going, kaffir?” the man asked Gandhi in a belligerent tone of voice.
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.”
From that moment, Gandhi said, he decided to adopt what good he found in Christianity, but would never again consider becoming a Christian if it meant being part of the church.
A 1926 review by the Reverend W.P. King (then pastor of the First Methodist Church of Gainesville, Georgia) of E. Stanley Jones' The Christ of the Indian Road includes the following:
Dr. Jones says that the greatest hindrance to the Christian gospel in India is a dislike for western domination, western snobbery, the western theological system, western militarism and western race prejudice. Gandhi, the great prophet of India, said, "I love your Christ, but I dislike your Christianity." The embarrassing fact is that India judges us by our own professed standard. In reply to a question of Dr. Jones as to how it would be possible to bring India to Christ, Gandhi replied: First, I would suggest that all of you Christians live more like Jesus Christ. Second, I would suggest that you practice your Christianity without adulterating it. The anomalous situation is that most of us would be equally shocked to see Christianity doubted or put into practice. Third, I would suggest that you put more emphasis on love, for love is the soul and center of Christianity. Fourth, I would suggest that you study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically in order to find the good that is in them, so that you might have a more sympathetic approach to the people. ...
Gandhi was certainly no fan of Western Civilization, however, said quote ascribed to him (I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians... ) is bogus.

G.K. Chesterton
Using false information to shame Christians is hardly new. Whether Gandhi's remark is a fraud or not, when I see it, I'm reminded of this quote by G.K. Chesterton:
Most Christians fail to fulfill the Christian ideal. This bitter and bracing fact cannot be too much insisted upon in this and every other moral question. But, perhaps, it might be suggested that this failure is not so much the failure of Christians in connection with the Christian ideal as the failure of any men in connection with any ideal. That Christians are not always Christian is obvious; neither are Liberals always liberal, nor Socialists always social, nor Humanitarians always kind, nor Rationalists always rational, nor are gentlemen always gentle, nor do working men always work. If people are especially horrified at the failure of Christian practice, it must be an indirect compliment to the Christian creed.

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