Statement of Purpose

That Gandhi’s satyagraha campaigns, in South Africa and India, took place within a context of conflict is not always easy to remember from this distance in time. We have fixed in our mind the image of the Mahatma sitting serenely or striding confidently. Harder to imagine is the violence of British oppression, the police beatings, the deaths of his followers, and Gandhi’s long stints in prison. The struggle for Indian self-rule, what Gandhi would call swaraj, was beset by a host of competing forces and factions vying for influence and power. The Marxist leader Virendrenath Chattopadhyaya, to take one example among many, called for violent revolution and urged the rejection of revolutionary satyagraha. Gandhi’s nonviolence campaigns might be seen as an unresolved dialectic between violence and nonviolence, that is, a dialectic between the competing forces that compel or oppose power. This section of our website hopes to record and engage these discussions.

Mahatma Gandhi, Apostle of Nonviolence: An Introduction

by John Dear

Book cover illustration courtesy John Dear; johndear.org

When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, the world hailed him as one of the greatest spiritual leaders, not just of the century, but of all time. He was ranked not just with Thoreau, Tolstoy, and St. Francis, but with Buddha, Mohammed and even Jesus. “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth,” Albert Einstein wrote at the time.

Gandhi’s legacy includes not just the brilliantly waged struggle against institutionalized racism in South Africa, the independence movement of India, and a ground-breaking path of interreligious dialogue, but also boasts the first widespread application of nonviolence as the most powerful tool for positive social change. Gandhi’s nonviolence was not just political: It was rooted and grounded in the spiritual, which is why he exploded not just onto India’s political stage, but onto the world stage, and not just temporally, but for all times.

Gandhi was, first and foremost, a religious man in search of God. For more than fifty years, he pursued truth, proclaiming that the best way to discover truth was through the practice of active, faith-based nonviolence.

I discovered Gandhi when I was a Jesuit novice at the Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. My friends and I were passionately interested in peace and justice issues, so we undertook a detailed study of Gandhi. We were amazed to learn that Gandhi professed fourteen vows, even as we were preparing to profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I added a fourth vow—under Gandhi’s influence—a vow of nonviolence, as Gandhi had done in 1907. My friends and I undertook our own Gandhian experiments in truth and nonviolence, with prayer, discussions, fasting, and public witness, followed by serious reflection. My friends and I returned to Gandhi as a way to understand how best to respond to our own culture of violence.

Read the rest of this article »

Non-Violence in the Early Church

by Corey Farr

St. Moses the Black, a patron saint of nonviolence, 4th century CE; courtesy Orthodox Peace Fellowship; incommunion.org

The intent of this paper is to survey the attitudes of the early (pre-Constantinian) church towards violence, military service, and martyrdom and bring them into dialogue with contemporary US-American evangelical views and practices. I will examine this both in terms of the more passive and prohibitive critiques of culture and the more “active” affirmation of the merits of martyrdom. In doing so, I would hope to show that the church had not only the negative/passive witness of refusing to engage in violent acts, but also the positive/active witness of being willing to accept and even embrace violence done to themselves – in a way that is less pathological than it sounds – in imitation of their cruciform king.

As a long-time believer in nonviolence, I must admit that I was surprised to see the overwhelming evidence in favor of this position in the early church. Of course, I knew that there has always been a precedent for this belief throughout history, all the way back to the first century. That much, at least, I had learned from John Howard Yoder. (1) What surprised me was the wealth of quotes from patristics that spoke in no uncertain terms on the topic. My hope is that by doing this research and sharing it with those who are interested I might further reinforce and open opportunities to share my own Anabaptist inclinations with those in my generation who are burnt out, tired, and disillusioned with status quo evangelicalism ad nauseam. I remain an evangelical, despite my qualms with the stereotypes, because they are my people and I love them dearly – to misquote Luther, “Here I stand, and I can do no other.” But I do believe we have much to learn from the early church. For example, Jonathan Gorry notes that church fathers such as Tertullian, Origen, and Lactantius, who will each be featured in this paper, called for “pacifying forms of social engagement.” (2) Given the divisive and polarized political unrest among evangelicals today, such responses “can serve as useful antecedents for the regeneration of 21st century Christian critiques of state sovereignty.” (3) My prayer is that this paper shed a little light on those antecedents, thus lending credence to modern iterations of Christian nonviolence by demonstrating how in touch they are with the roots of the faith.

Read the rest of this article »

Pacifist Communities in Britain in the Second World War

by Andrew Rigby

Peace Pledge Union poster courtesy hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk

If we got, say, a million voters actively insisting that they’ll never take part in any war,
the Government would have to begin to take notice
.” Dick Sheppard. (1)

Such was the optimistic hope and political strategy of Dick Sheppard, the founder and moving spirit of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), writing in 1936. His faith in the possibility of creating a pacifist movement of such a scale that no government could afford to ignore its influence was not totally unfounded at that time. The PPU had a membership of over 118,000, with some 300 local groups in existence, and a weekly newspaper (Peace News) with sales of approximately 6,000. The origins of the PPU date back to October 1934, when Sheppard published his Peace Letter requesting people to contact him who shared his pacifist determination to renounce war and never support or sanction another one. The burgeoning growth of the PPU in those pre-war days, as the New Statesman observed, lay in its appeal “not only to the convinced absolutist pacifist but to the large number of people with only slight political knowledge but with a recent realization of the fearful imminence of war, who are fascinated by the direct simplicity of the crusade.” (2)

Read the rest of this article »

Beginning with Witness: An Interview with Mark Johnson

by Nathan Schneider

Peacebuilding illustration courtesy myzimdialogue.com

Preface: Mark Johnson was Executive Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (2007-2013), an organization that stood in opposition to two world wars and helped foster the civil rights movement’s ethic of nonviolence, in addition to being an early advocate for interfaith dialogue. Under his leadership, the FOR learned to find a place for itself amidst the proliferation of institutions—both religious and secular, governmental and civil—that claim the mantle of making peace. The interview was conducted in December 2009. Please see the notes at the end for further information and acknowledgments. NS

Nathan Schneider: Since its founding, how has the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) been involved in promoting peace around the world?

Mark Johnson: The Fellowship of Reconciliation began in 1914, when an English Quaker and German Lutheran agreed that they wouldn’t let the emerging war separate the fellowship they had established. A year later, one of their mutual friends, John R. Mott, invited them to form an organization at a conference in Long Island, and there, in 1915, the FOR was established. The early work, which helped frame FOR’s efforts through the Vietnam War era, had to do with the right to conscientious objection.

Read the rest of this article »

The Lonely Scholar Who Became a Nonviolent Warrior:
Gene Sharp (1928-2018)

by George Lakey

Portrait of Gene Sharp courtesy goodnewsmagazine.se

Once again I rang the bell at the brick row house in East Boston where Gene Sharp lived. When he opened the door I said proudly, “Today I drove here instead of taking the T.”

“You drove?” he said in mock horror. “Man, are you trying to get yourself killed? Haven’t you heard about Boston drivers? They show no mercy, especially toward Philadelphians!”

That was the Gene Sharp I knew, always loving to find a joke in the moment. So, I was sad to hear the news that he passed away on Sunday at the age of 90. (January 21, 1918-January 28, 2018)

When I had him speak at Swarthmore College he put on his distinguished scholar persona, adding the English accent he’d learned while studying at Oxford. When one of my students asked a particularly penetrating question, Gene, at the time associated with Harvard, peered over his glasses and said, “Hmm, it appears to be true: Swarthmore students really are brighter than Harvard students.”

Even though he charmed my students, he also relished the role of contrarian. Not easy, if your life mission is to bring into the mainstream an area of study previously on the intellectual margin.

I was 21 years old when I met him. I was studying sociology at the University of Oslo. One of my teachers there who knew of my interest in the peace movement said that I might like to meet someone at the university who was researching Norwegian nonviolent resistance to the German Nazi occupation in World War II.

Read the rest of this article »

The Mahatma, Il Duce and the Crucifix: Gandhi’s Brief Encounter with Mussolini and Its Consequences

by Peter Gonsalves

Gandhi in Fascist Rome, 1931; courtesy alamy.com

After the second Round Table Conference (RTC) in London, (1) Mahatma Gandhi had to embark at the Port of Brindisi in Southern Italy en route to India. He decided to spend a few days in Switzerland as a guest of Romain Rolland, and then stop in Rome on Saturday, December 12, 1931, in order to meet Pope Pius XI. The note in his diary of December 12, states:

Arrived in Rome at 8.30 in the morning. Received letter to the effect that the Pope could not receive me. Three of us stayed with General Moris, the others in a hotel. Went to see the Vatican [Museums] in the afternoon. At 6 o’clock Mussolini. (2)

Barely a year earlier, Gandhi had shot to international fame due to the extensive American press coverage of his Salt Satyagraha. (3) He was on the cover of Time Magazine on two occasions within a span of ten months: first on March 31, 1930 and again as ‘Time’s Man of the Year’ on January 5, 1931. (4) His fame preceded him even in Europe. Whether at Villeneuve, Milan, Rome or Brindisi, people flocked to see ‘St. Gandhi’ in his strange attire. (5)

Read the rest of this article »

The Legacy of Ham Sok-hon: The Korean Gandhi

by Kim Sung-soo

Portrait of Ham Sok-hon courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Ham Sok-hon (1901-1989) was known as the “Gandhi of Korea.” He sought to affirm the identity of Koreans at a time when Korea had fallen prey to Japanese imperialism. Ham believed that discovering one’s identity, especially as a colonized nation, was extremely important as it also determined one’s destiny. Without knowing who you are, it is very difficult to know what to do.

Ham was a civil rights activist when his country was ruled by dictatorial regimes (in both the North and South). Yet, as a maverick thinker, he tried his best to merge diverse religions and ideologies. Although he passed away nearly three decades ago, his legacy still inspires a considerable number of civil rights activists and liberal thinkers in Korea today.

Ham was born in North Korea and died in South Korea. He grew up on a small island in the Yellow Sea at the beginning of the 20th century. His father was a gentle and quiet herbal doctor, while his uncle was a man of action with vigorous Christian faith and a strong sense of patriotism as Korea began to lose her sovereignty to Japan. From an early age, Ham was influenced a great deal by his uncle in terms of merging Christian faith and a spirit of national independence under Japanese oppression.

The March 1 Independence Movement of 1919 was the turning point in Ham’s life, which changed him from a shy boy of eighteen to a courageous young man. From that point on he became very aware of his identity, as well as the identity of his country as a colonized nation. Later, in the 1930s as a history teacher, he began to write what would be Korean history from the oppressed people’s perspective. Because of his view on Korean history, he was imprisoned and suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese colonial regime. His books, starting with the controversial Korean History in 1948, and the later Queen of Suffering: A Spiritual History of Korea (Seoul, Korea: Friends World Committee for Consultation, 1985) are still recognized as among the most notable books in Korea.

Read the rest of this article »

Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War

by M. K. Gandhi

Peace Quilt designed by 9th grader Vidhi Jain, Apeejay School, Pitampura, India; courtesy peacequilt.wordpress.com

Editor’s Preface: We have posted a series of statements by Gandhi that very much address situations and conflicts we currently face, as with his statements on Truth. The “nuclear menace” is much in the news again. These extracts are then being posted in August, the anniversary month of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Please consult the notes at the end for notes, and sources. JG

Has not the atom bomb proved the futility of all violence? (1)

There have been cataclysmic changes in the world. Do I still adhere to my faith in truth and non-violence? Has not the atom bomb exploded that faith? Not only has it not done so, but it has clearly demonstrated to me that truth and non-violence constitute the mightiest force in the world. Before it the atom bomb is of no effect. The two opposing forces are wholly different in kind, the one moral and spiritual, the other physical and material. The one is infinitely superior to the other which by its very nature has an end.

Read the rest of this article »

The Suffragettes and the Effectiveness of Property Destruction

by George Lakey 

Cover of program for the 1913 National American Women's Suffrage Association march; courtesy Wikipedia.com

Suffragette is a 2015 British film directed by Sarah Gavron. It tells a gripping story drawn from the direct action wing of Britain’s woman suffrage movement. Because it spotlights one tactic — property destruction — the film raises the question of effectiveness. Leader Emmeline Pankhurst’s (1858–1928) argument for escalating with arson and explosions was to hasten their win. Did it?

Read the rest of this article »

The Origins of Satyagraha in South Africa

by Henry S. L. Polak

Gandhi in front of his Johannesburg law office, 1905, with Henry Polak (left), Sonia Schlesin; others unidentified.

Editor’s Preface: This 1949 article by Polak is often cited as a primary source of information about Gandhi’s South African years and the events surrounding Gandhi’s coining of the term, “Satyagraha”. Henry S. L. Polak edited Indian Opinion, which he co-founded with Gandhi and is credited with giving Gandhi a copy of Ruskin’s Unto This Last, which Gandhi cites as one of his most important influences. For further biographical and textual information please see the notes at the end. JG

Mahatma Gandhi’s technique of Satyagraha, or, as it was first known, Passive Resistance, had its origins in South Africa. It was in 1906, twelve years after Gandhi’s arrival there, that the flame of Satyagraha began to glow. Until then, the Indian grievances had been dealt with in the usual orthodox ways of petitions, memoranda, addresses, questions in Parliament, public speeches, and so on. But the time had now arrived when, all these having proved fruitless, new and radical methods had to be devised, their consequences considered, and redress thereby determined upon, at whatever cost to those suffering under social, economic, and political disabilities that must no longer be tolerated.

Read the rest of this article »

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi