Reflections on Terrence Rynne’s “Gandhi and Jesus: The Saving Power of Nonviolence” – Patrick O’Neill

Terrence Rynne


by Patrick O’Neill

As he was driving to Garner for the first time Oct. 23, Marquette University professor, author—and pacifist—Terrence Rynne didn’t know where he would be delivering his breakfast talk to the inaugural gathering of The Garner Peace Committee. Rynne, who was following another car to his destination, said he was glad when the lead driver passed by Locked & Loaded Grill along Hwy. 70.

“I was afraid as we were driving that we were going to have this breakfast at the Locked & Loaded Grill,” Rynne said getting a laugh from the dozen folks sitting around the table. “And I was happy to see the Old Garner Road Diner; that is perfect.”

Rynne, 68, made a stopover in Garner on the final day of his speaking tour through North Carolina to promote his book, “Gandhi and Jesus: The Saving Power of Nonviolence.” In the book, Rynne, who is founder of Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking, makes the case that “nonviolence is at the very heart of Christian salvation.”

Rynne said his study of Gandhi gave him “a thrilling understanding of the New Testament,” one that he shares in the book. “I really want people to see the New Testament as being fundamentally nonviolent,” Rynne said.

Although he was raised Hindu, the renowned Indian pacifist leader, Mohandas K. Gandhi, studied the world’s great religions, paying close attention to their messages on peace and nonviolence. Rynne says Gandhi read the New Testament, and was convinced Jesus was nonviolent, and wanted his followers to practice nonviolence.

Gandhi enjoyed the study of other religions, and he tried hard to understand other religious traditions, even adopting other religions’ prayers as his own, Rynne said. “In his daily prayers, he would give prayers for many different faiths, consistently trying to enter into the heart of the many various religions, and finding great commonalities, of course.”

Because of negative encounters with fire and brimstone evangelists who railed “against the multi-gods of Hinduism,” Gandhi initially did not respect Christianity, Rynne said, but when he started to read the Bible, his views changed. Some of the Jewish scriptures, such as Numbers and Leviticus put him to sleep, Rynne said, but when Gandhi read the New Testament “it went straight to his heart.”

In his nonviolent campaigns against British occupation in South Africa and India, Gandhi had successes, but he also took umbrage when someone said nonviolence was a tactic “of the weak,” Rynne said. Gandhi did not view his campaigns as passive resistance, but rather as active nonviolence that in many ways involved the same risks as violent campaigns.

To help better explain nonviolent resistance, Gandhi came up with the name Satyagraha or “firmness in the truth,” Rynne said.

The word truth, from the Hindu word, Satya, “was just a very deep belief in Hinduism,” Rynne said. “It means the order in the universe, but it also means ‘we are one.’” If human beings are one, therefore “to do any violence to anybody else is doing violence to us,” Rynne said.

Christians also believe that “in the Body of Christ, we are one,” said Rynne, who was a Catholic priest for 10 years before leaving religious life to marry his wife, Sally. The couple have six children and 16 grandchildren.

Gandhi also spoke of Ahimsa or “the refusal to to do harm,” and Tapasya or “self suffering.” Self suffering, Rynne said, when experienced for a cause or for the love of others sets an example for others to follow. At the heart of Gandhi’s nonviolent campaigns was his belief that oppressors could only prevail if permitted to do so.

In India, Gandhi wondered how 150,000 British could control a country of 250 million.  “Because we’ve given them these powers,” Rynne said quoting Gandhi. “And for some reason we think they’re legitimate here, so we’ve given them authority.”

By 1930, the world had come to know of the nonviolent campaigns of Gandhi, whom Time Magazine called, “the little half-naked brown man.” In 1930, Time named Gandhi Man of the Year, saying his “mark on world history will undoubtedly loom largest of all.”

Rynne said nonviolent conflict resolution is not only a moral imperative, but it is in fact a practical imperative at a time when the world is embroiled in endless wars, nuclear weapons proliferation continues and global calamities such as global warming and economic uncertainty threaten life as we know it.

“I think I’m more motivated and moved by the richness of the human community; I didn’t find Gandhi taking a fear-based approach,” Rynne said. “It was the love that he experienced and that he could draw out from other people that was the center of his concerns. He knew the impotence of violence.”

At Marquette, Rynne wants the Center for Peacemaking to help incorporate peacemaking into the heart and soul of the university. “It’s mission is to have Marquette University become a university that makes a basic turn towards peace so that the whole university would see that,” he said, “so people graduating understand and are ready to be peacemakers. So that means getting over the sound of peace as a fluffy term.”

The center has been working to organize the Marquette faculty, to see how many disciplines across campus are “actively, currently doing research under the umbrella of peace studies and peacemaking,” Rynne said.

Gandhi demonstrated that nonviolence can work, Rynne said. For peacemaking to catch on, it has to happen with individuals, he said.

“Anyplace that somebody stands I think they can begin to make a difference,” he said. “We have such a long way to go to be an antidote, a serum against the belief in violence. It is just so endemic in our culture. All our stories about conquering the West, the power of the Winchester rifle, goes into all the stories that kids see on television. It’s always somebody who’s down and beaten but comes back. So to tell stories of the effectiveness of nonviolence, it’s just so important because people can’t believe it unless they see it at work and witness other people living that way.”

After his presentation, Rynne autographed copies of his book, which was reviewed by South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu. In his comments Tutu wrote:  “At a time when all too many leaders persist in countering violence with increased violence, Terrence Rynne’s “Gandhi and Jesus” is a sharp reminder of the strength and critical need for embracing the way of nonviolence.”

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