Could Gandhi Be a Quaker? Would He if He Could?
Now that I have explained where I am coming from, I can try to formuate why some of the other comments are difficult for me. What exactly do we mean by "Christian" ? Is it that we believe that Christ is God and that we are worshipping and communing with him? Can't someone listen to God and do God's will without believing that Christ is God? ... When I read Gandhi's writings, it seems to me that he is trying to listen to and follow God's will. And outwardly, he certainly appears to have lived out the testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality, so it would appear that he was doing pretty well with discernment. I don't think he would fit in with the definition of "Christian". Besides indicating a willingness to join, what else would he have to do to be considered a Quaker?
There are several questions here. First, "What exactly do we mean by Christian?" I suggest that one possible definition is that a Christian is someone who is trying to be a follower of Jesus Christ. That definition is broad enough to encompass lots of folks with different beliefs about who Jesus is/was and also different convictions about how to follow him. It is a value-neutral definition. It doen't presume that all Christians are good, nor that all non-Christians are bad. It is also not the same thing as a definition of Quakerism. It is broad enough to includes many many people who would not be comfortable with the testimonies of Friends (Jerry Falwell springs to mind), and also narrow enough that it excludes a number of good and even saintly people. I am the kind of Christian who believes that Jesus is God. This claim seems to be made in the New Testament, though the point is debatable. Christ is also presented as the "Son of God", the "Son of Man", the "Christ" or "Messiah", the "Lord", the "Master", the "Teacher", the "Word", the "Light", etc. etc. Not an easy guy to pin down. It may not be necessary to pin down the theories about Him in order to be His follower. His first followers in Galilee seem to have started following first and to have developed their explanations of Him later. In later generations, when the explanations finally became more important than love, faith and obedience, Christianity began to lose its way and to suffer divisions.
Next "Can't someone listen to God and do God's will without believing that Christ is God." The shortest true answer is "Yes". A related but different question might be "Can't someone listen to God and do God's will without being a Christian?" Again, the answer (in my opinion) is "Yes". From the context of these questions, I suspect Mark's underlying assumption is that since I have said Quakerism is a Christian faith I think non-Christians can't do the will of God. I have often known my universalist/liberal Friends to leap to this conclusion. I don't really understand where it comes from. Surely liberal Friends don't assume that a person who can't or won't join a Meeting is thereby rendered incapable of listening to God? If so, it is no wonder that many of them are so diffident about raising questions with applicants for membership!
Mark then presents the case of Gandhi. He points out that Gandhi was not a Christian but that he tried to follow God's will and that as far as we mortals can tell he seems to have succeeded pretty well. This is an understatement, of course. I am not (Thank you, Jesus!) in the business of judging souls, but if I were I suppose I would judge Gandhi's to be greater than any other more-or-less contemporary person I can think of. That must be why people called him "Mahatma", meaning "Great Soul". So, then, Mark asks: if Gandhi was so great "Besides indicating a willingness to join, what else would he have to do to be considered a Quaker?"
I could answer literally by saying things like "He'd have to attend unprogrammed worship regularly for a year, he'd have to read Faith and Practice, and he'd have to serve for a while on the Greeting Committee", but I suppose that would miss the point of Mark's question. I could also raise questions about how Gandhi would handle traditional Friends' attitudes toward things like religious statues, honorific titles (remember "Mahatma"?), etc. I think I'll get closer to Mark's point, though, if I focus attention on the part of the question Mark himself almost glides right past: "Besides indicating a willingness to join..." The picture we have here is that of a man who is a great spiritual, moral and political leader in his own right, already well-nourished by his own (and other) religious traditions, somehow deciding that he wants to sign up with a tiny sect like the Religious Society of Friends. Let's stipulate that we're talking about a liberal unprogrammed Quaker meeting here, since that's the kind of Meeting that might not make an issue of Christian belief. Let's make the idea of Gandhi's application a bit more credible by assuming first that somehow the liberal Quakers of his time had burst the bonds of their cultural and class exclusiveness and actually settled a Meeting in India with active members who were not English or American expatriates. My question would be "Under what conditions would Mohandas Gandhi "indicate a willingness", much less a desire, to join such a Meeting? And if he did so, what would he be joining?
If he wanted to join an inter-faith organization to compare differences and look for commonalities with various religious traditions, then there would be other places for him to look than to the Quakers. (I even hope that if he did join such an interfaith group he would find some Quakers there and find that they had some interesting and unique perspectives for him to think about). If he wanted a group that shared the moral and spiritual vision he already embraced, he might very well find the Quakers disappointing. Even if not, he really would have no need of them since he already had his own ashram where his beliefs were actively practiced.
If, however, the Meeting understood itself as a particular kind of Christian Church, practicing the discipline of waiting for Christ's Spirit to guide their worship and unite them in His service, understanding themselves corporately as His body in the world, willing to overcome self-will to follow Him, etc. then he might or he might not be interested in joining. It would no doubt be an adjustment for him. I like to think he would understand and respect such a group, whether he wanted to join it or not.
But if this hypothetical Meeting in India had no distinct views of its own at all, or if it refused to take these views seriously enough to discuss them with applicants for membership, then I find it highly unlikely that it would have anything to offer to Mohandas Gandhi.