Peace is a by-product of conditions out of which peace naturally comes.
—E. Stanley Jones
By DANIEL BUTTRY
A Christian missionary evangelist as an interfaith hero?
A man who held open-air evangelistic meetings with thousands of people in a predominantly non-Christian country, called the “Billy Graham of India,” as a role model in learning from other faiths?
Yes, E. Stanley Jones is such a paradoxical hero and role model.
Eli Stanley Jones was born in Baltimore, Maryland. After finishing his college education he went to India as a missionary with the Methodist Episcopal Church. He began working among the very low castes, including those now called the Dalits. In time he drew the attention of the intelligentsia and was invited to speak to students at universities across India. He was very popular as a speaker, for he did not attack Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, or any other religion in India. Instead he sought to separate the Jesus of the gospels from enculturation in forms of Western civilization.
He said, “The way of Jesus should be—but often isn’t—the way of Christianity. Western civilization is only partly Christianized.”
Eventually, Jones met Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi—a meeting that had a profound impact on the Christian missionary. They became close friends, and Jones became close to the Nehru family and others in the movement for Indian independence.
Jones eventually wrote a biography of the Hindu Indian activist, Gandhi: Portrait of a Friend. Jones’ biography of Gandhi was the initial link between Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. King said that it was while reading Jones’ biography that he became convinced to adopt a strict non-violent method in the struggle for civil rights.
Gandhi also challenged Jones about the Western forms of Christianity and the need for greater respect of the strengths of Indian culture and character. As Jones wrestled with Gandhi’s challenge, his own missionary understanding and practice was refined. He wrote The Christ of the Indian Road, which sold over a million copies. He then founded a Christian Ashram movement, seeking to express the Christian faith through Indian cultural forms while maintaining a passionate and articulate orthodox Christian message, a process he called “indigenization.”
Jones initiated round-table conferences that brought Christians and and non-Christians together to discuss how religion can improve life. He envisioned a broader gathering, a Round-Table of nations, speaking about this dream 30 years before the founding of the United Nations. Through his interreligious dialogue and connection with leaders in the Indian independence movement, Jones helped influence the shapers of the new constitution of India to include religious freedom as a fundamental component of the nation.
Later in his ministry he traveled around the world speaking about peace and international understanding. He said, “Peace is a by-product of conditions out of which peace naturally comes. If reconciliation is God’s chief business, it is ours—between man and God, between man and himself, and between man and man.” His efforts of reconciliation in Africa, Asia and between Japan and the United States earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Price. In Japan he was hailed as “The Apostle of Peace.”
E. Stanley Jones was extremely vigorous physically. He kept a heavy travel and speaking schedule and also wrote 26 books. He died at the age of 88 shortly after giving another speech, this time from a wheel chair following a stroke. As a Methodist publication put it, he was a “missionary extraordinary,” but he also was willing to be challenged by those of other faiths, learn from them, and be shaped by the dialog with those who believed differently.
Meet more peacemakers
Daniel Buttry is the author of Blessed Are the Peacemakers, which is available on Amazon.
You can read more about the influence of Gandhi on the life and teachings of the American evangelist E. Stanley Jones—and then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—in John E. Harnish’s 2022 book, 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones.