Although the movie Gandhi debuted in 1982, I did not make the time to watch it until last month. I had a textbook knowledge of the British exploitation of India and its role in the sectarian divide of a nation with a rich and varied history extending several millennia. In fact, during my childhood days as a minority in the seat of the empire, I also gained some personal knowledge from three of my best friends whose parents hailed from imperially created Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nonetheless, although I claim solidarity with all who still bear the deep scars of colonial oppression, I had never taken the time to immerse myself into the political currents that undergirded the turbulent waters of Indian liberation.
In the epic depiction of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Ben Kingsley portrayed a highly sanitized and somewhat revisionist version of this much revered man. Although tainted by the segregationist ideologies of Hinduism in his early revolutionary days, Gandhi appeared to be a man of deep faith who believed in the liberating power of non-violent aggressive warfare powered by the weapons of patience, suffering and love. Fueled by the Hindu doctrine of ahimsa (non injury to living things), Gandhi promoted satyagraha – non violent resistance against the colonial powers.
The Spirit behind Satyagraha and Soul Force
It is no secret that Gandhi’s legacy and methods were embraced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who channeled the Spirit behind satyagraha into his “Soul Force” philosophy. Like Gandhi, King recognized the futility of confronting a dominating violent kingdom with the same weapons it had engineered and mastered. He also knew that the struggle against the illusion of ethnic supremacy was deeply rooted in the pit of hell, and victory would only be assured if the oppressed chose to fight with weapons from the heavenly arsenal.
Interestingly, Gandhi and King had similar experiences. Both had climbed the ladder of intellectual advancement and professional accomplishment in their oppressive systems, only to discover that the top rung still did not reach a level that allowed them to step into full citizenship in their respective geopolitical circumstance. If they chose, they could have allowed themselves to be beguiled by a system within the system, but they knew that illusions of liberty were merely political pacifiers. They knew that true liberty could only be experienced when it was a reality for all. Liberty for them equated to an egalitarian democracy where every citizen had full access to the rights and privileges of the state they called home.
Soul Force and the Victory of Good over Evil
While fueled by the same motivation, these two icons of liberation had totally different objectives. Gandhi sought to evict the squatting landlords from his ancestral home, while King strove for the key to the door of a home that he and his ancestors helped to build. Gandhi’s satyagraha was exercised in an environment where the oppressed were in the majority, while Kings “Soul Force” conjured images of Gideon’s ad hoc army facing the might of Midian’s military; or the youthful David dwarfed but defiant in the shadow of the towering Goliath. Nonetheless, although the objectives were different, the result was the same.
The notion that one could win a war without using conventional weapons would have seemed absurd to Hannibal, Ghengis Khan, or Shaka Zulu, but Ghandi, King, Walesa and Mandela proved that it can be done. Forces of evil can be eradicated when the oppressed fight with spiritual weapons. When those who seek Divine justice have the courage to stand, like Emperor Haile Selassie, they too can be “confident of the victory of good over evil.”
“SoulForce”: The Diminishing of a Term?
Sensitive and sensitized to global movements against oppression, I was recently surprised to find that an LGBTQ activist group have chosen the moniker SoulForce for its organization. During the Civil Rights Movement, the oppressed used “soul force” to counter police dogs, fire hoses, lynchings, segregated restaurants, substandard academic institutions, burning crosses, and cordoned sections in busses and trains. The racist climate was so toxic that a people’s skin color determined their limitation. The doors of Congress were closed to them. Only a select few were welcome in Hollywood. Their students and educators were directed to study and teach in HBCUs. Their participation in the fashion industry was limited to the factory floor. It is this caustic, oppressive segregationist system that needed to be confronted by “soul force” – a Satanic system that denied access to individuals simply because of their tanned pigmentation.
Knowing the etiological milieu of the term “soul force,” I wonder if the power of the term is diminished when it is used by an organization whose situation is radically different than the Africans in segregationist America or the Indians under the evil Empire? I know there are many who tend to group all self claimed “liberation” movements under the same umbrella, but should some buy their own umbrella? Judging by the sixth core value of SoulForce, which calls for the “liberation of LGBTQ people,” it is obvious that the group has staked a claim beside the emancipative legacies of African Americans, Pakistanis and Indians. However, doesn’t the need for liberation suggest oppression and degradation? In these United States, can members of the LGBTQ community really claim to be in the same social situation as those who were empowered by Dr. King’s “soul force” philosophy? Can they really claim exclusion from politics, media, fashion industry, higher education, public transportation, entertainment and even ordained ministry in some denominations?
Conclusion: Soul Force and God’s Remnant
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am fully aware that there is still bias against homosexuals, but to claim persecuted status when the LGBTQ community wields so much power in this nation seems disingenuous. Even without federally recognized marriage, homosexuals have plenty more influence than Blacks have ever had. In fact, the shift in societal mores is already apparent. Associations like SoulForce are simply concerned that a number of churches and religions have chosen not to conform to society.
Given the sexually relativized reality of our contemporary situation, it seems to me that the segment of the population that really needs to hold up the blood stained “soul force” banner are the faithful remnant who reside in the world but reject the philosophy of the world. These understand the nature of our spiritual warfare and resist being deceived by the devil’s wiles. They reject the anti-Christ tactics of Fred Phelps and the hatemongering mob from the Westboro Baptist Church. They disdain self-righteous attitudes that place degrees on the rancid potpourri of sins that have stained each and every one of us. Their words and actions are sprinkled with the Grace that has been showered on us all. They lift up the One who has promised to draw all those who are willing to Him, whether they be lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gender, queer or straight. They align their souls with the Spirit of the resurrected Christ who has empowered them to be reconciling witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Keith Augustus Burton is an adjunct instructor at the Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences. In his book, The Compassion of the Christ (Stanborough Press, 2005), he writes about God’s unconditional love for all humanity.