Christ’s Faithful Apostle: That was the name given to this Christian priest by the Hindu Indian independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi, playing off the initials of Charles Freer Andrews. Andrews was one of Gandhi’s closest associates and friends. Together they struggled for justice and freedom over many years and in many settings.
Andrews grew up in England, studied at Cambridge, became an Anglican priest and then Vice Principal of Westcott House Theological College at Cambridge. Since his college days he had been involved in struggles for justice as part of his understanding of living the Christian gospel. He looked especially at issues related to his own country, to the injustices in the British Empire, particularly in India.
He moved to India, joined the Cambridge Brotherhood in Delhi and became a professor of philosophy at St. Stephen’s College. He witnessed first-hand the racist treatment of Indians by the British and began to write in support of Indian aspirations for independence. He joined the Indian National Congress and helped resolve the cotton worker’s strike in Madras in 1913.
One of the Indian political leaders asked Andrews to go to South Africa to assist in the political struggles of the Indian community in that country. There he met Mohandas Gandhi, a young lawyer seeking to organize Indians to deal with the discrimination they faced in South Africa by nonviolent means. Andrews saw the Christian values he held dear reflected in Gandhi’s teaching of ahimsa or “total nonviolence.” Andrews helped Gandhi organize his Ashram and publish the journal The Indian Opinion.
In 1916 Gandhi and Andrews returned together to India to work for Indian independence. Andrews worked with the trade unions and joined in the Vaikkom Temple protests in support of the so-called “untouchables.” As part of the independence struggle he particularly focused on a series of dialogs between Christians and Hindus. Andrews accompanied Gandhi back to London for the Round Table Conference in 1930 to help Gandhi in negotiations with the British.
Throughout this period Christian missionaries had called attention to the plight of the Indian indentured laborers in Fiji. Andrews went to Fiji with W.W. Pearson and their report led to halting further transportation of Indian labor to British colonies. Though this was an improvement the condition of those workers in Fiji and other colonies was still abysmal. Andrews further trip to Fiji and subsequent protests helped lead to the abolishment of the entire system of Indian indentured labor in 1920.
As the movement for Indian independence gathered strength, Gandhi felt it was time for sympathetic British friends such as Andrews to step aside. The leadership of the movement needed to be fully Indian. So steeped in the teachings and action of Gandhi, Andrews spent more time in Britain. He focused on teaching the next generation about living out Christ’s call to radical discipleship through nonviolent struggles for justice and freedom.