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Saturday, August 25, 2007
Oh God - READ THIS BOOK IN ITS ENTIRETY: "The Lamb's War," by Phil Berrigan. In the meantime, some quotes:
- I DELIVERED THIS HOMILY AT FRIDA BERRIGAN’S FUNERAL, DECEMBER 24,1976.
Sisters and Brothers,
I judge this an occasion to share our joy and gratitude with you. For God has released our mother from the quiet battle which distinguishes life. And for this, we have nothing but thanks.
I sense my incapacity for the incapacity of anyone—to appraise a life like Frida’s. In such a life, one can only explore the mystery of themes, of meanings and markings. And then strive to remember, to learn and grow up.
Jerry and I were privileged to witness her death at 6:20 p.m. on Thursday. It was a death woven from her life; she struggled to breathe quietly and steadfastly, as she had lived for nearly 91 years, quietly and steadfastly. And when she could struggle no longer, when her exhaustion became final, she stopped breathing, giving herself over to that “King for whom all live,” as the Office for All Souls calls God—then to begin in Him, resurrection and life.
Since witnessing the peace which attended her death, and the credentials of struggle marking her wasted body, I have thought of Christ’s appearance to the disciples on the first Easter: “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, Peace be to you! and when He said this, He showed them his hands and his side.” (John 20:19). Which is to say, He traced the connection between peace and the cross; between peace, and suffering endured for others. I began to understand the old biblical axiom that there is no reconciliation without bloodshed—no reconciliation without an offering for others. His peace was indistinguishable from his wounds. In fact, He could only offer peace because He first gave himself as ransom for all.
A central Old Testament theme has it that no one knows God until one knows injustice. And—the prophets were careful to stress one knows nothing about injustice until one struggles against it. Today, knowledge of God means struggling against the bombing of the innocent, against victimizing the weak, against the put-down of women and blacks, against the imperilment of everyone by atomic wrath. Struggle against these and you will know injustice; struggle against these and you will know God. So would prophecy remind us today.
It seemed that Frida knew God. The signs of struggle were striking at that last vigil. Emaciated and depleted, she literally had nothing left to give at death—as though work, life, service, vocation, were all complete. I remembered the way she mysteriously controlled and paced her life during these last years—staying alive because she sensed we needed her. Needed her certainly during the Indochina war, but even more since, when Amerjeans grew silent before the humiliation of their country at the hands of politicians, generals, and arms hucksters. Needed her spirit of prayer, her humility before encroaching weakness; needed the resistance which had revolutionized her own spirit and life.
She was, I conclude, a sister and mother to us all—and teacher as well. And as the nuclear weapons race, led by our country, mounts to insane heights; as nuclear proliferation careens out of control; as humanity arms i for a convulsion of mass suicide—she reminds us of the Child at Bethie hem of his Cross at Calvary, of Him who offered us peace at the price of wounded hands and side.
We will remember her as Elizabeth, Jerry, Dan, and I go back to the War Department (the Pentagon) for the nth resistance, the nth arrest, the nth brush with federal courts and jails. For without remembering her, we would tend to forget the victims—which under the declared policy of our government’s “counterforce,” are all of us. And forgetting the victims would be to forget God, his Christ, whether at Bethlehem or in the Upper Room.
We of the family wish you her memory—which is to say, her peace and her life. We wish you the same breath—the Lord’s last gift to us— His peace and His wounds. Have a blessed Christmas!
- In Catholic church and parochial schools, I had learned that God created man in His own image and that all human beings carry the divine within us. In order to kill other men and women, I needed to make them less than human. I needed to become anesthetized; more, I had to believe that I would never become one of those mutilated things. Unlike them, God was on my side. Unlike them, I was blessed, surrounded with the aura of pure goodness. We had gone overseas with 105 howitzers, but someone got the bright idea that, because of our marksmanship, we should be outfitted with new guns. So they got us 8-inch weapons, which were actually naval guns fitted for field artillery use, and our battalion went into Brittany armed with these guns, which could reach targets twenty miles away. We fired on Germans hunkered down in submarine pens in Brest, until the pockets of Nazi soldiers were either killed, orthe stragglers crawled out and surrendered. The Germans were heavily fortified, and they were resisting, even though the sub pens were no longer operating. They just wanted to hold on, and we kept firing and firing.
- I, too, was sane when I marched through Georgia on my way to liberate Europe, instead of fighting to free those sharecroppers from racist terror and oppression. Sane, when I slept in my warm room while black soldiers huddled in the snow. When I calibrated those long-range guns, determined to kill men I had never met, never talked to, would never see until their bodies were scattered about the bunkers. When I toured those German towns and cities, my nostrils contracting from the stench of death, my heart unmoved by all that misery.
- Thomas Merton concluded that if sane men could orchestrate the Holocaust, if sane men could build nuclear weapons, and if sane men could prepare to annihilate not only their enemies but the world community, then “The ‘sanity’ of modern man is about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the dinosaur.”
Years after my return from the killing fields, I looked into the mirror of my own violence. What I saw there forced me to rethink and redefine the meaning of sanity. I realized that while I considered Adolf Eichmann a war criminal and despised him for participating in the Holocaust, we actually had a few things in common. Like him, I had only been following orders. Like him, I was sane enough to do my duty, and to do it well. Like him, I believed that wars are fought for noble reasons. We were both true believers, one a mass murderer, the other a killer on a smaller scale.
When I first started to think about these things, my heart turned to stone, my head swam with clouds of confusion. Examining my own responsibility for the death of 70 million people in World War II, it occurred to me that the United States government, and I as a soldier, had adopted some of the worst aspects of Nazism. The Luftwaffe bombed London, so we had the right to firebomb Dresden. The Germans murdered civilians en masse, so we were entitled to slaughter their women and children. Our actions were not crimes against humanity, they were retaliating for their crimes. Their actions were barbaric, our reactions were just. I vacillated between feeling betrayed, and the sense that I was betraying some sacred trust, some sacrosanct ideal.
- The great Brazilian educator-activist, Paulo Freire, writes that if people are isolated from the world, their consciousness can’t be liberated. Genuine learning takes place not in some contrived, academic setting, but in the context of the real world, with all of its pain,suffering, and injustice. Perhaps that explains my difficulty at Holy Cross.
- Holy Cross had the reputation of being a small-scale Catholic Harvard. It proposed to turn out the outstanding Catholic laymen, which meant people who were outstanding in professional life—doctors, lawyers, college professors. But also, people who would make significant contributions to the church, people who were active in parishes, and in Catholic organizations. It turned out a kind of Catholic mafia.
- Albert Camus wrote that “beginning to think is beginning to be undermined.”
- I began to see that there is no separation of church and state in America. There is merely a collective articulation of power, by individuals and groups who claim to be critical thinkers. As a priest, I stood square in the middle of the power pyramid, interpreting positions of power to my parishioners and students. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my job was to interpret the capitalist, expansionist, war-driven paradigm of America’s military-industrial complex, making it appear rational when, in fact, it is destructively irrational.
- I became a priest, someone my parishioners could depend on and trust, a representative of the Roman Catholic church. But what, really, did I know? I had spent fifteen months in Europe, participating in the horrors of modern warfare, and knew nothing about war. I was determined to help men and women live together in holy matrimony, and knew nothing about marriage. I wanted to help people be good citizens, even though I didn’t know how our government functions. I had committed my life to helping others, yet I didn’t have the slightest idea why millions of Americans live in poverty. I was going to be a friend to working men and women, without understanding the labor movement’s struggle for safe working conditions and fair pay.
- When I studied in the seminary, priests were mass-produced to be silent, to be conformists, and to be patrons of the government. We weren’t allowed to read the whole range of political thought, and its applicability to the marketplace. Like most of our counterparts in colleges, universities, public schools, and seminaries, we were taught to believe in the capitalist system, never questioning how a system that poisons the environment imprisons and executes the poor, and thrives on war, could be compatible with the teachings of Christ.
- Thoughtful religious people are beginning to view the church as increasingly irrelevant. They are seeing the church as an institution, rather than a community of belief.
- The church is a major, worldwide institution, and it is even more conservative, perhaps, than our government. Not conservative in the sense of “conserving” the gospel, but in maintaining useless rituals and policies that are designed to proteêt, and perpetuate, the institution. Pope John Paul will never allow priests and nuns to marry, or permit women to become priests. I doubt whether his successor will change that. The institution is dominated by men, who apparently are unwilling, or unable, to acknowledge our world’s desperate environmental, economic, and spiritual crisis.
- The church is a major bureaucracy, and major bureaucracies are disobedient to the gospel. They seek primarily to control their members, and others. And so the priority of the Catholic church, which is central to the major institutional establishments, is survival. To guarantee this, control of the clergy and Catholic laypeople is essential. Mandatory celibacy, for example, has little to do with the purity of the clergy, and everything to do with control. Nonviolence, which is the spirit of the gospels, is about truth and justice, rather than control. Nonviolence is about reflecting and acting upon God’s nonviolence toward us. If the church wanted to come to grips with the gospel, it would have to give up its property and its exemptions from the state, and involve itself with resistance on a major scale. It would have to resist the violence against our poor, and stop pretending that one political party is more humane than the other. Politicians from both parties have conspired, together, to cut cash assistance programs to poor children. Republicans and Democrats have refused to show compassion for the approximately five million adults, mostly women, who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Both parties have chosen to use poor people as scapegoats for the nation’s economic, social, and political problems. Republicans and Democrats are on a binge of hatred, choosing to blame the victims of a system that is designed to destroy human beings. I never had the slightest temptation to leave the Catholic church, and I am extremely grateful for everything the church has done for me, not only in the early years of my life, but also in later years. After I was excommunicated in 1973, several other Christian bodies asked me to join them, and to minister under their aegis. I refused, because I have never considered myself anything but a Roman Catholic, trying to become a Christian. My roots are in the church, and in spite of all the prostitutions and betrayals of the institutional church, these roots are life-giving. My brother Daniel has often said that many priests and nuns learned their (our) politics by confronting the church and resisting it, through calling it to the accountability of the gospel. The transfer to resisting the state from that experience was automatic.
- Obviously, from what he says here, the Christian has an imperative obligation to make war on war. In another part of the message, he maintains that it is a moral obligation “to ban all wars of aggression,” a duty which is binding on all, and one that “brooks no delay, no procrastination, no hesitation, no subterfuge.” It may be worthwhile to ask if the present nuclear impasse would be possible if Christians had a sense of morality in this regard, or if they had paid serious heed to his words.
- [Pius] said, “Wars are waged in defiance of all international laws, with bestial ferocity. It is seen that following war crimes, there is a great irreparable damage to morals which comes from this school of hatred and misery called war. Secret arms foil plans of governments which thought it would be possible to wage war justly in the hope of gaining victory. All this and many other things show that today it is impossible in waging war to fulfill the conditions which in theory make a war lawful and just. Nowhere can there be a cause proportionate or of such importance as to justify so much evil, slaughter and destruction, and moral and religious ruin. In practice, then, it will never be lawful to declare war.”
- At Holy Cross College and in the seminary, I learned that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But no one ever encouraged me to examine my own racism. I was a racist when I arrived at St. Augustine’s, because to live in America is to be a racist, either by commission or omission. Our government’s domestic and foreign policies are determined, to a large extent, by racist assumptions. Racism influences where we live, whom we choose to have for friends, whom we marry, where our children go to school, where we work and worship. Racism fills our morgues, every day, with murdered black children. It jams our prisons with black men and women, crowds our death rows, and keeps the executioners busy. It poisons the hopes and kills the dreams of poor, disempowered Americans. I didn’t know these things when my superiors transferred me to New Orleans. I just wanted to be a good priest and a good teacher, to serve God, and to help where and when I could. The students of St. Augustine continued my education. Gently, but firmly, healing my blindness. And the more I learned from my black friends and students, the more outrage I felt. Outrage and a deep sense of betrayal. I was brought up to respect authority.
- Years before coming to New Orleans, I had passed by Georgia sharecroppers, standing quiet as horses in their humble yards. I was training to be a soldier in the United States Army, and would soon be sailing for the killing fields in Europe, so I tucked those sharecroppers’ faces and plight into some mental file drawer. I had always assumed that the Emancipation Proclamation put an end to slavery; I always thought there were laws against buying and selling human beings, state and federal laws, God’s laws. According to the law, the people in those Georgia shacks, and the poor people in my New Orleans parish, were free to move into the future. Yet violence and discrimination chained them to the past. Jim Crow, their zealous and sadistic overseer, whipped them every day. Economic Servitude, their sweet-talking master, grinned and tightened their shackles.
- We (the United States of America) had never really chopped down the slavery tree; we just pretended, now and again, to trim its limbs. The roots grew into our own backyards, wound through our homes, undermined our schools, strangled our sense of reason and fair play. I discovered that the roots of this poisonous tree are inextricable from our economic system. Greed waters these roots, keeps them healthy, enables them to keep expanding their power and influence. Avarice transplants the tree when it isn’t flourishing. Exploitation supplies the tree with nutrients and fertilizer. I was also engaged in a dialogue with my brother Daniel, whose first book of poems, lime Without Number had won the Lamont Poetry Prize, and had also been nominated for the National Book Award. Dan spent 1954 in Europe where he met French priests who were articulating a unique, activist theology. These “worker priests” hauled nets on fishing boats, helped farmers harvest their crops, and worked on assembly lines. They walked picket lines and participated in strikes. They took to the streets with angry workers, and they chose to live among the poor. France’s bishops accused the workers of collaborating with socialists and communists, and Pope Pius XII first warned against the “spirit of innovation,” then ordered the priests to return to more traditional parish work, or face excommunication. Dan and I were intrigued by the worker priests’ ideas, and inspired by their commitment to ordinary men and women. Would we, as priests, take these kinds of risks?
- Christ drove the usurers from the temple. He didn’t write a dissertation on the devious practices of moneychangers. He didn’t conduct a psychological study of their childhoods, hoping to find out why they devoted their lives to cheating. He stopped talking, and started walking. He lost his temper. He shouted. He set aside good manners. The worker priests, we came to realize, had not abandoned their religion. Quite the contrary, they were acting out the message of the gospels. Dan and I read, re-read, and studied the worker priests’ writings, many of which were published in the Catholic Worker and it seemed to us that these priests were living the witness so many of us knew well, but didn’t want to understand. Dan was a Professor- of Religion at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, but much of his teaching went on outside the classroom. He established an off- campus house where students and teachers met to discuss, and to debate, the meaning of being a Christian. He worked with his students to organize rent strikes, and to picket businesses that practiced discrimination. Dan and I had spent years studying for the priesthood, sequestered from the secular world, learning the intricacies of Catholic theology. Now we were being forced to articulate how we, as representatives of the church, should conduct our lives. The church had vested us with a certain moral authority, but who would blame us if we chose to stay inside a rectory, comfortable and quietly pious, feeding our flock, and ourselves, on a diet of benign passivity?
- German novelist Thomas Mann would call anti-communism the greatest stupidity of the twentieth century, but my brother and I were still fledgling liberals. Young, working-class, Irish-American priests. There were still lines—psychological, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, theological—that we weren’t ready to cross. Concepts and connections we still couldn’t quite grasp, dues we weren’t ready to pay.
- After three centuries of brutal experience, blacks knew what needed to be done. It was not up to them to understand us. They didn’t need to ask for guidance. It was up to us to start loving them, before it was too late.
- In the epistles of St. Paul, the question of slavery arises, and Paul gives no answer. This issue was just too overwhelming, too much a part of the culture in which he lived, and he wasn’t willing to confront it directly. Fifteen hundred years later, the Catholic church seemed to be following Paul’s lead, preferring to remain silent on one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the human race.
- Jim Crow would die hard, taking some beautiful people down, but Mrs. Parks and so many brave men, women, and children were fanning a fire that had always burned in the hearts and minds of African-Americans. As the civil rights movement spread, it was clear that beatings, arrests, threats, bombs, and assassinations would never extinguish this fire.
- In many respects, my Josephite brothers and I were still well- meaning liberals, believing that the system would eventually bend to our good will. We hadn’t traveled the bitter, hate-strewn road that had brought Dr. King to Birmingham jail. But we were deeply moved by Reverend King’s letter, and by his willingness to risk jail, and even his life, for the civil rights struggle. Martin Luther King’s witness, and his powerful words, would draw some of us beyond sentiment, into the world of dogs and clubs, tear gas and jail cells.
- We were not tear-gassed, clubbed, or arrested. Nevertheless, we crossed more than a symbolic line that day. We stepped out of rhetoric, into the reality of action, and the realm of consequence.
- I didn’t know what might happen once we were inside some Alabama jail, though I had heard stories about black men and women being beaten, and killed, behind bars. I was feeling rage. Not just fear, and not just righteous anger, but a deep fire. A burning at the edges of my soul which would turn into a driving force, sustaining me over the long haul, keeping me alive and operating for years to come.
- We believed in Kennedy’s Peace Corps, supported the Alliance for Progress, and when the President was assassinated I broke down and cried. I had no idea that he sent CIA assassins to kill Fidel Castro, that he was escalating the arms race, that his macho posing brought us to the brink of nuclear war, or that he was sinking the nation, inextricably, into the Vietnam quagmire. Ijust bought the image, instead of looking at the man, and what he was really doing here and abroad. The media wove the wool tight over my eyes, though soon enough the veil would lift, never to fall again.
- I saw destitution throughout the South, and I began asking why so many Americans, black and white, lived in poverty. The people I knew in Washington, D.C., and Louisiana weren’t lazy. They wanted a better life for their children, but the odds were against them. They couldn’t save money, because they didn’t make enough to save. They couldn’t send their children to college, because they could barely pay their rent. I began to wonder how the government spent taxpayers’ money. If Congress spent little or nothing to help the poor, what did it do with the billions it collected? My research led to one conclusion: Congress was giving the Pentagon vast sums of taxpayers’ dollars to manufacture, test, and deploy weapons of mass destruction. The government was building thousands of nuclear weapons in order to protect the American people from communism. Blacks had to live in shacks, and their children had to die from hunger and disease, so that the military could build bombs. It wasn’t difficult to make the connections between racism, poverty, and militarism. I concluded that war is the overarching evil in this country. Every other social lesion is related to our willingness to blow up the planet. We’re willing to do that; otherwise, we wouldn’t have these weapons. We built them with a very definite intention, which is that under certain circumstances we will use them. Racism, discrimination against women, poverty, domestic violence, are connected to this intention.
- During the civil rights struggle, racists killed Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, Jimmy Lee Jackson, Reverend James Reeb, and others. A KKK posse, led by the local deputy sheriff, murdered Michael Schwemer, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney. So many good men and women died to give African-Americans the chance to vote, to attend integrated schools, to move forward from the back of the bus. I admired their courage and respected their dedication. Their work, their lives, their deaths mattered then, and they matter now. The civil rights movement didn’t fail. But racism is a hydra. Cut off one head, another sprouts in its place. Malcolm X recognized this when he spoke about the chains being taken off African-Americans’ ankles, only to be placed on their minds. Instead of the whip and the auction block, the white man resorts to political, legal, and social tricks to control blacks. “Never,” said Malcolm, “do they change our condition or the slavery. They only change the tricks.” Tragically, more than three decades after Dr. King’s great speech, the KKK doesn’t have to resort to terrorizing African-Americans. Guns, drugs, and poverty are lynching thousands of African-American men every year. The courts are packing our prisons—do misery pits like Attica differ that much from concentration camps?—with black, Latino, Native American, and poor white Americans.
- What might Reverend King say if he could visit our country’s death cages, crowded with African-Americans waiting to die? If he could walk our inner-city streets again and see the legacy of crack cocaine, the gangs, and hopeless poverty? I imagine him weeping, his tears drowned out by sirens and the sound of automatic gunfire, his message of love and reconciliation smothered by fascist ideologues. Black mayors. Black Congressmen. Black police chiefs. Black generals. Black rock stars. Black film stars. Black sports stars. Some commentators argue that the glass is half empty, others that it is half full. The analogy hardly matters. We lurch toward the year 2000, dragging our bloody chains, our crimes, behind us. Millions of African-Americans are still living in poverty, captive to the “tricks” of institutional racism, police brutality, white fear, and capitalist manipulation.
- The mirror we looked into in the fifties has become the vicious magic show of the nineties: • Ending affirmative action means creating meritocracy. • Cutting people off welfare means giving people hope. • Putting people to death means respecting life. • Building atomic submarines, instead of schools, means protecting democracy. • Destroying our children means saving them.
- People who are alienated from one another have little impact upon the political community, or they use it as an arena for self-interest. Consequently, the political order often becomes a mirror of collective myopia and selfishness, reflecting the partisanship and nationalism of its people. In contrast, Peace on Earth tells us that “these political communities must harmonize their relations according to truth and justice, and in the spirit of active solidarity in liberty.” The truth referred to demands that we admit “the natural equality of all political communities in dignity and human nobility.” Truth demands that we look upon all people with objectivity springing from a realization of common nature, common rights, and common interest. Truth demands that we be truthful, and honest because we are truthful, and that we require from our church, our government, and our news media the same substance of truth that we require from ourselves. Justice, in turn, implies “the recognition of mutual rights and the fulfillment of their corresponding duties.” Justice demands that “when political communities advance opposing interests, the conflicts must be settled neither by force of arms nor by fraud or deceit, but by mutual understanding, by an objective appraisal of the facts and by an equitable compromise.” The sense of solidarity of which the encyclical speaks requires that both individuals and nations are obligated to develop what has been called a species-wide identity, which is at once the common denominator of mankind and the most important reality of its existence. Pope Paul clarified this point in last year’s Christmas message, in which he said that brotherhood is impossible until men confront the ideology of nationalism, the division of racism, the fear of arms. Finally, the sense of liberty requires that men set up goals which are good, fulfilling, and possible, and that both people and their nations assess their freedom against the obligations of initiative and responsibility.
- More to the point would be education to an awareness that the law to the Negro is very often an enemy, since it is part of the status quo.
- When Watts occurred, its sheer uproar and ruin was made to fit the myths and stereotypes of while
prejudice. more than that, Watts became evidence which reinforced the myths, making them more irrationally reasonable in white minds. And there existed little perception that the sickness and disorder of the myths had begotten a concrete counterpart in the sickness and disorder in the streets of Los Angeles. The chickens had indeed come home to roost. Which is to say that the unreal illness of the myths was made real in other lives beyond the point of human endurance. And when that point came, the Negroes of Watts rebelled, because life fragmented and coerced by a myth had become unendurable. How long will Negroes, particularly the Negro masses, be content with ‘the violence that comes with being forced to live by white myths? At what point does such existence so rob people of hope that the only possible means of self-assertion are the brick and the Molotov cocktail? At what point are Negroes forced to say No! and with such pent-up violence that they are quite indifferent to whatever form the Yes! might take? At what point will Negroes be so convinced of the sterility and despair of their lives that to die in a welter of assault and blood is a more honorable thing than to live in shame and degradation? At what point do we make the last phase of our own Civil War an inescapable contingency, since in this age, a condition of colonialism is hardly better than slavery was a hundred years ago?
- The evil genius of American segregation is to keep the Negro poor. The dollar has always been so intimately associated with power in this country, that the ethos has been simple and profoundly effective—monopolize the wealth and one can control the power. So it is that the Negro has been tolerated in both slavery and native colonialism as an economic asset. Consciously or unconsciously, as part of prejudice or an effect of it, the Negro has been restricted in poverty as a prop to the nation’s private economy. He did not cease to be Black Gold with the Emancipation Proclamation— as cheap labor, as victim of exorbitant rents, real estate, and food prices, as customer of alcohol, narcotics, and numbers, as barter in prostitution, as one whom white law suppressed that his value might continue—the Negro has been very profitable to us indeed, as a necessary asset to private enterprise.
- We are very loath, however, to allow considerations of public interest to invade the private world of income or investment. This would be, in our opinion, an infringement of the sacred American rights to one’s property, whether it be home, business, savings, or labor. And so we can be relatively umnoved by what the President said at Howard University, that Negroes earn but half of what whites do. We can be no more than slightly restless with the Vice President’s assertion that with unemployment the lowest in ten years, Negro unemployment is constantly rising, forcing a major economic crisis among Negroes. We can continue to rot morally while the Negro deteriorates physically, and we can face the certain eventuality of a series of Watts because we firmly believe that it is cheaper to hire more police, or to call out the National Guard, than it is to remove discrimination. For we firmly believe, without daring to admit it, that police power is our only resource against the growth of Negro unrest.
- I broke my silence by addressing a major conference in Baltimore. My love for the Catholic church, and for the Josephite order, had not diminished, but I kept thinking about how Jesus might respond to seeing children trapped in a sea of napalm. Would He agonize over questions of loyalty to church and state? Would He warn his followers not to question Caesar’s right to incinerate the state’s enemies? Would He order his disciples to keep their views to themselves?
- I was shocked by the misery and the ugliness of life in jail, but I felt a great satisfaction being there. Jail just made the most sense to me, and it still does, because that is where one identifies with the poor, and where one becomes a spokesperson for their dignity and their rights.
- The war in Southeast Asia was our country’s paranoia and racism metastasized into genocidal madness. Not a mistake. Not a misunderstanding. A campaign to exterminate, not liberate, the Vietnamese. Vietnam was the Puritans hacking their Native American benefactors to pieces. Vietnam was the Christian church sanctioning the slave trade. Vietnam was dropping the atomic bomb on a country already ‘i on its knees.
- But if one accepts this autocratic logic, what happens to the kindom of God? Not the King-dom, but the kin-dom of God. What happens to real justice, to the possibility that human beings will be guaranteed justice and love and real freedom?
- It is a Biblical theme that change always begins in the desert, which is a metaphor for slums, the jails, the docks when one is in court, those margins of society where people are speaking truth to power.
- I’m sure that many of the people who visited Merton at Gethsemane realized that the monastic tradition is not true to the gospel. The monks in Egypt fled to the desert to shake the dust, or the corruption, of the cities off their feet. This was a passive protest, conducted far from the corruption they were denouncing. Jesus was an activist, not a monk. He lived among the poor. He drove the money- changers from the temple, criticized the rich and powerful, ridiculed government officials. He would not have remained in a monastery while his own government was slaughtering the Vietnamese.
- I was beginning to see just how naive I had been about the judicial system. In theory, courts and judges are there to protect citizens from government tyranny. That’s what I had learned in school. That’s what everyone learns in school—that there are three branches of the government; these branches are separate; the judicial branch is our guardian against unjust, or illegal power; we are protected by due process, writ of habeas corpus, and the assumption that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty.
In reality, the courts protect the government from the people. The courts serve the state, not ordinary citizens. The courts exist to maintain order, not to secure justice.
When I was still teaching in the South, I learned a good deal about the priorities of the institutional church. The church enjoys enormous privileges from the state, and over time this evolved into a kind of symbiotic relationship, a set of reciprocal expectations. When the state goes to war, the church either approves, or keeps quiet. When the state persecutes the poor, the church may disapprove, but it doesn’t send the faithful to the halls of Congress or onto the floor of the Senate to demand justice. When the rich exploit the poor, the church offers insipid homilies about the rewards of being a good citizen. When the courts act as enforcers for the corrupt, violent, racist state, the church cautions its followers to obey the law.
The church has its set of priorities. The church wants to remain tax-exempt. It wants to make sure its own clergy aren’t called to war.
- When he was calling for obligatory military service, Cardinal Spellman declared that “individuals cannot refuse their obedience to the state.” The Catonsville Nine turned that statement upside down by arguing that when a government is committing genocide, citizens have not only a right, but an obligation to disobey the state. We also tried to tell the court that the Declaration of Independence is an expression of the gospels, which forbid us from waging war on anyone.
Thomas Jefferson might have been somewhat of an agnostic, but he was quite familiar with the gospels, and he incorporated their values into the Declaration of Independence. Thus, our action at Catonsville was an expression of much that is good about the United States, rather than a violation of the country’s most cherished values.
- I hear our President confuse greatness with strength riches with goodness fear with respect hopelessness and passivity with peace The clichés of our leaders pay tribute to property and indifference to suffering We long for a hand off friendship and succor and that hand clenches into a fist I wonder how long we can endure Daniel Berrigan told the court about surviving a bombing raid in North Vietnam.
- Lead us Lead us injustice And there will be no need to break the law Let the President do what his predecessors failed to do Let him obey the rich less and the people more Let him think less of the privileged and more of the poor Less of America and more of the world Let lawmakers judges and lawyers think less of the law more of justice less of legal ritual more of human rights To our bishops and superiors we say Learn something about the gospel and something about illegitimate power When you do you will liquidate your investments take a house in the slums or even join us in jail
- APOLOGIA FOR CAT written in Allentown federal penitentiary, 1968: “Humanity is skin deep in most of these guys—you’d better believe it!” The guard spoke with conviction, and—I must admit—a certain authority... There was something in his remark, however, that was deeper than observation—resentment at the thankless, sterile job of a policeman. (American GIs in Vietnam have essentially similar feelings about themselves.) Even if he did not explain the interplay of forces, he sensed that police are caught in a frightening no-man’ s-land between rulers and ruled; exhorted and criticized by one side, they are hated and resisted by the other; their defense of the rulers is at the same time oppression of the ruled.
- “Humanity is skin deep”—the remark was significant, and I could not forget it. Moreover, an experience with an inmate forced me to ponder it at length and to wonder if it did not deserve to be applied to men at large, and to me particularly.
- How could we allow ourselves to be shackled and led off to prison, when we had broken neither international law nor God’s law? Our actions were just; the law was unjust.
A superficial view of nonviolence would argue that you have to take the consequences of your actions. We’ve always done that, but sometimes there is a larger point that needs to be made. By going underground, we were rejecting, totally and unequivocally, the “justice system.” We did not respect, and we could not obey, laws that condoned and courts that supported genocide.
Our trial had been a farce. We weren’t judged by a jury of our peers, and the conclusion was inevitable. The judge never instructed the jury that it could set the evidence aside, and decide our innocence or guilt on the basis of their conscience, a tradition called “jury nullification.” The Catonsville trial had nothing to do with justice.
As Christians, and as peace activists, we needed a new vision in which to ground our actions. Something deeper than political analysis. Increasingly, we were taking our inspiration from the gospels, and from war resisters like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Franz Jagerstaetzer, and other courageous Germans who refused to cooperate with Hitler, even when their resistance meant certain death. We didn’t see ourselves as martyrs or heroes, but as ordinary men and women who were called to give our lives to peace and social justice.
- Tired of all the petty hazing, David and I refused to line up for the noonday meal. A guard reported us, and a disciplinary committee threatened punishment, but still we refused to work, telling them, ever so politely, to shove their orders. We were sentenced to solitary confinement. There we continued our resistance, fasting the entire time.
I lived in quiet fury, knowing that as I sat in that sweatbox the killing in Vietnam went on and on. Knowing that the judicial system served the masters of war, not the American people. Knowing that 18-year-old kids were being dumped into pits of despair like Lewis- burg, beaten, raped, driven to the brink of despair because they wouldn’t kill for God and country. I wasn’t about to plead with the judge for a return to court, throwing myself on the state’s mercy, groveling with contrition. I thought about Gandhi and King and so many people who suffered beatings and jailings and killings; people who stood fast, refusing to resort to violence, putting their bodies and souls behind their words.
- Hoffa came up from the streets, and he knew exactly what lies behind the glitter and glamour of Washington. He was no idiot. He could have taught labor law at any college or university, and he wasn’t in awe of the ivy league boys who despised him as much, if not more, than he hated them. They might have impeccable manners and charming wives, but Hoffa didn’t think they differed very much from the bone breakers he knew.
When the Justice Department wants to take you down, said Hoffa, they wire your phone; they start rumors, hoping to get you killed; they threaten your friends and family, and they put a price on your head. And the media makes it look so sweet. All that good versus evil bullshit. Jimmy Hoffa didn’t read between the lines. He lived there. O.K., he said, maybe the Teamsters do have a few bone breakers, but the government uses the FBI to do its dirty work. Sure, the mafia does use hit men to make a point, and the CIA tortures, disappears, and assassinates people all over the world. Once you strip away the tinsel, said Hoffa, there’s not much difference between the cons doing time in Lewisburg, and the crooks doing crime out of the White House.
- Dr. Coles meant well. He just didn’t understand our witness, and the price we were willing to pay for it. Coles was a liberal. He still believed that the American system could be modified, reformed, saved from itself. Those of us the news media had dubbed “the Catholic left” no longer shared his optimism. To us, reform was a misnomer, a bad joke played and re-played on good people. The system must be taken down altogether, replaced by something altogether new, something vital and life-giving—a world where love, not war, prevails.
We were talking about revolution. Not with guns. Nor would we imprison the people who had imprisoned us. We didn’t want to kill the people who were orchestrating the massacre in Vietnam. Christ said we ought to “Turn the other cheek,” not retaliate when someone hurts us. He told us we must learn to love, not try to kill our enemies. We wanted the church to come out of its government-supported, state-sanctioned coma. To get off the rhetorical Pentagon dole.
In November 1966 the American bishops had stated that the Vietnam war met the criteria for a just war, but those men weren’t going to die in some leech-filled rice paddy. Cardinal Spellman wasn’t going to walk point through triple-canopy jungle, waiting for a sniper to blow out his brains or a booby trap to send him home in a chocolate box. Those horrors were for young working-class men, not the church hierarchy. A revolution of spirit is what we were seeking.
- Our imprisonment, we knew, pointed out the big lie. Power might or might not come from the barrel of a gun, but justice never does.
- Dan and I walked around the prison’s compound, trying to reflect on what the Harrisburg indictment really meant. Would we spend more years, perhaps even the rest of our lives, in prison? That was a distinct possibility. The charges were so absurd, and the government so deadly serious. Would I ever see Elizabeth McAlister again outside Danbury’s walls? Would my elderly parents die without my giving them one last hug? I was beginning to understand how ruthless and cruel our government can be. Imperial states are about ripping people apart, chewing them to-pieces; that’s what the government was doing in Southeast Asia, and that’s what it was doing at home.
I made peace with myself. if I had to spend the rest of my life behind bars, so be it. I was prepared for the worst, and I wasn’t going to make any deals with anyone except my God, and my conscience.
- Henry Kissinger was a war criminal, but we never planned to kidnap him. We had discussed a “citizen’s arrest,” which seemed very much in the American grain. When the judicial system fails to prevent someone from committing egregious acts of violence, citizens have a right to take action. Kissinger strutted and fretted his bloody hour. No one could stop him. He wasn’t accountable to the American or Vietnamese people. He had no respect for international law, or the law of God. We were merely talking about one way to hold him accountable for his crimes against humanity.
- The government was engaged in thought control, which is why our letters were read in court. I did think about arresting Henry Kissinger, but I did not approve of this plan. Richard Nixon was massacring Vietnam’s children, and trying to send me to prison for life. My crime: having unacceptable thoughts.
This, of course, is the basis for totalitarianism. Our lawyers told us that when all else fails, prosecutors will throw the conspiracy net, hoping to snare more than one person. When the net is full, they convene a grand jury, collect some tough indictments, and start cutting deals, offering immunity to people who agree to turn state’s evidence, or simply lie on the witness stand.
- We possess the utmost confidence that you can judge us fairly and impartially; that you can distinguish between conspiracy and acts of conscience; between plotting and responsible discussion— discussion allowed by the Constitution which we judge a grave moral and political duty; between government war making and our peacemaking. We have the fullest confidence, I assure you, that you can distinguish between these two realities—that we have never conspired to bomb or kidnap anyone; while the government has conspired to bomb and kidnap. In fact, it has bombed and kidnapped—bombed Indochina until, as one of our pilots said, “It looks like a lunar landscape”; kidnapped millions of Indochinese by the simple expedient of bombing them out, to forcibly relocate the survivors in refugee camps. It has virtually kidnapped millions of young Americans through its Selective Service Act—a certainly immoral and possibly illegal piece of legislation—coercing them to kill and possibly to be killed.
Facts like these are the dominating facts of this indictment, not the government’s counts, not an enumeration of overt acts. We stand before this dock because we have non-violently resisted our government’s war making in Indochina. That is the reason; there is no other. We are confident you can perceive this—and conclude it.
- But I changed, as people must change, under stress of conscience and event. I discussed with people as agonized as myself the resistance of Socrates, of Christ, of Henry David Thoreau, of Gandhi and King and Muste. They all emphasized obedience to the higher law of God; they made clear distinctions between the rights of responsible conscience and the rights of the State. They called for, and did, non-violent resistance to government; not as conspiracy or subversion, but to assert the democratic ideal of government of, for, and by the people; an ideal seldom reduced to concreteness by men in power.
I asked myself what Gandhi and others would have done, if faced with Cold War dangers, with the waste and dishonor of the Indochinese war? I had planned to say: I ask myself that question as I ask you. U Thant, former Secretary General of the United Nations, often remarked that if the American people knew the true facts of the Vietnam war, they would stop it. Stop it not necessarily as I tried to stop it in Baltimore and Catonsville; or as the other defendants tried to stop it, but according to the best dictates of their consciences and politics.
But I committed civil disobedience and waited for arrest twice in Baltimore and at Catonsville, not because I hoped that destroying draft files would arrest the American war machine, but because it was the only convincing way of saying that what we did to the Indochinese, we did to ourselves—as we ruined their environment, we polluted our own; as we killed their young, we killed our own at Kent State, Jackson State, and at Attica; as we drove the Indochinese from their homes, so also we drove our young men into exile, or underground.
I waited for arrest twice because I was ashamed of young men taking the heat for me. They had nothing to do with the Bomb, or Cold War, or Indochina, but they had to fight, to flee, or go to jail. As for me, who had helped build the terror (my silence was necessary for it), I lived in comfort and security.
I waited for arrest twice because a man must live what he believes and take the consequences. In Christ Our Lord, word and deed were one—one life. He never said anything that He didn’t do; He never believed anything that He didn’t live.
I waited for arrest twice because it would be necessary to explain why we had defaced draft records with blood—for the blood wasted in Vietnam; and destroyed them with napalm, for the burning of children. What I attempted to say—the other defendants as well—was simply this: I reject this war; I will neither support it nor remain silent in face of it.
For which pains I received an extravagant and vindictive sentence of six years; Lt. Calley, in contrast, is under house arrest for the premeditated murder of 22 civilians at My Lai—children, women, and old men—while the other 24 charged with the massacre there never came to trial or were acquitted. Meanwhile, other veterans of a hundred other My Lais go free and proudly show their medals; and policy makers, who sent them to kill and destroy, run for re-election.
We have in effect, added new horrors to Guernica, Auschwitz, and Hiroshima. Never before has a war been attempted against children like the war in Indochina. Because of bombing, napalming, shelling, search and destroy operations, interdiction artillery, food denial programs, and other similar acts of charity, over 50% of the Indochinese children don’t reach five years old. One American officer puts it this way: “We are at war with the 10-year-old children;. It may not be humanitarian, but that’s what it’s like.” An eyewitness account of an American correspondent illustrates his point. “In a central Vietnam village, I saw a group of children run toward an open fire which laborers had made of uprooted grass. One boy threw a handful of something into the fire, the rest waited. As I was approaching them out of curiosity, one boy used a stick to get the things out of the fire and the rest swarmed over him, snatching them up. The things were baby rats. In near frenzy, the children began to pursue one another again, some tossed the hot rats between their two hands, others gulped them down whole.” (Ecocide in Vietnam, Barmy Weisberg).
Samuel Butler once said that Christians are equally horrified to see their religion practiced, or to see it doubted. All over this land some Christians have been horrified by our lives. Which is their choice, except that most offer nothing real to stop the killing, to outlaw war before it ends civilization. Let them judge us, let any court or government judge us when they have a better idea.
- The Harrisburg conspiracy has to be seen in the context of Hoover’s attempt to crush the resistance movement in the United States. By this time, his agents and agents provocateurs were everywhere. They had helped kill Black Panthers Mark Clark and Fred Hampton, infiltrated Vietnam Veterans Against the War, indicted some of their members on trumped-up charges, and threw conspiracy charges against Dr. Spock, William Sloane Coffin, Michael Ferber, Mitch Goodman, and others. They were willing to use guile, deceit, bribery, threats, assault, blackmail, just about anything to sow paranoia, fear, and dissension within the movement.
- Mitch Snyder, who would become a prominent and absolutely devoted advocate for the homeless, joined our book group. And another great resister, John Bach, was also a participant. I was in Danbury about two and a half years, and during that time our discussion group turned into a very tight resistance community. We started having frequent political meetings, we organized fasts against the war, we sponsored prisoners to climb the water tower, from which we hung anti-war banners, and when our friends were punished with transfers to other, more secure, prisons, they kept up their resistance.
- John Bach kept up his peace work when he got out of prison, co-founding Jonah House, the community in which Liz, myself, our three children, and many other resisters have lived for more than twenty years. Bach also founded a peace community, the Whale’s Tale, in New England, and he has been one of the most dedicated, outspoken, and consistent peace activists in that part of the country.
- In sum, my experience has been out of the ordinary, and it comes purely from attempts to answer the question, “What does Christ ask of me?”
- Apparently they take lightly the admonition of a witness like Paul: “Bear the burdens of one another, and you will have fulfilled the law of Christ.”
- Implicit in attitudes like these, shockingly pervasive as they are, is a dreadful and ill-defined fear—fear that we’re not going to make it; fear that the Church will go down with the Powers of this world; fear of questioning, initiative, creativity, courage; fear of sacrifice, loneliness, criticism; fear, finally, of self, of neighbor, of Gospel, of Christ. I remember President Johnson saying, with an off-the-cuff honesty quite foreign to him: “Peace is going to demand more than we counted on!” In the same manner, Catholics are discovering that Christ will demand more than we counted on. And generally, the thought fills us with dread. The Church in America—in fact, in the West as a whole—has accepted as religion a kind of cultural syncretism, culminating in near-perfect allegiance to the State. Not a few of its more prominent Bishops have even waited upon the Presidency like court jesters. And now the culture is being violently challenged, and the State doesn’t so much govern as rule by force. To whom do we turn?
- And only two or three Bishops have visited Catholic resisters in jail, at least two of them virtually apologizing for their action: “This visit is a spiritual work of mercy, which I would perform for any of my flock.” More to the point would be an explanation of why they themselves were not in jail.
Furthermore, no Bishop has questioned the marriage of Big Business and Big Military in Big Government, and how the marriage results in government by and for the wealthy and powerful. No Bishop has condemned the American rape of the developing world, nor the arms race in horror weapons, nor American arms salesmanship, nor the division of the world by superpowers.
- And yet the Church they lead, like the Savior, is come “to give life, and to give it more abundantly.” What a gross irony!
- Perhaps in the above you might perceive my difficulty in speculating about the priesthood, and how it might serve man as physician and prophet. For who will finally legislate as to training, experience, freedom? And who will provide what is most crucial of all—example?
- The official Church is not about the Gospel, or the plight of what Pope John called “the majority of men.” Therefore, how can it speak to either issue?
John called “the majority of men.” Therefore, how can it speak to either issue? The understanding from this quarter is simply this: both Church and State are vast, sprawling bureaucracies which share an insufferably arrogant assumption that they are the fundamental answers to the human condition. The understanding, further, is that, despite claims to the contrary, Church and State have brought Western civilization to its nadir, and have destroyed other civilizations in the process.
Critics have learned, or are learning in swelling numbers from history as well as from the Gospels, that nothing much makes sense except death to self and conversion to Christ and brother. All the virtues exemplified by the Lord—poverty, freedom in responsibility, the politics of community, willingness to risk jail and death for the exploited person—all these attack head-on the conceptions and realities of bureaucracies whether in Church or State. The goals of bureaucracies are simply not the goals of Christ.
To apply all this seriously to contemporary problems of priesthood—especially as an American—is enormously difficult, simply because we are so cut off from the mind and life of Christ. About
all one can do is fumble with a few critical questions, and then labor with the complications of response. The Catholic priest in America—and in the West generally— is more of a cultural phenomenon than he is a Gospel man. He is nationalistic, white supremacist, and uncritical toward affluence and its source. His training reflects nuances of these cultural fixations, but, beyond that, it schools him merely in neutrality toward life. By that I mean, he tends to take a purely institutional view of threats to life, whether they be its abuse or destruction. Indeed, if he is sensitive, he will go through immense pretensions to escape such brutalities. Or if he is hardened, he will advocate them, or remain casual in face of them.
Therefore the problem becomes—how to instill convictions strong enough to resist dehumanization in himself, in others, in structures. How to instruct him in non-violence as a way of life, as mark of the “new man,” as instrument of human revolution and social regeneration? How to teach him the realities of power in all its nuances, from the will to dominate others to the will to exploit whole nations and peoples? How to toughen him so that he will understand and accept persecution, contempt, ostracism, jail, or death on account of conscience and (above all) on account of the suffering brother? How to acquaint him with such a sensitivity to human rights and dignity that he will test violence in every turn of his life—in himself, in the culture, in the State? How to convince him that Christ’s man must integrate word and act, in full recognition that this might lead him to death, even as it did his Lord?
I don’t know, because one can neither teach the above nor administer it. But the Church can beg the grace of God, the Church can provide the setting; even though it be modern catacombs, the Church can begin, realizing that her life must always constitute beginnings, and never endings. And if such fidelity means a vocation of opposition to Powers and Principalities as they operate in government and in the circle of prestige for which the government exists, so be it. If it means the outlawry of the Church, persecution...the Lord spoke of that too: “The time will come when those who kill you will think they are doing a service to God.” But in the process, the Church would serve humanity, would even help to give humanity a future on this planet which it could not otherwise have.
As for the impending deliberations on world justice and peace, I have anguished questions about them. Do the American Bishops accept the implications of their country’s control over one-half the world’s productive capacity and finance? Do they realize that, despite our affluence, we have institutionalized poverty for perhaps one-quarter of our own people, plus millions in the developing world? Will they admit that these appalling realities are not accident, but cold calculation; that they follow the logic of profit and policy? Can they comprehend that war, particularly modern war, decides what nation or “security bloc” will control the profits, and that on the success or failure of the Indochinese war hinges the American Open Door to the developing world? (Policy-makers fear that if the Indochinese force us out, certainty will spread among the world’s poor that wars of liberation can succeed.) Do they understand that a few hundred American corporations, with hundreds of billions in assets and international holdings, are empires in their own right, exerting political and economic dominion wherever they are? To deliberate justice and peace while overlooking such realities would be both ignorant and dishonest. Just as it would be dishonest to deny that while most men starve, most Bishops live in comfort and affluence, welcome the dividends of offending corporations, and remain discreetly silent before the excesses of capitalism.
In closing, I hope and pray this letter is a source of help to you, and not a cause for pain and shock. Obviously you love the Church as I do. But before the tragedy and ruin of the times we must love the Church more—enough to criticize honestly and charitably, enough to pick up heavier burdens, enough to lose everything in order that others may discover life. In essence, what would the wretched of the earth have us do to offer them hope, to lift from them the horror of war and starvation, to extend a sense of dignity and destiny in God and human community?
Our prayers go with you. And our wishes for the light, the strength, the peace of Christ.
- We answered him, ‘It would never occur to you that one might do something other than for money.’ His answer, ‘In any case, in the world we’re living in, if you don’t sell yourself, someone buys you.”
- But the journalist’s words remain, “In the world we’re living in, if you don’t sell yourself, someone buys you.” An extraordinarily apt and perceptive observation, suggesting (1) that commercialism is so rampant in the West (or U.S.) that virtually no one acts for compassionate or altruistic reasons; (2) that implicit in the marketing of goods and services is marketing in lives; (3) that one sells oneself voluntarily or one is bought involuntarily; (4) that selling is preferable to being bought.
What the journalist is blindly and painfully attempting to discuss with Debris and Menras is freedom. Which is to say, the respective states of their souls. In another setting, where the use of abstraction eliminates threat to one’s mode of living, he might admit that truth frees one. But his life— bought, sold, imprisoned?—prevents him from seeing the freedom of the two Frenchmen, freedom won because they did what they ought to have done. (Or the best version that occurred to them). The journalist was a commodity and that prevented him from seeing anything else than buying and selling. And so, he could only utter a frightened snarl: “You were paid!”
The journalist had no freedom to be a brother, i.e. to take the cause of those warred upon by the war merchants. He had no freedom because for ten thousand times he had sold himself in little or large ways, until now, he had nothing left to give. And therefore, no freedom.
- I once asked a teacher in a federal prison—who verbally opposed the Indochina war—if he could take that position publicly. He admitted that he couldn’t. “Can you campaign for one of the political parties before general election?” “No.” “Can you write a letter to an editor about any public issue?” “NO.” “Isn’t that a terrible price to pay for a job?:” He didn’t dare answer that one, for fear I would laugh at him for his (NO!), or report him for (YES!).
Silence, acquiescence, passivity, complicity influence (bought) by a job. Conscience nullified by acculturation to a standard of consumption. Or better still, replaced by a standard of consumption. As it amounted, the teacher’s biggest contribution to his prisoners was a personified helplessness. In him, the system “worked,” having first made a commodity of him.
Is our friend’s case unique? Hardly. The most significant word in the American lexicon today is “mass”—mass education, mass media, mass religion, mass values, mass ethos, all adding up to mass culture. Essentially, our friend’s position differs only in degree from that of his President “surrounded by a gang of zealots and thugs who shook down companies for millions of dollars, bought elections, sold services and decisions of the Government, conducted illegal wars, harassed so-called “enemies,” committed burglaries and forgeries, provoked violence, engaged in spying on fellow Americans, ordered mass arrests in violation of the Constitution, and assisted organized crime in evading legal punishment.” (Washington Watch: After Watergate; Reform). Ethical retardation exemplified in both cases, allowing on the one hand, a job to buy silence and public neutrality. And on the other, ambition to justify high larceny and mass murder.
How much silence and public immobility must be bought until the government can, with impunity, spend $1.3 trillion on warmaking since 1946? Or $300 billion on what has come to be called the Perpetual War in Indochina. What is the price of apathy toward two to four hundred thousand South Vietnamese political prisoners? How many lives must the wealthy buy before they buy government, now existing virtually for them. No one can say, while nonetheless, one can comprehend that essentially the main commerce traffic is not in goods and services at all. It is in the spirits and lives of people. They bring a rapturous jangle from the cash registers.
Recall the excuses offered in the Gospel to explain absence from the wedding feast—a wife, a farm, oxen. Today, the excuses from a clear call for resistance to the murderous war policies of Washington are similar— a job, the good life, a wife and kids, fear of separation, loneliness, prison. One wonders at the lesions of soul which allow such craven merchandising, which sells freedom so cheaply, which abandons so many innocent to the clutches of American or Soviet Junkers, or of power-mongering ad men like Nixon.
- All of this is in some contrast for Christians, who must recall Christ before Pilate. “Reentering the Praetorium, Pilate said to Jesus, ‘Where do you come from?’ But Jesus made no answer, Pilate then said to him, ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know that I have the power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’ ‘You would have no power over me,’ replied Jesus, ‘if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’ (John 19:10—11) Which is a profoundly tactful way of saying, “You have no power over me at all!”—since your power doesn’t come from God; your power isn’t moral.
The power of any Herod or Hitler or Nixon over us is precisely what is in our heads—no more, no less. If we claim that Nixon’s power is illegitimate because of foreign genocide and domestic corruption, we are saying in the same breath that his power—or that of his lackeys in the police state apparatus—is immoral, non-objective, nonexistent. He possesses only so much over us as we give him.
Finally, we will give Nixon—or his like—whatever power our idolatries require to nourish and sustain them. In a Biblical sense, idols are what we love when we fail to love God with all our being, and our sister or brother as ourselves. Since we are insecure in our failure, plagued by doubt and guilt, most promptly substitute ersatz for real. We long for the leader, for the official magician who will make our lies true by greater lies, who will let us keep our toys and security blankets, who will make us grateful for contempt, betrayal, and mass ripoffs. That is what government is about—the protection of our idols. That is why we sell ourselves—to possess idols. And that is why the destruction of idols—and freeing ourselves from their brassy charms—is also to resist Nixon’s pomp and circumstances, his deceits, bombs, and minions. Suddenly Nixon (or anyone) can’t buy us any more. And we ain’t sellin’!
- Only after extensive reading and much careful thought did I change my views on celibacy, and even then I didn’t want to leave the church; I just couldn’t stop the church from leaving me.
- First and foremost, our love was an expression of our mutual respect. We met as Catholics and dedicated war resisters; we met as man and woman living through difficult times. We were not trapped. No one was writing our script. We weren’t delusional, and hadn’t lost perspective on ourselves, or the world around us. We fell in love and we married, leaving judgments to others, never believing for a moment that we were doing wrong.
I’m convinced that Liz and I had a certain authority for acting the way we did. The New Testament militates against oaths and vows; therefore, the celibacy that Liz and I had accepted was a dictum of Catholic officialdom, not an expression of the word of God. The Sermon on the Mount speaks against oaths and vows, stating that conscience should evolve under the two commandments: Love of God, and love of neighbor, including enemies.
- We never intended to cause pain. We met, we talked, and in time we grew to love one another. We conspired to injure no one; were resolved moreover to devote our lives to ending the genocide in Vietnam.
- Liz and I agreed that opposition to war and violence would be one expression of our love. Our love for one another would inspire us to form a community of conscience. We would not retreat into solitude, build fences around our hearts, or put our souls in an interest-bearing account. We would own no property and pay no taxes, making what money we needed honestly and without harming others.
God in His providence has given us three wonderful gifts—Jerry, Frida, and Katie. We have often stretched ourselves to provide for these three, and to remain, at the same time, active in the movement. We have lived in community, sharing our lives with other resisters.
In retrospect, I realize that I could be rather hard on people who were new to the faith and resistance movement. I was impatient, even intolerant at times. I granted no doubts or uncertainties, wanted everyone to be absolutely dedicated to the Kingdom of God.
- Throughout the years, Elizabeth has always been at the center of community. A comrade and confidante, riding fully and competently with others the roller coaster of life.
- Our love has deepened through the last four years—we’ve paid dearly for it, as have our friends. We have considered our relationship a service to the victims of American aggression, to other Americans, to our families and friends, and to one another. We have lived these four years married in every sense but life-style (having no common home) and public knowledge.
From the outset, we agreed on certain lines of commitment: a guarantee of freedom in the service of resistance, with its requirements of discipline, risk, separation, jail. We have refused to allow personal considerations to interfere with our dedication to Gospel and to people. So we met infrequently and never considered abandoning our work or evading its consequences. At the same time we sought an opportunity to share our marriage with the Church and with the public.
- Community and non-violent resistance defined the religious life for us.
The Church has made celibacy the spirit of religious commitment, if not its heart. We had hoped that a time would come when religious communities would invite both celibate and married people to a situation of mutual support and service to the Gospel and to suffering people. But the present Church vision, policy, and leadership make that impossible. Nonetheless, we cannot but question and resist the priority of celibacy over mature conscience and the spirit of the Gospels. We have tried to live responsibility since our contract—in separation, in jail, in legal jeopardy, in official attempts to disgrace us. Separation from our religious communities has not been our choice for we believe that in our case, as with others, celibacy is not the issue. Responsible freedom is.
We see our marriage as a radical assertion of our faith. With God’s grace and the help of our friends, we hope to continue to live the Gospels— in poverty, in community, and in nonviolent resistance, convinced of the contribution of religious resistance to humankind.
- Prison is designed to silence dissent. We savage people in order to make them better citizens. We torture men and women to make them kinder and more productive. We execute human beings, in order to teach our children respect for human life.
My spirit was far from broken. Prison strengthened my commitment to peace and social justice. It made me more determined to live in a loving community, and more committed to resisting militarism, even if that would mean spending more years behind bars.
- I see little difference between the world inside prison gates, and the world outside.
- A million million prison walls can’t protect us, because the real dangers—militarism, greed, economic inequality, fascism, police brutality—lie outside, not inside, prison walls. The war in Vietnam is over; the war we wage on ourselves is escalating.
- Nonviolence was not defunct. We just needed to envision new ways to work. Not as individual peace activists, but as extended families, working and living together, sharing our love, our talents, everything we might have, supporting one another for the long haul; that is, for the rest of our mortal lives. During my years behind bars, I had seen young men succumb to despair. Arriving with high ideals, they broke under the strain of prison life. Some compromised to shorten their sentences, vowing never to break the law again. Others withdrew into sullen shells, devoured by anger and loneliness. They had taken a principled stand, but without the support of a loving community they couldn’t withstand the brutality of prison.
- Resisters cannot persist and survive without community. Sooner or later, they will be frustrated and crushed. That’s why we invested so much time, effort, and money into starting Jonah House. We wanted a place where people could share meals and ideas, study scripture together, and support one another through the long haul.
When friends went to prison, we would care for their children. When they left jail, we would welcome them home. If someone was upset or depressed, we would listen to their problems, give them a hug, let them know that we loved them. We tried to be a loving family, committed to the spirit and the reality of nonviolent resistance.
This, I think, was one of the failures of the anti-war movement. Activists didn’t spend enough time building community.
- We protested this waste to no avail and, with other advocates for the poor, resorted to guerrilla tactics against the chains. We wanted to embarrass them, and to undermine their profits by shoplifting food. We also lifted tools, which we intended to use for repairing and painting houses.
- Central to the Christian view of life is relationship to the cross of Christ. And that means two things. The first is nonviolent confrontation. with the state, in order to hold it accountable, especially, for its abuse of the poor. And secondly, bearing with community life, with diversity of background, experience, and conscience, but also with different approaches in political matters.
We have great difficulty with community, because we’re products of a predatory culture. In addition, we know precious little about nonviolence and its application to interpersonal relationships. For example, I happen to be quite good at what I do. Like Elizabeth, I have a great capacity for work, initiative, and leadership. These are talents, but they have a dark side: I’m inclined to compare my own commitment to that of others, to my advantage. I could not understand why some people weren’t more productive and more disciplined; I chastised them for not making better use of their time. I insisted that some members of the community make a greater commitment to resistance work.
- We have experienced several heartbreaking, harrowing community breakups. And I’ve been responsible for the divorce of numerous people from this community. I tried to impose my standards on everyone who joined us, and when people failed to meet my expectations, I resented them. I was a spiritual drill instructor, driving myself and everyone around me to greater commitment and sacrifice.
- In community we are responsible for one another, which means that we are responsible for the human family. We are all responsible when others are abused, crushed, bombed, or starved. In community, we are responsible for our life together, for nourishing one another, for setting good examples, and for inspiring others. But how do we make all this accountability work? Should one scrutinize another person? How can we reconcile philosophical disagreements and personality conflicts in a nonviolent manner? How might we fairly measure one’s contribution to the community?
- Not long after Frida’s birth, Liz and I were arrested for an action at the Pentagon. Liz was sentenced to six months, reduced to 90 days. I was given 60 days in jail. We served time in the same jail, though we were not allowed to talk or meet. Frida was 18 months old, Jerry about six months. We did our time, confident the community would take good care of them.
Our critics accuse us of neglecting our children. But neglect, it seems to us, occurs when parents observe injustice and refuse to act; when they choose to turn their backs on suffering. Children are perceptive and deeply caring, more sensible and often stronger than adults. They watch their parents closely, and are confused by “do as I say, not as I do” contradictions.
The strength of community is its love for children even in the absence of parents. When children in the Jonah House community cry, someone holds them. When they need a change of diapers, someone does that. They are fed, clothed, and rocked to sleep. In many respects, they are living in an old-fashioned extended family, surrounded by people who take part in their well-being.
We consider our actions the moral equivalent of war.
We don’t leave home in pursuit of fame or fortune. We don’t go on expeditions to protect an empire that spends $7 billion on child nutrition for an entire year, and $5 billion each week on the military. Our children, like millions of others, are being neglected by an empire whose military budget is nearly as large as the combined military budgets of all other nations.
- The gospel tells us not to consider people related to us by blood as more important than others. In fact, we should consider our relatives as less important than those in desperate need.
Instead, the nuclear family constructs walls, figurative and literal, around children. Families turn into mini-states, at war with outsiders, coveting and consuming the world’s resources. Closed in on themselves, families become, in the words of the late British psychiatrist R.D. Laing, “protection rackets.”
On April 30, 1975, the National Liberation Front marched into Saigon. America’s longest, second-most expensive war was over. The casualties were staggering: More than 58,000 Americans, and 2—4 million Vietnamese were killed. 300,000 Americans wounded, 5 million Vietnamese refugees. Over 2,000 Americans, and 200 thousand North Vietnamese, were missing in action. The Air Force dropped the equivalent of several atomic bombs on Vietnam—four or five times the amount of TNT we used in both fronts during World War II. During one eleven-thy period, 740 B52s and 1,000 other aircraft sorties dropped 36,000 tons of bombs on the Hanoi-Haiphong area. The U.S. doused Vietnam with 18 million gallons of defoliants, destroying 5 million acres, an area about the size of Massachusetts. We razed all five of North Vietnam’s industrial centers, thousands of schools, and hundreds of hospitals. At one point, Richard Nixon threatened the North Vietnamese with atomic weapons.
- We of the Jonah House community prayed for peace, and were jailed repeatedly for acts of divine disobedience. Our witness reflected the gospel’s vision of human life. The state’s laws protected atomic missiles, but the state is not God. The state would continue to build and deploy first-strike weapons. And people who resisted the government’s madness would be arrested, tried, imprisoned.
- We saw no purpose in debating the criteria for a “Just War.” Whether the state kills one, or one million human beings, it is murder. To the Jonah House community, “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is an imperative, not an academic exercise or political theory.
- One of our early leaflets explained our position: “Yet is the issue simply one of survival? Not at all. The issue is dying inside—it is allowing the bomb to supplant the spirit of Christ. When that is done, the nuclear crematorium, the world, will be a ghostly climax. . . we die inside when we don’t resist.”
- The nation’s psyche grew numb. The threat of megadeath was turning us into a nation of spiritual cadavers. Jonah House renewed our witness at the war department. The police handcuffed our wrists; they couldn’t manacle our spirits. The arms race was killing the poor, terrifying the children, poisoning the environment. Christians and pacifists, we embraced life as peacemakers, offering hope, resisting the empire’s efforts to destroy God’s world.
- BEING DIFFERENT: BEING CHRISTIAN
- Mark, the author of the second Gospel, seems to have understood the need for authority that all of us possess. In the very first chapter, he states unequivocally that his Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus, which is the Gospel of God. God, then, is author, and God is the final authority. We can believe in this authority; we can trust it, follow it, and live it. God never lies to us; never breaks a promise. The culture claims authority, as Our Way of Life; politicians claim it; so do educators, religious leaders, lawyers and parents. But their authority is under judgment by the Word of God, by its truth, love, and justice.
Let’s take an example. No Gospel teaching better exemplifies being different, being Christian, than the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel. You know the setting.
- Jesus identifies the neighbor as enemy. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, the enemy is included. Otherwise, we do not truly love ourselves—the love we withhold from the enemy we withhold from ourselves and from God.
- I have come from that level of brutalization as a young infantry officer to today, and the certainty that my relationship to an enemy is precisely my relationship to God. It makes no difference if the enemy has truly harmed me or attempted to kill me—or if the government has picked my enemy—a Communist, Arab, Cuban, North Korean, Libyan. No difference whatsoever. My enemy might be artificial or real—he or she still bears the image of God and what I do to them I do to God.
- It is curious that we obey commands from nearly every source—parents, educators, military—except from God. Yet as Paul says—Christ offered his life for us when we were yet enemies of God (Rom. 5:8)—in the hope that such profound love might evoke a response of loving one another.
So much for being different—being Christian according to the Word of God. But there is another aspect to this unconditional love that we need to explore, one that is at the core of being different, being Christian. That is to say, most of us can truthfully say: “I don’t hate this one or that one who has abused or injured me. I wish them nothing ill; I will not retaliate in kind.” And indeed, we will not retaliate in kind, even given the opportunity. To that degree, we love our enemies.
But what if our enemy is endangered unjustly—what if they are vilified, or beaten, robbed, or terrorized? What if ethnics or nationals declared enemy by our government are bombed, poisoned, slaughtered? Like the Iraqis, like the Panamanians before them? Iraqi casualties—mostly children, elderly, and infirm these days—may number half a million before the infrastructure is restored. What does love of enemies involve there?
We must protect them nonviolently from abuse or destruction—that much is clear. We must interpose ourselves between the unjust aggressor and the victim, according to the Gospel, or nonviolent philosophy, or international law. Short of doing this, justice is lacking, love is an illusion, and human reconciliation is impossible.
- During the Iraqi war, my course was more clear—constant resistance at the White House, Pentagon, and Department of Energy, culminated in a Plowshares witness aboard the USS Gettysburg, a new missile cruiser at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. Five resisters boarded the Gettysburg to disarm the cruise missile launch systems there—because disarmament was a Gospel imperative, and because we had to protect the innocent of Iraq from our military machine.
- We have talked about the teaching and example of Christ, who went to the shameful and agonizing death of a criminal rather than pick up a sword. “Put your sword back into its place,” he told Peter. “All who live by the sword will die by it.” (Matthew 26:52)
So it is that the Gospel provides a standard of interpretation—a vision of life by which to interpret and to confront the works of death. We must, in fact, speak the Word of God to that which threatens humankind most— modern war dominated by the bomb.
- Sidney Lens once wrote that splitting the atom for war was the greatest single tragedy to befall humankind in its entire history. He then went into particulars—greater in its destructiveness than all the natural catastrophes—floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions—disasters causing deaths in the hundreds of millions. Greater than the purges, decimations, genocides of the tyrants of the ages—Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Hitler, Stalin. Greater than all of these, even when combined with natural disasters.
Lens wrote as he did because he knew—scientists today are verifying what he knew—that even if the bomb were never used again in warfare, we have poisoned the planet in developing and deploying it, perhaps terminally. I repeat, we have perhaps gone into a slow suicide of our species in developing and deploying the bomb.
Doctors I know from Physicians for Social Responsibility are now saying what they didn’t dare say two years ago—that cancer has reached ,epidemic proportions globally, and that most of it comes from military- related toxins. That is to say, the disease of spirit which, in the case of most Americans, allowed without a murmur the development, deployment, and use of the bomb has now expanded into grievous physical disease as well. Dr. Rosalie Bertell, an internationally known geneticist, says that the first evidence of species-cide is a growing number of brain-damaged and weakened children who will need extraordinary attention and care, just to help them survive. (In Vietnam—CBU’s require five to care for one.)
- American Christians—even like yourselves—need to take a firm public stand against killing—killing in war, killing from Death Row, killing the elderly and unborn. Such a stand could save the planet and its people from war and poison, and could bring humankind to rebirth into the kin-dom of God, the nonviolence and peace of Christ in ‘92.
- Nothing of that matters; we aren’t attempting to reform or overthrow the government. We don’t care who sits in the White House, or who walks the hallowed halls of Congress. The King of Prussia action, and Plowshare actions that will follow, are not attempts to offer an alternative policy to nuclear madness.
We pour our blood at G.E. in order to proclaim the sin of mass destruction. In the words of my brother Daniel, we are confronting the “spiritually insane.” Confronting not with mere words, but through symbols. Our blood confronts the irrational, makes megadeath concrete, summons the warmakers to their senses.
- We are returned to jail, stripped of our pants and shoes (the police want to hold them for evidence) and we are ushered again into the jail to await our fate. We know the wires to Washington are humming. We have invaded one of the government’s atomic temples, offended the high priests of megadeath, poured blood over the National Security State’s idols. Lord Nuke will exact revenge.
No food or water. Around 6:00 p.m., we are ushered, still in our stocking feet, before a judge who charges us with thirteen felony counts. Bail is set at $250,000 for six defendants. Dan and I are held without bond. The charges are ludicrous, the bail absurdly high. Our act of disarmament harmed no one. We scattered our blood on an evil system, not on the men and women who work at G.E. We beat on nose cones, not human beings.
- Directly across the street from the jail sat the Montgomery County courthouse, a bastion of assembly-line justice. Yawning bailiffs led prisoners into court, bored judges passed sentence, cowed prisoners were handcuffed and taken away. The corrupt machinery of conviction spun its wheels, grinding the poor into submission.
John Schuchardt and the jail house lawyer worked hard to challenge this procedure. They urged prisoners not to plead guilty when, in fact, many of them were innocent. This alarmed the conviction mill across the street, which operated on the assumption that inmates should accept their fate, cop a plea, go willingly to prison. Innocence or guilt was irrelevant. Justice must prevail.
- We were familiar with, and had no illusions about, the judicial system. We weren’t expecting to find justice in Judge Salus’s courtroom. The judge perched on his throne, his black robe swollen with importance. And why not? He understood the game being played out in that room. He was sworn to protect the empire, regardless of what his masters might be doing, or planning to do, to all of creation. He was sworn to crush the weak on behalf of the powerful. He was there not to arbitrate justice, but to perpetuate violence.
- That the criminal conduct of which the defendants stand accused was taken to prevent a greater harm to themselves or others, which was imminent. That there was no effective legal alternative method or course of action available to them that could be taken to avert this so- called harm. That there was a direct causal relationship between the criminal conduct taken and the avoidance of the alleged harm. In other words, if a house full of children is burning it is necessary to break down the door to rescue them. This, in essence, is the necessity defense.
- Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state. He who violates the laws of war cannot obtain immunity while acting in pursuance of the authority of the state if the state in authorizing action moves outside its competence under international law.
- Anyone with knowledge of crimes of state has a responsibility to prevent these crimes. People do not, indeed must not, follow orders that will lead to indiscriminate killing.
We talked about international treaties which prohibit nations from preparing for wars of mass destruction. We told the court that,
according to the United States Constitution, these treaties supersede federal or local law. We were not talking about theory, and we were not expressing our opinion. We were talking about law that federal judges resist, continually overlook, nullify, and sweep into the trash bin.
We talked about God’s law, which supersedes state and international statues. And we declared that all weapons, nuclear and conventional, reflect the spirit of murder, rather than of hope. “Nuclear warfare,” Judge Salus replied, “is not on trial here, you are.”
- The state has death as its modus vivendi, while a Plowshare action insists on the primacy and sacredness of life. A Plowshare action states that we are all sisters and brothers, one race, one people, one family. The scripture says, “One royal priesthood.” That’s what God made us, what we are attempting to realize through our lives. A disarmament action states the truth, makes it incarnate, makes it real.
Life will always conquer death, as typified by our Lord’s resurrection. Sooner or later, life will prevail and disarmament will come about.
- He told them, as his colleagues would tell other Plowshare juries, that citizens have no standing to invoke international law in relation to foreign policy. Whether the government was planning to kill hundreds of millions of people, a clear violation of international law, was not the issue. The Nuremberg principles were not the issue. Testimony by experts in the field of international law, scientists who had worked on atomic weapons, theologians, and historians, must be disregarded. The Gospels and the Word of God must be ignored.
The defendants had broken the law, damaged property; that alone mattered, was the only issue the jury should consider when deciding guilt or innocence. By narrowing their instructions to the jury, judges stand the Nuremberg principles on their head, arguing that citizens are obligated to obey the state, even when its leaders are planning mass murder.
- These are exceptions. Judges in Plowshare trials have steadfastly disallowed “jury nullification,” warning jurors they must not use their consciences to decide guilt or innocence, they must not use their individual judgment, and they must decide innocence or guilt solely on very narrow, circumscribed (i.e., the judge’s) interpretations of the law.
We were convicted of burglary, conspiracy, and criminal mischief, and Judge Salus sentenced Daniel and me to serve 3—10 years in prison. Other defendants received shorter sentences. We weren’t surprised. Montgomery prosecutors pursued our case with great vigor, the judge was biased and incompetent, and the jury felt it had to follow Judge Salus’s instructions.
We might even have been rather grateful for the outcome. This was the first act of disarmament since the Cold War began, a direct challenge to Lord Nuke’s authority. We hardly expected that our message—in the name of God and the human family, the arms race must end—would be well received. The National Security State had shown its contempt for the ecology in countless ways. The Atomic Energy Commission had been concealing for years the effects of radiation on human beings. Downwind from Nevada test sites, people were dying slowly and painfully from radiation exposure. Plutonium was escaping from Rocky Hats, Colorado. Drums of radioactive material were leaking into the Columbia River. Fifty thousand radioactive waste sites were scattered across America, and no one knew how many were leaking into the water supply of millions.
We could hardly expect compassion from a government that would deceive and poison its own people.
- Before every action, Plowshare activists grapple with their doubts. Fear speaks to us, attempting to beguile us with the many rewards of silence. Just acquiesce, says fear, and things will be fine. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t upset the apple cart. Play it safe. Accept a life of quiet desperation.
In the Gospels, Jesus exhorts His disciples to transcend their fears. He encourages them to leave status, security, friends, and family behind. To embrace the world, with all its pain, dangers, and contradictions. To live in community, serve the poor, challenge injustice.
We can’t deny our fears, any more than we can ignore the poverty in our neighborhood. But fear need not dominate our lives.
Indeed, weapons of mass destruction express a deep human terror, a desperate, failed effort to conquer human fear.
Our critics say that attacking atomic weapons with ballpeen hammers is an act of violence. Destroying property, they insist, is a form of violence. At best, it is a curious argument, one I’ve heard many times before. Warheads whose sole purpose is to vaporize cities are hardly to be thought legitimate property. Bombs that indiscriminately murder millions of men, women, and children are not “property.”
The most unrepentant Nazi would call Auschwitz “proper.” The most recalcitrant anti-Semite would suggest that the gas chambers at Buchenwald were “proper.” Why, then, do we make supersonic bombers and fast-track submarines into idols, insisting that they are “proper?”
Liz knew that she and her friends might well be entering a “deadly force” area, where guards were under orders to shoot intruders. In fact, Liz was “shot” when the group role-played a walk into Griffiss Air Force Base. Liz spent time praying, deep-breathing, being still. She dreaded being taken from her children. She loved tucking the kids into bed, reading them to sleep and, hearing their rhythmic sighs, joining friends in the kitchen for a bedtime snack. She might well spend years in a penitentiary far from her children, unable to snuggle with them at night, to hear their happy chirping in the morning.
She also understood that, like the raids on draft boards during the Vietnam War, Plowshare actions provoke controversy, stir anger and condemnation. We pour our blood to symbolize the death of innocent human beings. But our actions are meant to be more than symbolic. We pound on bombers and submarines with hammers; intending to damage and, if able, literally to disarm them.
At Jonah House, our faith in God helps us control our fear. We are saying no to our government’s atrocious war-making. We are trying to be just; the effort flows from God’s enjoining justice upon us, and our knowing that God is just. Faith in God, and in the ultimate goodness of other human beings, helps us control our fears.
Our resistance doesn’t stem from self-interest or personal gain. We are not hoping to win theological accolades or spiritual promotions. And yet we are certain that we could not be doing anything more important. We go forward though in fear and trembling.
- Liz and I watched “The Day After” with our children. And like millions of others who saw this film, the children were upset. We listened to their concerns, and told them that we didn’t want the bombs to go off. As parents, we had a responsibility to see that that didn’t happen. We told them that their. mother might spend time in prison for acting to end this madness.
They understood and, I think, felt less fearful, knowing that Liz was going to resist the arms race. Frida and Jerry were willing to take this risk, even if it meant being away from their mother for a long time. Katie was two years old and, though a very bright child, couldn’t fully understand. Her older brother and sister agreed to help her through the difficult separation from their mother.
- We are dealing with serious constitutional issues—namely, the issue of a national religion having been established in our country in violation of the First Amendment. The religion of national sovereignty or nuclearism is alive and flourishing, and its existence, its pre-eminence, its rituals, gods, priests, and high priests make serious encroachments on all of us. In fact—and this is the second part of our argument—violating our freedom of religion. This state religion not only compels acts that are prohibited by the laws of God but the state religion itself prohibits the free exercise of religion. The state religion compels a quality of loyalty focused on our acceptance of the existence of nuclear weapons as a necessity. Weapons we are expected to pay for, adulate, thank God for, become sacred objects of worship. And such worship is prohibited by the laws of God.
Nuclearism is the ultimate fundamentalism of our time. Above all, this is the idolatry against which we stand and because of which we stand in this court. And the modern state is the child of the nuclearist religion. In the years since 1945, the modern state has moved steadily in more and more authoritarian directions. The process was subtle. Leaders who insisted that the major stake in international conflict was the fate of democracy were the very ones who steadily eroded democratic content in the name of ‘National Security.’ Legally, we have witnessed a constitutional antipathy to standing armies give way to an expanding, permanent military establishment with the Pentagon as the cathedral of the nuclearist religion. We have seen the Executive Branch claim privileges to keep national security information secret without any correction from the judiciary. Judge Munson, this nuclear, national-security state is a new, as yet largely unanalyzed phenomenon in the long history of political forms and of civil religions.
Being constantly ready to commit the nation and the planet to a war of annihilation in a matter of minutes created a variety of structural necessities that contradict the spirit and substance of democratic government: secrecy, lack of accountability, permanent emergency, concentration of authority, peacetime militarism, plus an extensive apparatus of state intelligence and police.
- No king ever concentrated in his being such absolute authority over human destiny. ‘The claim by fallible human beings to inflict total devastation for the sake of the national interests of any particular state is an acute variety of idolatry.
- “And, Judge Munson,” Liz continued, “this has all been done ‘legally,’ and it amounts to a congressionally established religion. ‘Congress will make no law with respect to the establishment of religion. . . .‘ Yet Congress has passed laws approving and funding the Manhattan Project, the continued arms race including the first strike arsenal of cruise, MX, Trident; the new scenario for winning a nuclear war. It requires that our taxes fmance these projects. The bomb and nuclearism have been protected too by laws concerning national security, restrictions on free speech by government employees, loyalty and secrecy oaths required for security clearances. And now the laws of sabotage, laws that protect government property from destruction, and the conspiracy laws are used to punish and prosecute those who, from a perspective of conscience and Christian witness, would speak the truth, would resist the evil of nuclearism and the idolatry of nuclear violence. To so use these laws is to prohibit the free exercise of religion and violates the constitutional guarantee of this freedom.”
Liz told Judge Munson that he had the power to contradict this trend. He could act as a check against the imperial power of the presidency, a check against the unconstitutional use of laws to prohibit and punish those who speak the truth, who resist the idolization of the bomb and carry out direct nonviolent acts of disarmament on the ultimate manifestation of the demonic idols—the weapons themselves.
- The jury found all seven Griffiss Plowshare defendants guilty. Liz was sentenced to three years in prison. Things certainly could have been worse. Dan and I received 3-10 years for our part in the King of Prussia action. Judges in the Midwest would impose draconian sentences on Plowshare activists—up to eighteen years for pouring blood and pounding on a concrete missile silo. Comparatively speaking, a maximum of three years wasn’t terrible, though it would mean long months of separation from community and family, particularly from her children.
This was a rough time for our children. They missed their mother very deeply, and yet they were struggling to understand the statement she was making: That through her action at Griffiss and her willingness to go to prison, Elizabeth was expressing her love not only for them, but for all of the world’s children, who were threatened by this hideous arms race.
When Liz returned home from prison, we watched “A World Apart” with our children. This film is about a family’s resistance against apartheid in South Africa. The mother of several young children is locked up for 90 days, released, and locked up for another 90 days. After the film, Jerry said, “Well, she was only in jail for 90 days. Mom was gone for 25 months.”
- They talked about life in Alderson. The majority of inmates were doing time for nonviolent drug-related crimes. There were no Pentagon contractors, CIA agents, or State Department operatives in Alderson. Many of the inmates were from urban war zones, most were poor; throw-away people who, after years behind bars, would return to throw-away neighborhoods.
Our children suffered terribly when these weekend visits ended. They wrapped themselves around Elizabeth, reluctant to let her go. One last kiss and they would leave their mother, knowing that another month must pass before they could see or touch her again. They wept, as children do, with a heart-breaking passion.
On the way home, things would calm down a bit. We didn’t pretend. Their mother was in prison, and she would not be coming home soon. But she was alive, she was well, she loved her children, they loved her. And what a gift to see her, to hear her voice, to feel her warm spirit, even if only once a month. We were extraordinarily blessed to have Elizabeth as mother, wife, and friend.
We felt her presence with us in the car, she would be with us at bedtime, and in the morning around the breakfast table. The state might keep Elizabeth behind bars; it would never imprison her spirit.
- When we were tried and sentenced to prison, our children were in the courtroom. They listened to the prosecution, heard our testimony, and learned how the judicial system works.
We hid nothing from them; nor did we demand that they follow our path. Jonah House is a community, not a cult. Children are encouraged to think critically, to discuss and debate and come to their own conclusions. Resistance shows the violence and criminality of the American empire. Through resistance, our children learned to deconstruct the myths and counter the lies of their culture. They were empowered to distinguish between truth telling and obfuscation.
Were we to live our lives again, we would do very little differently.
The Plowshare Eight convictions were appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to review the case, returning it to a lower court which set a resentencing date. Most of us were opposed to this litigation. The courts protected the rich and powerful. They perpetuated violence and injustice. They shielded weapons whose only purpose is to protect wealth and privilege. We were not in favor of keeping the case in the courts.
- I sat beside my brother Dan, my daughter Frida between us, wondering whether we might spend the rest of our lives in prison. The celebration was part revival meeting, part wake. People were sorrowful. The sentence had been fragrantly unjust, our friends would miss us; no one likes seeing friends go to prison.
Gandhi, of course, would see all this in an entirely different way. He would say that it’s a cause for rejoicing when people are going to prison for justice and peace. Genuine resistance means that we must be willing to accept the consequences for our actions, and that often means going to prison. We must enter prison, says Gandhi, the way a bridegroom enters a bridal chamber.
A formal prayer, and we formed into a procession to General Electric’s Aerospace division at 32nd and Chestnut. A young girl handed out white candles, which flickered in the wind. Dan, John Schuchardt, Molly Rush, and I stood at the entrance to G.E., holding a banner that read: GENERAL ELECTRIC—THE CRIME IS HERE.
- The Biblical view of the law, the courts, and the state is profoundly radical. The Bible looks upon the state as a kind of rebellious artifice; it is spurious, a human creation in rebellion against God. In the Old Testament, when the first state is proposed in the person of Saul, the first King of Israel, God tells the prophet Samuel that this project spells rejection of God. The state and its legislation are in rebellion against, or rejection of, God. Its courts are a human fabrication, cannot promote justice and peace; they are founded in violence, and legalize violence.
The state holds together through police power, against the citizenry.
The state, conceived in violence, and backed by violence, will never achieve true peace.
Plowshare activists maintain that there are two great historical commentaries on the law. First, Christ was condemned in accordance with law. The Judean leadership told Pilate that, according to their law, Jesus must die for declaring himself the son of God. Our Lord was completely innocent. He spent his life teaching the good, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. He preached nonviolence, urging his followers to love their enemies. Second, in our day the law legalizes nuclear weapons. The slaughter in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was legal. The spread of nuclear weapons has been legal. Atomic warfare that threatens to spawn a nuclear winter, destroying life on earth, is legal. The poisoning of millions of human beings, and the contamination of our air, food, and water supplies, is legal.
- In American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War, Carole Gallagher wrote of “manic denial” in Nevada Test Site workers who were dying of cancer contracted from exposure to radioactive material. She interviewed several who frantically denied any connection between their work and illness, even as they lay dying.
By the same token, one could call Peter’s three-fold denial of Christ “manic.” Hours earlier, at the Last Supper, Peter had boasted of his allegiance to Christ. “Peter said to him, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” (Matthew 26:35) It appears that Peter’s fear was so profound, after the arrest of Christ that it erased memory and friendship, leaving him “manic” and paralyzed.
Peter is not alone in his denial—American Christians practice it habitually. We warm ourselves at the imperial fire as Christ is haled before a kangaroo court, keeping ourselves anonymous, maintaining a distance, unaware that the fire is a metaphor for nuclear lunacy, glorification of wealth, bloodshed for profit, and violence as a way of life. The fire burns us terribly, but we are unaware. The fire makes impossible any allegiance to Christ, any standing with him—makes everything impossible except denial.
The test “Surely you are one of them” might come from family or friends or strangers or from the people of power.
And the test might be couched in events like the atomizing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or genocide in Vietnam, or US leadership of the Doomsday Race, or the Desert Storm “turkey shoot,” or extracting profit from our addiction to violence and war. “Surely you are one of them” terrifies us as it did Peter. Worse still, it finds us numb. “I do not know the man” takes the form of silence before power, paying for war with taxes, income from warmaking, or sacrificing our children to Mars.
Peter wanted a fellowship with Christ without consequence—official reprisal, ostracism, torture, execution. We want citizenship in the empire and its attendant goodies—a “deterrent” nuclear blanket and the “right” to consume seven times our share of the world’s output, without consequences—war, ecological devastation, death in the Third and Fourth Worlds.
We Christians forget (if we ever learned) that attempts to redress real or imagined injustice by violent means are merely another exercise in denial—denial of God and her nonviolence toward us, denial of love of neighbor, denial of laws essential to our being. “I do not know the man” takes many forms, suffers many translations. But all end the same—a denial of our humanity, our daughtership or sonship in God.
- A rough parallel now exists between two communities—the African-American and White Middle Class. The traditional oppression of African-Americans by dominant Whites drove blacks to turn against one another. Now, the same trend asserts itself among whites. The oppression of a non-representative government armed with thermonuclear weapons, a government which is patron of the 1% superrich controlling 40% of American wealth, a government which has infested the planet with war and weaponry as no other has—this increasingly fascist, terroristic apparatus is driving whites into the denial of fratricide. The American empire oppresses people everywhere, but especially its own. And they, with no clear perception of this complex, pervasive monolith called government, turn on one another—judges, road workers, forest service rangers, the innocent in Oklahoma City. The drama of Christ’s last days directed us during Holy Week to reject denial, to put up the sword, to identify with Christ the victim, to embrace the Cross, and to stand at its foot with the women. That led us to the sites of oppression—The World Bank on Holy Thursday, the Pentagon on Good Friday, and the White House on Holy Saturday.
- With periods of reflection, planning, acting, and evaluating, the assembled community sought to learn from Peter’s denial, and to confront our own. Perhaps in time, those who claim the name Christian will learn how to say “NO!” to death and “YES!” to life. Instead of the other way around.
- Power always blames its victims. Mrs. Thatcher was sworn to protect Britain’s interests in Northern Ireland. False arrests, beatings, torture, assassination, these were not enough; she must transform Bobby Sands and the hunger strikers into monsters. Demagogues, megalomaniacs, dictators speak the same Orwellian language: The state is powerful; therefore the state is good.
- Some Christians argue that a nuclear war would cleanse the planet of evil and bring about the Kingdom of God. This is the supreme insult to God. Is she responsible for cutting down our rain forests, poisoning our rivers, lakes, and oceans? Does she start wars, build concentration camps, and engage in ethnic cleansing? Did she design, test, and deploy nuclear weapons?
For Christians to argue from the Book of Revelation, or some other text, that it is God’s will to purge the planet and end the world on the plain of Armageddon (whatever meaning that might have) is sheer delusion. Seldom is there an honest inquiry as to what the text says. It is easier to impose on the Scripture one’s moral paralysis, hopelessness, and cultural lunacy.
In somewhat the same vein, Christians who reason this way seem driven by a death wish. They are dangerous, mixed up, and deluded. They operate under a veneer of Christianity, while they advocate, support, and pay taxes for the ultimate violence. To suggest that God’s will is the destruction of the earth in order to cleanse it of evil, is pure insanity.
Critics of the Plowshare movement point out that we’ve been arrested countless times, and yet the United States refuses to disarm its arsenal of nuclear weapons. We’ve prayed and pleaded, poured our blood and pounded upon atomic weapons; and yet our government continues to kill people, here and abroad, in the name of peace and justice. Conclusion: our actions are useless. According to such critics, the outcome of conscientious activity must always be measurable and quantified: A cup of success, a spoonful of failure. Two hours of success, one week of failure. There must be a scoreboard to determine who is winning or losing.
Yet it is impossible, we maintain, to measure results stemming from integrity. We act because working in a nonviolent way for justice and peace is right, proper, essential. Moreover, our actions do make a difference in people’s lives.
How many lives, how much of a difference? We can hardly measure that. But it is clear from the many friendships we’ve formed over the years that some are influenced, perhaps even inspired, by our nonviolent witness. Moreover, by our refusal to be complicit with the war machine, we have avoided becoming a cog in the military-industrial gear box. The killing has not been, will never be, in our name. We leave it up to others to measure our success or failure.
- My justification for nonviolent revolution stems from what I and other Plowshare activists believe is fact: that Christ embodies God; He is the image, as Paul says, of the invisible God. Looking upon Him, listening to Him, following Him, is to be in union with God.
This God is nonviolent to us. He allows His sun to shine upon the wicked and the good; allows the rain to fall upon the just and unjust. He is benign, loving, and compassionate. Never retaliatory, never revengeful. He never punishes us; we punish ourselves. When we sin, are unjust, and exploit one another, we punish ourselves.
It is the will of this God, the God of Jesus Christ, to humanize us to become children of God; we are daughters and sons, sisters and brothers of one another. And that’s the biblical basis for nonviolent revolution. That’s why we have it, and why it must continue throughout history.
The object is to return to God’s order and design. That’s the biblical vision. We could call it Eden reasserted, or the New Jerusalem, as does the Book of Revelation; we could call it Thomas More’s Utopia. It’s a very simple concept, and one toward which everyone can work. It means sisterhood and brotherhood. It means a new order of love, justice, and equality. An order where the elderly, children, women, the so-called “weak” members of society are most treasured. It’s an order which reductively exists for the children.
- Armies will be disbanded and war outlawed. Cities will decline as people become less dependent on buying and selling. Economics will be revolutionized. Needs, rather than wants, will be paramount. In a capitalist society, economics defines life. In a just society, justice, love, caring, cooperation, will prevail. Politics and religion, the same thing, will strive for the regeneration of the human family. In this new order, racism and sexism will disappear. Women,. become equal partners with men, will no longer be objects of male lust. This vision, and this reality, will embrace community as the only human grouping not subject to domination, power, or violence.
The means for making this vision real is nonviolent direct action; civil disobedience, or divine obedience. Nonviolent direct action carries the truth of justice and love into the marketplace, where it confronts social, political, and economic injustice. It witnesses against the darkness of the way we treat one another. Civil disobedience diminishes individual narcissism, egotism, and solipsism. It enables us to resist being cogs in the engine of oppression. Our choice is clear: We act to recreate the political order, or we solidify the old order of violence and death.
- Jesus Christ practiced direct action, as did the Jewish prophets, and other nonviolent militants. Long before our Revolution, Americans resorted to direct action in struggles against injustice. In a capitalist society, there are no other means for representation, redress, or justice. To vote is political window dressing. It makes not the slightest political difference. If it did, the American people would soon lose this “right.” The only means for fighting judicial corruption, corporate greed, worker exploitation, police brutality, and militarism is direct action. The Industrial Workers of the World (“Wobblies”) were right. You don’t vote with the ballot, you vote with your feet and with your life.
To restore God’s reign, Christ used two approaches. He taught, and He acted. There was no variance between what he taught, and how He acted. His teaching and actions were subversive and revolutionary. They shook the foundations of the old order of injustice, } violence, and death.
- Gandhi called Jesus the greatest nonviolent resister in history. The church pretends to be to be the church of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this is not the case. And that says some rather terrible things about the church; what it has concluded about itself, how it sides with the powers of this world, and how it has emasculated the gospel, reducing it to a painless common denominator.
The Christian who follows Jesus must be a nonviolent resister and revolutionary. There is no avoiding this truth. A Christian must take risks for the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, the new sisterhood and brotherhood. Christians are obligated to resist collusion between church and state, and to fight nonviolently against tyranny, injustice, and oppression.
The church has been tainted by imperialism. It has learned to lie relative to the Scripture. The church distorts, suppresses, and refuses to preach the Scripture; the church has learned to lie about its own Scripture. In the ‘sixties, many people embraced violent revolution. I recall one conversation with young radicals who were leaving for the national Democratic convention in Chicago. They were armed with chains, and were preparing for street battles with the “pigs.” Revolutionaries, they said, must fight violence with violence. I replied that the means we use to fight for justice are the ends. In our struggle for liberation, we must not adopt the oppressor’s means; otherwise, we become the oppressor. Using the means of the oppressor is contradictory, counterproductive, and counter-revolutionary.
- The American revolution in the 18th century was really just a change in the palace guard. Very quickly, the colonists learned that
they had to use measures against the violence of their own government. After the war, Continental army soldiers were given certificates for future redemption, only to discover that they desperately needed cash to pay their debts. In Massachusetts, the new Constitution of 1780 established that only the wealthy could hold public office. The legislature refused to issue paper money. Debt-ridden farmers, many of them war veterans, were hauled into court. Their cattle were sold to settle debts. They were driven from the land.
Armed rebellions broke out, the most famous of which was led by Daniel Shays, a veteran of Lexington, Bunker Hill, and Saratoga. Shays led more than seven hundred armed farmers to Springfield, Massachusetts, where they paraded through town. Samuel Adams, hero of the rebellion against the British, helped draw up a Riot Act, and a resolution suspending habeas corpus. Shays army was defeated, captured rebels put on trial, some of them sentenced to death. Two centuries have passed, but little has changed. The ruling elite still uses violence and intimidation to control the American people. Those who resist the state are vilified, hounded, jailed, and murdered. The FBI, CIA, and other agents of state power wage relentless war against those who resist the evil empire.
Nevertheless, the revolution isn’t over.
I see no point in working within an evil system. Christ was never a reformer. He didn’t advocate voting for one corrupt politician over another. He never urged people to embrace the state. He told parables about putting a patch on an old garment, which would soon unravel. He preached that we should dismantle, not attempt to patch, the state.
- The Cold War may be over, but we cannot cease insisting on the sovereignty of God and the lordship of God over creation. The state is a usurper, attempting to seize sovereignty from God. Dan, Liz, myself, and many others like us, have clung to our Catholicism. In fact, we have arrived at a formula which might serve to define us:
We are Catholics trying to be Christians.
- People have ventured many reasons for this. One enlightened friend ventured that Catholics are more keenly aware of religious and life-giving symbols. Others say that the nuns taught us something about the cross of Jesus Christ, and led us in the stations of the cross, which helped implant a conviction; that we ought to be expending ourselves for the poor, and for those who needlessly suffer.
- How would I like to be remembered? I don’t think the question is especially important or critical. Perhaps I would like to be remembered as a Catholic who tried to be a Christian. A person who tried to embody the nonviolence of God, who attempted to stand for those who needlessly suffer; someone who endeavored to welcome and to understand the cross of Jesus Christ.
- Still another was the military stalemate in Korea. The Vietnam War was the third Asian war the United States lost. And all of these were serious blows to the empire.
- A nonviolent revolution might save us, but it is hard to be optimistic. Our country has the richest tradition of nonviolence in the world, yet we lack the vision and discipline to initiate a nonviolent revolution.
- Our government is crypto-fascist; the Contract on America is a fascist, not a conservative, document. The war on the poor is orchestrated by fascists. The so-called war on drugs expands police powers, undermines the Bill of Rights, creates drug barons, and enables the CIA to befriend traffickers like the Nicaraguan contras.
- We Americans have an almost obsessive need to embrace the illusion of freedom. We cannot see that the bomb makes all of us prisoners. Nor are we willing to admit that fear and freedom are incompatible. We fail to see the irony in our boast that we are free to build bombs, free to carry guns, and free live in walled-in communities.
The Bible says that hope is closely related to faith. One hopes because one believes. One believes in God’s promises, in the ultimate goodness of human beings, in the redemption of Christ, in the advocacy of the holy spirit. One believes; therefore, one hopes. We can’t live without hope. We need it as we need water and bread. And so one of the most precious gifts we can give others is to offer hope; to be a hopeful example, standing for life instead of death.
Gandhi said that everyone needs a scripture. We must have a sacred text; it could be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist. It could be a philosophy of nonviolence. But everyone needs a text against which to measure life. If we deeply believe in our scripture, hope is generated and offered to others. And we renounce self pity, fear, hatred, or despair.
- We work at hope, together, as a community. Without community, resistance is impossible. We gather from our community hope, strength, commitment, and the courage to continue.
- People talk about taking the country back from the usurpers, but what does this mean? In the name of liberty and justice, Pat Buchanan and friends want to establish an Old Testament Theocracy. In their ideal world the state will not only be God’s representative on earth; the state will be God. Persecuting the poor, abolishing Affirmative Action, building more prisons, executing more prisoners, expanding police powers, burning books, denying gay men and
women jobs, fanning the fires of bigotry and hate, nourishing the addiction to war; all this will be an expression of God’s will.
How anyone can claim to be a Christian and believe these things is beyond comprehension. The God of the so-called Christian Right is a God of hate, not love; revenge, not forgiveness; death, not life. Such a God is bigoted and spiteful, a misogynist who inflicts pain and misery on the human family. The Christian Right’s vision stems neither from the Bible nor the Constitution, but from the dark and frightened recesses of the human psyche.
As for myself, I continue to resist because there is no alternative. I will not join the establishment. That would be deeply repugnant to me. I intend to stay here, witnessing against violence and madness, obsession with property and glorification of privilege
Plowshare activists go to jail in order to resist the empire. We are innocent, but there is no other way to make our statement. We make it publicly, in court, before the press and anyone who cares to listen. We do not choose to go to prison. That is the government’s decision. We violate unjust laws, and take the consequences, whatever they may be. But our submission doesn’t mean that we respect the corrupt judicial system. We go to prison for our nonviolent beliefs, not because we accept the empire’s rules.
I remember one quotation from the Book of John, where Jesus says something like, “If they hate me, they will hate you also.” The implication; if they do not hate you, you are not living the life you profess to live. That is, following me.”
Two thousand years have passed, and Caesar reigns. The military occupies our country, a hierarchy of the rich and powerful controls the people’s lives, taxing the poor, beating, jailing, killing, those who resist imperial policies.
For over a period of two thousand years, the Bible has been largely ignored or defiled. The life of Christ is not preached by the established church, and it is not lived by many Christians; not to be wondered that so many “Christians” despise the poor and support the military.
- We may not understand the mystery, but we can offer a decent, just, and compassionate example.
- If enough Christians follow the gospel, they can bring any state to its knees. Such Christians are a biblical remnant. In the providence of God, they are the ones who keep the human race from destroying itself. Today, we have only a remnant of those who are deeply convicted of nonviolence, of community, and resistance to a criminal state.
The revolution isn’t over. As long as there is poverty, violence, discrimination, militarism, and war, our struggle will continue.
- Our friend was confirming Gandhi’s observations that “the truth seeker should go to jail even as a bridegroom enters the bridal chamber”; that “social betterment never comes from parliaments or pulpits, but from direct action in the streets, from the courts, jails and sometimes even the gallows.” Or Dorothy Day’s statement that “if Christians seek a better life for the poor and relief from the tyranny of nuclear weapons, they must fill up the jails.”
- The “following” becomes the fundamental problem. He leads, and we so often renege. We are slow to follow Jesus in living the gospel and building cormnunity; slow to follow, resisting, as he resisted, illegitimate power; slow to follow into jail as he was jailed. Slow and then a halt. Follow him in torture and death?