Following a nonviolent Jesus while living in a warmaking state

Susan Crane, Tacoma WA  January 4, 2011

During the trial of the  Disarm Now Plowshares, Arlen Storm, the US attorney, said something to the effect that all of us in this courtroom want a world without nuclear weapons.  There is general agreement on that, and the question is, “How do we get there?” The US attorney was objecting to our tactics. And he’s not the only one objecting. Stephen Kent (Catholic News Services) wrote: “Granted, the tactics of the Disarm Now Plowshares were wrong, but not so the philosophy and theology at the root of their action.”

What is the value of a philosophy or theology, if it isn’t practiced?
Or, what does it mean to follow a nonviolent Jesus while living in a warmaking state?

From the Gospels we read that Jesus was a teacher of nonviolence and often broke the laws in order to obey God. This tradition of embracing God’s will can be found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.

Shiphrah and Puah, Hebrew midwives

At the beginning of Exodus, we read that Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwifes, were ordered by the Pharaoh to kill the boys that were born to the Hebrew women. In between the lines, we can imagine that the midwives prayed, talked with each other and with their families, and made a decision based on their faith. The decided to disobey the Pharaoh, and not kill the boys. This is perhaps the first story in the scriptures where people deliberately, in a knowing and careful way, make a decision to obey God instead of Empire (the king or human laws). (Exodus 1:8-17)

Throughout the Old Testament, there are similar stories. Balaam, who doesn’t obey King Moab and instead listens to an angel (the felt presence of God) and blesses the Israelites rather than cursing them. (Numbers 22)  David’s wife, Michal, who helps David escape instead of handing him over to the King, her father. (1 Samuel  19:11-17) Ester, who goes into the King’s presence, uninvited, to beg for the lives of her kinspeople.  Rizpah, who sat in sackcloth and ashes, until her sons could be buried, (2 Samuel 21: 10-14) and the story of  Eleazar, who refused to eat pork as commanded by  the King. Eleazar is a reminder that we ought to have the “courage to reject the food which it is unlawful to taste even for love of life.” (2 Maccabees 6)

So what is more important: obeying the laws of the country I live in, or obeying the laws of God?

And then we get to the Gospels where right at the beginning, the wise men don’t obey Herod.  Herod wants the wise men to come and report to him where the baby Jesus is. No, the wise men obey an angel who comes in a dream, and they take another route home. This is civil resistance.  And then we see Jesus who cures on the Sabbath and doesn’t follow the purity laws, who eats with all sorts and classes of people. We see Jesus gather the people the Empire doesn’t want gathered, we see him curing the people the Empire doesn’t want cured, and we see him feeding the people the Empire doesn’t want fed.  There are many examples of his trouble-making law-breaking actions, where compassion and love come before religious and imperial laws.

So there here we are today, living in a country that is spending more than half of every federal tax dollar on warmaking. We are living in a country that keeps waging wars that are illegal, and seem to have little meaning except to keep the war industry employed and keep US control of resources intact.

What should I do when I live in such a country?  I think about what I wish I might have done if I had lived in WW II Germany. Would I have helped people escape who needed shelter? Would I have written leaflets and handed them out? Would I have gone to the concentration camp on the outside of the city where I lived, and cut the lines carrying the zyklon B gas? I don’t know, or course, what I would have done.  But I hope I would have done something.

And today? The rest of the world is very concerned about nuclear weapons. We in the US claim we are disarming, while spending more money on refurbishment of warheads, building more nuclear weapon plants, and now building a new fleet of nuclear armed submarines. The Ohio Class subs, we are told, need to replaced at a cost of 70 billion dollars.

I think about the story at the beginning of Mark 3, the story of a man with the withered hand. Jesus is in the temple on the Sabbath, and calls the man up in front of everyone, and says, “Is it right to do good on the Sabbath, or to do evil? To save life, or destroy life?”
The crowd around him is silent. Jesus looks around, and is angered and grieved at their silence and hardness of heart.  In my prayer, in my life, I do not want to cause anger and grief to Jesus. I do not want to be silent.

Walking onto the Naval base and cutting some fence is minor in comparison to the destructive power of a nuclear weapon. And, it was a legal action that was our responsibility and obligation.

If people really believed there was a crime scene at the base, that there were weapons that threaten all life on earth, no one would think twice about cutting the fence to get to disarm the weapons. That’s why we tried to use the necessity defense in court, a defense that is similar to someone seeing a burning building, with a child in the window upstairs, screaming. The person of course would break the door down, and run upstairs to rescue the child. These actions that would normally be considered criminal, would be justified during a fire to save a life.

Further, there is a body of humanitarian law that is codified in US treaties, in the US criminal code, and in military manuals that prohibits the preparation, threat or use of weapons which indiscriminately kill civilians, and which can’t be controlled in time or space.  What is happening on the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor is not just immoral, but it is illegal. It is a war crime.

But basic to everything, is our faith and prayer.  How do we practice the teachings of Jesus? How can we love our enemies? What does it mean to follow a nonviolent Jesus while living in a warmaking state?

One Response

  1. Please, this is such important theology and philosophy that it MUST be widely circulated, so that adults can be educated theologically and philosophically, especially in the disciplines of logic and ethics as it used to be done in universities in Western countries, and in whatever ways in Eastern and Southern Universities. Newspapers for the wise, common sense people who listen to their consciences rather than their bank investments, and know what Susan is explaining from their hearts and the wisdom of humanity. Please, NCR publish this reflection.

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