"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Stuck in the Elevator of Peace

"You are a renegade priest and a renegade citizen. Many people think you're a hero of nonviolence, but you're a phony. You're a fraud. You are a person of violence because you used a hammer on one of our nuclear weapons! You're a coward. You're afraid. You are no Gandhi. I will not join your cause, but I will not make a martyr out of you so that the world thinks you are the heir of Gandhi." - U.S. Magistrate Don Svet on sentencing Fr. John Dear to the limit of the law's severity.

Thus do the violent defend themselves against the threat of peace, even when it's stuck in the elevator. Fr. Dear's threat to our government consisted of "failing to comply with signs and regulations in a federal building."

"No violence is private. On the contrary, violence is so dynamic, variegated, and pervasive that all violence must be regarded as essentially political." - William Stringfellow.

"In September 2006, Dear and other peace activists spent four hours in an elevator after security guards prevented them from going to Domenici’s third-floor office where they wanted to talk with Domenici and his staff about changing his support for the Iraq war."

Prophetic acts such as Fr. Dear's are necessary in order to achieve these spiritual purposes: 1) To show our willingness to suffer for the sake of our love of Christ and 2) In order to demonstrate that these injustices are not "ordinary", but cry out to God for public recognition and public action. Clearly the war in Iraq is not a private matter between each person and his or her conscience, but a public crime that can only be justly addressed in a public way.

To sit in your room and pray about the war in Iraq is a worthy act that may well bring spiritual benefit to this world, but if it is not accompanied by public acts, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion of hypocrisy. When there is a blatant act of public mortal sin carried out by an institution that has been charged with the public good, then private activity is not morally sufficient to the justice required by the situation. The war-making authorities in this country have direct access to the corporate media and blanket us with unremitting and scientifically-crafted propaganda. For Christians to respond to this circumstance by limiting themselves to private conversations and prayer is in practice to surrender to the evil principalities against which we are called to fight.

For Christians, there can be no obedience to illegitimate power. This is a quite traditional principle and it immediately gives the lie to Judge Svet's conception of authority and violence. Resistance like that of Fr. Dear is actually an act of love for true authority, not a repudiation of authority itself, as the judge would have us believe in his vitriolic fit. Legitimacy can only be attributed to this or any government when it acts according to its true vocation so that its authority can be conscientiously obeyed. If those in authority violate the principles that legitimate their authority, for instance by repudiating the rule of law that should guide their own actions, then by that very act they cancel our obligation to obey their rule, though not, of course, to obey the rule of law that they have disdained. Public opposition to a regime that falsifies evidence in order to enter a war that has been declared illegal by international authority is necessitated by our obligation to honor the sovereign - the rule of law in this instance. Not to discontinue our allegiance to such an authority would be to join in its promotion of contempt for the rule of law. The sovereign we honor is justice, the only possible source of governmental authority.

The point is worth all the emphasis we can give to it. Fr. Dear's "criminal" behavior is an act of obedience to government's true vocation, which is to defend and cherish the rights of its citizens. To obey a government that builds weapons of mass slaughter is in itself a criminal act. Judge Svet's characterization of hammering a nuclear warhead as "violence" is the reduction of the term to a technical definition as an act which interferes with the purpose assigned by the owner to an item of corporate property. The far more significant violence of continuing a war that has caused the death of over one million Iraqis is a crime of such magnitude as to condemn those who fail to oppose it. Acts of resistance to this criminal regime are legitimated by the Christian vocation to defend just order.

To suppose that God is pleased with his children when they unthinkingly submit to whatever government happens to be in power because that government "does not bear the sword in vain" is a blasphemy. Instead of participating in governmental crimes by our "submission to authority", let us submit to the authority of justice.

I'll let Fr. Dear have the last word: "As a Christian and Jesuit, I feel I must say no to the war, in this case by resisting the system. During those moments when my life feels disrupted, I recall the millions of Iraqis and Afghanis who have had their lives disrupted and destroyed because of our war, and I realize it's a small price...

The Gospel story remains the primary motivation for my resistance. I'm always amazed that Jesus did not spend his life sitting under a tree, dispensing his wisdom. He stood up, spoke out, and marched to Jerusalem, where he confronted the culture of injustice, the empire and its religious backers, and suffered the consequences of his civilly disobedient, nonviolent action. His life was disrupted, wrecked, shattered...

If I want to enter his story, share his life, and follow his lead, I have to enter the fray and resist the empire, too, and that's a messy and complicated business. Still, it's a blessing to be misunderstood, insulted and in legal jeopardy for one's pursuit of God's reign of peace. As I left the courthouse, I remembered the Sermon on the Mount: 'Blessed are you when they insult you…Rejoice and be glad!'" - Fr. John Dear, My day in court

No comments: