BY JOHN DEAR
Last September, I spoke to some 2,000 students during their annual lecture
at a Christian college in Pennsylvania. After a short prayer service for peace
centered on the Beatitudes, I took the stage. “Now let me get this straight,” I
said. “Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ which
means he does not say, ‘Blessed are the warmakers,’ which means,
the warmakers are not blessed, which means warmakers are cursed, which means,
if you want to follow the nonviolent Jesus you have to work for peace, which
means, we all have to resist this horrific, evil war on the people of Iraq.”
With that, the place exploded, and it seemed like 500 students stormed
out and the rest started chanting, “Bush! Bush! Bush!”
So much for my speech. Not to mention the Beatitudes.
I was not at all surprised that George W. Bush was reelected president.
As I travel the country speaking out against war, injustice and nuclear
weapons, I see many people consciously siding with the culture of war,
choosing the path of violence, supporting corporate greed, rampant militarism,
and global domination. I see many others swept up in the raging current
of patriotism. Since most of these people, beginning with the president,
claim to be Christian, I am ashamed and appalled that they support war
and systemic injustice, that they do it in the name of God, and that they
feign fidelity to the nonviolent Jesus who gave his life resisting institutionalized
I am reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s great book, “Wise
Blood,” where her outrageous character Hazel Motes is so fed up with
Christian hypocrisy that he forms his own church, the “Church Without
Christ,” “where the lame don’t walk, the blind don’t
see, and the dead stay that way.” That’s where we are headed
I used to think these all-American Christians never read the Gospel, that
they simply chose not to be authentic disciples of the nonviolent Jesus.
Now, alas, I think they have indeed chosen discipleship, but not to the
hero of the Gospels, Jesus. Instead, through their actions, they have become
disciples of the devout, powerful, murderous religious officials who made
his execution possible.
A Culture of Hypocrites
We have become a culture of religious hypocrites. Instead of practicing
an authentic spirituality of compassion, nonviolence, love and peace, we
as a collective people have become self-righteous, arrogant, powerful,
murderous hypocrites who dominate and kill others in the name of God. We
have learned from religious officials like the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes
and high priests who supported the brutal Roman rulers and soldiers and
lived off the comforts of the empire.
Most North American Christians are now becoming more and more like these
hypocritical religious officials. We side with the rulers, the bankers,
and the corporate millionaires and billionaires. We run the Pentagon, bless
the bombing raids, support executions, make nuclear weapons and seek global
domination for America as if that was what the nonviolent Jesus wants.
And we dismiss anyone who disagrees with us.
We have become a mean, vicious people, what the bible calls “stiff-necked
people.” And we do it all with the mistaken belief that we have the
blessing of God.
In the past, empires persecuted religious groups and threatened them into
passivity and silence. Now these so-called Christians run the American
empire, and teach a subtle spirituality of empire to back up their power
in the name of God. This spirituality of empire insists that violence saves
us, might makes right, war is justified, bombing raids are blessed, nuclear
weapons offer the only true security from terrorism, and the good news
is not love for our enemies, but the elimination of them. The empire is
working hard these days to tell the nation--and the churches--what is moral
and immoral, sinful and holy. It denounces certain personal behavior as
immoral, in order to distract us from the blatant immorality and mortal
sin of the U.S. bombing raids which have left 100,000 Iraqis dead, or our
ongoing development of thousands of weapons of mass destruction. Our so-called
Christian rulers would have us believe that our wars and our weapons are
holy and blessed by God.
In the old days, the early Christians had big words for such behavior,
such lies. They were called “blasphemous, idolatrous, heretical,
hypocritical and sinful.” Such words and actions were denounced as
the betrayal, denial and execution of Jesus all over again in the world’s
poor. But the empire needs the church to bless and support its wars, or
at least to remain passive and silent. As we Christians go along with the
Bush administration and the American empire, we betray Jesus, renounce
his teachings, and create a “Church Without Christ,“ as Flannery
Troublemaking Nonviolence, the Measure of the Gospel
The first thing we Christians have to do in this time is not to become
good, devout hypocrites, like the religious officials of Jesus’ time.
Instead, we have to try all over again to follow the dangerous, nonviolent,
troublemaking Jesus. I believe war, weapons, corporate greed and systemic
injustice are an abomination in the sight of God. They are the definition
of mortal sin. They mock God and threaten to destroy God’s gift of
creation. If you want to seek the living God, you have to pit your entire
life against war, weapons, greed and injustice--and their perpetrators.
It is as simple as that.
Every religion, including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, is rooted
in nonviolence, but I submit that the only thing we know for sure about
Jesus is that he was nonviolent and so, nonviolence is the hallmark of
Christianity and the measure of authentic Christian living. Jesus commands
that we love one another, love our neighbors, seek justice, forgive those
who hurt us, pray for our persecutors, and be as compassionate as God.
But at the center of his teaching is the most radical declaration ever
uttered: “love your enemies.”
If we dare call ourselves Christian, we cannot support war or nuclear weapons
or corporate greed or executions or systemic injustice of any kind. If
we do, we may well be devout American citizens, but we no longer follow
the nonviolent Jesus. We have joined the hypocrites and blasphemers of
the land, beginning with their leaders in the White House, the Pentagon
and Los Alamos.
Jesus resisted the empire, engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience in
the Temple, was arrested, tried by the Roman governor
and executed by Roman soldiers. If we dare follow this nonviolent revolutionary,
we too must resist empire, engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against
U.S. warmaking and imperial domination, and risk arrest and imprisonment
like the great modern day disciples, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day
and Philip Berrigan.
If we do not want to be part of the culture of hypocrites and do want to
follow the nonviolent Jesus, we have to get in trouble just as Jesus was
constantly in trouble for speaking the truth, loving the wrong people,
worshipping the wrong way, and promoting the wrong things, like justice
and peace. We have to resist this new American empire, as well as its false
spirituality and all those who claim to be Christian yet support the murder
of other human beings. We have to repent of the sin of war, put down the
sword, practice Gospel nonviolence, and take up the cross of revolutionary
nonviolence by loving our enemies and discovering what the spiritual life
is all about.
Just because the culture and the cultural church have joined with the empire
and its wars does not mean that we all have to go along with such heresy,
or fall into despair as if nothing can be done. It is never too late to
try to follow the troublemaking Jesus, to join his practice of revolutionary
nonviolence and become authentic Christians. We may find ourselves in trouble,
even at the hands of so-called Christians, just as Jesus was in trouble
at the hands of the so-called religious leaders of his day. But this very
trouble may lead us back to those Beatitude blessings.
John Dear is a Jesuit priest and the author/editor of 20 books including most recently, "The
Questions of Jesus" and "Living Peace" both published by Doubleday. He lives in New Mexico
where he is working on a campaign to disarm Los Alamos. For info, see: www.johndear.org
Close this window.