I'm currently reading To Dwell in Peace, the autobiography of Daniel Berrigan.
If you don't know the Berrigan brothers, some background.
Daniel and Phillip Berrigan are brothers (Daniel is still living but Phillip is deceased) who were both Catholic priests. As brothers and priests they were both leaders in the Civil Rights movement and in the peace protests against the Vietnam War. Most of their notoriety comes from their participation with/as the Catonsville Nine. The Catonsville Nine was one of the more publicized anti-war protests--because two priests were involved--against the war in Vietnam. On May 17, 1968 the Nine entered the building of the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, removed the A-1 draft files, took them outside and set them on fire with homemade napalm.
The Berrigan brothers were subsequently arrested, convicted, and spent a couple of years in jail. (Incidentally, Daniel Berrigan was captured by the FBI at William Stringfellow's house.)
One of the controversies about the Catonsville Nine was their destruction of government property. Berrigans' defense: "Some property has no right to exist."
In reading To Dwell in Peace I was struck by the following passage where Berrigan describes how audiences reacted to the reasons he gave for participating in the Catonsville Nine action. Specifically, he discusses how when he tried to explain his actions on biblical grounds--as his obedience to the Sermon on the Mount--Christian audiences grew resistant. Which is--how shall we say?--somewhat curious. Given our conversation last week about just war and the bible this passage caught my attention:
Shortly, standing before audiences, I discovered something unexpected. The closer explanation drew upon biblical instruction and source, the less palatable it became...It was though in so speaking, one was by no means building bridges of understanding. One was putting up a wall, stone by stone, and mortising it tight.This quote got me to thinking about our discussions last week about just war and the Sermon on the Mount. Many readers were very eager to note just how straightforward the case was for just war, almost a no-brainer.
It was quite acceptable to talk "politics." There was at least a nascent sense that the war was intolerable, granted the American system and its "normal" workings. One gained this small leverage. But the fact that the war might be inconsistent with the words and example of Christ, that killing others was repugnant to the letter and spirit of the Sermon on the Mount--this was too much: it turned living ears to stone.
Which makes me wonder about Berrigan's quote. Why is it so easy to use the bible to justify war and so hard to see Jesus's prohibitions in the Sermon on the Mount? Why the asymmetry?
To be clear, I understand how Christians can make a just war argument. And some of those arguments are cogent and persuasive. But here's my problem. Every Christian should be vehemently anti-war. And that's clearly not the case.
Understand what I'm not saying. I'm not suggesting that Christians should be strict pacifists. What I am suggesting is that Christians should be vociferously anti-war and regularly protesting war. That seems to be what the faith demands and expects of us. We should see just war proponents protesting war right along with and just as loudly as the pacifists. But by and large, Christians aren't widely known as having, as their default stance, an anti-war position. Most Christians, I'd expect, have never even contemplated protesting a war. It's just not our gig, not a part of our spiritual formation. Being anti-war isn't a part of our spiritual DNA. And that's just really, really, weird.
Again, the issue here isn't just war versus pacifism. It's about how an anti-war sentiment doesn't characterize the people who claim they follow Jesus of Nazareth.