We’re proud to have John Dear contributing to the Wild Goose Festival, of which he’s said “I don’t know precisely what our goal for Wild Goose is—but I hope it will be to help promote the abolition of war, poverty, nuclear weapons, environmental destruction–and all forms of violence, and so to welcome God’s reign….. [let’s] dream really big!” This week, he looks at how this dream can be made reality in the face of a complex international incident: the U.S. killing of al-Qa’ida head Osama bin Laden. His reflection begins:
I had just finished a weekend retreat on the Sermon on the Mount in Los Angeles when I heard the news that the U.S. had killed Osama bin Laden. Unlike the president, the U.S. military, and the hundreds who cheered and waved flags, I did not celebrate. I do not support or cheer the killing of anyone. As a Christian, I am not allowed to retaliate, seek revenge or to kill. I’m supposed to love enemies, do good to those who hate, and bless those who persecute. This news only leads me further into grief, prayer and repentance.
It had been a stimulating weekend. We spent three days reading the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7, line by line. There we discovered that Jesus is clear, consistent and insistent about creative nonviolence: “Blessed are the peacemakers. Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other cheek. Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. Do not judge. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Seek first God’s reign and God’s justice.”
We could not find one instance where Jesus waffles on nonviolence. He never says, “However, if your enemies are particularly vile, kill them all.” He does not offer a set of conditions to justify warfare. He commands universal, nonviolent love. He goes even further in his politics of peace to argue for this unusual practice because, he says, it is the very nature of God. Then you will be sons and daughters of God “who makes the sun rise on the bad and the good and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust,” he announces.Many in our group expressed bewilderment at such teachings. It felt to some like a crash course in Mandarin. Too challenging, too hard, too impractical, too scary! they said over and over.
These are the basic guidelines for Christian conduct in the world, I replied. Following these teachings, Christians reject violence, vengeance, retaliation, war, and killing, and instead practice universal love, boundless compassion, generous forgiveness and persistent peacemaking. Even if other Christians reject Jesus’ nonviolence and parade around like wolves in sheep’s clothing, I suggested, we are still summoned to walk this narrow path.
John Dear is an internationally known voice for peace and nonviolence. A priest, peace activist, and lecturer, he has served as the director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (the largest interfaith peace organization in the nation); a Red Cross coordinator of chaplains in New York City at the Family Assistance Center after 9/11; and pastor to several churches in the desert of New Mexico. He has been arrested over 75 times in acts of civil disobedience against war and nuclear weapons. His many books include “Living Peace,” “Disarming the Heart,” “Jesus the Rebel,” “The God of Peace,” “Put Down Your Sword,” “The Questions of Jesus,” “Transfiguration,” and his autobiography, “A Persistent Peace.” He writes a weekly column for the National Catholic Reporter. Recently, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Born and raised in North Carolina, he attended Duke University in Durham. He lives in New Mexico.