Cook: The illegal peacemaker

Cook: The illegal peacemaker

April 6th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

If You Go:

What: John Dear

When: Sunday, 7 p.m.

Where: Grace Episcopal Church on Belvoir Avenue

For more than three decades, the activist-priest John Dear has been traveling the world, teaching nonviolence.

He's spoken thousands of times to perhaps a million people, and written or edited more than two dozen books on peacemaking. In 2008, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Dear's been arrested more than 70 times in acts of civil disobedience: against drone use, nuclear weapons, military spending, the death penalty, anything that promotes violence.

(In December, Dear was dismissed from the Jesuit order after disobeying his superiors.)

Tonight, as part of his 38-city tour, Dear travels to Chattanooga -- recently named the most Bible-minded city in America -- to speak at Grace Episcopal Church. A few days ago, we spoke over the phone. What follows are excerpts from our interview, which felt like talking with a modern day abolitionist: willing to speak truth to power -- bravely, unapologetically, without concern for consequence -- while calling for an end to the evils around him.

On the futility of violence: "The gun doesn't work. There's 100 million people dead in the last century from war, and all the thousands killed by our handguns every year. It's not making us safer.

"People are realizing war doesn't work. We're bankrupting our country with these weapons and wars and serving corporate greed. And people are so unhappy around the country in their personal lives because we're all so violent.

"Violence never works. Violence in response to violence only leads to violence. Wars never bring peace. They only sow the seeds for future wars. Violence is very boring and stupid and anyone can just go and kill. It gets nowhere."

On the Christian church: "The churches have really failed. ... They should have long ago required that every Christian renounce war and practice nonviolence. ... Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers, love your enemies and put down your sword. We do everything but that.

"Today it's all Christians at the Pentagon and at Los Alamos where they build nuclear weapons and at Oak Ridge. It's the majority of Christians planning the vaporization of people.

"What good is it if people say they've converting and following Jesus if you're still going along with the bombing of children in Iraq and Afghanhistan and supporting nuclear weapons?

"Please don't consider yourself a Christian if you support war, guns or nuclear weapons or killing in any form. You're not a Christian. You might be a good American ... but you're not a follower of the nonviolent Jesus."

On the power of nonviolence: "Nonviolence is infinitely creative, and it heals at every level. Personally, intra-personally, communally, nationally and globally. And we're just beginning to tap into the power of it.

"There have been 85 nonviolent revolutions in the last 40 years. ... Two-thirds of the human race in the last 25 years have been personally involved in grass-roots movements for peace and justice.

"Why is it we dismiss Gandhi and King and we just listen to these generals and people on Wall Street and our leaders who have no moral vision? Gandhi says that nonviolence is more powerful than all the weapons of the world combined.

"Everyone should be teaching peace and nonviolence. It should be a requirement for every schoolchild in every grade for everyone on the planet."

On the theology of nonviolence: "Love your enemies and you're really sons and daughters of the God who lets the sun rise on the good and bad and the rain fall on the just and unjust. There is the most political statement in the Bible. Love your enemies. That is the end of the nation-state system. That's the measure of your discipleship.

"God is nonviolent. God is a god of universal love, unlike the movie 'Noah.'

"At the heart of the Jesus story is in the garden of Gethsemane. As they come to arrest him, Peter goes to kill to protect. Jesus says to put down the sword. Those are the last words of Jesus to the church. The last thing they ever heard from him before he was killed, and we have still disobeyed it for 2,000 years."

What it means to be a Christian: "If you want to consider yourself a Christian, you have to renounce violence. Get rid of your guns. Stop supporting executions. Leave the military. Don't let your kids join the military, resist violence of all types and start teaching the Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every evening for 43 years. He's not even Christian.

"The Gospel doesn't make sense if Jesus is violent. All churches should be closed if they support violence and war."

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.