Breath of Air 12/14/16

Rev John Dear

Pope Francis Calls Us to Practice Nonviolence  -by Rev. John Dear

Pope Francis now released the annual World Day of Peace Message for January 1, 2017, called “Nonviolence—A Style of Politics for Peace.” This is the Vatican’s fiftieth World Day of Peace message, but it’s the first statement on nonviolence, in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—in history.

We need to make “active nonviolence our way of life,” Francis writes at the start, and suggests nonviolence become our new style of politics. “I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values,” Francis writes. “May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms.”

In his historic statement, Pope Francis discusses the violence of the world, Jesus’ way of nonviolence, and the viable alternative of nonviolence for today. His message is a breath of fresh air for all of us, and offers a framework for all of us to envision our lives and our world.

“Violence Is Not the Cure for a Broken World”

“Today, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal,” Francis writes. “It is not easy to know if our world is presently more or less violent than in the past, or to know whether modern means of communications and greater mobility have made us more aware of violence, or, on the other hand, increasingly inured to it. In any case, we know that this ‘piecemeal’ violence, of different kinds and levels, causes great suffering: wars in different countries and continents; terrorism, organized crime and unforeseen acts of violence; the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment. Where does this lead? Can violence achieve any goal of lasting value? Or does it merely lead to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflicts that benefit only a few ‘warlords’?”

“Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering,” Francis continues, “because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all.”

Practicing the Nonviolence of Jesus

Jesus lived and taught nonviolence, which Francis calls “a radically positive approach.” Jesus “unfailingly preached God’s unconditional love, which welcomes and forgives. He taught his disciples to love their enemies (cf. Mt 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (cf. Mt 5:39). When he stopped her accusers from stoning the woman caught in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11), and when, on the night before he died, he told Peter to put away his sword (cf. Mt 26:52), Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence. He walked that path to the very end, to the cross, whereby he became our peace and put an end to hostility (cf. Eph 2:14-16). Whoever accepts the Good News of Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God’s mercy, becoming in turn an instrument of reconciliation.”

“To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence,” Francis writes. He quotes Pope Benedict who said that the command to love our enemies “is the magna carta of Christian nonviolence. It does not consist in succumbing to evil…, but in responding to evil with good and thereby breaking the chain of injustice.”

Nonviolence Is More Powerful than Violence

“The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results,” Francis explains. “The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten. Women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia. The Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries, engaging even the most violent parties in efforts to build a just and lasting peace. Let us never tire of repeating: ‘The name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!’

“If violence has its source in the human heart, then it is fundamental that nonviolence be practiced within families,” Francis writes. “I plead with equal urgency for an end to domestic violence and to the abuse of women and children. The politics of nonviolence have to begin in the home and then spread to the entire human family.”

“An ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence between individuals and among peoples cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect and sincere dialogue,” Francis continues. “I plead for disarmament and for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons: nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual assured destruction are incapable of grounding such an ethics.”

The Vatican Conference on Nonviolence

Last April eighty of us from around the world met for three days at the Vatican to discuss Jesus and nonviolence with Vatican officials, and ask the Pope to write a new encyclical on nonviolence. Our meetings were very positive and constructive. While there, our host Cardinal Turkson, head of the Pontifical Office of Justice and Peace, asked me to write a draft of the 2017 World Day of Peace on nonviolence for Pope Francis. I sent in a draft, as did my friends Ken Butigan, Marie Dennis and the leadership of Pax Christi International. We are glad to see our main points, even some of our exact language, in today’s message.

Next week, we go back to Rome for more meetings on the possibility of an encyclical on nonviolence. We won’t know if Pope Francis himself will receive us until the day of our first meeting, but we are hoping it will happen. We are going to encourage the Vatican to reject the just war theory once and for all, fully embrace Jesus’ methodology of nonviolence, and make nonviolence mandatory throughout the global Church.

Pope Francis’ Invitation to Nonviolence

“Peacebuilding through active nonviolence is the natural and necessary complement to the Church’s continuing efforts to limit the use of force by the application of moral norms,” Francis concludes. “Jesus himself offers a ‘manual’ for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount. The eight Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-10) provide a portrait of the person we could describe as blessed, good and authentic. Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice. This is also a program and a challenge for political and religious leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives: to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. To do so requires ‘the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process.’ To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society.”

His concluding words should be a source of consolation as well as a challenge for us in the days ahead:

Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict. Everything in the world is inter-connected. Differences can cause frictions, but let us face them constructively and non-violently.

I pledge the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence. Every such response, however modest, helps to build a world free of violence, the first step towards justice and peace. In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to build nonviolent communities that care for our common home.

As we prepare for years of resistance to come, I hope we can take heart from Pope Francis’ global call for nonviolence, help spread his message, and do our part to become nonviolent people, build the global grassroots movement of nonviolence, and uphold the vision of a new world of nonviolence.

–end–
Rev. John Dear, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an American Catholic priest nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the author most recently of Thomas Merton Peacemaker.

Long Cold Winter 11/9/16

Rev. John Dear

Rev. John Dear

Taking a Stand at Standing Rock – by Rev. John Dear

Like millions of other concerned people, I’ve followed the standoff at the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in North Dakota for months. The good people of Standing Rock, including the Dakota, the Lakota and all Sioux, have stood their ground since April, to block the evil 1,170 mile, $3.7 billion Dakota Access Oil Pipeline which will dig through the three-mile-wide Missouri River, potentially poisoning the water for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people, and desecrating the sacred land of the indigenous people. They’ve built several large camps and a permanent campaign that has gained the support of 200 other tribes.

Thousands have made the journey to the Standing Rock to stand in solidarity. The Obama administration has told the Army Corps not to issue the permit for drilling under the river but the preparations continue. Hundreds of unarmed peaceful people have been arrested in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. State police and brutal pipeline security guards have attacked the nonviolent people with dogs, mace, tear gas and rubber bullets and consistently lied to the media, blaming the peaceful people for their violence.

Through it all, the Native American people have stood and walked in a steadfast spirit of prayer and nonviolence. Before our eyes, they have demonstrated that rare kind of satyagraha reached by Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the finest nonviolent movements in history. In doing so, they have exposed for all the world to see the centuries-old racist war on Native Americans and the equally centuries old war on the earth itself, as well as the power of creative nonviolence when wielded properly.

Last week, a national call to clergy went out. We were summoned to drop everything and get to Standing Rock for a day of prayer and repentance, and a march from the main camp to the bridge where the police and pipeline security officials block the road to the notorious pipeline construction site.

And so I went. More than 600 women and men priests and ministers from various Christian denominations made the journey, along with hundreds of other activists. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Looking out from the plane over the barren prairies of North Dakota, I was startled by the massive bright blue Missouri River. It is much bigger than I realized. From the air, it was so clear to see that, indeed, “Water Is Life,” as the Standing Rock saying teaches. Our plane was packed with church folk and young activists, and so was the Bismarck airport. There was excitement and hope in the air. Solidarity seemed alive and well.

As I drove south under the big blue sky across the rolling brown prairies to the village of Cannon Ball near the Standing Rock camp, the orange sun began to set and the sacred landscape radiated beauty, energy and life. I walked into the packed gymnasium for the evening orientation and nonviolence training, and found a hushed standing room only crowd listening attentively to Father John, the local Episcopal priest who has served here for 25 years, as he explained the scenario for the next day. Several Standing Rock leaders spoke before food and refreshments were offered. It was clear from the get-go that nonviolence was the order of the day.

They call themselves “protectors” not protesters, “pray-ers not disrupters, “peacemakers” not “troublemakers.” It’s that creative nonviolence that has attracted the interest and sympathy of people around the country and the world.

The next morning, I drove to the Oceti Sakowin camp as the sun rose over the mysterious North Dakota landscape. From the hills above the camp, it looked like a sea of tents with the striking exception of the scores of large white tipis sprinkled throughout the camp. It was a sight to behold. The Cannon Ball River ran along one side of the camp and large brown rolling hills circled the entire area in the distance. Here, for the past months, thousands of people have maintained a nonviolent satyagraha campaign to protect the land, the water, and the dignity of the Standing Rock people.

At 7 a.m., as I approached the main gathering place for worship, I noticed the large billboard with the camp rules: “We are protectors. We are peaceful and prayerful. We are nonviolent. ISMS have no place here. We respect the locals. We do not carry weapons. We keep each other accountable.”

There, around the Sacred Fire, several dozen Native women offered morning prayers and then set off for the daily walk to bless the water. Over the next two hours, hundreds of clergy, mainly women and men Episcopal priests, arrived and greeted one another. Over the course of the day, we exchanged stories, shared our feelings and plotted strategies for future solidarity. I was happy to see friends Ann Wright of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, and Bill McKibben of 350.org.

At 9 a.m., Father John began a liturgy of prayer and repentance, where we formally denounced the ancient “Doctrine of Discovery,” the church document from the 1490s which empowered European authorities to steal the land and resources of indigenous peoples. After silence and prayers, it was burned in the Sacred Fire. Then the march began.

We set out from the camp, by now a thousand of us, well over half in various clerical church attire, with black robes, white collars, and colorful stoles. Most of us carried bright posters that read “Clergy Stand with Standing Rock.”

We walked slowly, mindfully, peacefully down the main road, over the hill, and down toward the bridge, where the police have barricaded the road to prevent people from approaching the actual drilling and construction site of the pipeline. We sang as we walked–“Amazing Grace,” “This little light of mine,” “We are marching in the light of God.” It was one of the greatest, most peaceful marches I have ever experienced in a lifetime of marching for justice and peace.

When we reached the bridge, we gathered together for songs and speeches. A wonderful African American woman minister led us in “The Water Is Wide.” A group of Jewish women sang an inspiring prayer in Hebrew. A young Quaker activist read her congregation’s statement of solidarity. Another Native elder and minister prayed for the pipeline workers, police and security guards, and the coming day when they would join our circle and together we could celebrate creation and the Creator.

In my speech, I thanked the Standing Rock people for their steadfast resistance and exemplary nonviolence, and reflected on Jesus’ connection between nonviolence and oneness with the earth. I recalled his teaching in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek; they shall inherit the earth,” and noted that meekness is the biblical word for nonviolence.

Long ago, Jesus connected nonviolence with oneness with the earth, I said. We have forgotten that connection, rejected nonviolence as a way of life, supported the culture of violence, and now are faced with the consequences of systemic violence–the destructive pipeline and catastrophic climate change. But the Standing Rock people are calling us back, I continued. They urge us not just to reject the pipeline, honor their land, and protect our water, but to reclaim our common nonviolence and shared oneness with the earth. They are showing us the way forward, and it’s time for more and more of us to follow their lead.

More songs, speeches and prayers followed, and then everyone exchanged the sign of peace. Bag lunches were offered and people sat down on the tall brown grass to eat, talk and rest after the day’s march.

Later that afternoon, a hundred clergy drove north to Bismarck for another protest at the State Capitol. Fourteen were arrested inside during a sit in, calling for an end to the pipeline and for respect for the native lands and water.

But I stayed back and spent the rest of the day walking through the main camp, meeting and listening to hundreds of people. It was a powerful experience, to encounter so many people who were coming together in this difficult but beautiful campaign.

One young Standing Rock couple with two little children showed me their video from the demonstration the day before, when police and pipeline security officials sprayed the people with tear gas and shot them with rubber bullets. Others told me about the military-style raid on another camp the previous week, which led to the removal of everyone’s meager possessions and the arrest of 140 protectors. The pictures could be from our military maneuvers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, Libya and Pakistan. More, this war against the indigenous people and North Dakota landscape is not new: for one thing, hundreds of nuclear weapons have been planted in this sacred ground, ready for take off and global destruction.

One Native elder, who was also an ordained UCC minister, reflected with me on the possible outcomes that lay ahead, including the Obama administration’s effort to move the pipeline many miles north. In the medic tent, one young Native physician’s assistant told me stories of previous demonstrations, their care for the marchers and their basic mission—“to keep people alive.”

I visited the artist collective, various kitchens, tents where extra clothes were being collected and given away as needed, and the media tent. In another tent, I came upon the daily nonviolent direct action training, required of every newcomer on the day of their arrival. Some 150 people were being trained in the basics of nonviolence. It was the Civil Rights movement all over again.

Right now, everyone is digging in for the long, cold winter. But as I stood and watched a group building the geodesic dome in the center of the camp, it was clear: they may be cold, but they are on fire.

The next day, I read an editorial in the New York Times calling for the pipeline to be moved far away from Standing Rock. It said in part:

A pipeline may well be the most profitable and efficient way to move a half-million barrels of crude oil a day across the Plains. But in a time of oil gluts and plummeting oil prices, is it worth it? Is it worth the degradation of the environment, the danger to the water, the insult to the heritage of the Sioux?

The law-enforcement response to the largely peaceful Standing Rock impasse has led to grim clashes at protest camps between hundreds of civilians and officers in riot gear. The confrontation cannot help summoning a wretched history. Not far from Standing Rock, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, sacred land was stolen from the Sioux, plundered for gold and other minerals, and then carved into four monumental presidential heads: an American shrine built from a brazen act of defacement.

The Sioux know as well as any of America’s native peoples that justice is a shifting concept, that treaties, laws and promises can wilt under the implacable pressure for mineral extraction. But without re-litigating the history of the North American conquest, perhaps the protesters can achieve their aim to stop or reroute the pipeline.

Perhaps. If the Standing Rock campaign is able to stop or reroute the pipeline, it will do so because of their steadfast nonviolence and the strong movement that has grown up around them. But like every grassroots movement of nonviolence, they need help and are asking for it. Everyone can get involved to help build this movement, support their nonviolence, and reach that good outcome and transformation.

As we continue our solidarity with Standing Rock, we are being summoned to take a new stand in our own lives, to give ourselves to the growing grassroots global movement to stop the destruction of our common sacred land, the poisoning of our shared water and the oppression of the indigenous peoples. One immediate next step is to get involved in the Nov. 15th National Day of Action. Another would be to join the group I work with, www.campaignnonviolence.org.

But Standing Rock is more. It is a sign of our predicament, and a sign of hope. We can continue the legacy of racism, oppression, corporate greed, war, environmental destruction and hasten the worst of catastrophic climate change—or we can all become earth and water protectors, Standing Rock people of nonviolence.

Standing Rock offers a path beyond the stale politics of corporate media, corporate greed, and corporate violence. It demonstrates the best of our humanity. We can all become people of peace, prayer, earth and water, people who care for one another in community, who share our resources with one another, who learn from creation how to live in peace together as the Creator intended.

With the people of Standing Rock, perhaps we can all find new strength to stand up for what is right, for a future in solidarity with Mother Earth and one another, for a new world of nonviolence.

A long cold winter may lie ahead for us all, but if we open our hearts, stand up and join hands, as our sisters and brothers of Standing Rock have done, we too can catch fire.

Rev. John Dear, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an American Catholic priest nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the author most recently of Thomas Merton Peacemaker.

Inspiration and Model 4/27/16

The Church’s Turn Toward Nonviolence     by Rev. John Dear

Rev. John Dear

Rev. John Dear

For its first three centuries, Christianity required the practice of active nonviolence as taught by Jesus. The early Christians refused to serve the Roman Empire or kill in its wars, and so they were routinely arrested and killed. All that changed in the year 313 when Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity. He baptized his troops and established Christianity as the official religion of the Empire. Christians could now serve in the Roman military and kill Rome’s enemies. In effect, he threw out the Sermon on the Mount and the commandment to love one’s enemies, and turned to the pagan Cicero to justify Christian violence, sowing the seeds for the so-called “Just War theory.” Over time, justified warfare became the norm, Christians everywhere waged war and every one forgot that Jesus was nonviolent.

For the last 1700 years, as we all know, Christians have waged war, led crusades, burned women at the stake, systematically persecuted Jews and Muslims, kept millions of people as slaves, ran concentration camps, blessed conquest, prayed for successful bombing raids, and built and used nuclear weapons. Throughout Catholic history, Jesus’ teachings of nonviolence were rarely discussed, much less implemented.

Until last week. Eighty of us from 25 nations were invited to the Vatican last week for the first ever conference to discuss formally abandoning the so-called “just war” theory and formally returning the Church to the nonviolence of Jesus. This was the first ever gathering of its kind in history!

For three days, we deliberated at the Vatican about the questions of violence, war, and nonviolence. Catholic peace leaders came from Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, DR Congo, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, the Philippines, and Japan. Everyone who attended had submitted a paper ahead of time about their vision of peace and nonviolence as well as their own experience living and practicing nonviolence, often in war zones. We shared our experiences, and reflected on the nonviolence of Jesus, the “just war” theory, and a new “just peace” paradigm. During the last closing hours we discussed and debated a draft of a statement, which was eventually completed, approved and released the following day at a press conference at the Vatican radio.

What is so unusual is that this event was co-sponsored and hosted by the Vatican Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. We were welcomed by the head of the Council, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who was the leader behind Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment. Nine of his staff attended the conference. Turkson opened the conference by reading a long letter of welcome from Pope Francis, and sat in during the final hours as we debated the wording of the conference statement. He gave his full support to the conference and the statement, which, in the end, called upon Pope Francis to write a new encyclical which would formally reject the just war theory once and for all and return the Church to the nonviolence of Jesus.

This has never happened before. With this event, this statement, and this call, the Church could change course from the last 1700 years. A new encyclical on nonviolence could open up a whole new history for Christianity, and return us to the spirit of the early Church, where no one was allowed to participate in war, prepare for war, or kill another human being, where everyone had to practice and teach the nonviolence of Jesus.

The statement, called “An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence,” offers four points: first that Jesus was meticulously nonviolent; that there is no just war and we should never again invoke the so-called “just war” theory; that nonviolence as a methodology for positive social change works, whether in our personal lives, in nations, and internationally, that it can resolve conflict and peacefully transform any situation; and finally, that the time has come for the Church to apply nonviolence at every level around the world.

I was asked to speak to the group about Jesus and nonviolence. That’s easy, I said: Nonviolence is the only thing Jesus taught. He did not teach us how to kill or wage war or make money; he taught us how to be nonviolent. In the Sermon on the Mount, he says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they are the sons and daughters of God. You have heard it said, thou shall not kill; I say to you, do not even get angry: be reconciled. You have heard it said, an eye for an eye but I say to you, offer no violent resistance to one who does evil… Love your enemies.” These core teachings forbid all violence, including participation in the mortal sin of war. Nowhere does he say: but if your enemies are really bad, and you meet these seven conditions, kill them. There is no just war theory, there are no exceptions. We are not allowed to kill.

For the nonviolent Jesus, there is no cause however noble for which we support the taking of a single human life, much less thousands or millions. He calls us to pursue the endless creativity of nonviolence. What’s even more exciting is that he commands us to love our enemies because we really are sons and daughters of the God who lets his sun rise on the good and the bad and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. In other words, God is nonviolent!

His last words to the church before he died were to the point: “Put down the sword.” There in the Garden of Gethsemani, where the disciples wanted to kill to protect Jesus and themselves, feeling justified in their violence, they were ordered to put down the sword. They realized that Jesus was deadly serious about nonviolence, so they all abandoned him. He went to his death in perfect nonviolence, and the story goes that he reappeared to them, remained nonviolent, and told them to carry on his mission of nonviolence.

“We believe that there is no ‘just war,’” we wrote in our statement. “Too often the ‘just war theory’ has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. Suggesting that a ‘just war’ is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict.”

“We call on the Church we love to continue developing Catholic social teaching on nonviolence,” we concluded. In particular, we called upon Pope Francis to write a new encyclical on nonviolence which would abandon the just war theory and require Gospel nonviolence to be taught in every Catholic diocese, parish, school, university, seminary, and religious order in the world. Catholics would be urged to promote nonviolent practices and strategies for the abolition of violence, poverty, war and nuclear weapons, and reach out to the whole human race with the wisdom of nonviolence.

“The time has come for our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices,” we concluded. “In all of this, Jesus is our inspiration and model.”

If Pope Francis writes such an encyclical, like his environmental encyclical, it would touch not only the world’s one billion Catholics, but all Christians and all people. He could help us better understand how war has become obsolete, how nonviolence offers a far better methodology for conflict resolution, and why the time has come to abolish war and nuclear weapons once and for all. That would be nothing less than one of the great turning points in history.

“I believe we are at an important and hopeful turning point in human history,” Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire said after the Rome conference, “a turning from violence to nonviolence, war to peace.” I hope Christians and Church people everywhere will study our statement, urge their local church leaders to teach Gospel nonviolence, and pray for and call for such an encyclical so that we can get Catholics and Christians out of the big business of war and start the world down a new path–toward a new world of peace.
John Dear, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an author, and an American Catholic priest nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nonviolent Cities 3/23/16

Rev. John Dear

Rev. John Dear

Building New “Nonviolent Cities”

By John Dear

Last year, I was invited to give a talk on peace in Carbondale, Illinois. I was surprised to discover that in recent years, activists from across Carbondale had come together with a broad vision of what their community could one day become—a nonviolent city. They wanted a new holistic approach to their work, with a positive vision for the future, so that over time their community would be transformed into a culture of nonviolence.

They created a coalition, a movement, and a city-wide week of action and called it, “Nonviolent Carbondale.” They set up a new website, http://www.nonviolentcarbondale.org, established a steering committee, set up monthly meetings, and launched “Nonviolent Carbondale” as a positive way to promote peace and justice locally. In doing so, they gave everyone in Carbondale a new vision of what their community could become.

From the start, the Carbondale activists held their local organizing meetings occasionally before city council meetings, which they then attended together as a group. At city council meetings, they started suggesting and lobbying ways their city could become more nonviolent. Their movement eventually became based out of the main Carbondale Library. Over the years, they have done positive work with their police department, local schools and the school system, religious communities, the library system, and local non-profits. As grassroots activists, they have lifted up a positive vision of their community and brought it into the mainstream.

Over the years, they put their energies into their “11 Days” program – 11 days in March filled with scores of actions and events for all ages across the city. Twice their 11 days focused on peace; twice on compassion, and last year the focus was on food. One of the outcomes from last year’s 11 Days, for example, was a new organic food market started in the poorest neighborhood in town.

“Nonviolent Carbondale” offers a model for activists, movements, and cities across the country. With their example in mind, the group I work with, Campaign Nonviolence, [www.campaignnonviolence.org] is launching the “Nonviolent Cities” project using “Nonviolent Carbondale” as an organizing model for other cities.

Taking the lead from friends and activists in Carbondale, Campaign Nonviolence invites citizens across the U.S. to organize a similar grassroots movement in their city, to put the word “nonviolent” in front of their city, and to help others envision, organize and work for a nonviolent local community. As far as we can tell, this organizing tool has never been formally tried anywhere in the U.S., except in Carbondale. This movement is a new next step in the visionary, organizing nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Perhaps the key aspect of “Nonviolent Cities” is that each city will be summoned to address its violence in all its aspects, structures, and systems; to connect the dots between its violence; and to pursue a more holistic, creative, city-wide nonviolence, where everyone together is trying to practice nonviolence, promote nonviolence, teach nonviolence and institutionalize nonviolence on the local level, to really build a new nonviolent community for itself and others. We want not just to undermine the local and regional culture of violence, and end all the killings, but to transform it into a culture of nonviolence.

This means that “Nonviolent Cities” organizers would promote the vision, teach nonviolence, and inspire people at every level in their community to work together for a new nonviolent community and a new nonviolent future. That would include everyone from the mayor and city council members to the police chief and police officers, to all religious and civic leaders, to all educators and healthcare workers, to housing authorities, to news reporters and local media; to youth and grassroots activists, to the poor and marginalized, children and the elderly. Together, they would address all the issues of violence and pursue all the angles and possibilities of nonviolence for their city’s transformation into a more nonviolent community. The first goal would be a rapid reduction in violence and an end to killing.

Nonviolent cities would work to end racism, poverty, homelessness, and violence at every level and in every form; dismantle housing segregation and pursue racial, social and economic integration; end police violence and institutionalize police nonviolence; organize to end domestic violence and teach nonviolence between spouses, and nonviolence toward all children; work to end gang violence and teach nonviolence to gang members; teach nonviolence in every school; pursue more nonviolent immigration programs and policies; get religious leaders and communities to promote nonviolence and the vision of a new nonviolent city; reform local jails and prisons so they are more nonviolent and educate guards and prisoners in nonviolence; move from retributive to restorative justice in the entire criminal justice system; address local environmental destruction, climate change, and environmental racism, pursue clean water, solar and wind power, and a 100 percent green community; and in general, do everything possible to help their local community become more disarmed, more reconciled, more just, more welcoming, more inclusive, and more nonviolent.

If Carbondale, Illinois can seek to become a nonviolent city, any city can seek to become a nonviolent city. This is an idea whose time has come. This is an organizing strategy that should be tried around the nation and the world. The only way it can happen is through bottom-up, grassroots organizing, that reaches out to include everyone in the community, and eventually becomes widely accepted, even by the government, media, and police.

Two international groups pursue a similar vision–International Cities for Peace (www.internationalcitiesforpeace.org) and Mayors for Peace (www.mayorsforpeace.org, which has 6965 cities committed in 161 countries)—but, as far as I can tell, no U.S. group has ever attempted to invite local communities to pursue a vision of holistic city-wide nonviolence or organize a grassroots movements of nonviolent cities.

On our website, www.campaignnonviolence.org, we have posted “Ten Steps Toward a Nonviolent City,” a basic initial list of organizing tasks for local activists which includes: creating a local steering committee; finding a mainstream institution that can serve as a base; organizing a series of public meetings and forums; studying violence in the community; meeting with the mayor and the city council; and organizing a city-wide launch.

Gandhi once remarked that we are constantly being astonished by the advances in violence, but if we try, if we organize, if we can commit ourselves, he declared, we can make even more astonishing new discoveries and advances in nonviolence. With the example of “Nonviolent Carbondale” before us, we have a way to organize every local community and city in the nation, a way to envision how we can all one day live together in peace with justice, and the possibility of new hope. If we follow the example of Nonviolent Carbondale, we can help transform our culture of violence into something completely new—a culture of nonviolence. That should always be our goal.
John Dear, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an American Catholic priest nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

A CHRISTMAS REFLECTION 12/24/15

Christmas Celebrates Nonviolence

Rev. John Dear

Rev. John Dear

by John Dear

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?” That’s the question which John Lennon puts to us in his famous Christmas song. In the chorus, he gets right to the point, to the heart of Christmas: “War is over, if you want it.”

For some, that might seem like a leap of faith, but I think John Lennon’s theology was better than most. If you want to celebrate Christmas, he says, work for the end of war and the culture of war. Spend your life pursuing a new culture of peace for everyone.

Christmas celebrates the birth of the most active person of nonviolence in the history of the world, as Gandhi once described Jesus. In the Gospel account of Jesus’ birth to homeless refugees, angels announce to poor shepherds the coming of peace on earth. He grew up to become a great peacemaker, a nonviolent activist who denounced war and systemic injustice and offered the gift of peace to everyone near and far.

The life of Jesus is a record of pure, radical nonviolence, like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the methodology and vision of nonviolence–“Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil,” “Love your enemies,” “Hunger and thirst for justice,” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” He formed a community of nonviolent resisters and organized a grassroots movement of nonviolence to disarm everyone. He led his campaign of nonviolence from the countryside to Jerusalem where he engaged in dramatic nonviolent civil disobedience and was immediately arrested and killed. But he lived on in the community and the movement, and that creative nonviolence continues today.

To claim the name of Christian is to be a practitioner of Gospel nonviolence. To celebrate the birth of the nonviolent Jesus is to do our part in his ongoing grassroots movement of nonviolence to welcome the gift of peace on earth. “War is over,” Jesus announced. “Peace is yours, if you want it. Get involved and join the movement of nonviolence.”

To be a Christian is to renounce every trace of violence and carry on Jesus’ grassroots movement of Gospel nonviolence. It is to see life through the eyes of peace, and the nonviolent struggle for peace on earth. It means renouncing our own violence and our complicity in the culture of violence. We get rid of our guns, stop supporting the military, serve the poor, welcome the refugee, advocate for justice, and work for disarmament. It means upholding a whole new vision of shared humanity, a whole new world of nonviolence.

What’s so interesting is that more than a hundred years ago, Gandhi discovered that every religion is rooted in nonviolence. He realized that nonviolence lay at the heart of Hinduism. With his friend Abdul Gaffer Khan, he learned that nonviolence was central to Islam. His Jewish friends taught him that shalom/nonviolence was key to Judaism. Buddhism, he saw, places nonviolence in the air we breathe. And he began reading the Sermon on the Mount every day and found there what he considered the best blueprint of nonviolence ever written.

We all need to rediscover the nonviolence at the heart of every spiritual tradition. That will help us discern the prejudice and false claims we hear these days. It will also help us pursue a new culture of interfaith nonviolence.

But Christians first and foremost need to rediscover their nonviolence. We have not just ignored the nonviolence of Jesus; we have outright rejected it and mocked it. In its place, we have created cults of violence that have nothing to do with the nonviolent Jesus. In the name of the false gods of war, we justify violence, hatred, corporate greed, racism, guns, warfare and environmental destruction.

Each year, Christmas invites Christians to reject violence and war, to break with the betrayal of past Christian history, and to start over again on the journey of nonviolence in the footsteps of the nonviolent Jesus.

Christmas is a celebration of nonviolence, pure and simple. It invites us to repent of violence and choose once again Jesus’ way of nonviolence. It summons us to name warfare as obsolete and get on with the work of practicing nonviolence in our personal lives; joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence for disarmament and justice; and institutionalizing nonviolent conflict resolution.

Christmas calls us to a high ideal: the abolition of war itself, and along with it, the abolition of poverty, corporate greed, racism, executions, empire, fascism, nuclear weapons, and environmental destruction. This goal is achievable, if we want it.

That’s the message of Christmas. Peace is ours, if we want it. John Lennon was right. So were Gandhi and Dr. King. We, too, can side with the voices and visionaries of peace and do our part to hasten the abolition of war and injustice and the coming of a new world of nonviolence.

That’s a goal, a vision, a way of life worth celebrating.

Rev. John Dear, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an American Catholic priest nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the author most recently of Thomas Merton Peacemaker.