I’ve really appreciated MaryAnn’s reflections, and the Friars/Fool thoughts, and the others who have chimed in as well. Though I may quibble with a few of the individual ideas presented, mostly I resonate with the questions that folks have raised, and with the doubts about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of civil disobedience in its typical practice in the U.S. today. Someone lifted up the witness of undocumented young adults – who have bravely come out of the shadows in the last couple of years – as a possible “best practice” of cd in our time, and I think that’s right on the money.
Civil Disobedience has a number of goals. In the political realm it is about trying to make a point in a way that might make a genuine difference. That’s the area where I hear most folks raising questions about its effectiveness, and as I wrote earlier, I share that concern, but I still think it’s an important piece of the puzzle. I’ll come back to this in a minute.
For me, the more important goal of Civil Disobedience is that it is one step in trying to stay faithful to the gospel in a country where I am constantly at risk of being consumed by the principalities and the powers. The moments when I have chosen to risk arrest as political theater have all been in the context of a broader struggle to seek a faithful response to an overwhelming evil. For instance, My arrests with Christian Peace Witness to speak out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took place after I had tried everything else I could think of. I helped organize and participate in delegations to Israel and Palestine in the wake of September 11, 2001. I helped to craft statements condemning the wars that were eventually adopted as our denomination’s policy. I wrote letters to my congressional representatives and opinion editorials for my local paper. My wife and I took a month to train with Christian Peacemaker Teams as a direct response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Frankly, I stood for Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) because I felt called to lift these questions up for the whole church.
It wasn’t until September of 2006, after trying everything else, that I went through a public process of wrestling with exactly these questions and chose to help organize and participate in civil disobedience in Washington. Even then, I was clear that civil disobedience, when practiced appropriately by Christians, should be directly linked to worship, including lament, confession, assurance of the good news, and prophetic proclamation of the word.
My arrest last summer, to try to bring attention to the issue of Obama’s intention to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia, was similarly contextualized. It happened after seven years of organizing Presbyterians to go to Colombia and support our sisters and brothers there in accompaniment. It happened after I carried out a week long fast, and encouraged others to do so as well, and spent time each day in prayer. Again, I wrote letters to the President and congressional representatives and implored others to do so. Further, all of these actions were in direct response to a plea from our Colombian sisters and brothers, who have no illusions about the potential effectiveness of our efforts. No one knows better than they do that our efforts are likely to fail, and still they ask us to witness against this trade agreement, which they know full-well will further impoverish the poorest of the poor, with all of our strength.
And that takes me back to the question of political effectiveness. Let’s not kid ourselves about what we are up against. Our media, economy, and politics are wholly owned by the forces that stand to benefit from war and from a continued spiral into vastly unequal wealth in this country and around the world. Wishing things would be different will never be an appropriate response to the forces of evil in our time. Civil disobedience is just one way to make it clear that we will not bless the madness.
“NOT IN MY NAME!” That’s what this is about. It’s not enough, but it’s a public proclamation that there are Christians who refuse to bless the empire. It’s a very small but potentially important first step of courage for many of us who are constantly asking ourselves what further risk we are called to take as followers of the Prince of Peace.
I hope MaryAnn (with whom I’ve really enjoyed being in this conversation), and the minivan mom in her congregation, and both the friars and the fool, and all the folks following along, will join us for the next peacemaking convocation of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, to be held at Stony Point Center the last week of April. The whole conversation will be about what it will take to become a church committed to peace – from the heart of the empire – in a post 9/11, “we’re waging a never-ending war” reality. Check it out at www.presbypeacefellowship.org! Thanks for the dialogue.