Within Christianity there is a long history of trouble making. This last week three, including Fr Peter Murnane, were at it again. They punctured a balloon covering intelligence-gathering equipment at Waihopai in our South Island. They also punctured the illusion that New Zealanders are far removed from American wars.
It is well attested that Waihopai information is fed to the American military. It is well attested that the American military invaded Iraq on spurious grounds. And it is well attested that the vast majority of casualties since that invasion have been Iraqi civilians.
The Waihopai troublemakers see a connection between these statements and their faith. There are many Christians who not only see the preservation of all human life as fundamental but also believe that war, and all that aids and abets war, is anathema to their faith.
The Waihopai trio are part of the international Christian network called Ploughshares. The name comes from the biblical verses admonishing the people to turn their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
There are of course many people who, while sympathetic to condemnation of the Iraq occupation, find breaking the law and destroying public property reprehensible. Ploughshares however justify their actions in terms of the greater good. Do you worry, for example, about breaking down the front door of a house and illegally entering if there is a fire and children are trapped inside? Ploughshares would say that war like fire is raging out of control, children and others are trapped, and we need to help.
On September 9th 1980 Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and six others began the Ploughshares movement. They illegally trespassed onto the General Electric Nuclear Missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where they damaged nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files. They were arrested, charged, and imprisoned.
Daniel Berrigan once wrote following the destruction of draft cards, “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children. How many must die before our voices are heard, how many must be tortured, dislocated, starved, maddened? When, at what point, will you say no to this war?"
The most well-known New Zealander involved in a Ploughshares action is Moana Cole. In 1991 Moana was part of the ANZAC Ploughshares that entered Griffith Air Force Base in New Jersey, hammered on a B52 bomber headed for Iraq, poured blood on it, said prayers and started digging up the runway. The four people were arrested and spent one year in jail.
In 1994 Moana was involved in the first Ploughshares action on New Zealand soil. Moana and Australian Ciaron O’Reilly entered Harewood US Airforce Base in Christchurch on Hiroshima Day where they poured blood, prayed and were subsequently arrested and fined several hundred dollars.
Ploughshares differ from other types of protest in that they are intentionally religious in their actions. The pouring of blood [sometimes the protesters own blood], the hammering of weapons of war into implements of peace, the use of sickles… all these are symbolic theatrical acts that point to a God who not only loves all and desires peace, but who is prepared to confront political and military powers to achieve it.
Protest actions of course can easily be misconstrued. It is hard to have the ‘perfect protest’. Someone’s idea of the sacred, whether it be ‘private property’, ‘the law’, or ‘the church’ will always be desecrated. The story of Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the Jerusalem Temple is a case in point. He destroyed other people’s property, disrupted legitimate business, and brought what some saw as violence and upset into a holy place. Religious protest will always be offensive to many, and especially to those with the biggest investment in the political and religious status quo.
Professor Margaret Bedggood, a former New Zealand Human Rights Commissioner, commenting on the Waihopai action notes, “Jesus was hardly law abiding but, like Gandhi, he was always an advocate of non-violence. Causing a certain amount of furore in the cause of peace is not pointless. The cost to patch a balloon concealing our cooperation with those waging war is dear, but so are the lives Ploughshares seeks to save. Heightening consciousness and emboldening others to seek peace has a price.”
Christians have a long and proud history of taking direct non-violent action against war. Whatever our thoughts may be about such action society needs people like the Waihopai trio to draw our attention to those things we tend to ignore. There are many, including my church of St Matthew’s, who support ANZAC Ploughshares and pray for an end to all war.
(c) Archdeacon Glynn Cardy is vicar of St Matthews-in-the-City, Auckland, Aotearo / New Zealand. His other articles can be viewed here: http://www.stmatthews.org.nz/nav.php?sid=74