An Act of Civil Disobedience

I was arrested—last week—along with 10 other faith leaders.

We were arrested in the U.S. Capitol rotunda for expressing our opposition through prayer to the senseless wrangling about the manufactured crisis on raising the federal debt ceiling. It has become increasingly apparent that elected officials intend to punish the poor and needy to protect tax cuts for the wealthy. So we knelt, prayed and went to jail.

Subsequent to our arrest, the Congress passed a “solution” that President Obama signed into law.

The deal concocted by Congressional leaders and President Obama portends long overdue cuts in military spending. Major defense contractors are already on the offensive to protect their inordinately large slice of the pie. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, trade groups and other security interests have spent $70 million so far in 2011 lobbying the 535 members of Congress.

Powerful obstacles

Despite the waste of $3 trillion on disastrous wars over the past 10 years, and the fact that U.S. military spending dwarfs that of any other nation in the world, the national security cult insists any cuts can only lead to disaster. The opposite is true, but our old foes—fear and greed—erect powerful obstacles.

I have been arrested in acts of civil disobedience on two other occasions.

The first, in 1982, followed the incredible march in New York City for a nuclear freeze. I took part in a mass action to “blockade the bomb makers.”

The group I was in comprised many United Methodists. Our civil disobedience was to sit peacefully in front of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Our intent was to convey our opposition to the nuclear arms race by disrupting business as usual.

The second took place in 2003 in Lafayette Square Park across the street from the White House. I joined religious leaders and Nobel Peace Prize laureates to express our opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

Opposition to mass insanity

In reflecting on these three acts of civil disobedience, I believe they reveal a consistent opposition to mass insanity. In each case, I could imagine Jesus being arrested for the same reasons. I cannot imagine Jesus supporting the nuclear arms race, preemptive war or cuts to programs that assist the most vulnerable among us.

None of these acts of civil disobedience was successful. I didn’t expect them to be.

I have passed on many other opportunities to be in civil disobedience actions. But there comes a time when you feel the need to do something, regardless of how effective you may think it will be.

I am reminded that during the Vietnam War, the great A.J. Muste stood in front of the White House night after night with a candle. Sometimes he conducted his vigil alone.

One evening a reporter interviewed Muste as he stood in the rain. The reporter asked, “Mr. Muste, do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?”

“Oh, I don’t do this to change the country,” Muste responded. “I do this so the country won’t change me.”

That’s how I feel.

Reprinted with the permission of Mr. Winkler and the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church in Washington, DC.

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