John Dear’s Plowshares Sentencing Statement

(Below is the statement that John Dear gave before Judge Boyle in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on July 22, 1994 during his trial for his Plowshares Disarmament action. Dear faced twenty years in prison, but the judge gave him time served, for the seven and a half months already spent in jail, along with a further nine months under house arrest. The full account of the story is in John Dear’s book, “Peace Behind Bars,” available from Sheed and Ward/Rowman and Littlefield.)
Judge Boyle, sisters and brothers: I would like to begin by thanking everyone who has helped me these past years, and especially during the last seven months of my imprisonment, to try and stand for peace, to try to stand with the nonviolent Christ, to try to stand publicly with the God of disarming love. Indeed, I would like to thank God this morning for bringing me to this day and for offering to us all the gifts of life and peace and nonviolence.
Secondly, I would like you to know, Judge Boyle, that I have deep respect and love for you, as well as for Mr. Webb and Ms. Hamilton (the prosecutors), and that it is in this Spirit of respect and love that I offer these reflections.
I have often wondered what I would have done if I had lived in Nazi Germany. Would I have been a good, law-abiding, obedient German citizen; or, rather, would I have been a good, Gospel-abiding Christian, obedient and faithful to the God of nonviolent love–and thus necessarily disobedient to the State’s murderous policies? I hope I would have had the grace and the strength and the spiritual fortitude to walk into those German death camps and begin to take apart the gas chambers and cremation ovens, to literally and symbolically start dismantling those legal instruments of mass destruction. I suppose if I were not shot then and there, I would have been arrested, jailed and quickly tried in court for breaking the law, perhaps for “willfully, destroying good government property.”
I believe we’re all faced with a similar situation today. As I look at the United States, the most violent nation not only in the world, but in the history of the world, the inventor of the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb and the F-15E; the one nation so far to drop nuclear weapons on human beings; the nation that possesses a nuclear arsenal of unimaginable proportions; I conclude that what the Nazis tried to do to the Jews and others, our country threatens to do and is preparing to do to the whole of humanity. Despite all the recent changes, including the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union, the U.S. continues on its course of global destruction. And I conclude that all of us have a responsibility to do what we can to stop the killing, to dismantle our nuclear arsenal, to renounce war, as well as to promote peace and life for all people.
And so, coming from my work among the poor and the homeless, on December 7th, 1993, my friends and I walked unarmed and in the Spirit of nonviolence through the war games of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and hammered briefly on one of the many F-15E nuclear bombers to begin anew the process of disarmament.
I undertook this modest act of disarmament in order simply to be faithful to the God of peace and to call our country to stop preparing for war and to “Disarm and Live,” as our banner read. I went because of my desire to follow the nonviolent Jesus and to obey God’s commandments: “Thou shalt not kill. Put down the sword. Beat swords into plowshares. Love one another. Forgive seventy times seven times. Love your enemies.” Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and so many others, I simply want to obey God and God’s law of nonviolence.
By our action, we say that the time has come to disarm every F15 nuclear fighter bomber, every nuclear weapon, and every weapon of death. The time has come, we say, to spend our resources on real human needs–to feed the starving masses, to house the homeless, to cleanup the environment, and to provide healthcare, education and jobs for all. The time has come to disarm our hearts as a people and to live in peace together with all humanity as the sisters and brothers we are, children of a loving God. The time for disarmament has indeed come.
We are faced with the greatest spiritual crisis in history, a crisis of soul. Today, over two-thirds of humanity suffer under systemic poverty, misery and oppression. Fifty thousand children die every day of starvation and hunger-related diseases. Our country’s militarism and nuclear arsenal, as well as its consumeristic lifestyle cause this global suffering. Fifty years after Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our country has still not learned the way of peace. This is a spiritual crisis, a matter of life or death, a crisis of the soul.
We continue to promote and prepare for war, to thrive on the big business of death. This fiscal year, for example, the U.S. will spend $588 billion on nuclear weapons, war and preparations for war. Even after all the peace treaties are fully enacted, the U.S. will still have over 20,000 nuclear warheads. We are up to our ears in militarism and killing. We have not yet learned that war solves nothing; that violence only breeds further violence; that war is immoral and wrong. If we do not reverse our course, we shall continue down this spiral of violence to our doom. We cannot afford to waste another minute or another dime on war.
The time has come to disarm, because our warmaking is killing us spiritually. We are deep into mortal sin. We are in the process of losing our souls. We need to stop sinning and repent of our violence. Building, producing, paying for, maintaining, using and legally defending weapons of mass destruction like the F15E nuclear bomber is sinful. To the extent that we support war and these weapons of death, we oppose the God of life. We then stand in direct disobedience to the God of nonviolence. This spiritual crisis bears down on each and every one of us, whether we like it or not. We as a people have become servants of death. The choice before us is whether or not we will become servants of life.
It seems to me that either we support this culture of death, its wars, its F-15Es, its nuclear weapons, its institutionalized injustice, its imperial oppression of the world’s poor, its plans to destroy the planet, and the consequences of all this–the loss of our souls–Or, we support the God of life and God’s Way of nonviolence and disarmament and God’s reign of justice and peace and we obey God’s command to love our enemies and we join God’s struggle, God’s movement against the forces of death and so share in the fullness of life.
This Kairos moment summons each and every one of us to take a new stand for disarmament and peace. Like so many others, I am trying to stand with the God of life, to walk God’s way of peace, to practice God’s command of nonviolence which requires our public opposition to war. This choice, this summons, brought me to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
This morning, I wish to share my hope and prayer that we as a people will hear the summons of God, the judgment of God, and choose to disarm and live in peace. I envision a day when thousands of people across the country will enter military bases and nuclear installations, as the scriptures instruct, and peacefully, prayerfully, dismantle our gas chambers, our legal instruments of mass destruction. I foresee a day when Plowshares actions will not only be legal, but be cause for nationwide repentance and conversion and celebration. I see a great day coming when the last nuclear weapon will be dismantled, when there are no more F-15Es, when war is forever outlawed, and when we as a people embrace the wisdom of nonviolence.
And so, with all due respect and in hope for the coming of that day, I would like to invite you, Judge Boyle, to join us in this mission of disarmament and nonviolence.
I appeal to you and to everyone in our country: Let’s not support or defend the F-15E or other weapons of mass destruction. Let’s not support mass murder any longer. Let’s not be instruments or puppets of the warmaking, nuclear establishment. Let’s not support the system which makes these idolatrous weapons possible and respectable. Let’s not allow war to happen in our name. Let’s not be like the good people of Nazi Germany, obedient citizens who allowed their nation to incinerate other human beings in a global holocaust. Let’s not be servants of death.
We can do better than that. We can all do better than that.
Instead, let’s be people of peace, people who love life, people dedicated to God’s reign of life and love for all. Let’s obey God’s law of nonviolence. Let’s be God’s own people and thus reflect God’s own nonviolent love for everyone. Together, you and I and all of us, let’s take a bold stand for peace, disarmament and life. Let’s help make possible the coming of that day when war will be no more and everyone will walk the Way of nonviolence. Let’s be servants of life. For this I pray, in the name of Jesus. Thank you for listening. God bless you.