Why Religious People Violate Laws
I was part of the trial team for five religious people who were on trial for criminal charges in Tacoma WA - they broke into a military base where nuclear weapons were stored to protest these immoral and illegal weapons of mass destruction.
Here is a reflection by one person on trial about why she did it.
"Following a nonviolent Jesus while living in a warmaking state" by Susan Crane
(A theological reflection on Plowshares by Susan Crane, originally
posted on the Disarm Now Plowshares Blog, January 4, 2011
During the trial of the Disarm Now Plowshares, Arlen Storm, the US
attorney, said something to the effect that all of us in this
courtroom want a world without nuclear weapons. There is general
agreement on that, and the question is, “How do we get there?” The US
attorney was objecting to our tactics. And he’s not the only one
objecting. Stephen Kent (Catholic News Services) wrote: “Granted, the
tactics of the Disarm Now Plowshares were wrong, but not so the
philosophy and theology at the root of their action.”
What is the value of a philosophy or theology, if it isn’t practiced?
Or, what does it mean to follow a nonviolent Jesus while living in a
From the Gospels we read that Jesus was a teacher of nonviolence and
often broke the laws in order to obey God. This tradition of embracing
God’s will can be found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
At the beginning of Exodus, we read that Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew
midwifes, were ordered by the Pharaoh to kill the boys that were born
to the Hebrew women. In between the lines, we can imagine that the
midwives prayed, talked with each other and with their families, and
made a decision based on their faith. The decided to disobey the
Pharaoh, and not kill the boys. This is perhaps the first story in the
scriptures where people deliberately, in a knowing and careful way,
make a decision to obey God instead of Empire (the king or human
laws). (Exodus 1:8-17)
Throughout the Old Testament, there are similar stories. Balaam, who
doesn’t obey King Moab and instead listens to an angel (the felt
presence of God) and blesses the Israelites rather than cursing them.
(Numbers 22) David’s wife, Michal, who helps David escape instead of
handing him over to the King, her father. (1 Samuel 19:11-17) Ester,
who goes into the King’s presence, uninvited, to beg for the lives of
her kinspeople. Rizpah, who sat in sackcloth and ashes, until her
sons could be buried, (2 Samuel 21: 10-14) and the story of Eleazar,
who refused to eat pork as commanded by the King. Eleazar is a
reminder that we ought to have the “courage to reject the food which
it is unlawful to taste even for love of life.” (2 Maccabees 6)
So what is more important: obeying the laws of the country I live in,
or obeying the laws of God?
And then we get to the Gospels where right at the beginning, the wise
men don’t obey Herod. Herod wants the wise men to come and report to
him where the baby Jesus is. No, the wise men obey an angel who comes
in a dream, and they take another route home. This is civil
resistance. And then we see Jesus who cures on the Sabbath and
doesn’t follow the purity laws, who eats with all sorts and classes of
people. We see Jesus gather the people the Empire doesn’t want
gathered, we see him curing the people the Empire doesn’t want cured,
and we see him feeding the people the Empire doesn’t want fed. There
are many examples of his trouble-making law-breaking actions, where
compassion and love come before religious and imperial laws.
So there here we are today, living in a country that is spending more
than half of every federal tax dollar on warmaking. We are living in a
country that keeps waging wars that are illegal, and seem to have
little meaning except to keep the war industry employed and keep US
control of resources intact.
What should I do when I live in such a country? I think about what I
wish I might have done if I had lived in WW II Germany. Would I have
helped people escape who needed shelter? Would I have written leaflets
and handed them out? Would I have gone to the concentration camp on
the outside of the city where I lived, and cut the lines carrying the
zyklon B gas? I don’t know, or course, what I would have done. But I
hope I would have done something.
And today? The rest of the world is very concerned about nuclear
weapons. We in the US claim we are disarming, while spending more
money on refurbishment of warheads, building more nuclear weapon
plants, and now building a new fleet of nuclear armed submarines. The
Ohio Class subs, we are told, need to replaced at a cost of 70 billion
I think about the story at the beginning of Mark 3, the story of a man
with the withered hand. Jesus is in the temple on the Sabbath, and
calls the man up in front of everyone, and says, “Is it right to do
good on the Sabbath, or to do evil? To save life, or destroy life?”
The crowd around him is silent. Jesus looks around, and is angered and
grieved at their silence and hardness of heart. In my prayer, in my
life, I do not want to cause anger and grief to Jesus. I do not want
to be silent.
Walking onto the Naval base and cutting some fence is minor in
comparison to the destructive power of a nuclear weapon. And, it was a
legal action that was our responsibility and obligation.
If people really believed there was a crime scene at the base, that
there were weapons that threaten all life on earth, no one would think
twice about cutting the fence to get to disarm the weapons. That’s why
we tried to use the necessity defense in court, a defense that is
similar to someone seeing a burning building, with a child in the
window upstairs, screaming. The person of course would break the door
down, and run upstairs to rescue the child. These actions that would
normally be considered criminal, would be justified during a fire to
save a life.
Further, there is a body of humanitarian law that is codified in US
treaties, in the US criminal code, and in military manuals that
prohibits the preparation, threat or use of weapons which
indiscriminately kill civilians, and which can’t be controlled in time
or space. What is happening on the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor is not
just immoral, but it is illegal. It is a war crime.
But basic to everything, is our faith and prayer. How do we practice
the teachings of Jesus? How can we love our enemies? What does it mean
to follow a nonviolent Jesus while living in a warmaking state?
The Disarm Now Plowshares 5 are scheduled to be sentenced in U.S.
District Court, Tacom, Washington on March 28, 2001 for their November
2, 2009 Plowshares action at the Trident nuclear submarine base at
Bangor, Washington. More information and updates at