Gospel Mayhem

They're messy revolutionaries. They pour blood on missiles and don't wipe it up. They hammer nose cones and don't pick up the pieces. When they go to court, some are so ornery they turn their backs to the judge.

And when it comes to jail, years of it, they are unpromising candidates for rehabilitation. These are peace criminals, residual offenders by faith, unlikely to be rehabilitated to cooperation with the national security state for the simple reason that Jesus said no to Satan.

When the Atlantic Life Community was founded in 1976 by the members and friends of Jonah House, a three-year-old resistance community in Baltimore, Gerald Ford was president. The slaughter in Vietnam had ended in the defeat of the United States only the year before. Phil Berrigan, Liz McAlister, and their Jonah House community had turned their attention from B-52 raids and tiger cages to the even more demonic reality of the nuclear system. The birth of the Atlantic Life Community corresponded to that change in focus. From 1976 to '96 nuclear resistance has been the central theme of ALC's constant witness to the cross.

In those 20 years, ALC has been a community of perpetual motion in and out of courts and jails, because it has understood much of life outside jail in this country to be chained to the bomb. Breaking that chain has given ALC the freedom to share the situation of millions of others in jail. Without intending it as such, ALC has engaged in a remarkable ministry of unity with the imprisoned class of the United States, those either in jail themselves or with loved ones in jail.

ATLANTIC LIFE COMMUNITY has been sustained into its third decade of throwing blood and dumping ashes on the Pentagon, and beating missiles and their corporate components in Plowshares actions, because its faith in nonviolence is grounded in the Word. The prophets and Jesus determine the action: swords into plowshares, disruption in the temple, the way of the Suffering Servant and the cross.

Everything else is beside the point. The point is God's Word when faced by the national security state and the nuclear evil it embodies, drawing us all into annihilation. God's Word to that ultimate evil is a radical no through the suffering love of the cross. The proof is not in the pudding but in the cross.

When it comes to Bible study, the Atlantic Life Community is serious. They're a little like Oliver Stone. They may not have all the details right, but they know what killed Jesus. And in their case it is not a scenario merely to watch. ALC is prepared to go the same route.

The system, what the fourth gospel calls "the world"—in the United States, the nuclear security state—is where God's Word was made flesh and continues to transform us at the cross. ALC resists the national security state and welcomes the consequences because its life is in-formed by a scripture study that always leads in the same direction. It's as predictable as the prophet's end. The end of every ALC retreat, another witness and jail, is predetermined by where Jesus was going, toward the truth of the cross. In the most violent state in history, to what other truth does one go?

Especially in its Plowshares actions, the Atlantic Life Community has had to meet the Gandhian critiques of secrecy, property destruction, and the question of local community participation in events it doesn't know are about to hit. I have sometimes wondered what a Plowshares action would look like if an intended corporate or military recipient were informed beforehand in a public way that the hammer was about to fall. Granted that such openness would make the doing of the action more difficult, would struggling more deeply with apparently insoluble tactical questions for the sake of an underlying truth open up new forms of ALC and Plowshares witness? I don't know.

I do believe no community has responded with a faith more disruptive of the evil of nuclearism than has the Atlantic Life Community. Let's celebrate 20 years of gospel mayhem in the system. Happy birthday, ALC.

Jim Douglass, author of The Nonviolent Coming of God, lived in Birmingham, Alabama, when this article appeared.

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