WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Fr. Simon Harak likened the Occupy Wall Street Movement to Jesus' cleansing of the Temple.
Jesus never hurt or killed anyone, but took dramatic, direct non-violent action against injustice and state oppression, says Father Simon Harak.
As his followers, we are called to do the same, Harak said. "We are called to get involved in non-violent direct action that disrupts the machinery of sin."
The Jesuit priest said the Christian tradition of nonviolence is needed, in part, to resist the death-dealing power of the United States, which, like the Roman Empire, oppresses millions in America and around the world.
"(As Christians) we are not strangers to empires," Harak said, noting that the early Christians lived under a world dominated by the sole superpower of their time.
"We know what to do. We've got a long history of this thing. So we just have to draw on our history and on our strength and on the presence of Jesus. He doesn't go away."
Harak, a renowned American peace activist, author and professor of theology and director of the Centre for Peacemaking at Marquette University in Milwaukee, gave a retreat on Jesus and Nonviolence at Trinity Lutheran Church March 21. The Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life sponsored his visit.
Harak, a strong opponent of the War in Iraq, defined nonviolence as an active struggle for peace and justice that rejects the use of force. "We never harm anybody. But there is a quality of resistance as well through nonviolence.
"To a certain extent that's what is happening with the Occupy Wall Street Movement," he said in an interview. "They are occupying Wall Street and trying to stop the machinery from proceeding so that it can't keep crushing. Jesus did a similar thing when he took over the Temple."
During the half-day retreat, Harak walked his audience through the Gospels with Jesus as he lived, practised and taught a non-violent way of life guided by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus organized the poor in Galilee and walked to Jerusalem in a campaign of active nonviolence. He entered the Temple, turned the tables of the moneychangers, drove out the cattle and declared the place a house of prayer. For his deeds, he was arrested, tortured and put on the cross.
"He died the death of oppression," Harak said. "When the Holy Spirit raised him, she reversed death and oppression so that we could live by that Spirit constantly pushing back against the power and the strategy of oppression with success."
That's what the Resurrection was, he continued – "a successful non-violent engagement with the powers of oppression and death."
Jesus was a tremendous organizer. "On Sunday he brought his contingency in; he didn't come in all by himself. He was not dumb. You can see in the Scripture that he sent his disciples two by two to places where he himself would be coming."
We have to do the same. "I think it's very important that we support each other in that search for truth and in the speaking of the truth," Harak said.
"We can't do this alone. If we are alone, they are going to pick us off. We have to commit ourselves to the kind of Eucharistic communities that solved similar problems in the Roman Empire with the Acts of the Apostles. That's why they did what they did."
During the Roman Empire, Christians had to respond to the political, economic and cultural power that they were living under. "If they were going to live a Christian life they had to change everything. They had to go against the grid, start sharing things. They had to start building up people," Harak related.
So they created Christian communities, supported each other "and there was not one needy person among them."
"They would take a group of people and say: 'There are four people over there. Do all four of us need a washing machine? Can we all sit down and put up a schedule for when we are going to use the washing machine?'"
"The whole Roman Empire was after us and we came out stronger," Harak said at the retreat. "So I think we've got the genetics; we've got the history. We know how to handle ourselves. From the earliest days we were dealing with empires just like this," he said of the United States.
He gave several examples of non-violent actions. "Those who oppose war, for example, could stop paying taxes for war," he said. "That's a deep commitment but could be very effective."