Leonard Desroches, Dunamis Publishers. 2002 177pp.
"Serious exploration of love of enemy is a near-taboo for the right, left, and centre -- both religious and secular. That doesn't leave a lot of people" begins Leonard Desroches' exploration of nonviolence and Christian belief. It may not leave a lot of people but a wonderful lot it is, in the persons of Len and his two conspirators, Bob Holmes and Don Heap.
The author has been a familiar resource person for the exploration of the practice and spirituality of nonviolence. Bob Holmes is a Catholic priest, a former high school principal, and a founder of the One World Global Education Program. Don (aka Dan) Heap is an Anglican priest and a former member of Toronto City Council who served as an NDP Member of Parliament 1981-1993. These three undertook an action that led to a court trial.
Desroches confronted a symbol that shows "what we have allowed ourselves to become as a faith community: a cross with a sword at the very centre -- part of a war memorial" at the prominent St. Paul's Anglican Church. He writes. "I has resisted warmaking at the doorsteps of corporations and governments for many years. But I now realizedÉthat unless I confronted my own church community's complicity, I could never hope to radically address the perpetuation of war and its false economy."
What to do about it? Prayer, discernment and a Lenten Fast were followed by a decision to ask St. Paul's to renounce the false teaching of the Just War and to take the sword carefully off the big cross, transform it into a ploughshare, and return it to the cross. For them the sword at the centre of the cross was "a blasphemy -- a total violation of the person and message of Christ." They urged the Toronto-area mainline churches to engage in similar symbolic acts. None were willing, although many professed to sympathize with the activists.Roman "Christian Soldiers"
Why are the churches so slow to renounce war? The story goes back to the early Christians who rejected war. But "As the church increased in influence, it decreased in Christian virtues." By 436 A.D. the Roman army was 100 percent Christian. "The Cross and the Sword were united -- and have remained officially united to this day."
There is a distinct choice, the book argues, between the forces of violence and nonviolence. Examples of the latter are the resistance the Danes mounted to the Nazis and the struggle of the Innu to resist military training over their lands. Desroches was involved in the campaign to convert Litton Systems to civilian production.
Before actually undertaking the removal of the sword there was a year of meetings, vigils, fasts, prayers, and leafletting. The three men fasted during Lent and declared their intention to remove the sword from the cross on Good Friday, 1999. When they started to climb the fence surrounding the war memorial the police arrested them and booked them on a criminal charge of "Mischief Over $5000" with a possible jail sentence of 10 years or six months. The trial was set for May 15, 2000.
The trial proceedings are reprinted but the author interrupts its flow with a series of quotes ranging from Archbishop Oscar Romero to Joan Baez. Besides the actual witnesses, there are Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Janet Somerville of the Canadian Council of Churches, as well as the three accused and witnesses from history, including the Bible.
All the testimonies are interesting although sometimes jarring when you're trying to follow the questions and answers of the trial. Don Heap says he thought the sword ought to be taken off the cross now and not wait for another 17 centuries of debate. But why this action? asks the court. "I couldn't think of anything better to do to draw the attention of the Anglican Church to the blasphemy of the symbol." The outcome of the trial will not be revealed here, you have to get the book yourself.
Reviewed by Shirley Farlinger, of Toronto.