CCTV footage of Bonhoeffer Peace Collective (Swan Island)

Here’s the video of Jess and I we obtained through the police evidence brief. The first bit is quite jumpy – it’s all just stop motion photos, and they’ve obviously cut quite a lot of the footage out because we just end up next to the dish and then move away again.

Anyway, in case there was any doubt we were there:


Bonhoeffer Peace Collective – some of the washup

Stacks of great stuff on the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective Swan Island action, court results, media and follow-up action over at nonviolencestories.

Also had a piece in Waging Nonviolence today.

Finally, check out the new-look Bonhoeffer Peace Collective (formerly Bonhoeffer 4) Facebook page…broadening the movement, finally!

Very exciting stuff happening, both in terms of Christian faith-based nonviolence and in terms of the anti-war movement in Melbourne.

Jim Douglass on liberation: “Just how far would you like to go in?”

From Jim Douglass’ “Resistance and Contemplation”:

On the back cover of his album John Wesley Harding, Bob Dylan has written a comment on man’s willingness to pursue the truth.  It offers a good introduction to the way of truth which is the first and last concern of this essay: the way of liberation. According to Dylan’s oblique parable, three kings decided that a man named “Frank” was the key to understanding the new Dylan record (rather than “faith” or “froth”, referring to two of the approaches of listeners anxious to pigeonhole the meaning of Dylan’s music). The three kings crawled into Frank’s room to see if he could help them.  Frank acknowledged to the first king that he was indeed the key to understanding the record.

“Well then,” said the king in a bit of excitement, “could you please open it up for us?” Frank, who all this time had been reclining with his eyes closed, suddenly opened them both up as wide as a tiger. “And just how far would you like to go in?” he asked and the three kings all looked at each other. “Not too far but just far enough so’s we can say that we’ve been there,” said the first chief.

The parable is Dylan’s way of commenting on the Magi, the followers of the star, who come seeking the latest revelation of truth from the artist they want to deify and identify with, without having recognised the seriousness and personal demand of truth in their own lives.  It recalls Gandhi’s statement, to those ready to canonise his every word yet unwilling to recognise the word in themselves, that he didn’t want any followers, just people seriously pursuing their own truth, which would in the end bring all people together.

The point here is the same, as applied to the anxiety of all relevant Americans to identify ourselves with the oppressed – and in particular their media inflated leaders – in their struggle for liberation.  Our instincts tell us, as they should, that our liberation is somehow linked with the struggle of the oppressed, and we crawl into the presence of liberation leaders (captured dead or alive on videotape and lecture tours) seeking their truth.  But the existential response, when reality breaks in, is the same chilling question of truth:

Just how far would we like to go in? Just how far would we like to go into the reality of liberation, given a recognition that real liberation can be entered only through the blood of people’s lives – the lives of Nhat Chi Mai, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Che Guevara, the thousands killed resisting oppression from Indochina to Latin America, the thousands more in jail – the unfinished litany of witnesses? Just how far would we like to go into the world of mass victims and silently responsible executioners (with obscurely familiar faces)? How far into the lives of men and women caged in slums and tunneled under jungles who demand release from that world and whose needs, when seen and felt, move us to either impotent shame or the decision to resist inhumanity? Just how far would we like to go with our lives into the suffering truth which commits people to liberation through resistance?

Not too far but just far enough so’s we can say we’ve been there.

The truth of the cross and the empty tomb, the truth of crucifixion-resurrection, is not a speculative or tentative truth.  Not too far but just far enough so’s we can say that we’ve been there – is nowhere for liberation.  We go in or we stay out…The truth of liberation taken seriously is a way of life and of suffering resistance to the powers, a way of freedom with an admission price – my whole life in the service of truth.  The martyred apostles of liberation, observing the homage we pay them, ask with their eyes wide as tigers, “And just how far would you like to go in?”

Putting An End to War: Open Letter from Silver Wattle, Anzac Day 2010


Anzac Day Weekend Workshop

Silver Wattle Quaker Retreat and Study Centre

23-26 April 2010

Open Letter from the Gathering

Dear friends and peace-workers,

On ANZAC Day weekend 23-26 April 2010, at the Australian Quaker Centre at Silver Wattle, Bungendore near Canberra, 17 Christians and 2 Buddhists gathered from the east coast of Australia to respond to the growing militarisation of both Anzac Day and Australian society and to consider ways of putting an end to war.

In the grace of Silver Wattle and the grandeur of its outlook over Weereewa (Lake George) and in the joy, good humour, dedication and inspiration of companionship, participants felt ‘the hand of God’ moving them. Participants were, in the main, people with deep experience of peace and social justice organising over the past 40 years.  Even though we were few and the challenges ahead enormous, our meditation seemed to be some kind of turning point in the tides of war and peace in this land – and beyond.

Sessions were led by participants and the group, with much sharing, focussed on:

–        The teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God, and the prophetic and priestly      requirements of our times;

–        Contemporary Christian Nonviolent Action in Australia;

–        Personal war witness and truth-telling (Baghdad, Bougainville, Gaza, Palestine);

–        Christian Peacemaker Teams internationally, and scope for CPT in our region;

–        The ideological roots of Anzac Day, its spiritual dimensions and contemporary practice;

–        War Tax Refusal.

At each point, participants reflected on and shared personal experiences, along with hopes, fears, and desires about war, peace and Anzac Day.  Recurring themes were the direction and next steps for faith-based peace-making in Australia, and how we might engage with Anzac Day in this pursuit.  It is apparent that all of us are deeply touched by the stories and events of war and its impacts on family and society on all sides and in all places.

There were points of consensus:

  • The centrality of the principle to love one another, and the call to be willing to die rather than kill;
  • Gratitude to Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds for their timely book on the contemporary politics of Anzac Day in Australia, What’s Wrong with Anzac? The Militarisation of Australian history, UNSW Press, April 2010, Paperback, 192 pp;
  • Concern about both the growing militarisation of Anzac Day, along with the exclusion of other perspectives on Australia’s national formation and role in the world;
  • The hunger of Australians for authentic and meaningful values and experiences, which is the need behind the growth of participation in Anzac Day ceremonies;
  • The political use of Anzac Day to militarise Australian culture and validate engagement in foreign wars, thereby narrowing the public discussion of history and virtue and failing to acknowledge the full multicultural range of grief and losses;
  • The control of the RSL over Anzac ceremonies and their content;
  • The failure of churches to provide Christian witness and perspective in Anzac Day commemorations;
  • The racism explicit in the historical Anzac engagement and implicit in today’s remembrance of sacrifice in foreign wars only, with no mention of the frontier war against Aboriginals or the loss and suffering in war by Australian citizens of non-Anglo ethnicity;
  • The need to bring forth the stories of the Anzacs themselves and those who have fought in wars since, and to focus on the lessons they have identified for us from their experiences;
  • The need for ceremony to grieve for all those who died or whose lives were broken by war, including all sides and civilian victims, and to recognise the impact of their loss on families and community, especially women and children who bear the brunt with devastating consequences;
  • The need to broaden Anzac Day into remembrance of the ongoing blight of war and to reclaim it as a people’s peacemaking day;
  • The need to transform the energies of Anzac Day into effective peace-making.

We rejoiced in singing the song:

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream[1]

Last night I had the strangest dream

I’d ever dreamed before

I dreamed the world had all agreed

To put an end to war

I dreamed I saw a mighty room

And the room was filled with women and men

And the paper they were signing said

They’d never fight again

And when the paper was all signed

And a million copies made

They all joined hands and bowed their heads

And grateful pray’rs were prayed

And the people in the streets below

Were dancing ’round and ’round

While swords and guns and uniforms

Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream

I’d never dreamed before

I dreamed the world had all agreed

To put an end to war.

Added verse for active resistance: [2]

So here am I and here are you

We’re standing where we are

To do the things that we can do

To put an end to war.

The group resolved to take forward the following issues:

*  To initiate a “White Poppy” program for ANZAC Day 2011 and to extend ANZAC Day forward with an evening vigil ceremony which commemorates all victims of war and envisions an end to war;

*  To identify opportunities and initiatives within the peace movement to assist with the healing of war veterans;

*  A recurring “Shoalwater Wilderness Pilgrimage”, containing and reflecting Christian Civil Disobedience to be developed and publicised for Exercise Talisman Sabre 2011, and subsequently;

*  Consideration by the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Australasia Regional Group of a proposal to form a Christian Peacemaker Team to visit West Papua;

*  To seek opportunities for cooperative peace-making initiatives between Australian and New Zealand activists.

Agreed by all present:

Helen Bayes

Alex Bell

Carol Bell

Gill Burrows

Graeme Dunstan

Waratah Gillespie

Helen Gould

Roslyn Harper

Dale Hess

Clair Hochstetler

Mark Hurst

Mary Hurst

Doug Hynd

Jillian Hynd

Marie Jack

Bryan Law

Barbara Meyer

Simon Moyle

Margaret Pestorius

For further information, contact Helen:


Phone 02 6238 0588 or Mobile 0422 138 991


[1] Words and music by Ed McCurdy

TRO-©1950,1951 & 1955 Almanac Music, Inc. New York, N.Y. Copyrights renewed. Used by permission.

[2] Added verse written for this event by Helen Bayes

Date for action: Hit the ’emergency stop’ button on the Afghanistan war

Here’s your invitation to hit the ’emergency stop’ button on the war in Afghanistan!

In the week before Easter 2010 the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective went to the Swan Island Military base to press the emergency stop button on the war in Afghanistan. They face Geelong Magistrates Court on Wednesday June 16th and would love you to join them in a celebration of active, vibrant resistance to war on that day.

We will meet at Johnstone Park (Railway Terrace, opposite Geelong Magistrates court) at 9am and then process to the court.  Please bring your own lunch.

After court the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective will invite you to join them in returning to the gates of Swan Island, at Queenscliff. Swan Island is a training base for Australia’s elite SAS soldiers, who are playing the most active combat role for Australia in Afghanistan. We will meet at 2pm at the park opposite Bridge St in Queenscliff before processing together to the gate of the island.  There you will be given the opportunity to refuse continued warmaking on the people of Afghanistan by stepping onto the prohibited land (thereby risking arrest), or to participate in a peaceful, nonarrestable demonstration at the gate.

We will hold a briefing/information/nonviolence session for those who wish to participate in either arrestable or nonarrestable actions on Saturday June 5th from 1-4pm at the Den, 116 Little Bourke St Melbourne.  Please let us know if you will be at this session, or if you’d like to be but cannot make it that day.

So this is an invitation for you to consider being involved in these acts of nonviolent resistance to war.  If you could indicate a) your interest in being involved (either by emailing Simon at smoyle[at] or RSVPing to the event) and b) whether you would like some preparatory briefing as soon as possible, that will help us plan logistics, and set up communication and support.  And of course please pass this on to anyone else you know who might be interested.

With thanks for all you do to make this world a more compassionate place,

Simon Moyle on behalf of Jacob Bolton, Jessica Morrison, Simon Reeves and the rest of the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective.

Neobaptist blog responses

The comments on my blog post at Neobaptist ran for a while before I replied to some of them.  The result is below.  Unfortunately the original discussion doesn’t exist anymore, so you’ll have to imagine the questions that inspired these responses.  But here it is anyway:

Hey Gordon!  Thanks for engaging with this.  I’ll respond as best I can.  You said:

“Therefore, is it not true that he [Bonhoeffer] was flexible in his application of his pacifist stance.  In other words, he saw a set of circumstances where he felt a violent intervention was justifiable?”

I don’t think it means he was flexible in the application of his pacifist stance, I think he believed he was betraying his pacifist stance.  That’s a significant difference.  And I think he did it because the church failed to support one another in their call to follow the nonviolence of Christ.  Certainly he must’ve thought it was the best option at the time, but I think he recognised that it might well be wrong in the sight of God (hence throwing himself on the mercy of God).

I think your question is a good one – what if the plot to kill Hitler had been successful?  The idea that you kill the leader and the whole thing collapses is fairly naive.  How tall was Hitler?  What superpowers did he have?  It’s preposterous to suggest that Hitler acted alone, did the horrendous acts of the Nazi system alone, or could be held personally responsible for them all.  Hitler alone could do little.  It was people like us – ordinary citizens – who did not say ‘no’ when the atrocities were being committed, or who buried their heads in the sand or worse, who actively supported the regime were just as responsible as Hitler.  It’s far too easy to have one person to demonise.

I think some great examples of Nazi resistance are people like Hans and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, or Franz Jaegerstaetter, or Andre Trocme, or Bishop Kiril of Sophia Bulgaria.  These are courageous Christians who refused to cooperate either with the violence of the Nazi regime or the violence of the Allies.  Some of them were hugely successful – Andre Trocme’s town saved almost 9,000 Jews, while Bishop Kiril and the people of Sophia saved something like 48,000, demonstrating the lie that nonviolently resisting the Nazis was impossible.  Some of them were killed for it, and in so doing, participated in the fate of their Lord and witnessed to his love.  What if the whole church had’ve joined them (Germany was supposedly a “Christian” country after all)?  Hitler’s war would certainly have been more difficult to fight.

That’s why I agree with Jaques Ellul that despite Allied pronouncements to the contrary, Hitler actually won the war.

You said, “I would say that the issues and choices he [Bonhoeffer] faced were complex.  Would it be fair to say that the world view of committed pacifist is not necessarily complex – in that non-violence is the ONLY option?”

This is a significant point for me – that it is not nonviolence which oversimplifies complexity, but violence.  Violence divides the world into the good and the bad, those who deserve to live and those who do not.  I like what Pam McAllister has to say about this in “You Can’t Kill the Spirit”:

What has drawn me most strongly to nonviolence
is its capacity for encompassing a complexity
Necessarily denied by violent strategies.
By complexity I mean the sort faced by feminists
Who rage against the system of male supremacy but,
At the same time, love their fathers, sons, husbands,
brothers, and male friends,
I mean the complexity which requires us
to name an underpaid working man who beats his wife
both as someone who is oppressed and as an oppressor.
Violent tactics and strategies rely on polarization and dualistic thinking and
require us to divide ourselves into the good and bad, assume neat, rigid
little categories easily answered from the barrel of a gun.
Nonviolence allows for the complexity inherent in our struggles
And requires a reasonable acceptance of diversity
And an appreciation for our common ground.

You’ve asked how I think the ‘secular world’ with its military industrial complexes relates to the teachings of Christ.  I believe the New Testament witnesses to the ultimate victory of Christ through his crucifixion and resurrection.  The victory is won; nonviolent suffering love has conquered militarism and war and poverty and hatred and division.  Of course, it is true there is an aspect of the “now and not yet”.  But I believe the church is called to be the “now” in the “not yet” of the world – as John H. Yoder puts it “to walk out now what God wills the world to be ultimately”.  Simply withdrawing or refusing to engage with the “not yet” (as the Essenes did in Jesus’ day) or trying to conquer it by force (like the Zealots in Jesus’ day or the Crusades) or assimilating ourselves into the world and its way of doing things (eg. the Herodians) are not options for the church.  This opens up the possibilities for creative nonviolent action that witnesses to how the transformation of the cosmos has begun in the person of Jesus Christ.  Saying “Jesus is Lord” is not merely a personal statement – it’s a political, social, cosmic statement about the state of the world since the Christ event!  We can’t be timid, or leave the world to its own devices.  Jesus has won!  The power of death has been defeated…we’re here to continually remind the world of that!

So I guess by swanning around Shoalwater Bay we were trying to do just that.  How will the world know what Jesus is like if the church is not like Jesus?  This recent marketing campaign in some ways highlights and represents the failure of the church to be the church.  If we’re not being a giant Jesus in the world, if we’re not our own marketing campaign, there’s little point telling people about Jesus on billboards and tv.  Jesus got killed for his nonviolent intervention in the destructive systems of the world.  We seek to similarly place ourselves in the way of the world’s systems.

I’m sorry you find it hard to accept that this was not about media attention.  Yes, we would have done it and called it a success even without any media attention.  Because the point is to be faithful – as Dorothy Day used to say, “our call is to be faithful, not successful.”  Following Jesus by concretely intervening in Australian and US warmaking was what it meant for us to be faithful.  Getting killed on a humiliating cross on the outskirts of empire would’ve looked pretty much like failure to the disciples at first too, but as we know it was something more than that.  Thankfully I’m not in charge of how history comes out, that’s God’s job.  I just have to be faithful to his story in my historical context.

The irony in your question, “Do you have a similar bent for pragmatism as Dietrich did or do you feel that you would never do anything of the sort that he had the opportunity to do?” is that it assumes that violence is the “pragmatic” option, and nonviolence the principled one.  In many cases I think it’s the other way around, or at least more complex than that.  We’ve been trying violence in Afghanistan for 8 years, and the Soviets for 30 years before that.  None of it has “worked” on a pragmatic level (it’s a more violent place than ever, surprise surprise), yet we somehow refuse to question the efficacy of violence, because the truth is as a society our ultimate faith is in violence, and that includes the church in many cases.  The simple fact is that violence cannot achieve peace any more than shagging can achieve celibacy because it is its own logical negation.  Violence covers over the inherent injustices with brute force and does not deal with the truth underneath.  All it can prove is who is richest and strongest and can cause the most suffering to the other side.  It can’t prove who is right.  So I share Bonhoeffer’s pragmatism, but I believe he misplaced it by participating in the plot.

So let’s follow your last scenario.  Let’s say I come across (who? – Hitler? Bonhoeffer?  Osama? – I’m going to assume the latter) Osama on a mountain pass in Afghanistan.  I hope I would sit down with him and talk so that he could see my humanity even as a white western man.  I hope I would listen to him and hear why he does what he does, and that he could listen to me and hear a different take on western culture.  Perhaps he’d lop my head off.  But then I would have witnessed to Christ.

Have you heard of Dirk Willems?  He was an Anabaptist who was persecuted and placed in jail by fellow so-called Christians, simply because he had been baptised again as a believer.  He escaped, and while being chased Dirk’s pursuer fell through the ice and was about to drown.  What does Dirk do?  He turns around and saves his pursuer, knowing full well he’ll be captured and killed.  His pursuer catches him, brings him back and Dirk is burnt at the stake (bummer!).

That is what it means to be Christ – to love our enemies despite the cost.  Does it “work”?  Not always, as Dirk found out (although it’s worth questioning what we mean by “work” – what does “success” look like?  Mere survival?  Jesus says those who want to save their life will lose it…and those who lose their life for his sake or the sake of the gospel will find it).  As Yoder says, “Between the absolute agape which lets itself be crucified, and effectiveness (which it is assumed will usually need to be violent), the resurrection forbids us to choose, for in the light of resurrection crucified agape is not folly (as it seems to the Hellenizers to be) and weakness (as the Judaizers believe) but the wisdom and power of God (I Cor. 1:22-25).”

I think what’s unfortunate or unhelpful about your mountain pass scenario is that it again focusses on one person (as does the inevitable Hitler scenario), when the reality is that that particular person (in fact, many people) is tapping into (and a victim of) a whole lot of complex social factors, including poverty and cultural clashes and discontent at the invasion of sovereign states by perceived bully states and so on.   So the question is not “what do we do with Osama bin Laden or Hitler?” but “how do we love those who see themselves as our enemies in such a way that they cease to see us as their enemies?”  Instead of swatting mosquitoes (killing terrorists), how do we drain the swamp that produces them?  I don’t think more bombs are going to do it.  More aid and schools and hospitals and good relationships might though.

Which brings me to Janet’s questions, which are great questions and I apologise for taking so long to get around to answering them.

“Is a “peace keeping” force OK? Is a police force OK? Is a defence force OK?”

I have some questions for your questions (ever notice how Jesus does that a lot?!  Very annoying!)  Can you “keep peace” with a gun or can you only force the repression of overt violence?  I would say the latter.  And I agree with Jung that “whatever is not transformed is transferred.”  As someone once wisely observed, peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.  Where people are only not being violent because someone in front of them has a bigger stick, you probably don’t have the presence of justice.  That’s one of the reasons for Hitler’s rise – the allies after WW1 decided to humiliate Germany and crush them.  All it did was make them want to rise up and humiliate those who had humiliated and subjugated them.  It’s a vicious circle.  So it depends on what kind of peacekeeping you mean.

Groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams (and a bunch of others – including Peace Brigades International, Nonviolent Peaceforce, etc) have demonstrated the efficacy of creative, active nonviolence in situations of entrenched conflict (ie. war zones).  Gandhi advocated nonviolent peace teams, and Abdul Ghaffar Khan (a Muslim incidentally) put it into practice in the hills of what is now Pakistan.  These groups go unarmed into situations of violence to “get in the way” and work with local groups on grassroots peacemaking efforts.  It’s much harder to kill an unarmed person, as they pose no threat to your own safety.   What if the church saw this as its role?  To concretely get in the way of violence at great personal cost?  What a witness to Christ that would be!

Police force is interesting.  Again, it’s a question of what you’re trained in.  The old cliche applies, “when all you’ve got is a hammer every problem looks like a nail.”  Hence when a 15 year old threatens police with a knife from 10 metres away in the next suburb over to me, they shoot him 7 times.  Why?  They’re trained for hours and hours and hours every month on using deadly weapons.  They might do a couple of hours training in a year in talking someone down (if that).

There are two issues when it comes to police and military.  One is the Christian response.  Gordon is right that the world will do things their way (but as I said before it doesn’t mean we as Christians don’t call them to a better one).  The Christian is called to live out the Kingdom now.  Hence the early Christians did not leave the military, but did two things – one, they refused to bear the sword.  Two, they refused to wear the amulet that indicated allegiance to Caesar.  For this they were crucified – what kind of army marches out unarmed, right?  But they had a new Lord.

So the question is who is the “we” we want defended?  If in Christ we are a new family, then our allegiance is no longer to the government or state or social group in which we find ourselves.  Our “we” is a commitment to the children of God – the whole cosmos.  After all, to be a child of God is to be a chip off the old block who “makes the sun to shine on the good and the bad, and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”  This changes what a defence force might look like considerably.  It means protecting the vulnerable, not defending “my” territory.  And it means doing so with your own vulnerability.  Nonviolence can seem like an unnecessary stricture.  But once you renounce violence, a whole world of engagement opens up that was never possible when you saw the “other” as an enemy to be destroyed.  It’s infinitely more creative, infinitely more freeing, than violence.

So the world can do what it likes, and the Christ-follower’s job is to call it to repentance (while simultaneously working on our own!).  So whether it’s a defence force, or a police force, or peacekeeping, I believe it can be best done nonviolently.

Regarding the Rudd/Obama thing, I was just making the point that Bonhoeffer’s actions were by a group against their state, and can therefore not be used to justify state violence.  It’s easy for us with hindsight to demonise the Nazi regime, but let’s face it, a lot of very ordinary citizens thought it was the greatest thing for their country, and far from questioning it, went willingly along.  I think there are more parallels for our situation than we are comfortable admitting.  We may not live in a totalitarian state, but our country is involved in killing thousands of people.

Finally, here’s a link to an article by a Baptist with all the reasons why we should end the war in Afghanistan…it’s a pretty comprehensive and convincing case, I must say.

Simon Moyle Speaks…again

The below was originally posted at the Neobaptist Blog after a post which questioned the Bonhoeffer 4’s actions at Shoalwater Bay in 2009.   That blog has since been taken down, so here is my original post:

Firstly, I want to thank each of your blog readers and commenters, particularly those who are coming from a Christ centredness.  I really value the Baptist identity being expressed here also, as it is the tradition which I have chosen, or perhaps more accurately has chosen me.  I had a number of people come to me as brothers and sisters (ala Matthew 18), both supporting my actions and criticising them, and I am deeply grateful to both.  I want to say that it is entirely possible that I’m wrong in my position, and am very open to being corrected.  I believe it’s important that as brothers and sisters in Christ we be accountable to one another for our actions, and this is no exception.

And then let me say that I don’t expect to win you over with what I say, but I do wish to explain my actions in a way that will hopefully assist you in understanding somewhat where they come from.  These were not actions I took lightly (as you can imagine being married with three children under 6), nor were they undertaken without a great deal of thought, prayer and accountability to my family, church, and denomination.

Which brings me to one of the first things you wrote Stan: “The first question that arises in my mind is what on earth his deacons or elders think about him swanning around North Queensland.  The average Baptist deacon would have an apoplexy if he found out that the minister was doing what Simon is.”

I chuckled as I read that because as it happens, at the precise moment that I was swanning around Central Queensland (Shoalwater Bay is just north of Rockhampton), the deacons and elders of my church were standing out the front of Flinders Street Station in Melbourne demonstrating their support, and talking respectfully to passersby about what was happening.  As a church we’ve gone on this gospel journey together for many years now, so it certainly didn’t come as any surprise to them, they had been actively supportive.  In fact, we try to take seriously the practice of mutual accountability and even mutual submission that is so out of fashion in the average evangelical church.  So we’ve hashed these ideas and actions out together as a community.  It was not a unilateral decision.

It’s funny (or maybe not funny) how when we hear stories, particularly online (I confess I do this too) we so often caricature or stereotype the people in them and make all sorts of assumptions about the way they think – usually the worst assumptions rather than assuming the best.  We’ve been called everything from “theological rats poison” to “unthinking leftists” and all kinds of stuff by everyone but those who know us, which might tell you something.  I’d appreciate it if when people respond to this they could check their assumptions at the door and ask questions instead.

Stan, you also said, “Simon and his other three cohorts are known as the Bonhoeffer Four, or B4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is well known for both his pacifist stance, and also for departing from his long held pacifist views and participating in a plot to kill Hitler.  The plot was uncovered and Bonhoeffer was executed as a result.”

It was partly challenging this caricature of Bonhoeffer (which, perhaps understandably, is all people know) that we hoped might be a by-product of naming our action after him.  I guess there were a few reasons for naming our group after Bonhoeffer:

1. It gave us an opportunity to speak directly to Kevin Rudd about his military spending plan, and to call him back as a brother in Christ to what he claimed in his article in the Monthly before he was elected.  People were always going to be cynical about the claims he made there, but we had hoped he wouldn’t give people reason to be.  It is difficult to see the consistency between Bonhoeffer’s actions which intended to stop war, and Rudd’s ongoing war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, let alone with his recent Defence White Paper which recommends a $100 billion military spending plan.  This despite the admission by that same white paper there is no anticipation of Australia being under threat for at least the next 30 years (except from climate change, which strangely gets a paltry sum in comparison).

2. It gave us an opportunity to encourage people to think harder about Bonhoeffer’s legacy than simply to label him as a failed or lapsed pacifist, let alone an advocate of violence.  I work a lot with nonviolence movements, and many of them simply write Bonhoeffer off because of his participation in the plot to kill Hitler.  This does the complexity of Bonhoeffer no favours, as it abandons him to those who would use him to justify violence (a fact which Bonhoeffer would be frankly horrified by) and the nonviolence movements also miss out on an amazing, complex man.

3. People want to use Bonhoeffer’s example to justify war, and then in the same breath cite Romans 13.  If we want to argue that Romans 13 means we should never oppose the state under which we are subject, then Bonhoeffer did the wrong thing because not only did he participate in the plot to kill Hitler, but he actively participated in the resistance movement.  In actual fact, if you want to follow Bonhoeffer’s action to its logical conclusion today, you’d probably have to attempt kill either Kevin Rudd or Obama, or possibly both.  If you’re not going to be nonviolent in your opposition to war, you’d have to be violent in your opposition to it.

Incidentally, what people often forget is that Bonhoeffer failed in the assassination attempt, and there is ample evidence that far from undermining Hitler, the failed attempt actually strengthened him, giving him God-like claims to immortality.  This is just one of the many problems with violence backfiring.

Interestingly, the people who have been most strident in their criticism of the Bonhoeffer 4 are those who are not particularly invested in the war themselves.  I have friends who are soldiers. Our conversations with soldiers have been always respectful, and often we agree on most things.  Many were even openly encouraging of us and our actions.  Most soldiers we met understood that we cared about them, about the costs they and their friends were bearing, and we cared about the situation that they were heavily involved in, and even criticised those who criticised us as “disengaged from reality.”  They knew we cared enough to act even at risk to ourselves, and bear some costs for it, and that gave us a platform from which to listen and speak that those who criticised from a point of disengagement did not have.

Those who accuse us of being disrespectful to soldiers gravely misunderstand us.  As organisations such as Stand Fast, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Courage to Resist demonstrate, just because you don’t support the war does not mean you do not support the troops.  In most cases supporting the troops means ending the war.

The question of Christian ethics and war and peace are complex and vexed, and there’s no way to cover it adequately here.  Suffice it to say that I don’t consider myself a ‘pacifist’, even though many people describe me in those terms, I consider myself to be primarily a disciple of the crucified and risen Christ.  Christian ethics, I believe, is not based on so-called ‘values’ or even principles, but on a person, and a story.  It’s not a matter of extracting some universal principle from the story, but a living into that story (as one of my heroes, the great Jesuit priest Fr. Daniel Berrigan SJ says, “to fit your life into Jesus’ life.”)  It is not, however, a story devoid of content.  So the question is, what is that story?

The central event, I’m sure we would all agree, is the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.  I don’t think we can meditate on it or what it means for us enough.  All of Scripture must be read through this lens.  So many facets reveal themselves.  One of those facets for me is this: that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God that we have.  Therefore this is the way God responds to our violence.  God doesn’t crucify God; we do.

This has (at least) two implications; one, that our violence – MY creation of victims, whether by action or inaction – is always against God.  And two, that this is the way that I am called to follow – the way of being the suffering victim in the course of faithfulness to the Kingdom, rather than the causer of victims.

Jesus calls us to follow him in these terms: “If any want to become my followers, they must affirm their own right to live, take up their gun, and kill their enemy.”  No wait, that’s not right…“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Ouch.  Take up our cross?  Of course, we’ve spiritualised that away to mean pretty much any discomfort or difficulty.  But crucifixion had a concrete social and political meaning for the early Christians.  It was the price of sedition, of loyalty to a regime other than Rome.

Ultimately it’s a question of where you put your faith – what you trust in to save you.  Is it in the sword or in the cross?  Do I trust in the gun and the bomb to save me, or do I trust in the crucified agape of the cross, which allows itself to be crucified before it will call down armies?

This way, of course, sounds weak and foolish to the world, just as Paul says (or as I think Servus put it “dumb resistance”).  Such weakness could not possibly triumph, surely?  Yet we know that it has – which is why “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  It is possible that this way of the cross could result in my death (as it did for Jesus – Mark 8:35 “whoever wants to save their life will lose it”) or the death of ones dear to me (as it did for Jesus’ disciples and family).  I do not wish for or seek such a death, but am aware that faithfulness to the kingdom sometimes results in same.  Jesus is explicit about it, yet somehow we have missed it.

Because death is not the end – which is why the disciples don’t get excited when Jesus dies, but when he rises again.  If even death cannot win, what have we to be afraid of?  What can anyone do to us that God has not won over?  This sounds like good news for the poor and the oppressed!

And so we are called to actively resist evil and injustice, even at great cost to ourselves (this is the context of the actions of the Bonhoeffer 4), just as Jesus did (this is the context of the exorcisms, and of the healing stories, and of actions like defending the adulterous woman or the cleansing of the temple).  But he did so nonviolently – refusing to perpetuate the dynamics of domination – which does not mean passively, it means actively putting oneself in the way of injustice without mirroring that injustice.  If one does not actively and creatively place oneself in the way, one is being PASSIVE, not NONVIOLENT.  So the choice is not between being violent or doing nothing, which unfortunately is what most of your readers assume.  This I think is what Bonhoeffer unfortunately failed to understand, in the context of a church who also failed to understand it.  I wish he had gone to meet Gandhi, as he planned to do.  Gandhi might have helped him understand nonviolence much better.

In terms of why Bonhoeffer made the choice he did to participate in the plot to kill Hitler, I think this post says it better than I could:  But on top of that, I’d want to say that Bonhoeffer never renounced his pacifism, recognising that he may well be making the mistake of his life that would land him in hell, and consequently throwing himself on the mercy of God.

I also notice that Romans 13 was dragged out the discusions of our actions.  Its context must be understood and implications need to be worked through (it’s preceded by Romans 12 for a start – Bless those who persecute you…Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God…if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good…hardly arguments for supporting military interventions.)  Hitler loved to quote Romans 13 – a misreading of it is one of the reasons the German church was so complicit in the horrors of World War 2.  Under such an interpretation, Bonhoeffer’s and the Confessing church’s resistance to Hitler was unacceptable, as are our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  If a Muslim state were to invade Australia (as you surmised) then we ought to obey such authority as it is “instituted by God”.  You simply can’t have it both ways. So what are the limits of such ‘obedience’? I believe that any government decision which is not consonant with the Kingdom of God is not for me to obey.  The Lordship of the crucified and resurrected Christ is our authority.  If Christ is Lord, then Caesar (or Kevin Rudd) is not.  I see Romans 13 in the light of the events of Jesus, and of the early Christians including the apostles (all of whom were imprisoned, and most of whom were killed by their government).  We are to submit to the punishment of the state for our loyalty to the inbreaking Kingdom, and by such suffering love (as with the slaughtered Lamb), the Kingdom triumphs.  As such I do not advocate evading the punishment of the law (see Rev. Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail for an excellent exposition of this – “it must be done openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to pay the penalty”) but submitting to it.  That’s why we take responsibility for our actions by “staying and praying” rather than “hitting and splitting”.

By the way, this is about discipleship for us, about where we place our bodies, not media attention. If the media want to tell our story, then that can sometimes be a bonus (although most of the time it’s an unhelpful caricature).  But concrete, faithful action is what is important, not media attention.  Outside of the context of our lives, this might look like a mere ‘stunt’.  But in the context of lives of engagement and solidarity with the victims of our society, it looks more like a witness to the Kingdom coming.  Unfortunately if it looks like an isolated stunt, that’s at least partly because the church has largely failed in its mission to be a giant Jesus in the world.

We could go on and evaluate the war in Afghanistan too, but then we’d have to look at history and realise that the US set up, trained and funded the Taliban to fight against the Soviets.  Now they want to oust them because it’s politically inconvenient to have them there.  So we can moralise all we like about this war being about saving women from being oppressed, but just a few years ago we were actively supporting the Taliban.  We’re still doing nothing today about the Burmese junta, or Darfur, or Zimbabwe and other places.  So we need to question what our government is telling us about our reasons for going to war.

Whatever else we do as Christians we MUST appeal to the story in which our salvation is invested, that of Christ.  I invite anyone who wishes to respond to do so from that point of view.  Let’s call one another to faithful discipleship.

So much more to say, but I’ll leave it there and invite questions.  If people want to comment or ask questions off the blog, feel free to email me at and I’ll do my best to answer them.  I’d much prefer the opportunity to meet up to discuss these issues, as they’re best hashed out face to face (or better, over a meal!).  So if you’d like to meet up to discuss them, I’d be more than willing.

Swanhoeffer 4

Some articles on our Swan Island action for those interested…

The Age

Geelong Advertiser – articles one and two.

Indymedia Australia – articles one and two.

Indymedia World

Indymedia Luxembourg


And now this page on Swan Island.

*edit* I also had a piece published in New Matilda.  Join in the discussion.

Feast of the Holy Innocents Peace Procession – Melbourne reportback

About fifteen of us gathered outside Victoria Barracks on a perfect sunny day in late December.  It was a day many people were hunting for the post-Christmas Day bargains, and many others were immersed in the dramas of the Boxing Day test.  It was also the eve of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the day the church commemorates the children killed by Herod in an attempt to get to Jesus and maintain his grip on power.  A day we remember all modern day regimes which see thousands of lives as acceptable “collateral damage” in their quests for power, control, resources and military might.

Beginning with an acknowledgment of the history of this feast day, and of how far away such wars seemed to us, we read the story from Matthew together.  We then spent some time naming modern day situations where innocents continue to be killed by power-hungry elites.

East Timor.  Afghanistan.  Sudan.  West Papua.  Phillippines.  Iraq.  Australia’s refugee policy.  Each with thousands of innocent victims of power politics and military domination.  Each considered acceptable collateral damage.  We rang a bell for each of them.

Finally, we remembered the plight of the Palestinian people, recognising that even as we sat together, thousands of people were gathering on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza, preparing to nonviolently break the blockade, bringing food, aid and medical supplies to the people of Gaza.  This was particularly poignant given the Matthew passage, which speaks of “a voice heard in Ramah” (the modern day West Bank), “wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.”  The contrast of fear exhibited by Herod and modern day Israel, and the resulting victims of their fear, with the angels appearing to Mary, Zechariah, the shepherds, each time greeting them with the phrase, “Do not be afraid!”  These stories continue to play themselves out before our eyes, on the evening news.

With that, we rose together and began to make our way north to the centre of the city, led by our four metre banner reading “End the Afghanistan War”.  In peak shopping season, the city was packed.  Reaction was mixed – from mouthed “thankyous”, clapping and nods, to rolled eyes, to outright hostility.  Mostly it just registered on people’s faces as an interruption to business as usual (literally).

Turning through Bourke Street Mall we made our way west to Defence Plaza, a fairly nondescript city building housing the Defence Department in Melbourne.  Here we paused to reflect on the experience, on connections we had made, and on where to from here.

We finished with prayer, and dispersed from there.

My own reflections are on how we do this action/reflection stuff deeply and honestly and yet involve our children.  War and its effects on innocents are confronting issues.  We brought our kids (3 under 6), and did our best to explain to them the significance of the day.  I think it’s important that we continue to do that.  But we shied away from anything graphic or affecting, talking only in general terms.  This is something we will continue to wrestle with as parents and as activists.

I also think that continuing to act in concert with the liturgical year will greatly enhance our understanding of the gospel and our faith and discipleship, and our ability to sustain action over the long haul.  Wrestling with these stories as part of an action brings them home, sharpens their contours, and deepens our engagement.