by Marie Dennis
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

Ed. Note: This post is excerpted from Marie’s participation in the “Working for Peace with Justice: Elections 2020 Teach-In” on Sept. 24th. It is part of our continuing series of posts in support of the Pax Christi USA Statement of Principles for the 2020 Elections. To read more about the 2020 elections, visit our Elections 2020 – #VotePax webpage.

Clearly we are standing at a crossroads, aware of dangers and opportunities ahead.  COVID19 has thrown into sharp relief the contemporary global culture of violence, especially though not only in the United States: its interlocking, unjust  systems that perpetrate racism and exclusion, poverty and environmental degradation; the suffering it imposes on billions of people; and its incapacity to respond effectively and comprehensively to the current crisis or to other monumental challenges facing the whole earth community.

The contemporary global culture of violence on the one hand is a humongous, powerful economy that thrives on war and the production and marketing of weapons – from nuclear weapons to small arms (the weapons of mass destruction in the global South) and handguns (the weapons of mass destruction in our own country)—and on the other hand is rooted in our nuclear arsenal. Years ago, Jesuit Father Dick McSorley said, “The taproot of violence in our society today is our intent to use nuclear weapons. Once we have agreed to that, all other evil is minor in comparison.”

Militarism and nuclear weapons – two central concerns of Pax Christi USA as we approach the 2020 elections.

The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated clearly that spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually on weapons, preparations for war and militarized security forces has stolen resources from providing for healthy, resilient communities that can slow the spread of disease and more quickly recover from very real, serious threats like COVID-19. Our strength is not in military might. Our bloated military budget is an immense scandal that robs people of health care, education, housing and jobs, but transformation of our war economy will require courage, creativity and sacrifice that is hard at this point in time to imagine.

Responding to the pandemic, both short-term and longer-term, will require a fundamental shift from the “unjust normal” of systemic and structural violence, from systems that destroy, dehumanize, and diminish, to a culture that seeks the fullness of life for all.

In other words, this crisis is amplifying what Pax Christi USA has been saying for decades: that the United States needs a fundamentally new understanding of strength and security, based on diplomacy, dialogue, reciprocity and a multilateral, collaborative approach to solving very real and critical global problems … In other words, we need a radical transformation of US foreign policy.

Authentic strength and security in which we and the whole earth community can thrive will emerge only from serious attention to meeting basic human needs on a global scale.

At the international level, global cooperation in a spectrum of nonviolent actions is urgently needed to establish just and effective institutions with the authority and capacity to govern an increasingly complex world. Nationally and locally, we need to elect responsive, accountable and fair public officials who write and uphold the rule of just laws, provide safe space for a vibrant, multi-cultural civil society and protect basic human rights. Pax Christi rejects the militarization of policing – whether it is aimed at social justice protestors, people of color or migrants seeking refuge in the United States.  

A future that is nonviolent and reflects the values of Catholic social teaching can be built during and following this global crisis if we apply tested strategies of active nonviolence to reshaping our broken world. To do so, we need to cultivate creative moral imaginations that understand nonviolence as a dramatic alternative to “business as usual,” a cross-cutting approach to the multiple violences at the root of human vulnerability exposed by COVID-19.  We need to challenge the too-normal patterns of violence against each other and the natural world with powerful, nonviolent love in action.

Pope Francis has underscored again and again the Church’s yearning for peace and disarmament.

  • He has decried the world war being fought piecemeal
  • He has called for the world to transform our conflicts without violence
  • He has emphasized integral ecology – natural world has intrinsic value and is also a victim of war and violence
  • He has highlighted the tremendous profit in war-making and in marketing and trafficking in weapons 
  • He has called even the possession of nuclear weapons morally unjustifiable

In January 2017, he wrote his WDP message on Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace – on nonviolence as a spirituality, a way of life and an important strategy for transforming conflict, preventing violence and protecting vulnerable communities – a third way between violence and passivity.

Central to his interest in nonviolence is Pope Francis’ determination  to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Since 2014 – less than two years after he was elected, Pope Francis has tried to move the nuclear powers more and more surely to nuclear abolition.  In the Holy See message to the 2014 Vienna conference on the humanitarian consequences of a nuclear exchange; at a Vatican conference on nuclear disarmament in 2017; and most recently during his visit to Japan, Pope Francis has decidedly shifted the Catholic commitment to nuclear abolition beyond a strictly limited acceptance of deterrence to a moral rejection of even the possession of nuclear weapons. The Holy See strongly supported the nuclear ban treaty in 2017 and has been actively working since then to rid the world of this taproot of violence in our society.

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