Keeping Faith in the Face of Empire
by Rev. Will McGarvey

The message given at the Good Friday protest and Stations of the Cross and nonviolent Acts of Witness at the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Laboratory April 19, 2019, 7:00 am.  Organized by the Ecumenical Peace Institute/CALC and Livermore Conversion Project.

(Order GF 2019 order of W v7.1)

We live in an Empire.  It is both a military Empire and an Economic Empire.  

Our country is what has been called a hidden Empire, with more than 900 military bases around the world.  We are not a Territorial Empire, like Rome which put it’s armies on it’s borders and grew from there.  Instead, ours is a country that can force smaller countries and regions in the world agree to so-called “Free Trade Agreements” that forces them to open their markets to us, at the threat of not being able to participate in our consumer driven financial system.

Since World War II, we have created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and many other military treaties that have been able to incentivize a growing number of countries to purchase their military supplies from US companies.  And we have used these systems of military treaties to get companies to become a part of our economic systems.  For all of our President’s faults, at least he is sloppy enough to display how clumsily we have always used our levers of military and economic might against other countries.

In fact, he has so openly bullied other countries, that we can see through his words and lies and sanctions against, China, Iran, Venezuela and othersthat we can see his policies for what they are – opening salvos in an economic war to get those countries to do what we want them to do – which is submit to US power and to act as vassal states, or to give their petroleum industries over to the Koch Brothers or other US forms of corporate domination.

Never before have we had a President that is as blatant in their public pressure on other countries to buy US Arms.  His pressure has created resistance with our European partners, and his open militarism has even forced Russia to pull out of our Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaties as we have attempted to create new markets in Europe for US Arms Sales.  

As we know, Trump even pulled out of one of the most successful treaties ever – the Iranian missile treaty, also known as the JCPOA – ostensibly to force Iran back to the negotiating table – but now most of the world knows better than to trust us, even our allies have become wary of Pax Americana.

We used to hide such behavior – pretending we were doing such things to preserve freedom around the world – but these days our international domination is out in the open.  

For those of us who care, we know that our nation has broken every single treaty ever signed with Native Americans in the history of our nation.  We haven’t kept even one.  We have broken over 700 treaties with Native Nations, and we even went so far as to create official doctrines of Manifest Destiny, New World policies based on the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Discovery, forcing our system of land ownership on indigenous peoples the world over.  These days, all we have to do is listen to any speech by John Bolton, to hear some of the same talking points of American exceptionalism and colonialism that was once reserved for conversations about keeping Native Americans in their places – on the most marginal lands that we called reservations – rather than recognizing them as Sovereign Native Nations.  Now, John Bolton, Mike Pence and Michael Pompeo are all using that kind of language and expectations about Central and South America, as well as parts of the Middle East.  

Yes, we live in an Empire, even though, until recently, we tried not to talk about it all like that.  The term “Protecting American interests”has become ubiquitous with expansion of our corporate power in the world.  Which raises questions for us as people of faith.  

How do we live as citizens of the Empire – and as a part of the religious resistance to the abuses of the Empire?  

As MLK said, “we have guided missiles and misguided people.” And, as he pointed out in his sermon Beyond Vietnam at Riverside Church one year to the day before he was assassinated, that every dollar we spend on the military robs services and help from the poor.

So, here we are at the Lab, once again.  And once again, we can’t pretend that making more and new Nuclear Missiles will make the “so-called nuclear deterrent” any more possible when we have ideologues such as the Liar in Chief in the White House.  He is, after all, the first President of the Nuclear age to threaten the use of “strategic” low-grade nuclear weapons as a part of our regular military options that can be used against any nation at any time.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Fear and Power, seems to be the primary reasons for the creation of Nuclear Weapons, and the many other aspects of the buildup of our military might.  Fear, itself, seems to be the real reason for the planning, construction, storage and reconstruction and even the “updating” of our nuclear weapons.  

Power over non-nuclear states is a natural outgrowth of these systems.  But the profit motive contributes to this as well, so we can sell our “updated” technology to all of those other countries we are trying to get into our “sphere of influence” as well – which is code words for – “under our thumb of Pax Americana.”    

Fear, leads us to get in line with the Empire.  Fear teaches us to limit our humanity in the service of the Empire.  Be afraid, get in line, play your part, and ultimately, don’t question the Empire.

And then, somewhere in the back of our minds we hear the words we have heard from our politicians of every stripe, “We are here to protect you.” – They only have to whisper these words to keep us in line.  Even in those times when we wonder what other countries would do with the power and military might we exert around the world, we can sometimes believe – or hope – that at least America would only use such power benevolently. 

Twice a year we come here to question whether we are a altruistic Empire.  When we get uppity and call for the end of their destructive little tools of Empire, or call for our nation to be really equal with every other country on the planet, the Imperial Masters may raise their whisper to speaking at a room level, again, to put us in our place.  “Be afraid,” they say – just above a spoken volume.  And then they whisper again, “We will protect you from those other bullies, if you just get back in line.”  But somewhere, deep down, we know.  America itself is the most powerful aggressor and oppressor in the world.  Just ask the people of Venezuela, who is experiencing an open coup at the hands of our own government at the behest of the Koch Brothers, whose oil refineries in Texas were created specifically to refine the dirty oil found in Venezuela. 

It’s not just the sanctions that get used in times like these, but the threat of our military might as well.  The Power that our military arsenals exert against countries that would dare to challenge our economic systems, or our foreign policies, is immense and we can’t take it for granted that just because it is power being exerted by our own nation that the power and pressure being used in our name is being used in peaceful, humanitarian ways.  

No, President Trump’s bluster and open threats against others has moved the doomsday clock closer to midnight than at any time in our nation’s history except for the Cuban Missile Crisis.  

Such power corrupts the soul of a country and its leaders.  It eventually allows us to rationalize the actions used against other “threats” against us.  Would our leaders have the sway to get as many Americans to support the language and rhetoric against Muslims and Mexicans unless we had become afraid of them?  Would good hearted Americans allow the children of asylees at our borders to be separated from their parents – would we allow them to create more and more for-profit prisons to house the thousands of immigrants incarcerated around the country – unless we agreed with them on some level?

Such power also corrupts the soul of our nation’s police departments and the racist systems of mass incarceration.  I have to wonder if the Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston would be as cavalier as he is at the 8thdeath inside Contra Costa Jails in the last 2 years if he too wasn’t a tool of the Empire?  

But here we are again – Keeping Faith in the Face of the Empire we ourselves live within.  Like the Maccabean Jews within the Greek Empire.  Like the Jesus movement within the Roman Empire, who would rather die in the arenas than participate in the Empire.  Like the Druids who stood against the Roman troops in Anglesey.  Like the Prophet Mohamed and the Muslims who traveled from Mecca to Medina to escape certain death for demanding equal  rights for those oppressed in their society, only to have to reassure those in Medina that they came to make peace with the locals there as well.  Religious people are often the last resistance to Empires.

Today we are here to show that we retain our humanity, to retain our faith in the Gods and Goddesses we know how to pray to, and against the powers of death, war and injustice.  We are here once again to remind them – as we remind ourselves – that we were created for more than to be fodder for their wars of aggression.  

We were created to recognize the image of the divine in one another, and therefore, we belong to each other – even in the face of the threats and abuses of Empire – and especially when we live and resist within the borders of that Empire.

And, we are here again to reclaim everyone’s humanity, to hold up a mirror to our neighbors and family members who work inside this Imperial systems of weapon making and environmental degradation.  We are here to ask them and the Emperor with no clothes why they put their trust in violence and fear.

And just like Jesus of Nazareth who always brought along his friends – the women, the sex workers and the dispossessed, we are here to introduce those working in the Petro-Chemical, Military Industrial Complex how the very presence of their industries are killing indigenous peoples the world over – and to expose how our Government and the Wall Street Bankster’s 5 Trillion dollars of subsidization of the #FossilFuelsKill industry is literally robbing the poor of enough to eat so that the richest 1/10th of a percent can continue to divert more than half of our economic profits to their own pockets and control.  

And so, as a part of our resistance, we are also here to ask questions, of ourselves and our nation:

  • When did our non-proliferation treaties make it ok to sell Nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia?  Or Pakistan?  Or India, or anyone for that matter?
  • When did we become the arbiters for who gets to lead the countries of Venezuela, Haiti, or even Iran?
  • And – why did we Americans allow these systems of power over others to become so normalized?

Money, power, fear and control.  We are here to remind ourselves and our neighbors that each of us were created for more than these age old demonic powers.

Pope Francis has “argued that any country that maintains a nuclear arsenal “creates nothing but a false sense of security,” saying that total disarmament is the only acceptable solution.” (NCR, Apri. 5, 2019, page 8, Old Guard Looks to New Generation on Nuclear Disarmament, by Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service)  

Our fears of a nuclear holocaust are only rivaled these days by our genuine fear of Climate Chaos.  The environmental catastrophe being created by many of these same industries has led us to the brink of dozens of tipping points seen today.  We have added the terms “Polar Vortex,” “Bomb Cyclone,” “Winter Storm Wesley,” “Thousand Year Floods” and “Insect Apocalypse” to our vocabulary.  

We’ve known that we are transforming our climate since the 1970’s and yet in 2018 our emissions from fossil fuels use surged to a record high of 33.1 Billion tons.  Only a few days ago, on April 15th, the global actions of Extinction Rebellion were starting to make the Empire take notice that their constituents will not all go away without resisting.  And yet no one is talking about how we are the largest historical emitter of such gases, actively denying the science of Climate Chaos that has created the 3-year drought in the Central American triangle that has created the thousands of ecological refugees fleeing the region where our foreign policy has supported and trained the armed criminals in the gangs that threaten their lives.  We are the source of the many intersections of their oppression in their home countries, only to treat them like animals if they make it to our borders seeking asylum.  

As our own young people have awakened to the threats of Climate Chaos and the increase in Farm Crop Failures the last few years, many are also just awakening to the intersections of the threats of Global Engineering and Nuclear proliferation.  Today, we live under the threat of multiple catastrophic failures of our so-called civilizations.  We hear of young people putting off having children, because of the uncertainties of what kind of world they would be bringing children into.  How do we retain our own sanity and ability to act and create a new tomorrow?  Where do we look for hope?  

The reason we are inspired by Moses, the Maccabees, Honi the Circle Maker, Jesus of Nazareth, or Mohamed, or the Buddha, or Harriet Tubman, or Gandhi, or Caesar Chavez, or Dorothy Day or Dr. King or Thomas Merton – or the Native Leaders like Geronimo of the many nations and confederations who confronted the Settler Colonialisms of our fore-parents – was because we recognize that these sheroes and heroes of faith were good at staying faithful, even unto death.  

It didn’t matter if they died in the desert escaping slavery, or standing up to Antiochus Epiphanes, or continued to cry out to the skies until the water came, or if they died in old age having led a movement of justice and enlightenment.  Even when they died on a Roman cross along with others guilty of sedition against the inhumanities of the Empires of their day – what we see in them was a strength of fortitude we know we need today, and that we see in those around us in our better moments.  It’s just this kind of Soul Force we saw in Gandhi that we want to see in ourselves.

Given all of the systems of oppression we recognize around us and encircling those we love around the world, we have to do more than look for what is politically possible, we have to start to act as if our actions matter, because they are the difference between mass extinctions and a livable planet.

We have to keep faith.  Amen?

We have to remain faithful, even when it gets hard, Ameen?  Amén?  Ashé?  

Yes, we have to stay faithful in our struggle against Empire, because it seeks to take over every part of our lives!  

We have to keep faith: 

  • with those trapped in mass incarceration
  • with those waiting at the border to receive their right of asylum
  • with those who continue to be targeted by the Police or ICE
  • with those whose peoples are being annihilated by the Empire
  • and, we have to be the Saints today that we have looked to for inspiration in the past.

We have to keep faith, with those who have gone before, who have showed up at this rally in years past, but who have died or are not able to make it any longer, if only to preserve hope in the potential humanity of the guards who twice a year put on swat team gear and are trained to “Protect the Lab”at all costs from little old ladies and pacifist preachers – we have to keep faith even for them.  We have to help them reclaim their humanity, too.

We are here today to say, once again, that even though we live in the shadow of Empire – we are here to say we will not become the tools of Imperial economics, racism and the Empire’s war machine.  We have to decolonize our hearts so that when we win – and we will win, siblings of God – we have to decolonize our hearts so we don’t mistakenly take the places within the Empire that others are currently playing.  

Here’s the key.  We aren’t called to be successful for the sake of success, or progress, or even for the sake of making the world a better place.  We are called to be faithful –  like the servants and prophets of old –  even unto death.  We too need to be faithful, leaving the success to God alone. 

Union leader Nicholas Klein in 1914 provided a closer version of the misattributed quote that is most likely a combination of Klein’s 1914 speech combined with an attempt to summarize Gandhi’s nonviolent doctrine and philosophy.  It was true for the Union, and it’s true for us today…  He said,

“And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.”  

This is what it means to be Human Beings, not just humans doing.

Our faithfulness here today is an expression of our loyal questioning of the systems of power over others.  Our allegiance to the God of Compassion questions the very foundations of White Supremacy, White Nationalism, Patriarchal misogyny, and demands an equality that exposes American Exceptionalism as the idolatry that it continues to be.

Americans can be better, precisely because of our values of Chesed– of loving kindness, caring, compassion and belonging.  We will do this in the liminal spaces today – in our conversations between the Stations of the Empire’s Crosses we will recognize as we walk today – in our drumming and singing – and in our showing up.

That is the fidelity we are called to.  So – continue to show up, retain your freedom, and free others.  For just as Hurt people hurt people, free people free others.  And even as we walk along the street today, we remind those around us that we are here because the power of Love demands it of us.  

For the vocation of our loving God compels us to be all that we have been created to be – not to shrink back from our full humanity – to show that we can live as equals with others around the world.  In that solidarity – then – let us continue to be the people of God that challenges all that threatens our common humanity – and the earth itself.  Amen.

More pictures from the event.

  1. Isabella Ziti from Idle No More, SF Bay Area and Benjamin Mertz give an opening blessing – Honoring the Land and the Ancestors.  
  2. Sacred movement led by Carla De Sola & Kathleen Robbiano
  3. “Canticle of the Turning” by Rory Coony, to traditional Irish folk tune withDaniel Zwickel ben Avrám MacJean & Benjamin Mertz