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Christian civil disobedience

17 May 2008
Today is the fortieth anniversary of the arrest of the Catonsville Nine, a group of Christian antiwar protesters who destroyed draft records of the Vietnam War.

clipped from
Forty years ago tomorrow, nine
committed followers of Christ entered the Selective Service Office
in Catonsville. They moved past
three surprised office workers,
who questioned what they were
doing but did not stop them. The
nine quickly gathered 378 1-A
draft files in wire baskets, then
took them to the parking lot and
immolated them with a homemade
version of napalm. They
prayed quietly over the burning
papers until the police arrested
them 15 minutes later.

Now, four decades later, we are
again in a war in a country we can
barely identify, a country whose
language, people, religion, history
and culture we neither know nor
understand. Interestingly, the Catonsville
Nine anniversary is occurring during a debate over
whether to establish a permanent
ROTC site at the University of
Maryland, Baltimore County campus
in Catonsville, amid objections
to the “militarization” of college
life. These issues, so prominent
during the Vietnam era, are
still very much with us.
blog it

Looking back, 1968 was a very interesting year. There was student power, which started with protests in Paris and spread all over the world. There was the protest of the Catonsville Nine and other protesters against the Vietnam War. There was the Prague Spring. There was the Message to the People of South Africa, which declared that apartheid was not merely a heresy, but a false gospel.

All these were, in one way or another, protests against authoritarian big government. Of course big government fought back. Warsaw Pact tanks rolled into Prague, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated (not necessarily by big government, but the proponents of big government perhaps felt some relief). What was encouraging and exciting was not victories, however, but resistance to the power of the Beast. It would be another 20 years before any similar resistance was seen. In Czechoslovakia the Velvet Revolution achieved what the Prague Spring did not, but the intervening years also saw the rise of the religious right. Of course the religious right also existed in 1968, but they didn’t dominate the media as they did in later years.

The Catonsville Nine were a huge encouragement. They inspired the publication of The Catonsville Roadrunner in the UK, a radical Christian underground magazine that could be said to represent the religious left. And The Catonsvuille Roadrunner inspired several others, and publicised the witness of the Catonsville Nine in many other parts of the world.

Hat-tip to The Christian Radical: Lessons from the Catonsville Nine.

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