In 2015 Leeds Church Institute put together a project called Passion4Leeds, where we explored what Jesus’ life might look like in 20th Century Leeds. As part of the project, we asked Methodist Minister Revd. Dan Woodhouse to pose as our Jesus for some Instagram-style photos, including one of Jesus being arrested. In January of this year, life imitated art when Dan was arrested, along with Quaker Sam Walton, for attempting to disarm warplanes bound for Saudi Arabia at the BAE Systems site in Warton. We asked Dan what drove him to take such actions.
To many our actions may seem to have come out of nowhere; much like a meteor suddenly blazing and burning out in the sky. However, like our space rock, there was a long journey to reach this point. One that is often not considered. It is this journey that makes the action make sense and to me feel normal and imperative, despite, at times, overwhelming anxiousness.
I have campaigned for many years against the inherent, and government complicit, injustices of the arms trade. Most of this pursuit has been spent through more conventional means; meeting with other campaigners, talking to MPs, signing petitions, marching and so on.
At the heart of this has been my faith as a Christian, the example of Christ, and the Prophets who walked the earth before Him. Scripture teaches us to peacefully resist evil, to speak truth to power; always looking to, and usually on behalf of, those who have no voice.
This time the voiceless, or covered screams, are found in Yemen and the vicious, repressive killers are the UK’s most valued customer; Saudi Arabia and its coalition.
The official target of the Saudi-led, BAE Systems built, aerial bombing campaign were and are rebels. However, it is being widely reported that many, possibly even more, civilian targets, including mosques, schools, hospitals, transport infrastructure and markets, are being hit, often repeatedly.
Despite the rising death toll the government of the UK continues to court Saudi, even sending high-ranking royals over to seal more arms deals.
The campaign to stop UK weapons sales continues without success.
The EU parliament, in the wake of UN criticism, votes to suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia, without success.
Humanitarian organisations working in Yemen present evidence of war crimes and demand arms sales cease, without success.
Independent lawyers deem UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be breaking UK, EU and international law and MPs speak out demanding weapons sales stop, without success.
All around people cry out for justice, without success.
Simply put, the Government of the UK is complicit in war crimes and will not listen to reason, justice or even law.
Some will question if it’s ever acceptable to physically damage property which is not our own. “Surely we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, implying that Jesus expects his followers to always follow the law of the land. In answer, I have a few thoughts.
First, Jesus was in a position where people were looking to trap him, so I do wonder, with the addition of “give to God what is God’s”, if the answer given was designed to avoid the trap whilst also daring us to ask a further question. The question being, what does Caesar have authority over that God does not?
I believe we can all agree that a major purpose of a Christian is to bring heaven to earth. We pray for it every time we pray in the manner in which Jesus taught his disciples. When we read the words of Christ, when referring to the kingdom of heaven or God, he is always talking of the here and now and not some far off place in which we might one day reside.
When a British arms company, BAE Systems, and the British government are supplying the means for Saudi Arabia to bring about a hell on earth, in Yemen how can anyone argue that a Christian, or anyone interested in justice, peace, love, grace, does not have the authority to stop the means by which this hell is being brought about?
There are even legal precedences for this. Under UK Law, a person is allowed to use reasonable force to stop a crime. There is overwhelming evidence that the activities that BAE Systems and the UK government are involved in, with regards to weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, are criminal. What’s more, this is not the first time this has happened at BAE Warton. 21 years before our action activists broke in and disarmed planes due for war crimes in Indonesia. The group were tried and acquitted.
There is also theological precedent. John 2 records the controversial actions of Jesus in the temple. Where Jesus makes a whip, drive animals out and turns over the tables of the money changers. Without context, this seems like criminal damage and beyond the bounds of any peaceful activist. However, there is institutional injustice rife at the temple, the centre of the Jewish community.
The market was located in the place where female Jews and all gentiles were permitted to worship. So in the immediate, the majority of the population were being prevented from encountering God at the temple.
However, this isn’t all, the market was beyond the normal buying and selling of goods but instead designed to fleece the worshipers from start to end.
It was custom to bring animals to the temple for sacrifice. However, on arrival the priests would deem the animals not good enough for sacrifice and so direct people to buy from the approved temple market, where animals would be sold at a premium, and then, only temple coins could be used, which the money changers would exchange, but at extortionate rates.
It is this scene that Jesus finds. Interestingly, Jesus is a Jewish Rabbi and clearly has an open dialogue with other religious leaders, even if this is often strained. So, though this is to some degree conjecture, if Jesus could have ended this practice through conventional means I believe he would have done. However, with no other means left to him, Jesus physically ends the injustice in the temple.
So it is for this, that I found myself with my friend Sam, ready to physically stifle at least some of the UK complicit Saudi atrocities.
Though, sadly my regret is that we were stopped at the final door and it will be my lasting memory, whilst waiting with security, thinking of the lives we didn’t directly save that night.