John Dear is a Catholic priest who has written numerous books and articles on pacifism, nonviolence, and vegetarianism. Perhaps most notably, he helped author the landmark statement on the politics of peace delivered in January 2017 by Pope Francis.
In December 2013, Dear was dismissed after thirty-two years by the Jesuit order for being what his order called "obstinately disobedient." But he continues his work as a priest in the diocese of Monterey, California, and as nonviolence outreach coordinator for the activist group Pace e Bene.
From 1998 until December 2000, Dear served as the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the largest interfaith peace organization in the United States. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008, and since 2016 has worked with an international group of peace activists from the world's wartorn regions including Colombia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He is currently helping to organize a nationwide series of peace events for the week beginning September 15, 2018. We spoke in the offices of The Progressive in early April.
Q: Let's start out by talking a little bit about your background. How did you come to be where you are today?
John Dear: I grew up in North Carolina. My dad was the local newspaper publisher, and he supported Dr. [Martin Luther] King and the civil rights movement. So the Klan attacked him, and they issued death threats against me and my older brother. We would get blood-stained postcards. And then we moved to Washington, D.C., and my father became one of the leaders of the National Press Club.
So I was very politicized as a kid about the Vietnam War and Dr. King. When King and Bobby Kennedy were killed fifty years ago, it really shook me, even though I was only eight years old. And eventually I went to college at Duke, majoring in African American history. I thought, well, if they kill our greatest person ever, Martin Luther King, there's nothing that can be done and I don't even believe in God anymore.
Then, one day, I saw the light, and decided to give my whole life to God. That was the best thing I could do. I thought, well, I have to be a Jesuit priest. But just before I entered the Jesuits, I decided to hitchhike through Israel to see where Jesus lived. I was twenty-two years old.
Q: Tell us about that.
Dear: I left the week Israel invaded Lebanon, the summer war of 1982, and everything was...