Book Review: The Risk Of The Cross


The Risk of the Cross: Living Gospel Nonviolence in the Nuclear Age By Arthur Laffin. Twenty-Third Publications, 2020, 130 pages, $16.95

As a follow up to my article in the April Catholic Agitator (Nuclear Weapons: God’s of Metal), I offer a review of this notable and momentous book on nuclear weapons, their threat to all life on the planet, and resistance with gospel nonviolence, by longtime Catholic Worker, activist, and author Arthur Laffin.

Art Laffin is a member of Dorothy Day House Catholic Worker in Washington, DC. He has facilitated retreats, participated in and organized numerous protests and vigils at the Pentagon, White House, and other locations nationwide against nuclear weapons, wars, capital punishment, and other injustices within the institutional church and in society. He was a participant in past “Plowshares” actions, and has served a fair amount of jail/prison time for his resistance efforts.

The Risk of the Cross is a revised and updated edition of a book first published in 1981, The Risk of the Cross: Christian Discipleship in the Nuclear Age, which was co-authored by Christopher Grannis, Arthur Laffin, and Elin Schade. This superb revised edition contains the original Forward written by renowned spiritual leader and theologian Henri Nouwen, and a splendid and thought-provoking new Forward by longtime advocate and mentor of gospel nonviolence, John Dear. It also provides the original Introduction to the first edition, and a stimulating new Introduction that provides in-depth analysis of Christian discipleship today.

This book is written for either personal or group study. It contains five stimulating sessions with five related informative and inspirational appendix sections that coincide with each session, and eleven resource pages to assist the reader in further study, reflection, contacts, and ways to act. Each session contains an excellent reflective opening prayer, a gospel reading from Mark, a reflection article followed by discussion questions, and a closing meditation, each pertinent to our discipleship journey in the nuclear age in the midst of empire.

Laffin’s reflections are influenced by various authors, particularly Ched Myers’ books Binding The Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, and Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Discipleship Queries for First World Christians. Other influential authors include Wes Howard Brook, Phil and Dan Berrigan, John Dear, Dorothy Day, James Cone, MLK, and William Stringfellow, among others.

Laffin, in the Introduction, states that “Today, as in 1981, there is a great need for Christians, in light of their faith, to address the nuclear threat that imperils all life and to actively become Jesus’ peace and justice makers. Today, in this time of perpetual war, there is also an equally important need to address and act on the related threat of climate and environmental devastation, which endangers all of creation” (6). Further, he reminds us that two central themes in Mark’s gospel are “‘repentance’ and ‘resistance.’ This repentance implies not only conversion of heart but turning away from empire. Jesus then calls his disciples to follow him, to proclaim the reign of God, and to nonviolently resist the forces of evil and death. Living in the U.S., an empire responsible for so much needless death and suffering in our world today, we need to heed Jesus’ proclamation now more than ever” (8).

This entire book helps the reader to better understand the call to repentance, resistance, and how to more faithfully follow the person known as the Prince of Peace in the midst of empire and its nuclear madness. Laffin affirms that “The central question of faith is: In whom do I trust? Not: What do I believe” (12). He later asks: “On what authority—divine or human—do we rely on nuclear weapons for our freedom and security?” Adding, “Any trust that we put in nuclear weapons is trust displaced from God” (33).

He instructively provides vital information on nuclear weapons history; testimonies from someone who worked in the nuclear weapons industry and resigned because of faith convictions; Christian pacifism and church teachings; personal statements on peace and nuclear disarmament; the human, economic, and environmental costs of nuclear weapons; and how we, as church, must accept our cross and respond to and resist nuclear weapons by living gospel nonviolence. It is now, more than ever, a moral imperative that we no longer live in denial of this crisis’ catastrophic reality, but rather fully trust in God’s power to heal and free us.

The Risk of the Cross is an essential and valuable contribution to the discussion and implementation of gospel nonviolence in resistance, specifically related to the most diabolical weapons made in human history. It also helps us put into action Jesus’ message and example in our own life while living in the midst of empire. It is a MUST read in these perilous times.

 Mike Wisniewski is a Los Angeles Catholic Worker community member and co-editor of the Agitator.

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