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Ammon Hennacy: The “One-Man Revolution” in America

July 24, 2007

Ammon Hennacy

In these bleak times, when we struggle to find the courage to end the absurd war in Iraq let alone bring about the more fundamental social change the Gospel demands, it’s worth recalling the fierce, uncompromising witness of Ammon Hennacy.

Hennacy, born this day in 1893, called himself a Christian anarchist:

A Christian is one who follows Christ; kind, kindly, Christ-like. Anarchism is voluntary cooperation for good, with the right of secession. A Christian anarchist is therefore one who turns the other cheek, overturns the tables of the moneychangers, and does not need a cop to tell him how to behave. A Christian anarchist does not depend upon bullets or ballots to achieve his ideal; he achieves that ideal daily by the One-Man Revolution with which he faces a decadent, confused, and dying world.” — excerpt from The Book of Ammon.

Hennacy forged his prophetic vision of the Gospel in daily struggle against violence at every level, a struggle which is beautifully recounted by the folksinger Utah Phillips, who lived with him for several years at the Catholic Worker House (The Joe Hill House of Hospitality) that Hennacy set up in Salt Lake City, Utah. Hennacy refused to register for the draft in WW I (for which he was jailed for two years in Georgia, a year in solitary confinement) and WWII, refused to ever pay taxes because they would support the military, and refused even to accept work other than casual labor for cash. Hennacy was an indefatigable radical who was arrested countless times for protesting war and violence of every kind. He died on 14 January 1970, six days after suffering a heart attack while protesting the scheduled execution of two men convicted of murder.

Hennacy’s legacy challenges anyone who would claim to be a Christian. He was driven by faith that Jesus’s message would not fail the world, whatever the fears and failings of the organized church and its caretakers. For Hennacy, change wasn’t pie in the sky that you might sing about on Sunday — and dismiss as an impossibility the minute you hit the parking lot. Hennacy did not expect political or institutional mechanisms to bring about change. Change begins when and individual turns her or his heart to God. And acts accordingly.

That’s a faith we need today.

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