Excerpt from The Only Alternative: Christian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America by Alan Nelson and John Malkin.
James Wilson Douglass was born on July 16, 1937, in Princeton, British Columbia, Canada. He grew up in Hedley, BC, a small mining town in the Rocky Mountains, where his father managed a gold mine. Douglass’ Irish Catholic mother had prepared to become a Dominican sister prior to marrying his father, a widower with four children already in their teens.
James Douglass studied nuclear engineering at the University of California Berkeley, and English and philosophy at Santa Clara University. He did graduate work in English at the University of Kansas, and earned an MA in theology at the University of Notre Dame. Before being inspired to work for peace, Douglass intended to be a nuclear-weapons designer and was in the U.S. army in 1955 and 1956.
From 1962 to 1965, Douglass succeeded in persuading bishops at the Second Vatican Council to condemn total war and to support conscientious objection. He has also spent time in jails for his nonviolent civil disobedience, resisting U. S. nuclear and military policies. In the 1980s, he led efforts in tracking and protesting the U.S. Department of Energy’s nuclear-weapons “White Train” that carried nuclear materials secretly, and in the 1990s he traveled to Iraq to non-cooperate with the U.S.-led economic sanctions and wars against that country. Douglass and his wife, Shelley, together founded the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action; the Agape Community, which tracked the White Train, and Mary’s House, a Catholic Worker house in Birmingham, Alabama.
Douglass has written a series of four books on the theology of non-violence: The Non-Violent Cross, Resistance and Contemplation, Lightning East to West, and The Nonviolent coming of God. The Nonviolent Coming of God describes the ways Jesus of Nazareth embodied revolutionary nonviolence and taught it to the people of his day, who faced the choice between nonviolence and violent annihilation by the occupying Roman military forces. Jesus’ prophecy that we all must choose between nonviolence and annihilation is no less true today than it was in his own time. In his writing, Douglass maintains that the resurrection of Jesus – the nonviolent coming of God – is still happening today in the form of worldwide revolutionary nonviolence.
Especially important are the connections Douglass makes between theological, psychological, political, and economic aspects of peacemaking and revolutionary nonviolence. In ways congruent with much of the best contemporary and traditional psychotherapies, he speaks as a seasoned social-change activist and theologian about human growth and potential. He presents a theology (logic of God) and a psychology (logic of the psyche) of nonviolent peacemaking, as well as of personal and social growth and transformation.
Douglass does not call on people of non-Christian traditions to become Christians, but he does call on Christians and all religious and spiritual people to become acquainted with the centeral aspects of nonviolent peacemaking that all religious and spiritual traditions contain. Douglass’ writings and activism for social change have focused on nonviolent resistance to militarism, on noncooperation with injustice, and on compassionate witnessing to suffering as taught by Jesus and other religious teachers.