Abraham Johannes Muste was arguably the outstanding American exponent of Christian nonviolence in the 20th century. In a career of protest that spanned both World War I and the Vietnam War, he stood by his conscience and convictions. His integrity and civility won respect even from members of the establishment he opposed.
Trained as a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, Muste was expelled from his first congregation for his pacifism. For years afterward he eschewed the institutional Church to work in the labor movement. In 1936 he returned to ministry and the organized peace movement, convinced that the Sermon on the Mount contained the most radical program for social transformation. “Pacifism,” he wrote, “is built upon a central truth. . . . That truth is: God is love, love is of God. Love is the central thing in the universe.”
Muste served for many years as executive secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He became an eloquent opponent of the Cold War and those theologians who, in the name of “realism,” justified the threat of nuclear war. As he noted in an oft-quoted line: “There is no way to peace, peace itself being the way.” When asked by a reporter what good it did to maintain a vigil outside a nuclear weapons base, he replied, “I don’t do this to change the world, I do it to keep the world from changing me.”
In 1966, then eighty-one, he was arrested in Saigon while demonstrating in front of the U.S. Embassy. He died the following year on February 11.
“The way of peace is really a seamless garment that must cover the whole of life and must be applied in all its relationships.”
—A. J. Muste