Born in 1926, World War II veteran and ordained Jesuit priest Ben Urmston was the founder of the Peace and Justice Program and was an advisor to the Peace Studies Minor at Xavier University (XU) in Cincinnati, Ohio. A 1943 graduate of XU, Urmston joined the U.S. Army that same year and was stationed in both the European and Pacific theatres in the Second World War. It was during his stay in the Philippine Islands that Urmston decided to become a Jesuit, and in 1946 he entered the Jesuit Novitiate. In 1971 Urmston returned to Xavier, taking a job as a professor of Theology. In 1977 he started a weekly talk show, titled “Faith and Justice Forum,” which was broadcast on the university’s radio station. Over the next decade, Urmston helped establish XU’s Peace Studies Minor and was appointed Director of the Dorothy Day House, which manages the university’s Peace and Justice Programs.
Urmston has identified a set of five tenets which he deems prerequisite for the realization of “liberty and justice for all, for each human person, created in the image and likeness of God.” “In my vision,” he writes, “there are five major pieces, or pillars, that we need to focus on to build a world with just structures . . . a world ethic, non-violence, basic human rights, economic democracy, a global world authority.”
The first “pillar” in Urmston’s vision is “World Ethic.” “Christians, Jews, and Muslims,” he says, “share at least in theory a common understanding of peace as not only the absence of war which is certainly important but also the presence of justice which is equally essential. It’s a tragedy that members of these three great religions have been often at war with one another.” As a means of achieving the ideal of a “world ethic,” Urmston advocates many facets of communism while impugning capitalism as an oppressive, exploitative system inclined toward paranoia. He writes: “Driven by anti-communism, the national security state began to gain strength after World War II. . . . The excessive military spending after World War II sacrificed some of the social gains begun by social welfare capitalism. The over-emphasis on national security through military means developed into excessive secrecy, classifying documents, and destroying open democracy. . . . National security became the focus rather than common world security. . . . In foreign policy, the US was governed by the economic interests of US corporations. In the Third World, the US government was not above supporting right-wing dictators who suppressed labor unions, had few environmental restraints, asked little taxes, favored a rich oligarchy, and often gave no protection from death squads to dissenters. . . . Enormous wealth existing alongside poverty is contrary to Christian solidarity. . . . the title to private ownership is only legitimate if productive property serves the greatest number, is democratically controlled, and is treated with responsible stewardship. . . . I think we should take the best of socialism and capitalism and create a new vision more in accord with God’s Word. . . . I suggest we ask what capitalism is doing for the human family and the planet on which we live. What is capitalism doing for the dignity, value, and worth of each human person? How democratic is capitalism? . . . In 1976 the Catholic Bishops of the Antilles . . . stated: ‘The Catholic Church does not condemn indiscriminately all forms of socialism.’ . . . To see some of the positive aspects of socialism and Marxism I suggest John Cort’s Christian Socialism and Fr. Arthur F. McGovern, S.J.[‘s]Marxism: An American Christian Perspective. . . . If you are a capitalist and have some axe to grind, considering socialists and leftists as intrinsically evil is convenient but not intellectually honest. . . . The present principalities and powers use ‘globalization’ as an ideology. To them, the operation of the market has an absolute value. The market is not for people, but people are subordinated to the market. The unrestricted ‘free’ market assumes a religious character, as greed becomes a virtue, competition a commandment, and profit a sign of salvation.”
On the web page outlining Urmston’s second pillar, “Non-Violence,” he lauds the efforts of social activists: “Those who practice civil disobedience do so because they see a higher law than civil law, God’s moral law. In fear and trembling and with much group discernment they see civil disobedience as an appeal to a higher law. Civil disobedience is non-violent, public, following a carefully formed conscience, and done with great respect for law in general.” Urmston promotes the group Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), an Anti-war NGO that sends its members to areas of conflict to disrupt military actions via acts of civil disobedience. In April 2004, NP founder David Hartsough asked NP members and those of its sister organization, Peaceworkers, to disrupt American military operations in Najaf, Iraq, where Islamic terrorists were overrunning the streets. Member organizations of NP include several anti-American, anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian militant groups, such as: Global Exchange; Grassroots International; the Holy Land Trust; the International Peace Bureau; the International Solidarity Movement; Pax Christi-U.S.A.; and September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.
Regarding his third pillar, “Human Rights,” Urmston writes, “We must strive for a just social and economic order, in which everyone has an equal chance to reach full potential as a human being. We must speak and act truthfully and with compassion, dealing fairly with all, and avoiding prejudice and hatred.” Yet Urmston views human rights through a prism of leftwing orthodoxy. For example, the organizations to which he provides links on his web page have specifically targeted Israel with their condemnations and criticisms. Chief among these is the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which has passed more resolutions against Israel than it has against any other nation. On April 15, 2003 the Human Rights Commission adopted a resolution sanctioning the use of “all available means including armed struggle” as legitimate tactics against Israel.
“Economic Democracy,” Urmston’s fourth pillar, takes issue with America’s present economic structure. Urmston writes: “Today, do the few who own and control the factories, farms, and banks have too much power? Their enormous wealth affects even political democracy. . . . Our present system is a kind of dictatorship because of its centralization of power. . . . Although very imperfect, now there is some semblance of political democracy in many parts of the world. This democratic process needs to be extended in some way to the factories and the farms. We could call more humane structures by some other name. We could call it global economic freedom, global economic security, global economic equity. I will call it global economic democracy.” Among the anti-capitalist organizations Urmston promotes are Food First, Global Exchange, the Institute for Policy Studies, Public Citizen, and the Waterkeeper Alliance. In his writings on terrorism, Urmston cites America’s possession of a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth – and not militant Islamic fundamentalism — as the root cause.
Urmston’s final pillar is “Global World Authority”; in his mind, the world would be better served if it came under the leadership of a single, all-encompassing, world-governing political body. “The human family needs to make a choice,” he states, “between domination by a few wealthy nations or wealthy people and liberty and justice for all; between domination by a few nations that have more guns or settling disputes among equals by mediation and by law. If we choose democracy for all over domination by a few, we need world-wide structures governed by law.”
In 1997 Urmston received the Golden Microphone award from Xavier University’s radio station in recognition of his twenty years of weekly programming on the “Faith and Justice Forum.”
In 1998 he was awarded the Manhattan College Peace Studies Medal, in recognition of his “outstanding and significant contribution to peacemaking and Peace Studies through his personal life and institutional witness.”
In 2002, he received the Xavier University Muslim Student Association (MSA) Award of Recognition “in honor of his work and dedication to support the goals of the Muslim Student Association and promotion of Islamic awareness on campus.” The MSA is a key lobbying organization for the Wahhabi sect of Islam, and has been associated with the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, both of which have been investigated for funding terrorism. An annual Urmston Peace Studies Scholarship is also awarded to a student at XU who proves to be “distinguished both in scholarly achievements in Peace Studies and in co-curricular activities that show a strong commitment to peace work.”
After 48 years as a professor at Xavier University, Urmston retired in 2019 at the age of 93.