Despite the growing influence of white supremacy groups in the U.S., good theology still beats out bad. Good theology led Kerry Noble, co-founder of a Christian supremacist group, to renounce bigotry. Though it happened three decades ago, his story still speaks to the teaching role of socially responsible churches, synagogues and mosques in countering domestic terrorism.
Noble tells of a showdown between the FBI and his group. Years before the famous 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, the confrontation ended peacefully due to Noble’s efforts.
It began in 1978 when Noble and his wife joined the group in order to strengthen their faith and raise a family. Fearful for the future, the family began to prepare for the imminent apocalyptic end-time by stockpiling food. Group members did not believe in the rapture, so it was urgently necessary to provide refuge from the great war they believed was coming.
At that point, a new leader, James Ellison, arrived. He told the group, “You are not prepared enough. War is inevitable. And what will you do when bad people come?” The group named itself “The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord.” They bought $52,000 worth of weapons, including rockets, and tanks, and trained everyone in the use of automatic weapons. With the end-time approaching, group members believed that they would be the ones to execute God’s judgment.
The leadership had a particularly racist way of reading the Bible. According to their teaching, the white race, not the Jews, were the Israel of Bible, and the world’s troubles were the result of a vast conspiracy involving Jews, gays, government officials, liberal professors, the major corporations, the television networks and computer software manufacturers.
Gradually it dawned on Noble that something did not add up. Though one of the group’s oldest members (he had been there six years) he had even written a tract called, “The Coming War,” yet now seeds of doubt were planted in his mind.
In 1984 he volunteered for a mission. “Anyone who does violence has a self-deception that if you did something major, it would start a revolution.” His plan was to bomb a church for gay men in Kansas City, Missouri. He attended the worship service, with about 60 in attendance, holding a briefcase filled with the explosive C4. “All I had to do was hit the timer and walk out,” Noble said. “About 10 or 15 minutes later, there’d be an explosion, and everyone would die.”
“But I committed two sins. I put a face on the enemy. Now I began to look around at these people, just regular people like me with brothers, sisters, and lives to lead. What right did I have to disrupt that?” My second sin: I began to think about what I was doing. If I do this act, will it honestly bring about the revolution? I would probably die, and for what?”
He left the church. When he returned home, Jim Ellison, the group’s leader, was shocked. “From then on I was the enemy.” He tried to turn Ellison’s thinking around. He tried to talk his wife into leaving the group, but she refused.
On April 20,1985, the FBI descended on their compound and set up a perimeter, but refused to fire on them. Eventually the group sent Noble out to talk. He succeeded in negotiating a settlement with the FBI without a single shot fired. Everyone involved went to prison on illegal weapons charges, and Noble and his wife eventually divorced. He renounced violence, wrote a book to purge himself, and began working to convince hate groups to give up the struggle.
I heard Kerry speak at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Conference in Boston in 1999. After he finished, someone asked, “What happened to you?” His answer: “My theology changed.”