The Draft and Liberty of Conscience
By Michael Peabody, Esq.
Most political pundits have dismissed the call of Representative Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to return to a military draft as nothing more than a protest against perceived socio-economic inequality in recruiting, but some are beginning to ask whether the current all-volunteer military is capable of sustaining existing combat operations while preparing for the prospective battlefields of 21st century.
Although military recruiters continue to report strong numbers as of this writing, others are concerned that as the war in Iraq continues, with mounting casualties, fewer troops will re-enlist and recruitment numbers will weaken. Further, there is the possibility that additional operations throughout the Middle East, North Korea, or even South America could stretch the current military to its breaking point, and require a reinstatement of the draft, last used in 1973.
Given the uncertain future of military involvement, now is the time for Seventh-day Adventists to evaluate our standing in relation to our historical commitment to conscientious objection and noncombatancy, which promotes saving lives rather than taking lives.
At the beginning of the American Civil War, it was possible for draft-eligible men to pay a large sum and be exempt from the draft, and the young Church raised money for this purpose. As the demand for troops increased, however, exemption became more difficult. In 1864, a group of Adventist leaders, including J.N. Andrews, traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Congress. As a result of these meetings, Adventists were officially recognized by the United States as noncombatants.
Throughout the years that followed, the Church worked hard to demonstrate that its commitment to peace did not demonstrate a lack of patriotism, and thousands of Adventists served their country in the century’s wars in non-combatant roles. In the early 1930s, as the dark clouds of impending war circled the globe, the Church formed the Medical Cadet Corps. This military-style training in saving lives equipped youth to serve effectively. Between the Corps formation in 1934 and the end of the draft in 1973, more than 50,000 Adventist youth had participated in the program, and thousands had served as medics.
At the Annual Council meeting in 1972, the Church took a position favoring 1-A-O non-combatancy, while indicating that members could serve in 1-O pacifist (civilian alternative) or 1-A (combat) positions without forfeiting the Church’s support, particularly with regard to religious liberty issues.
Although military status is not a test of fellowship, the Church continues to stand by its position favoring conscientious objection based on principles of non-violence and the reality that those who enlist will likely face difficulty obtaining religious accommodation, particularly for Sabbath observance.
In order to address the need for contemporary information on the topic, the North American Religious Liberty Association – West has compiled materials, ranging from actual enlistment contracts and recruiting manuals to statements and articles on conscientious objection online at www.churchstate.org.
[It is important to prayerfully consider the pros and cons of joining the military based on spiritual and ethical principles. Members considering joining the military should contact Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries.]