I wanted to let you know of an event I am becoming increasingly involved in that I think has the capacity to really make some positive changes in our country. For those that know me well, I am really opposed to being a bandwagoneer, which means I try to be really selective about the causes I throw my time and energy behind. That being said, this particular event is very interesting to me, but might not be to you, so forgive me if I am wasting your own valuable time and energy.
By now, it is pretty common knowledge that I left the military in 2006 after a failed attempt to deploy for what would have been my 2nd combat deployment to Iraq without a personal firearm. The reasons were many, but the important thing is that despite the fact that what I was trying to do was totally inline with standing Army regulations, I was denied my chance to serve our nation while remaining free to exercise my religious freedom. It is my own firm belief that no willing enlistee should be denied that right.
As a result of my experience (and due to my surviving admiration for those who continue to serve), I have kept very busy aiding and assisting others like me who traverse the thin line between faith and service. To be conscientious within the US military is no easy task, but it is the most important. Those who fight our battle do so in our place, our values live vicariously thru them. So it is a horrible thing indeed to withhold from our service members the right and the duty to act wisely in our stead.
Currently, those in uniform are torn between phrases like “you are not paid to think” and “you must disobey unlawful orders.” How can we blame them for their moral dyslexia in light of these conflicting demands on their consciences? Furthermore, how may one possibly disobey unlawful orders if one is refused the opportunity to consider the morality of such orders? This must come to an end; we must empower those in our service to voluntarily make informed decisions about the actions they take in our name.
I am overjoyed, then, to have been invited to testify before the Truth Commission on Conscience in War (TCCW) in March at the Riverside Church in New York City, the same location where Martin Luther King gave his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. I will be going as a representative of Centurion’s Guild, a faith-based peer support community that I co-founded with other service members in 2008. We are fundraising to help off set the cost of our co-sponsorship of the event, which we are very honored to have been given the opportunity to do. To help us do that, please visit the website, where you will find instructions on how to contribute (down there on the lower left corner).
The Commission itself will be focusing on how communities of faith may build bridges between pacifism and Just War, and how application of the latter properly leads to selective conscientious objection (SCO). SCO essentially would allow (or perhaps ‘require’) individual service members to determine the morality of each conflict we enter and retain moral autonomy and religious freedom to participate or not in a given conflict.
Personally, I am sure you all know that I am a strict pacifist, which is the only position that is currently granted formal recognition within the Department of Defense (DoD). However, I do not think it is right or fair that only strict pacifism receive exemption from conscription and armed service. Furthermore, when one studies Just War or Christian Realism even topically, it is clear that each demand the equivalent of SCO in order to be exercised. In a country that claims be Christian, it seems only fair that the Church’s teaching on reasonable uses of force be granted legitimacy.
As time unfolds, I will continue to update my own blog with relevant information, media, and commentary regarding this very important issue. I have been honored with an invitation to also be a student commissioner, one of a few students who are independently researching the history of Truth Commissions in order to apply their principles and strengths to the one in March. My particular focus will be on theories of Just War and how it can inform a revision of existing regulations on conscientious objection.
Be sure to check in every week or so to my blog, or keep an eye on Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog for contributions I expect to make in the coming months. Most importantly, do please inform your own circle of friends and family about this historic event. I honestly believe we are at a unique point in our nations history, where we stand prepared to add a more robust article of democracy to our existing body of law in the U.S. – selective conscientious objection.