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Conscientious Objectors/GI Rights
"Never in my life did I ever imagine I would have to disobey my president. But I have come to the conclusion that participation in this war is not only immoral but a breach of American and international law…Furthermore, there is vast evidence of numerous violations of international conventions by occupation forces and occupier-trained forces. Though I may never be punished for these crime, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse to take part in them." - 1st Lt. Ehren Watada
The United Methodist Church and Peace: Military Conscription, Training, and Service Churches have a primary responsibility to help people sort out their values related to issues of peace, war, and military service. Most mainline denominations provide support and resources both for those who choose military service and those who decide that they are conscientious objectors to war. As the war in Iraq goes on, the costs in terms of money and lives are now obvious, and support for the war continues to decline. Over three thousand U.S. military personnel have been killed, and many times more have been injured. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, and the suffering of the Iraqi people continues to intensify. To date there is no exit strategy or clear plan for "victory." And while Pentagon officials say that the U.S. military is already overstretched with its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration continues to threaten military action against Iran. Nevertheless, the military recruitment engine continues on, with young people enticed daily with invitations to pay for college and attain the job of their dreams by joining the military. Many of them do not realize that the military is under no obligation to abide by its promises, and that the contract that they sign when they join the military is one-sided. Young people and their families are often without resources that help them explore their options, as well as their thoughts, beliefs, and values related to war. Many who are already serving in the U.S. military also struggle with mixed feelings, often related to issues of conscience and war. There are many resources for people who find themselves in this dilemma. Check out the various links below.
1) What young people and their families can do
It is important that young people and their families become informed about their rights and that they think through their moral positions on issues of peace, war, and military service.
The "No Child Left Behind" law requires schools to submit high school students' names and contact information to military recruiters. Parents can prevent their children's names from being released if they sign a form to "opt out" at the beginning of the school year.
Although the US currently has an all-volunteer army, young men are required by law to register for the draft at age eighteen. If the draft is reinstated, draftees would have a short period of time in which to prove that they are conscientious objectors. For this reason, young people or their parents should start a file that includes evidence of their beliefs about war and peace. For example, such a file could contain a photo of their participation in a peace demonstration, a picture they had drawn or an essay they had written on the topic, a letter from a pastor or teacher supporting their claim.
It sometimes happens that a young man or woman joins the military without knowing what they are getting into, and only later decide that they are morally opposed to war. During the current Iraq War, many service personnel have simply gone AWOL. There are legal ways for people in the service to apply for discharge as a conscientious objector, though it is difficult to achieve during a time of military crisis. Call the GI Rights Hotline for support and to find out about your rights at (800)394-9544, or check out the web resources below.
3) What faith communities can do
Faith communities have an important obligation to support those who are struggling with these life choices. Most denominations have official statements and materials to help in this process.
Pastors, rabbis, and other religious leaders can equip themselves to counsel young people who might be questioning whether or not they are conscientious objectors or whether or not to join the military.
Youth leaders can organize programs for youth and their parents.
Social concern committees can organize programs and print denominational statements about these issues in church bulletins or newsletters.
Churches can allow young people who are conscientious objectors to "register" their status with the church.
Links for Conscientious Objectors and GI Rights
Become informed! Check out the following websites for in-depth information:
The United Methodist Church and Peace: Military Conscription, Training, and Service
From the Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church Resolution #338-V.
(1) Conscription. We affirm our historic opposition to compulsory military training and service. We urge that military conscription laws be repealed; we also warn that elements of compulsion in any national service program will jeopardize seriously the service motive and introduce new forms of coercion into national life. We advocate and will continue to work for the inclusion of the abolition of military conscription in disarmament agreements.
(2) Conscientious objection. Each person must face conscientiously the dilemmas of conscription, military training, and service and decide his or her own responsible course of action. We affirm the historic statement: "What the Christian citizen may not do is to obey persons rather than God, or overlook the degree of compromise in even our best acts, or gloss over the sinfulness of war. The church must hold within its fellowship persons who sincerely differ at this point of critical decision, call all to repentance, mediate to all Gods mercy, minister to all in Christ's name" ("The United Methodist Church and Peace," 1968 General Conference).
Christian teaching supports conscientious objection to all war as an ethically valid position. It also asserts that ethical decisions on political matters must be made in the context of the competing claims of biblical revelation, church doctrine, civil law, and ones own understanding of what God calls him or her to do.
We therefore support all those who conscientiously object to preparation for or participation in any specific war or all wars, to cooperation with military conscription, or to the payment of taxes for military purposes, and we ask that they be granted legal recognition.
Since 1936, The United Methodist Church or one of its predecessors has provided to those of its members who claim to be conscientious objectors the opportunity to register. Certified copies of such registration are supplied for use with the draft authorities. It is the responsibility of the church at all levels to inform its members of the fact that conscientious objection, as well as conscientious participation, is a valid option for Christians and is recognized in many countries as a legal alternative for persons liable to military conscription.
The local church's support of an individual participating in this process does not express agreement or disagreement with the convictions of the applicant member. Rather, the church's task is to record which of its members are opposed to participation in military service on grounds of conscience and to assist them in securing proper counsel. When a member has registered as a conscientious objector and his or her registration has been certified by the proper authorities, that action should be recorded with the conference and the General Board of Church and Society.
The United Methodist Church also supports those persons who refuse to register for the draft and deplore discrimination against those persons by any institution.
(3) Amnesty and reconciliation. We urge understanding of and full amnesty or pardon for persons in all countries whose refusal to participate in war has placed them in legal jeopardy. We urge governments to grant political asylum to persons whose countries fail to recognize their conscientious objection to war.