Militarism and Conscription Statement, 1979

We, the delegates of the Mennonite General Assembly, meeting in Waterloo, Ontario, August 11-16, 1979, are gathered at a time of expanding militarism and escalation of the worldwide arms race. Despite efforts by world leaders to agree on strategic arms limitations, the powers of the world continue in their development of increasingly destructive weapons and their probable readiness to use them.

The Bible teaches that governments derive their proper authority from God. We commend governments in their many humanitarian efforts to promote freedom, justice, and well-being. As Mennonites in North America we acknowledge with particular. appreciation the freedom of conscience granted by the Canadian and United States govemments to groups with special convictions such as ours. We believe that when governments promote such freedoms, pursue justice, and allow a climate in which God's work can flourish, they are doing what God ordained them to do.

Modern militarism, however, tempts the nations to assume the power of God. With their devastating arsenals of nuclear weapons, nations today hold destructive power over every living cell on earth. Even without war the arms race diverts resources from urgent needs, destroys community, and devastates the human spirit. In the United States the militaristic mood is evident in a renewed willingness to conscript young people, possibly women as well as men, for military service. In such times the church must give prophetic warning, calling its members and all people to trust the God who is Sovereign rather than the gods of war and military technology.

Our biennial meeting in Canada reminds our members in the United States that the church is not confined within national boundaries. Participation in this Assembly by representatives of many ethnic backgrounds, reports of international witness by our Mission Board, and memories of Menonite World Conference a year ago all confirm the transnational character of the church.

In this Assembly we have celebrated the "story begun" by Jesus through the church in the Acts of the Apostles. As we find our place in the story and as we seek to be faithful witnesses in a militaristic world, we are led to proclaim the following:

A. On Peace and Obedience

We desire to grow in obedience to our Lord, as we witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ and against the demonic power within militarism. Acknowledging that the lines of our involvement are not always clear, we seek not a legalistic stance but the mind of Christ.

  1. We claim anew the heritage of our spiritual forebears who expressed through costly discipleship their commitment to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
  2. We commit ourselves and call our members to a continuing scriptural study of the gospel of peace.
  3. We commend to our conferences and congregations special peace studies as recommended and facilitated by our churchwide and conference peace and social concerns agencies.
B. On Use of Material Resources

We recognize that a major cause of militarism and war is greed (James 4:1-2). We confess that as North Americans we have been too much enslaved by our cravings for material wealth.

  1. We commend to our conferences and congregations for study and action the January 27,1979, statement by Mennonite Central Committee entitled " An Agenda on Militarism and Development" which also reflects the counsel of the 1978 Mennonite World Conference.
  2. We counsel our members to refrain from investments and employment which divert natural resources from use for human betterment to use for human destruction. Where response to this counsel produces material hardship, we remind ourselves and all our members of the biblical call to join in bearing each other's burdens.
  3. We commit ourselves and call all our members to a reexamination of lifestyles which create economic disparity and separate rich from poor, region from region, and nation from nation. We seek instead an experience of Jubilee in which all share equitably in the earth's resources.
  4. We urge our members to seek out ways to open our communities and resources to those throughout the world who may be uprooted and displaced by war and other circumstances.
C. On Christian Service and Conscription

We view with alarm legislation proposed in the U.S. Congress to reestablish Selective Service registration, the military draft, and/or national service. As Christians committed to the teachings and example of our Lord,

  1. We commend to all members of every age a lifestyle of service to all persons, constrained by the love of God.
  2. We affirm our historic understandings that the Scripture allow no circumstances when a follower of Christ may bear arms against another human being or participate in any supporting role as a member of the armed forces.
  3. We declare our opposition to any program of national registration and conscription. We believe that conscription in any form imposes unwarranted regimentation by a government upon its subjects and that military conscription in particular is a violation of Christian conscience against militarism and war. We call upon our members and agencies, especially in the United States, to find appropriate ways to express this concern.
  4. Should a program of conscription be activated in spite of our witness against it, we appeal to governmental authorities to provide exemption from military service for anyone who by reason of conscience is opposed to participation in or support of warfare. Should no other alternative be provided, we counsel our members who may be drafted for military service to refuse induction in obedience to God's law rather than to human laws. We commit ourselves to stand with those who may be called to this witness and pledge the offices of the church to assist in responding to the costly demands of obedience.
  5. We ask the service organizations of the church to expand organized service programs and opportunities which are motivated by Christian love rather than by government coercion and which give a clear witness against militarism and war-making. We urge our members to respond by volunteering for a year or more of special service assignment. Where such service programs are also acceptable as an alternative in meeting requirements of conscription, we ask our service organizations to facilitate legal recognition for those who request it.
  6. We express our concern about existing and potential encroachments of military control into areas of civilian activity such as demands for access to personnel data from church schools, administration of a program of registration and conscription under military rather than civilian direction, etc. We urge our members to be on the alert regarding such developments and we ask the appropriate agencies of the church to give leadership in responding to the same.
  7. We urge all our young people to participate in a church-sponsored service program. Should some under the coercion of conscription choose other alternatives to express their conscience, we also pledge our readiness to provide counsel and spiritual support.
  8. For those members who may for reason of Christian conscience find it impossible to cooperate with a system of registration and conscription, we reaffirm the position taken by Mennonite General Conference at Turner, Oregon, in 1969, recognizing the validity of noncooperation as a legitimate witness and pledging the offices of our church to minister to young people, whether men or women, in any eventuality that may incur in costly discipleship.
  9. We call all our members to share generously with those upon whom renewed conscription would make its heaviest demands. We encourage congregational processes in which members, both male and female, can clarify their commitment to costly discipleship and record it for future reference.
  10. We affirm our support of Mennonite Central Committee and the MCC Peace Section in its coordination of the witness of our various Mennonite bodies to governments regarding militarism and conscription.
D. On Militarism and Taxation

We recognize that today's militarism expresses itself more and more through expensive and highly technical weaponry and that such equipment is dependent upon financial resources conscripted from citizens through taxation. Therefore,

  1. We encourage our members to pursue a lifestyle which minimizes such tax liability through reduction to taxable income and! or increase of tax deductible contributions for the advancement of the gospel and the relief of human suffering.
  2. We endorse efforts in support of legislation which would provide alternative uses for taxes, paid by conscientious objectors to war, which would otherwise be devoted to military purposes.
  3. We encourage our congregations to engage in careful biblical study regarding Christian responsibility to civil authorities, including issues of conscience in relation to payment of taxes.
  4. We recognize as a valid witness the conscientious refusal to pay a portion of taxes required for war and military efforts. Such refusal, however, may not be pursued in a spirit of lawlessness nor for personal advantage but may be an occasion for constructive response to human need.
  5. We encourage our congregations and institutions to seek relief from the current legal requirement of collecting taxes through the withholding of income taxes of employees, especially those taxes which may be used for war purposes. In this effort we endorse cooperation with the General Conference Mennonite Church in the current search for judicial, legislative, and administrative alternatives to the collection of militay-related taxes. In the meantime if congregational or institutional employers are led to noncompliance with the requirement to withhold such taxes, we pledge our support for those representatives of the church who may be called to account for such a witness.
Conclusion

God loved the world enough to give us the Son. God continues to love the world and uses the church as a channel of divine love. It is incumbent upon the church to be faithful stewards of God's creation and to seek shalom (peace) for all creation. While we are confident that the ultimate destiny of the world is in God's hand, we cannot ignore humanity's apparent capability of annihilating God's creation via nuclear weapons. The church must plead and pray for reversal of the world's collision to course in manufacturing and deploying the most destructive weapons in all history.

It is our prayer that unborn generations may enjoy the greatness of God's love and the bounties of creation. We pledge ourselves as faithful stewards under the power of the Holy Spirit to follow in the way of peace as taught by Jesus and demonstrated by faithful people throughout the history of the church.


Revised and approved by the Fifth Mennonite Church General Assembly,General Assembly August 16, 1979, University of Waterloo and Conrad Grebel College, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, Proceedings, pp.100-103.