Student Aid Fund for Nonregistrants, 1983

Historical Position

Jesus taught his disciples, "Blessed are the peacemakers. . . . You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies. . . ." On another occasion Jesus suggested that those who live by the sword will likewise die by the sword. His clear expectation was that those who follow him would lay down arms.

The Mennonite church has taught the way of peace since its beginning 458 years ago. Conrad Grebel taught, "True believing Christians. . . use neither worldly sword nor war, for among them killing is done away with altogether."

The Mennonite Church has reaffirmed this position many times in this century. During the 1940s young Mennonite men were faced with registration for the draft and most registered as conscientious objectors and entered Civilian Public Service, an alternative to military service. Similar issues and options existed in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, during the Vietnam War a number of young men came to believe that cooperation with the military system to the point of registration created a problem of conscience for them.

The Mennonite Church supports its young people who register as conscientious objectors. It also supports those who cannot register for reasons of conscience. A statement adopted by the Mennonite General Conference in 1969 at Turner, Ore., reads in part, "We recognize the validity of non-cooperation as a legitimate witness and pledge the offices of our brotherhood to minister to young men in any eventuality they incur in costly discipleship." The 1979 Mennonite Church General Assembly at Waterloo, Ont., reaffirmed support of noncooperators along with those who choose to register as conscientious objectors.

Current Situation

The current registration was initiated by President Carter in 1980 as a response to the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. At present there is no way for a conscientious objector who registers to indicate his opposition to military service. In the case of a draft all registrants called will be classified lA and receive an order to report for induction into military service. Only then does the government provide the possibility of a claim for conscientious objection.

Most young men in the Mennonite Church have chosen to register and have written on the forms their conscientious objection, even though this is not recognized by the government offices and computers in any way.

Others believe that to register is a violation of their Christian conscience, and that to register, especially under present circumstances, is to participate in sending a threatening message to nations regarded by the United States government as enemies. One such person writes: In January 1981 I was required to register for the draft. For reasons of conscience and religious conviction I refused. Primary among those reasons was the commitment I felt to pattern my life after the life and teachings of Jesus. My understanding of this life and these teachings have led me to hold sacrificial love for neighbors and enemy, reconciliation, service, and nonviolence as Ideals for my own life...

As I considered registering with vocal and written protest. I realized I could never register with protest sufficient for the horrors confronting us. I resolved to take advantage of the opportunity nonregistration would give me to do whatever I could to speak and add my tiny voice to those already crying for peace, for alternatives to military solutions, for a halt to the arms race, and for the embracement of love and reconciliation as the overriding goal in our relationships with one another.

College students are most severely impacted by the decision not to register. On June 29, 1983. the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a law denying federal assistance to nonregistrant students to take effect on July 1, 1983. The Supreme Court will decide this fall whether it will hear a case challenging the law.

Most men at our Mennonite colleges have registered. It is estimated that perhaps 35 students at our schools have chosen not to register, and it may be assumed that several Mennonite students at other schools have also taken this position.

The amount of money necessary to replace the lost federal grants and loans for nonregistrant students is estimated to be approximately $75,000 for the 1983-84 academic year. Similar amounts may be needed in future years unless the Supreme Court strikes down the law as it currently stands.

Response

The intent of the Mennonite Church to stand with young people who choose not to register for reasons of Christian conscience is clear in both the Turner (1969) and Waterloo (1979) statements. It is apparent that one part of their discipleship is the loss of student aid funds by those who for reasons of conscience have chosen not to register.

The Mennonite Church General Board is directing the Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries to establish on behalf of the Mennonite Church a Student Aid Fund for Nonregistrants. The Mennonite Board of Education is prepared to provide staff assistance. It is the goal of this action to replace aid funds lost by male students.

Students eligible to participate are nonregistrants at Mennonite schools and nonregistrant Mennonite students at other schools who have taken this position by reason of Christian calIing and commitment. No money can be guaranteed until the amount available is known. Available funds will be distributed to eligible students in November 1983.

Implementation

The first opportunity to contribute to the Student Aid Fund for Nonregistrants will be given to the home congregation of the particular student. The student will be expected to be an integral part of the communication process with his congregation.

Second, Mennonite Mutual Aid is being asked to loan monies to be used as replacement money for loans not available from the federal government or as guaranteed student loans from commercial banks. An application is being submitted for fraternal funds to cover the difference between commercial interest rates expected by Mennonite Mutual Aid and rates charged by banks for government-guaranteed loans.

Third, all congregations will be invited to share in this fund. A letter will be sent to each congregation encouraging prayer for persons facing registration and requesting contributions to the Student Aid Fund for Nonregistrants.

Conclusion

It is the privilege of the church to share the burdens of those who suffer for reasons of conscience. Those who face difficult decisions concerning registration have looked and are continuing to look to the church for guidance and support. It is appropriate that the entire church stand by those who decide to register and by those who are nonregistrants as together they seek to be faithful to the cause of Christ.


Approved by the Seventh Mennonite Church General Assembly, August 1-7, 1983, Lehigh University, Bethleham, Pennsylvania, Proceedings, pp. 18-20.