INTRODUCTION: There are thousands of persons today who have felt the effects of the dividing wall of hostility which has been generated by war. Social relationships in the family and between families have been damaged because persons have had different beliefs and convictions about war. Even after the war has been declared over, there remain divisions which cause suffering for persons and groups in our society.
The Church of the Brethren regards this situation with concern and sorrow not only because we believe that war is sin, but also because we understand that the gospel message can bridge the walls of hostility which exist, between exiles, families, and government.
At its root, the concept of amnesty had to do with the biblical understanding of reconciliation. How can there be reconciliation between parents and children in the United States? How can there be reconciliation between the government and exiles? How can there be reconciliation between those with different opinions on war? How can we restore the unity of our nation while maintaining integrity both for the country and its people?
We, the members of the Church of the Brethren, believe that reconciliation is most likely if the following things occur:
BIBLICAL BASIS: In the New Testament, the theme of reconciliation is central to the understanding of God’s love for persons in Jesus Christ. The gospel calls us to a ministry of reconciliation.
First, according to Ephesians 2:14ff, reconciliation is a gift of God. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. . . . Through God’s action in Jesus Christ, there is reconciliation between people while there are differences (John 10:16; Galatians 3:28). Even though the disagreements on many issues separate people within our nation, there can be reconciliation if we accept it as God’s gift.
A declaration of amnesty follows this model. Through amnesty, a government can forget the legal penalties connected with the actions of a group of persons, and thereby declare that the unity of its people is more important than continued hostility and division. Amnesty can bring reconciliation even though significant differences remain on the issues at stake, because such an action removes the punitive measures related to such differences. Reconciliation is a gift of God and he will bring peace if we trust him (Psalm 118:8-9).
Second, according to 2 Corinthians 5:18, the church is called to be an agent of reconciliation. (All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.) The Church of the Brethren has always taken this Scripture seriously and we have set out to be reconcilers. As Christ was the mediator between sinners and God, so the Church is called to a ministry of reconciliation between persons and God and between people in conflict with one another.
Whatever the government does about amnesty, there will be need for reconciliation. Many men have become alienated from their families and local communities and now want to be reunited. Many young people could return home now without legal difficulties, and may if they have a supportive community. Some may decide to return and face the legal penalties rather than remain as exiles. On many levels there is work of reconciliation which could be done by the Church. The Scriptures lead us to such a ministry.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: Throughout its history, the Church of the Brethren has taken seriously the task of bringing persons together. During the Revolutionary War the Brethren refused to side with either army, but worked to bring peace in their communities. It was Elder John Kline in the War between the States who tirelessly rode the circuit of reconciliation to keep persons at one in faithfulness to Christ. During and following World War II, Brethren took in and aided Japanese-American refugees. The present situation presents the Brethren another opportunity to be involved in healing the wounds of war and to be faithful to the ministry of reconciliation.
THE PRESENT CRISIS: The question of amnesty is being debated in the press, discussed on radio and television, and kept much alive in our nation’s capital. Several amnesty bills and resolutions have been introduced since the present session of Congress began.
In any discussion of amnesty, we are talking about hundreds and thousands who have suffered some legal disability because of war. For instance, tens of thousands of these persons have come out of the military service in the Indochina war with less than honorable discharges, have been convicted of Selective Service violations or have become exiles, for conscience’ sake.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, we come to these conclusions on the question of amnesty:
We pray that reconciliation can become a reality and that our nation can become unified around purposes which reflect the will of God in our time.
Action of the 1973 Annual Conference: The statement was adopted.