Recommendation, 1971: Study Committee on Noncooperation
Because there have been numerous expressions of dissatisfaction with the action of Annual Conference of 1970 which placed the church in position of supporting and commending the position of nonviolent noncooperation with the draft system of the United States government, it is the feeling of the Standing Committee that it would be well to have a committee established to study the reactions of the Brotherhood to this statement. Therefore, the Standing Committee recommends the election of an Annual Conference committee to visit with and listen to the people, and to interpret the ramifications and implications of our expressed commitment to the support of noncooperation through our amendments to the Statement of the Church of the Brethren on War, adopted in 1970. This committee shall consist of five members, representing as far as possible varying viewpoints, and shall bring its report and recommendations to the Annual Conference of 1972.
The position of Standing Committee was presented by Guy Wampler, Jr.
Action of the 1971 Annual Conference: Amendments accepted by the Conference are included in the above wording of the recommendation. With these amendments, the statement was adopted and the committee elected. The committee includes John H. Eberly, Joseph Kennedy, Raymond R. Peters, W. Hartman Rice, and Guy Wampler, Jr.
The committee was charged with the responsibility to (1) “study the reactions of the Brotherhood,” (2) “interpret the ramifications and implications” of the 1970 Annual Conference Statement on Noncooperation, and (3) bring “recommendations to the Annual Conference of 1972.” In carrying out these responsibilities the committee met twice during the year for extended sessions and presents the following report.
The body of this report is not printed here but it is to be noted that Section I of the 1973 report is taken without change from the 1972 report.
Action of the 1972 Annual Conference: The report was returned to the committee for further study, with the addition of three more persons to the original committee, two of whom should be youth. The additional three persons, confirmed by the conference, are Mike Stern, Cliff Kindy and John Bunch.
The committee reviewed the correspondence that had been received by Conference officials, the General Board, and its staff expressing disagreement with the 1970 Conference action. Staff members were interviewed to ascertain the current feeling on this subject throughout the Brotherhood. Because of the reaction following the 1970 Annual Conference, the committee felt obliged to give specific opportunity to people to share their feelings and concerns regarding the church’s position on noncooperation. Comments were invited by notices published in Messenger and in the Pastor’s Packet. In response, the committee received four letters from the Brotherhood.
The committee secured information on a wide range of views on noncooperation from various sources, including personal interviews. Among those interviewed was a young Brethren man who openly and voluntarily refused further cooperation with the draft system after having served for eighteen months as a conscientious objector on an alternative service project. This action led to his arrest and subjected him to criminal prosecution, which resulted in his acquittal.
Objections to noncooperation were reviewed in an interview with an active church layman who very ably outlined his own concerns as well as those of others whom he knew opposed the Conference action.
Finally, individual committee members invited comments in various ways and participated in group meetings concerned with the draft issue. The committee has found, from its study and visits, that there is a need for further interpretation of the 1970 Annual Conference statement.
The Conference statement on noncooperation must be interpreted in the light of other recent Annual Conference statements, viz.: (1967) “The Church, the State and Christian Citizenship”; (1969) “Obedience to God and Civil Disobedience”; and the entire 1970 “Statement of the Church of the Brethren on War.”
When the church’s statement on open, nonviolent noncooperation with the draft system is read in context with the other papers referred to, it is readily apparent that the church does recognize the obligation of Christians to obey civil government, except when obedience to God demands disobedience to the State, and even then to accept the consequences of such disobedience. It is possible to reject Selective Service without rejecting the whole government and to break unjust laws without advocating a breakdown of law and justice.
In the context of noncooperation, the word “open” means above ground and a willingness to accept the legal consequences of civil disobedience. It suggests that the noncooperator act in the spirit of a clear Christian witness, unashamed and eager to explain to others his reasons for not cooperating.
The word “nonviolent” prohibits the destruction of persons and requires a careful evaluation of property. Property is of lesser value than persons. Nevertheless, violence against property has not been condoned by Brethren in historic or recent statements. The 1969 “Obedience to God and Civil Disobedience” paper states: “Christians should always adhere to nonviolence, avoiding harm and minimizing inconvenience to others.” The heritage of the Church of the Brethren has its rootage in the Anabaptist movement, but the early Brethren rejected the extreme expression of the movement which led to violence.
The phrase “offer sanctuary” means to extend loving Christian fellowship and concern. In this sense it is a rich word which emphasizes the church’s obligation to support the noncooperator. Significant and concrete ways of extending this support are listed in Section VI of the 1970 Statement and in the recommendations of this committee. However, in common usage “sanctuary” may mean to hide from officers of the law, one who has broken the law. This second meaning was not intended by the 1970 Statement since it would be opposed to the principle of “open noncooperation.”
The 1970 Statement calls for a “spirit of humility, goodwill and sincerity in making this type of courageous witness most effective, nonviolent and Christian.” Radical discipleship should express itself in disciplined living, service, humility, and commitment to Christ’s church.
“Keep in mind those who are in prison; as though you were in prison with them; and those who are being badly treated, since you too are in the one body.” Hebrews 13:3
The courage to confront controversial issues is essential if the church is to be prophetic. Such courage is evident in the action of the 1970 Annual Conference since our country was and still is in the midst of one of its most horrendous wars.
Some conflict ensued. But we do not shrink from conflict. Conflict among people who are open and honest can be a stimulus for growth. Forthrightness, rather than blandness among Christians who differ, is the pathway to truth.
National and international events call for Christians to sharpen their opposition to war. The 1970 Statement on War has called all of us to be on the cutting edge of the peace witness of the Church of the Brethren.
The committee did not reach consensus on all issues, but it is willing to give the responsibility of a final decision to the Annual Conference delegate body under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Raymond R. Peters, Chairman; Joseph W. Kennedy, Secretary; John H. Eberly; W. Hartman Rice; Guy E. Wampler, Jr.; Mike Stern; Cliff Kindy; John F. Bunch
Action of the 1973 Annual Conference: The 1973 report of the Study Committee was adopted. It was also decided that the following statement of a minority of the committee would be printed in the minutes for information only. This minority statement was not before the Conference as an item of business.
Although this minority does agree with the emphasis of the majority report, its intention is to mention the things unacceptable (to this minority) in the section entitled “Interpretation” to encourage discussion and consideration of these ideas.
The phrase “to accept the (legal) consequences” is used a number of times. This seems to imply almost an eagerness that a non-cooperator should have to turn himself in to the civil authorities. If the purpose of non-cooperation is to seek out confrontation or to defeat the draft law, one may well be eager to seek its legal conclusion, be it prison, prosecution, or fines. However, if the main purpose is to do what is right, arrest and prosecution need not be sought out. Being willing to accept the consequences is good (i.e. to “count the cost” and be ready for what might come as a result). But biblically and historically speaking, leaving the country in evasion of unjust persecution is legitimate (e.g. Joseph and Mary fled the country in order to save the child Jesus; Paul was lowered over a wall in a basket in evasion of the law (Acts 9:23-25); Jesus “kept himself hidden” before his arrest and said, “The right time for me has not come yet (John 10:39, 11:53-54, 12:30).”
Offering sanctuary to noncooperators should mean to hide from officers of the law those who have broken the law if an individual’s choice is to evade arrest. Some Brethren and Quakers hid run-away slaves from the authorities in the time of the Underground Railroad. Consider Nazi Germany and the moral implications of hiding or not hiding Jews. “Offer sanctuary” applies to the Church and should not be interpreted in terms of whether or not the noncooperator will accept the legal consequences.
Forseeably, a person could feel that his cooperation with the draft would be wrong, and yet question his own strength to face up to five years imprisonment. If this led him to non-open noncooperation, Christian priorities should accept this position as being closer to the example and teaching of Jesus than the position of entering the military and becoming an instrument to shed human blood.
Mike Stern, Cliff Kindy