Times of crisis in the life of the religious community often create landmarks along the pilgrimage of faith. For the children of Israel, the struggle against oppression in Egypt was such a critical time. So too were the times of prosperity under Jeroboam II before the fall of the Northern Kingdom and the period of apostasy leading to the fall of Judah. For John the revelation came when Christians in Asia Minor were persecuted for refusing to participate in the Roman state cult. Alexander Mack’s refrain, “Oh, how is the time so urgent,” suggests a similarly critical period in our life as a denomination.
Events and tensions at the outset of the new decade point up that this also is a time of crisis. Ever greater quantities of national and global resources are being diverted into an increasingly more devastating war machine. Hope for justice and peace becomes more remote. Those persons who are least able to bring about change-the poor, the aged, the young—are suffering the most.
The Arms Race
With both our country and the Soviet Union already possessing the power to destroy God’s creative work on this planet many times over, the current rush for more destructive weapon systems can be seen only as madness. In the face of such insanity we search for ways to assist those forces working to counter this trend.
While recognizing the partial and compromised nature of the SALT II treaty, we add our voices to those calling for its ratification as a step in the process toward meaningful disarmament. We also join our voices with those who call for a nuclear moratorium and cry out, “Enough!” Yet we recognize how limited this action would be since the current nuclear overkill capacity of 10 or 20 or more times is already too much.
To break this mad cycle we call for bold and creative initiatives such as a unilateral decision by our government to terminate all nuclear tests and the production of all nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. In turn, we appeal to the Soviet Union to reciprocate in order to halt the rush toward a nuclear holocaust.
Whether or not our country’s perception of the “Soviet threat” is realistic or accurate in terms of military capability and intentions, the result is a fueling of the arms race. An exaggerated estimate only compounds the problem and recreates a Cold War mood of distrust, separation, and confrontation at the very time ever greater interaction should be taking place. We also hear with alarm increasingly vocal religious groups in our country calling for a more nationalistic and militaristic foreign policy. We believe these attitudes further aggravate animosities around the world and undermine a witness to peace and a ministry of reconciliation. This is contrary to our understanding of the spirit of Jesus. In this urgent time we should declare with others that Christians, across the barriers of East and West, must strengthen and deepen their commitment to a common search and witness for peace and disarmament.
Meanwhile, our nation’s military spending is being increased without basic questions being addressed: What are the most serious threats to United States security? What are the new forces and weapons systems designed to do? What deterrent effect will defense spending, authorized at $170.5 billion in the FY 1981 budget, have upon the Soviets? Will new generations of weapons systems lead only to higher levels of insecurity?
A more critical assessment of the military budget is crucial at a time when the administration and the congress seek to balance the federal budget. We call upon the leaders of government not to increase funds for the military but rather, to reduce this part of the budget by transferring funds to programs that affirm life in our society and in the global community.
Furthermore, in the midst of a world that is fast moving toward nuclear annihilation, we call upon each congregation to enter into a period of study and reflection with regard to the witness God wants for us in this urgent time. We would hope that each congregation might reach a clear stand that as disciples of Christ we must express a total “No” to the arms race. We find our security in God, not in weapons, and would point those around us to that security.
Registration and Conscription
In spite of widespread opposition within both major political parties and the religious communities of our land, a system of compulsory draft registration likely will be in operation by autumn. Registration and conscription tend to foster, or at least complement, a militaristic national mood and an interventionist mind-set in response to world problems.
Historically we in the Church of the Brethren have opposed registration and military conscription, and we reaffirm that position now. If, however, registration and military conscription are reinstated, we call upon our government to respect the rights of the conscientious objector, to facilitate an opportunity for a conscientious objector to record his position during the registration process without, in any way, denying the right of a conscientious objector to indicate his position at a later date, and to make provisions for alternative service opportunities for the objector.
We recognize that many young persons and some postal employees, for reasons of conscience, will not cooperate with compulsory registration. Some Brethren will be included among these individuals. We again pledge our support to persons who in conscience refuse to cooperate with registration and conscription.1
Furthermore, we commend the congregations for their response in training persons as peace counselors and providing conscientious objection and registration information to their young adults. We call on them to continue to make their congressional representatives and senators aware of the church’s opposition to registration and military conscription.
The Middle East
Serious crosscurrents in the Middle East lead to intervention, revolution, terrorism, and counter terrorism in the region. Among these are the dependence by developed countries on rich oil resources, an inclination to use military power to protect or extend economic interests, a clash of ideologies, injustices to uprooted peoples, occupation by foreign powers, and religious revival.
Upon recognizing the perilous complexities and ambiguities in the process of seeking peace in the area, our Christian values lead us to observe that goodwill and peaceful relationships are not generated either by foreign military intervention, as in Afghanistan, or by placing in power and supporting, economically and militarily, ruling elites beholden to United States foreign policy, as was the case in Iran. We deplore the illegal taking and holding of the hostages in Iran and call for their release. We also recognize the illegal actions of the United States in establishing the reign of the deposed Shah and call upon the United States government to offer to the Iranian people a public apology for its complicity in the repressive policies of his regime. We affirm the right of all people to “freely determine their political . . . and cultural development.”2 We reject those voices which counsel military intervention into the affairs of other states. Moreover, we deplore the idea of a “rapid deployment force” as a reflection of an interventionist policy which extends “the vital interests of the United States of America” to include “the Persian Gulf region.”3
To understand the legitimate grievances of the Iranian people, we have need for a new relationship built on the basis of justice and mutuality. Therefore, we suggest our congregations seek opportunities to relate in an understanding and reconciling way to students and other Iranians still in our country, and otherwise provide opportunities for study, reflection, and action related to Iran and wider Middle East issues.
Our concern for the self-determination of peoples and for relationships that foster justice and peace extend to all areas of the region. These same concerns prompt us to raise our voices against the invasion of Afghanistan and the oppressive occupation and “settlements policy” of Israel on the West Bank and Gaza. Both occupations endanger the peace of this area and of the world. A belligerent response to such belligerent acts, however, can only escalate the level of belligerency, leading ultimately to either the repression or elimination of persons.
While we disapprove of the use of food as a weapon in the implementation of United States foreign policy, we commend the current administration for employing methods other than an overt military response to the Afghanistan invasion. Furthermore, we commend efforts of our government to achieve a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which include a termination of the violence and counter-violence, a mutual recognition of sovereign entities, and a just solution and compensation for those persons uprooted by the conflict since 1948.
We continue to pray not only for the peace of Jerusalem but for the peace of the region and pledge ourselves to continued prayer, study and action in the interests of justice and peace.
These are urgent, even apocalyptic, times. These are times which give poignant evidence of the great struggle between good and evil and prospects of the end times. We are being forced to ask: Does might make right? Can military strength command respect or bring security? Do ever greater and more sophisticated military capabilities bring peace and justice? Many would say, “Yes!” We cry out, “Never!” Rather, we affirm that “all war is sin and any participation in war is wrong and incompatible with the spirit, example, and teachings of Jesus Christ.”4
We continue to “look forward to a future that will be more peaceful, just, and respectful of God’s creation.” We know that “we cannot retreat from the world” but must move “from where we are to where God’s power and purpose have begun to define new possibilities and new necessities.”5
In these urgent times we do not want to imitate the apathy and compromise which occurred among the early Christians in Laodicea. Rather, we seek to strengthen our faith and call out the best in us, in the manner of the Church in Ephesus. The church is always called to faithfulness. “The person who remains faithful to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:13)
Therefore, this is our declaration and resolution: That in the name of Jesus Christ we recommit ourselves to the witness and work of peace, disarmament, justice and reconciliation in our families, our congregations, our communities, our nation and our global community.
Action of 1980 Annual Conference
The resolution was presented by H. Lamar Gibble, the Peace and International Affairs consultant, for the General Board. Standing Committee’s recommendation for the adoption of the paper, The Time So Urgent, was read by the secretary. The delegates voted to adopt the resolution, The Time So Urgent.