The Church of the Brethren has renewed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Selective Service System, the federal department responsible for the nation’s preparation for a military draft and draft registration. Selective Service also has worked with the historic peace churches to plan for alternative service for conscientious objectors in the event of a draft.
The denomination’s last MOU with Selective Service was signed by Stan Noffsinger as general secretary of the Church of the Brethren in 2010. The renewed MOU was signed by general secretary David A. Steele and Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer on March 4.
The Church of the Brethren has had a long-standing agreement with Selective Service dating back to the early 1940s, when Civilian Public Service was formed as a result of work by leaders and staff of the historic peace churches (Church of the Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers). In the decades since, Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) has been recognized as an agency through which conscientious objectors may do alternative service in the event of a draft.
Selective Service defines two types of conscientious objector: individuals who are not opposed to serving in noncombatant roles with the military, such as medic; and individuals who by reason of conscience are completely opposed to the military and need alternative programs that make a “meaningful contribution to the maintenance of the national health, safety, and interests.” Examples of alternative service have included jobs in conservation, education, health care, and caring for the very young or very old.
In the event of a military draft, conscientious objectors would make a claim for such classification, likely to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Membership in the Church of the Brethren would not guarantee classification as a conscientious objector; church members would need to provide written documentation demonstrating an objection to serving in the military, how they arrived at that belief, and how that belief has had an influence on their life.
“It is the belief of the Church of the Brethren that by signing this MOU with Selective Service and by maintaining the Brethren Volunteer Service program, the Church of the Brethren demonstrates that it is committed to its historical position as a peace church,” said Wittmeyer. “While membership in the church does not guarantee a drafted individual would qualify for alternative service, we do believe it makes a strong case to demonstrate one’s belief in nonresistance.”
The denominational staff recommend that, at the time of registering with the Selective Service, young men should also file a “statement of conscience” with the Church of the Brethren to be kept in case it is required in the future.
For the “Call of Conscience” curriculum of resources about conscientious objection including instructions for writing and filing a statement, go to www.brethren.org/CO .