1970 Church of the Brethren Statement
This statement was originally adopted by the 1948 Annual Conference as the “Statement on Position and Practices of the Church of the Brethren in Relation to War.” This version includes revisions by the 1957, 1968, and 1970 Annual Conferences.
The Church of the Brethren regards with sorrow and deep concern our nation’s increasing movement toward a permanently militaristic outlook. Two devastating world wars, the conflict in Korea, the Vietnam War, and the many international crises of recent decades have produced an alarming change in American attitudes toward war and peace. The American public may come to accept as normal and inevitable the prospect that the nation must be prepared to go to war at any moment, that every young man must spend time in military service, that an overwhelming share of our Federal taxes must be devoted to military needs, and that this country must always be willing to assume the military burdens of weaker allies, actual or potential.
Because of our complete dissent from these assumptions, the Church of the Brethren desires again, as at other times in its history, to declare its convictions about war and peace, military service and conscription, the use of tax money for military purposes, the right of Christian conscience, and the responsibility of Christian citizenship.
I. The Church and Spiritual Nurture
The Church of the Brethren seeks by processes of education and spiritual nurture to help its members to allow a spirit of peace and an attitude of nonviolence to develop within themselves as an outgrowth of deep religious conviction. They are encouraged to demonstrate this spirit in their daily relationships in the home, the school, business, and the community.
For this purpose we provide our services of worship, our preaching ministry, our Sunday and weekday educational efforts, our summer camps, our colleges and seminary, our personal counseling, our volunteer service program, our continuing ministry in relief and rehabilitation, and our entire church extension program. We seek thereby to lead individuals into such intimate contact with Jesus Christ, our Lord, that they will commit themselves to Him and to the manner of life which He taught and exemplified.
We believe that such commitment leads to the way of love and of nonviolence as a central principle of Christian conduct, knowing full well that, in so doing, violence may fall upon us as it did upon Jesus. We recognize that there are varying degrees of achievement of this sought-for result in individuals and churches. But we seek to maintain a deep and growing fellowship among ourselves and between ourselves and our Master in order that we might increasingly know His purpose and do His will.
II. The Church and Conscience
The church has stood likewise for the principle of freedom of worship and freedom of conscience. The church itself respects the right of the individual conscience within its membership and has never set up an authoritative creed. Instead, it accepts the entire New Testament as its rule of faith and practice and seeks to lead its members to comprehend and accept for themselves the mind of Christ as the guide for their convictions and conduct.
We believe that no government has the authority to abrogate the right of individual conscience. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
The official position of the Church of the Brethren is that all war is sin and that we seek the right of conscientious objection to all war. We seek no special privileges from our government. What we seek for ourselves, we seek for all – the right of individual conscience. We affirm that this conscientious objection may include all war, declared or undeclared; particular wars; and particular forms of warfare. We also affirm that conscientious objection may be based on grounds more inclusive than institutional religion.
III. The Church and War
The Church of the Brethren, since its beginning in 1708, has repeatedly declared its position against war. Our understanding of the life and the teachings of Christ as revealed in the New Testament led our Annual Conference to state in 1785 that we should not “submit to the higher powers so as to make ourselves their instruments to shed human blood.” In 1918 at our Annual Conference we stated that “we believe that war or any participation in war is wrong and incompatible with the spirit, example and teachings of Jesus Christ.” Again in 1934 Annual Conference resolved that all war is sin. We, therefore, cannot encourage, engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home or abroad. We cannot, in the event of war, accept military service or support the military machine in any capacity.” This conviction, which we reaffirmed in 1948 and now reaffirm again, grew out of such teachings of Christ as the following:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also . . . (Luke 6:27, 28).
“So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
IV. The Church and Conscription
The Church of the Brethren feels constrained by Christ’s teachings to lead its people to develop convictions against war. The church cannot concede to the state the authority to conscript citizens for military training or military service against their conscience.
The church will seek to fulfill its prophetic role in this matter in two ways: by seeking to change political structures and by influencing individual members. The church will seek to use its influence to abolish or radically restructure the system which conscripts persons for military purposes.
The church pledges its support and continuing fellowship to all of our draft-age members who face conscription. We recognize that some feel obligated to render full or noncombative military service and we respect all who make such a decision.
We commend to all of draft age, their parents, counselors, and fellow members, the alternative positions of (1) Alternative Service as conscientious objectors engaging in constructive civilian work, or (2) open, nonviolent noncooperation with the system of conscription. The church pledges itself to renew and redouble its effort to interpret to the membership of the church at all levels of the church’s life these positions which we believe are in harmony with the style of life set forth in the gospel and as expressed in the historic faith and witness of our church.
The church extends its prayers, spiritual nurture, and material aid to all who struggle and suffer in order to understand more fully and obey more perfectly the will of God.
V. The Church and Alternative Service
The church pledges its support to the draft-age member facing conscription who chooses to engage in constructive alternative service civilian work as a conscientious objector. Such service might include participation in relief and rehabilitation in war or disaster areas anywhere in the world; technical, agricultural, medical, or educational assistance in developing countries; service in general or mental hospitals, schools for the handicapped, homes for the aged, and kindred institutions; and medical or scientific research promising constructive benefits to mankind.
The church will seek to establish, administer, and finance to the extent of its resources, projects for such service under church direction or in cooperation with other private civilian agencies.
VI. The Church and Noncooperation
The church pledges its support to the draft-age member facing conscription who chooses open noncooperation with the system of conscription as a conscientious objector. Individuals who follow the lead of their conscience to this position will need the support of the church in many ways. The church will seek to meet these needs, to the extent of its resources, by providing such ministries as legal counsel, financial support, and prison visitation. To demonstrate a sense of community and fellowship with the noncooperator, congregations are encouraged to offer sanctuary and spiritual support. All members of the church who take the position of noncooperation should seek to exhibit a spirit of humility, goodwill, and sincerity in making this type of courageous witness most effective, nonviolent, and Christian.
VII. The Church and Ministerial Exemptions
The Church of the Brethren accepts the concept of the minister as one who seeks no special privilege but shares the life of his people. Therefore, the church urges those who have the possibility of ministerial exemption from the draft law to consider refusing such exemption and to confront the draft on an equal basis with the laity.
VIII. The Church and Support of National Defense
We declare again that our members should not participate in war, learn the art of war, or support war.
Although recognizing that almost all aspects of the economy are directly or indirectly connected with national defense, we encourage our members to divorce themselves as far as possible from direct association with defense industries in both employment and investment.
While recognizing the necessity of preserving academic freedom, we find recruitment by the armed forces on Brethren college campuses inconsistent with the church’s position.
IX. The Church and Taxes for War Purposes
While the Church of the Brethren recognizes the responsibility of all citizens to pay taxes for the constructive purposes of government we oppose the use of taxes by the government for war purposes and military expenditures. For those who are conscientiously opposed to paying taxes for these purposes, the church seeks government provision for an alternative use of such tax money for peaceful, nonmilitary purposes.
The church recognizes that its members will believe and act differently in regard to their payment of taxes when a significant percentage goes for war purposes and military expenditures. Some will pay the taxes willingly; some will pay the taxes but express a protest to the government; some will refuse to pay all or part of the taxes as a witness and a protest; and some will voluntarily limit their incomes or use of taxable services to a low enough level that they are not subject to taxation.
We call upon all of our members, congregations, institutions, and boards, to study seriously the problem of paying taxes for war purposes and investing in those government bonds which support war. We further call upon them to act in response to their study, to the leading of conscience, and to their understanding of the Christian faith. To all we pledge to maintain our continuing ministry of fellowship and spiritual concern.
X. The Church And Citizenship
The church holds that our supreme citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, but we undertake to render constructive, creative service in the existing state. We encourage our members to exercise the right of suffrage and to regard public office as an opportunity to work for good government in keeping with our Christian values. We believe that in a democracy Christians must assume responsibility for helping to create intelligent public opinion which will result in legislation in harmony with the eternal laws of God.
As Christian citizens we consider it our duty to obey all civil laws which do not violate these higher laws. We seek, however, to go beyond the demands of laws, giving time, effort, life, and property in a ministry to human needs without regard to race, creed, or nationality. We attempt to reconcile conflicting persons and groups, leading them toward fuller human brotherhood under a common divine allegiance.
We believe that good citizenship extends beyond our own national boundaries and will there serve to remove the occasions for war. Convinced that good citizens in a good society must work out a better way than war to resolve international conflict, we have in recent years undertaken a diligent search for practical, effective means to that end.
The church encourages its members to study international relations and foreign policy and to confer with legislators, government executives, and other policy makers concerning these matters in the light of the Christian faith. We favor the strengthening of agencies of international cooperation; intelligent sympathy with the desire of the people in underdeveloped areas for self-determination and a higher standard of living; and intensified study and application of the peaceful, constructive uses of atomic power for the benefit of all mankind.
XI. The Church and its Continuing Witness
The Church of the Brethren has always believed that peace is the will of God. In the two and one-half centuries of its history it has come to understand more clearly the tremendous evil which war brings upon human beings and their society. The church, therefore, feels an increasing responsibility for the careful instruction and guidance of its members on all the problems of war and peace. It is also aware that there is room for further growth in the understanding of these questions and in ways of expressing the church’s convictions in practical action.
This statement embodies the stage of thought and action which the Church of the Brethren has thus far reached in its desire to learn the will of God for our times. We undertake a continuing and growing witness and pledge ourselves to be receptive to new truth and better modes of expression as these come to our attention.
The position of Standing Committee was presented by John H. Eberly.
Action of 1970 Annual Conference: The proposed amendments to the Statement were adopted by more than the two-thirds majority vote required. In the complete Statement printed above, amendments were made in sections IV and V, while sections VI and VIII are new additions. The vote for the adoption of these amendments was: Yes – 754; No – 103.