Brethren Agree to Revive 'Alternative Service' Draft Programs
By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service
Leaders of the Church of the Brethren say they will follow through on a request from the Selective Service to have "alternative service" programs in place for conscientious objectors if a draft is reinstated.
As one of the historic "peace churches" that shun military service, Brethren officials were "cautious" after an unannounced visit by a draft official to a church center in Maryland last October. Officials were worried that the visit signaled that a draft may be at hand.
In follow-up meetings, draft officials urged the church to dust off long-standing "alternative service" programs that allow conscientious objectors to serve in two-year domestic service projects in lieu of military service.
In a meeting Dec. 10, the church's council voted to "maximize our efforts" on alternative service, as well as help "guide our youth in their choice of nonviolent service."
"We don't want to miss the part of providing resources to our youth that will help them understand and embrace the Brethren peace witness," said Chris Bowman, moderator of the church's 2004 conference.
Selective Service officials have insisted there are no plans to reinstate the draft, and said Alternative Service Director Cassandra Costley stopped by the Brethren Service Center simply because she was in the area.
Dick Flahavan, a spokesman for Selective Service, said officials did their best to convince church leaders there is no draft on the horizon. "We answered every one of their questions and they didn't leave with anything hanging," he said. "What we were telling them was what we tell everyone. The story hasn't varied."
Brethren leaders also agreed to meet in March with other Anabaptist churches that oppose military service. The meeting in Elgin, Ill., will bring together six Brethren and Mennonite groups to discuss "how to prepare for alternative service opportunities."