Christian Citizenship Seminar focuses on conscientious objection.
By Walt Wiltschek
Nearly 100 senior high youth and advisors participated in this year's Church of the Brethren Christian Citizenship Seminar. The April 23-28 event, which began in New York and ended in Washington, D.C., focused on the topic of conscientious objection to war.
Speakers shared perspectives representing a wide range of viewpoints. Phil Jones, director of the General Board's Brethren Witness/Washington Office and one of the seminar's coordinators, said the program was designed to have youth "struggle with your head, your heart, and your spirit...the things that guide your conscience."
Former conscientious objectors (COs) Enten Pfaltzgraff Eller and Clarence Quay shared the stories of their struggles, as did more more recent COs Andrew Engdahl and Anita Cole. Eller and Quay each chose not to register and instead did alternative service, although Eller's service came after a lengthy court case. Engdahl and Cole arrived at their decisions after entering the military, and they asked for reclassification. "When Jesus said ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,' that has to be now, not later," Eller said. "You have to struggle with where God is calling you and how you're going to follow."
Others, like Indiana pastor Jack Cary, offered a different voice: that of a church that strives for peace but is not pacifist. He said this stance is shared by many in the denomination. Representatives of Selective Service talked about their work to prepare for the eventuality of a military draft and provisions made for alternative service. They assured the group that "no one wants a draft." Center on Conscience and War director J.E. McNeil, meanwhile, said the peace churches must be concerned about such a possibility.
Several speakers addressed a different form of conscientious objection, war tax resistance. Phil and Louise Rieman of Indianapolis and Alice and Ron Martin-Adkins of Washington, D.C., explained why they had decided not to pay the portion of their taxes that support military operations--and the consequences that can come with that choice. Marian Franz of the National Peace Tax Fund provided additional background on this form of witness. "If we say that war is wrong, and we believe war is wrong, then why would we pay for it?" Louise Rieman said.
"It was more than I expected," said Chrissy Sollenberger, a youth participant from Annville, Pa. "I didn't think there was so much about conscientious objection to talk about. I just thought it was saying no to being drafted, but it's so much more than that.... It feels like we have more power now to make those choices."
The Christian Citizenship Seminar is held annually except in National Youth Conference years. It is sponsored by the General Board's Youth and Young Adult Ministry and Brethren Witness/Washington Office.
--Walt Wiltschek is a member of the General Board staff and editor of the Church of the Brethren "Messenger" magazine.
Source: 5/10/2005 Newsline