Tuesday, December 13, 2005


(Dec. 13, 2005) -- The Council of Moderators and General Secretaries (COMS) of Anabaptist denominations kicked off a 2005 annual meeting at Washington City Church of the Brethren on Thursday, Dec. 1.

Washington was selected for the meeting Dec. 1-3 to facilitate and continue discussions with members of Congress and the Selective Service. The meeting follows a consultation on alternative service sponsored by COMS in March at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.

Anabaptist churches that are members of the council include the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonite Church USA, the Brethren in Christ Church, the Conservative Mennonite Conference, and the Mennonite Brethren USA. Staff from Mennonite Central Committee US were invited to attend the meeting. Staff of the Church of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office and the Washington Office of the Mennonite Central Committee coordinated the meeting.

A portion of the meeting focused on the issues of alternative service and the potential of a military draft. In other meetings, the group met with leaders of the Faith-Based Initiative for the White House, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund.

The council also visited with staff of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) in his Capitol Hill office. Rangel, who did not vote for the use of force in Iraq, proposed a draft bill in January 2003 that was voted on and almost unanimously defeated. This past year, Rangel introduced the draft bill again, this time with changes to the conscientious objector language.

Richard Flahavan and Cassandra Costley from the Selective Service System met with the group. “When you read the signs, you can see there’s really no secret plan to fire up the draft. You can all be confident it’s not going to happen,” Flahavan said. However, Costley said that she has had numerous meetings with various religious groups to work out guidelines for alternative service if a draft is implemented. “We welcome any assistance from religious organizations in finding suitable employment for these conscientious objectors,” she said.

Not everyone is as certain that a draft will not occur. “I think we have all the elements of a perfect storm, and all we need is a butterfly flutter,” said J.E. McNeil, executive director of the Center on Conscience and War. McNeil said that she believes President Bush might implement a draft if he thought it would pass through Congress. “‘We have no choice,’ that’s the phrase he’s going to have to use to sell it,” she said.

Theo Sitther, lobbyist for the center, added, “No one in the administration is talking about a draft, but people in the Pentagon are.” That is one reason why McNeil believes it is important to continue to educate and provide alternatives for people faced with the possibility of a draft.

In the meeting at Rep. Rangel’s office, Emile Milne, Rangel’s foreign policy legislative director, commented on the draft bill. “It was based on the issue of fairness,” Milne said. “If some people have to be in the war, then we should all have to share in that responsibility.” Milne said that another reason for Rangel’s bill was to make the draft a non-issue, as it obviously was going to be overwhelmingly defeated.

Immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq is something that Rangel would also support, Milne said. “Rangel believes the Iraq war is weakening the military to the point where the United States may not be able to defend itself if attacked,” he said.

The COMS meeting included discussion of development of a contingency plan for a military draft, led by Mennonite Central Committee US staff Rolando Santiago and Titus Peachey. A report of issues, questions, and recommendations were presented to COMS for consideration, developed by Del Hershberger, director of Christian Service for Mennonite Mission Network; Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service; and Peachey, director of Peace Education for Mennonite Central Committee US.

Some of the issues raised were alternative service placements under church agencies and non-church agencies, support for registrants, staying in relationship with soldiers, relationship of the churches to the government and Selective Service, and collaboration with other historic peace churches and the Center on Conscience and War. Santiago said the report is a work in progress designed to provide guidelines for denominations and organizations. Each representative at the COMS meeting will discuss the plan with his respective denomination and report back in the spring.

“I’m personally very encouraged by the degree of this discussion,” Santiago said.

COMS also met with Richard Cizik, vice-president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), who reviewed a publication outlining seven principles for Christian political engagement.

Marian Franz, executive director for the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, spoke with the group about her work lobbying on the peace tax issue.

In the meeting on the Faith-Based Initiative, Jim Towey, director of the Faith-Based Initiative for the White House, explained President Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative Plan. The meeting in Towey’s office ended with prayer, as did the meeting in Rep. Rangel’s office.

Many in the COMS group later reported that prayer in the presence of political officials and their staff was very meaningful, as it brought to a new light the cooperation between individuals and government who work together for change on many of the world’s social justice concerns.

Participants at the COMS annual meeting included Ronald Beachley, moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference; Chuck Buller, executive director of the Mennonite-Brethren Church; J. Daryl Byler, director of the Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office; Warren Hoffman, moderator of the Brethren in Christ Church; Phil Jones, director of the Church of the Brethren’s Brethren Witness/Washington Office; Titus Peachey, director of Peace Education for Mennonite Central Committee US; Rolando L. Santiago, director of Mennonite Central Committee US; Jim Schrag, executive director of the Mennonite Church USA; Ben Shirk, moderator of the Conservative Mennonite Conference; Steve Swartz, general secretary of the Conservative Mennonite Conference; and Roy Williams, moderator of the Mennonite Church USA.

Source: 12/13/2005 Brethren Daily News

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