Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Anabaptist leaders meet to discuss alternative service.

By Todd Flory

The Council of Moderators and General Secretaries (COMS) of Anabaptist denominations held an annual meeting at Washington (D.C.) City Church of the Brethren Dec. 1-3. Hosted by the Brethren Witness/Washington Office and the Washington Office of Mennonite Central Committee US (MCC), the group represented the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonite Church USA, the Brethren in Christ Church, the Conservative Mennonite Conference, and the Mennonite Brethren USA.

Washington was selected as the site for the meeting 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.

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, the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, and staff of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), who proposed a draft bill in Jan. 2003 that was almost unanimously defeated. Emile Milne, Rangel's foreign policy legislative director, said he had heard many groups talk about the draft but the Church of the Brethren and COMS were the only religious groups to come to the representative's office in person to talk about it.

Richard Flahavan and Cassandra Costley from the Selective Service System spoke regarding the potential of a military draft. "When you read the signs, you can see there's really no secret plan to fire up the draft," Flahavan said. "You can all be confident it's not going to happen." Costley said that she has had numerous meetings with various peace churches 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 was as certain that a draft will not occur. "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 she believes that 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." Theo Sitther, lobbyist for CCW, added, "No one in the administration is talking about a draft, but people in the Pentagon are."

COMS discussed a contingency plan for a military draft, led by MCC staff Rolando Santiago and Titus Peachey. A report of issues, questions, and recommendations was presented, 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 MCC. Issues included alternative service placements, support for registrants, staying in relationship with soldiers, relationship to government and Selective Service, and collaboration with other historic peace churches and the CCW. Each representative at the COMS meeting will discuss the plan with his denomination and report in the spring.

COMS also met with Richard Cizik, vice-president for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which has been working on issues such as the conflict in Darfur, prison rape, and global warming. He reviewed an NAE booklet discussing principles for Christian political engagement: protecting religious freedom and liberty of conscience, nurturing family life and protecting children, protecting the sanctity of human life and safeguarding its nature, seeking justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable, protecting human rights, seeking peace and working to restrain violence, and protecting God's creation.

Marian Franz, executive director for the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, spoke about her work lobbying on the peace tax issue. The Peace Tax Fund bill, which has been compiled in the House of Representatives, has around 40 members signed on. The proposed bill would allow people who do not want any of their tax money to go to military spending, to have it placed in a fund for other purposes. Support has come from some unlikely organizations and seems to be on the upswing, Franz said.

Jim Towey, director of the Faith-Based Initiative for the White House, explained the plan that is designed, in part, to help faith-based organizations attain federal grant money for programs. He spoke candidly about government bureaucracy. "Regardless of whether you're a faith-based group or not, government can be a pain in the neck," he said. "We just look at whether the grant program works, not what religion it is."

The meeting in Towey's office ended with prayer, as did the meeting in 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 included Annual Conference moderator Ronald Beachley; Chuck Buller, executive director of the Mennonite-Brethren Church; J. Daryl Byler, director of the MCC Washington Office; Warren Hoffman, moderator of the Brethren in Christ Church; Phil Jones, director of Brethren Witness/Washington Office; Titus Peachey, director of Peace Education for MCC US; Rolando L. Santiago, director of MCC 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. Hoffman was selected as moderator of COMS for 2006.

--Todd Flory is a legislative associate and Brethren Volunteer Service worker at the Brethren Witness/Washington Office of the Church of the Brethren General Board.

Source: 12/21/2005 Newsline

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