“Everyone’s a pacifist between wars. It’s like being a vegetarian between meals.”
-Colman McCarthy, journalist, pacifist and peace activist
This coming Sunday evening at Rainbow (November 5 from 6-8 pm), we will hold a multi-age conversation on conscientious objection (CO) and pacifism in the 21st century. Our youth group members and leaders hope a variety of people of all ages, genders and backgrounds attend—so consider this your invitation!
We will hear a variety of stories and perspectives, including a reflection on how one can identify as a CO when applying for US citizenship. During a potluck meal we will discuss some of the common critiques of conscientious objection and pacifism, and then after supper we will look at the nuts and bolts of registering for the draft including how one can begin identifying oneself as a conscientious objector. I stress begin because CO status will not be officially recognized or denied unless a draft is reinstated.
Organizations like the Center on Conscience and War advise people, especially young people who wish to identify as COs, to begin building a CO resume complete with a comprehensive statement of one’s pacifist beliefs, documentation of activities that help to support that claim and letters of support. If and when a draft begins, this resume will help prove to a draft board a consistency and longevity of pacifist beliefs.
And herein lies a challenge and invitation, especially in a day and age when we don’t have a military draft. What does it mean to begin building a peace file or resume? What are we doing today to support our pacifist beliefs? As the quote above articulates, it’s easy to identify oneself as a CO or pacifist in theory or on paper, just as it is easy to be a vegetarian between meals, but what does it look like in practice, especially when faced with oppression or cruelty, or life and death situations?
Miroslav Volf writes in his book, Exclusion and Embrace, that we live in a world whose order too often rests on or depends on violence. He urges those who seek to follow the Prince of Peace to find alternatives to the sword, for too often, “the sword intended to root out violence ends up fostering it.” However, for nonviolence to be effective, Volf says it must be part of a larger strategy of combating systems of terror. Nonviolence can become barren, he writes, if it shies away from injustice and oppression.
In other words, those who seek to follow the Prince of Peace are called to find alternatives to the sword not only in word, but in deed. The good news is that it’s never too late to begin, or begin again this work of building a peace resume.
Do we as Mennonites have this figured out? Hardly! That is why gatherings like the one we are holding on Sunday seem important. Let’s find our way together, ever aware of our own missteps, inching our way closer to Jesus’ active, non-violent way of peace.
More resources for those who are interested: