APF leadership expresses appreciation for GC policy change regarding investments in weapons manufacturers.Read More
Kimberly Luste Maran interviewed Colonel Randall Larsen, USAF (Ret.) about his documentary Operation Whitecoat (Filmmaker talks about documentary on Adventist volunteers in Army's "Operation Whitecoat", NADAdventist.org, 21 June 2016). The article begins:
"Operation Whitecoat" is a documentary that tells the story of more than 2,300 Adventist, noncombatant conscientious objectors who volunteered for biodefense research studies from 1954-1973. These patriots are described as showing extraordinary commitment to their religious principles and great courage to participate in tests that produced outcomes reaching far beyond Army biodefense.
Through 151 medical studies during 19 years, a vast amount of data was gathered on naturally-occurring diseases. Thought the project is not without some controversy, thirteen important vaccines still used around the world were developed and tested for safety and efficacy during Operation Whitecoat. Vaccines still in use today include Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A, Plague, Tularemia, Typhus, Rift Valley Fever, Q Fever, Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, Western Equine Encephalitis, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Chikungunya, and Adenovirus.
Maran and Larsen wrap-up the interview with the following two exchanges:
Who do you hope watches this, and why?
I made the film as a tribute to the commitment, courage, and contributions of the Whitecoats. The Whitecoats and their families are the primary audience. We also hope that the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will learn more about these extraordinary men, and hope that the church will use the film as a teaching tool to facilitate discussion on non-combatant conscientious objectors, ethics, and service to one's community and country. We eventually hope to take this inspiring story to a broad audience who have not yet heard about Whitecoats, and who have little knowledge of the Adventist Church.
How can people watch the documentary film?
This film is available for purchase; for more information and to watch a trailer, go to: http://operationwhitecoatmovie.com.
To read the complete interview, visit NADAdventist.org.
In connection with the release of the Desmond Doss biopic film Hacksaw Ridge, Ronald Osborn—friend and former Director of the Adventist Peace Fellowship—briefly explains the shifting history of Adventists and war.
See Spectrum’s original post here: Young Adventists Speak: Ronald Osborn on Desmond Doss
Surrounding the release, several others have reflected on the film, the life of Desmond Doss, and Adventism’s relationship to war and non-violence. Here are some other articles on the topic:
- ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Talking Points: A Guide for Church Members, Adventist Review
- Would Desmond Doss Be Happy With ‘Hacksaw Ridge’?, Adventist Review
- Why ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Matters to Adventists, Adventist Review
- ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ opens unprecedented Adventist witnessing opportunities in Central Europe, Adventist Review (The same article—but with more pictures—can be found here: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ opens unprecedented witnessing opportunities in Central Europe, TED News Network)
- USA Today Features Closer Look at Adventists as Hacksaw Ridge Opens, Adventist Today
- News Feature: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Debuts to both Critical and (Probably) Popular Acclaim, Adventist Today
- Don’t Miss It: Hacksaw Ridge Producer Explains Why Not, Spectrum
- Advent Hope Church’s Peace Ministry Screens “The Conscientious Objector”, Spectrum
Nathan Brown originally published this reflection on the Avondale News website (reprinted with permission). Nathan is Book Editor at Signs Publishing. He is a former magazine editor, a published writer and an author or editor of a dozen books. He is also a co-convener of Manifest, a community exploring, encouraging and celebrating faithful creativity.
IS IT MORE CONSCIENTIOUS TO BE AN “OBJECTOR” OF THAN A “COOPERATOR” IN WAR?
Watching Hacksaw Ridge is an ordeal—and probably should be. War is hell. Any storytelling painting the picture otherwise is disingenuous. Even more so when the central character is a United States Army medic, charged with patching up his wounded and shattered comrades. But the portrayal of the battlefield horrors in this new biographical film render the heroism and the faithfulness of conscientious objector and Seventh-day Adventist Desmond Doss more troubling than inspiring.
After an arresting opening glimpse of the carnage to come but with a Bible verse that also hints at the story of faith, we get to know Doss, who grows up in an abusive home with a father damaged by past war. Faith and love play increasing roles in the story, coinciding with Doss enlisting to serve in the army as World War II takes grip of the world.
As we see more of Doss’ faith—portrayed in a way that shows rather than tells—the Bible is depicted as central. Doss is committed to Sabbath-keeping and his refusal to even touch a gun in training is the dominant tension. Doss always argued against his classification as a “conscientious objector”—he preferred “conscientious cooperator.” His stand is admirable. His determination to serve his country and fellow men in even the worst of circumstances is heroic. But the ordeal of the battlefield tests the assumptions we might prefer, the image of the American hero director Mel Gibson seeks to portray and how we as Adventists might respond to this film.
The graphic rendering of the battle for Hacksaw Ridge—regarded as one of the bloodiest of the war—emphasises the absurdity of going into such an environment unarmed. Undoubtedly, Doss served faithfully and it seems God worked with his faithfulness to save both Doss and many of his men.
But this large-scale retelling of Doss’ story also raises questions about the conscientious role he played, whether cooperator or objector. On a number of occasions, Doss is depicted being rescued from an attacking soldier by a bullet fired by one of his fellow soldiers (it’s hardly a spoiler to report Doss survives the battle). As viewers, we’re expected to applaud these deaths at the same time as honouring Doss’ commitment not to kill.
And this is the tension. In his survey of different Christian stances in relation to war, John Howard Yoder singled out the traditional Seventh-day Adventist position as one of the most fraught: “The obligation is absolute, but it is also arbitrary. One can, like the Seventh Day Adventists [sic], refuse to kill and yet be willing to participate in the military enterprise, since it is only the act of doing the killing oneself which is forbidden.” (Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism, Second Edition, Herald Press, 1976, page 96). Perhaps this “immature vision”—as Yoder describes it—has laid the groundwork for the growing abandonment of it by Adventist members of the military in some parts of the world.
But would Doss have been more faithful if he’d simply chosen to stay home, safely away from the war, as he had the option to do? Would he have been any less a beneficiary of those who were killing on behalf of his nation? And is this similar to the situation many of us find ourselves in as beneficiaries of the violence committed to ensure our freedom and lifestyles?
These questions are not answered simply. Doss’ story does little to help us with them, except to remind us our highest call is always to faithful service, to “conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:20, NLT), whenever and whatever our circumstances. While we might examine the theology of his stance, we cannot question the faithfulness and trust with which he did what he felt he was called to do.
But Hacksaw Ridge’s graphic depiction of the horrors and futility of war should also remind us of the Bible’s call to faithful peacemaking in the larger and the smaller contexts of our lives. When it comes to war and peace, the Bible offers stark alternatives: “Those who use the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52, NLT); or “those who work for peace . . . will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NLT), although this is certainly not a formula for everything to go smoothly, easily or safely.
Hacksaw Ridge should prompt us to ask whether it is more conscientious to be an “objector” than a “cooperator” with the tragic business of war. In a violent and conflicted world, we must continue to applaud faithfulness and service. But we must also find ways to champion faithful, courageous and creative peacemaking wherever it can be found and fostered.
Episode 19: The War Between the States
In this episode, we learn about how the new Seventh-day Adventist Church coped with the American Civil War.
An important part of the early story was an editorial James White wrote about the draft. I was glad to hear Lucio cover this aspect of the church’s struggle. One meaningful reaction against White’s argument — which was to follow the state’s orders because the moral blame lies on the government that commanded it — was someone who pointed out this was the exact logic the church was arguing against in the context of Sunday laws. Clearly, there were good reasons to oppose James’ early views on the topic.
The amount of debate demonstrates that there were mixed views in the early group about how Adventists should respond to war and the draft. However, the denomination’s official stance became clear:
May 17, 1865… While we thus cheerfully render to Caesar the things which the Scriptures show to be his, we are compelled to decline all participation in acts of war and bloodshed as being inconsistent with the duties enjoined upon us by our divine Master toward our enemies and toward all mankind.
(GC declaration quoted from Douglas Morgan, “The Beginnings of a Peace Church: Eschatology, Ethics, and Expedience in Seventh‐day Adventist Responses to the Civil War,”Andrews University Seminary Studies 45, no. 1 [Spring 2007]: 36.)
That this pronouncement was prescriptive and not entirely descriptive is most certainly true.
For more on Adventists and the Civil War, see these resources.
Reinder Bruinsma originally posted this essay on his blog (30 October 2014, link). Dr. Bruinsma was one of the presenters at the WWI symposium APF reported about this summer (link), and he is contributing two chapters to a book on Adventist mission and social ethics that will be published by the Andrews University Press in 2015. See his full (translated) bio below.
It was some twenty years ago that I first realized how terrible the First World War had been. In far away Australia I visited the War Memorial—a museum that pays a lot of attention to the Australian contribution to the Allied cause in the Great War (as WW I is referred to in many countries). During that visit I understood better than ever before that nations from all over the world were involved in this world-wide dispute. A few years ago I was, quite unexpectedly, also confronted with this same fact, as I was travelling with a group in Turkey. Our guide told us that near the Dardanelles more than one million soldiers lost their lives in Word War I.
There are, however, few places that are so moving, as far as the Great War is concerned, as Ieper in Belgium. In a part of southwestern Belgium and the North-West of France one finds dozens of war cemeteries, where hundreds of thousands of men and women from dozens of different nations have found their last resting place. The remains of the trenches in which the opposing armies were involved in an inhuman process of cruelty and senseless violence, still tell their macabre story. But it is, in particular, the Flanders Field Museum in Ieper that is unforgettable in its sadness. It is truly a fitting monument for the millions who lost their lives between 1914 and 1918. And, why and for what, in fact, did they die? Its subject matter would make the visitor even more downhearted, were it not for the magnificent medieval building, the famous Lakenhal, in which this museum is housed.
I have always loathed everything that has to do with war. As a boy I never liked books about war and I did not go to war movies. I was fortunate enough that I could escape the obligatory military service, since I studied theology—which at the time in the Netherlands provided a possibility to stay out of the army. But, had I been conscripted, I would have refused to bear arms. It always made me proud to belong to a church that was opposed to war and that advocated a non-combatant position.
To my deep regret, in many countries this Adventist tradition of non-violence has been watered down, or even changed into the opposite. This is especially true for Adventists in the United States, where so-called patriotic feelings have ‘inspired’ ever more men and women to serve their country by opting for a career in the military. A visit to Flanders Fields should be required for all fellow-believers who consider joining the army!
Yes, I know there are weighty arguments against radical pacifism. I must admit that I am happy that people are currently fighting the IS, and I would not want to live in a place where there is no police. But there are at least as solid arguments for resurrecting the Adventist tradition of non-violence. After all, in our world there are plenty of men and women who are prepared to take up arms. But there are always too few people who want to do everything to promote and model peace. Remember: Blessed are the peace makers. Real happiness is for those who pursue reconciliation and peace. They will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). My visit to the Flanders Field Museum reinforced in me that long-held conviction.
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Reinder Bruinsma Bio (partially translated by Google Translate; original): "I live with my wife Aafje in Zeewolde (Flevopolder, Netherlands). I have over forty years of experience working within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in various capacities and in various countries. I have written twenty books and hundreds of articles in both Dutch and English. Writing is now one of my main activities. Since September 2011, I also temporarily held the position of president of the denomination in Belgium and Luxembourg. Fortunately, there still remains some time for travel and other fun things.
Featured Image Credit--Flanders Field: By King, W. L. (William Lester) (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007663169/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Nathan Brown originally wrote this essay for Adventist World (8 November 2014, link).
November 11 is known in various parts of the world as Armstice Day, Remembrance Day, or Veterans Day. It marks the anniversary of the end of World War I, ironically tagged as “The War to End Wars.”
Sadly, almost 100 years later, we still live in a violent, war-ravaged, and divided world. Violent conflict is a significant cause of injustice, poverty, and suffering. Included in the costs of war are the direct victims and shattered lives, the attention and resources devoted to military machinery that would be better diverted to alleviating other human needs, and the continuing suffering of war survivors and veterans, even among the “victors.”
There is something about making war that messes with our humanity. The ongoing struggles experienced by veterans of the Vietnam War are perhaps the most notorious example of this. Australians were involved in the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1973, during which time 521 Australian personnel died in active service. In the three following decades, 421 “surviving” veterans are known to have committed suicide, with the suicide rate increasing decade by decade.
The figures are even more disturbing when we look at the much larger veteran population in the United States. Reports vary across the many studies that have been conducted, but as early as 1979 a report from the University of Denver’s School of Professional Psychology concluded that “more Vietnam veterans have died since the war by their own hand than were actually killed in Vietnam.”
And the suicide statistics are simply the most extreme count of larger problems, often grouped under the generic designation of post-traumatic stress disorder. Suicide is an expression of the mental, emotional, and spiritual scarring that also contributes to mental illness, homelessness, alcoholism and other drug dependencies, family breakdown, and continuing physical ill-health.
Both in practice and in aftermath, there is a stark difference between being prepared to die for one’s beliefs, family, or nation—“Greater love hath no man than this . . .” (see John 15:13)—and killing for one’s beliefs, family, or nation. That is why the people of God are called to a different way of living, even amid the violence, warmongering, and other conflicts of our world. The kingdom of God, as inaugurated by Jesus, is never advanced by violence.
At the heart of the gospel of Jesus is God’s gracious and grand act of peacemaking, reconciling sinful human beings with their Creator. This is another way of understanding the plan of salvation, and one that we can readily appreciate from our experiences of human relationships. And the reconciliation we receive becomes the pattern for us to be “ambassadors” for this reconciliation (see 2 Cor. 5:18–21).
Even in the Old Testament, the concept of peace is closely linked with salvation and the gospel: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news of peace and salvation” (Isa. 52:7, NLT*).
This gospel of peace also becomes the motivation, pattern, and resource for working for peace in our violent world: “The heart that is in harmony with God is a partaker of the peace of heaven and will diffuse its blessed influence on all around. The spirit of peace will rest like dew upon hearts weary and troubled with worldly strife” (Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 28).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9, NLT). Taking this further, not only did He affirm the commandment against killing, precluding Christian support of war, He said we should not be angry or hold a grudge (see Matt. 5:21-26), and that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute (see Matt. 5:43-48), meaning that we should take active steps to seek their good.
There are many inspiring stories of people who have devoted their lives to peacemaking in world trouble spots, bringing glimpses of reconciliation and healing, and often alleviating much of the injustice and suffering these conflicts have brought. Whether working for peace between nations or between two bitter family members, Jesus said that those who do such work will be rightly described as “children of God.”
*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Featured Image Description & Credit: "Box with graves of deceased internees of several conflicts at the Bremgarten cemetery in Berne; Berne, Switzerland. In the foreground polish in the background french and belgium soldiers (1914–18, 1939–45), in centre the stele for the deceased internees of the armée de l'est (1871), WWI and WWII." © Chriusha (Хрюша) / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / (optional) Wikimedia Commons.
I interviewed Pastor Idel Suarez Jr for the Viewpoints interview series at Adventist Today (link). Suarez is the president of one branch of the Adventist Reform Movement, which started in Europe during World War I. I met Dr. Suarez in Germany earlier this summer when we both attended a symposium on how WWI affected the Adventist Church (link). In this interview Suarez shares about the movement's history, values and theology. Excerpt:
AToday: You've spoken to this already, but what were the major factors or events at the time of WWI that led to the Reform Movement in Germany, Russia, and elsewhere?
Suarez: The Reform Movement started in Germany. It was Germany that entered the war first, that made a declaration of war. And Guy Dail, secretary of the European Division, issued a letter, stating that Adventists should bear arms and go to war. That was August 2, 1914. Of course that letter caused a grave difficulties among the churches in Germany. Many believers—these were Adventists, they did not see themselves yet as reformers—stood up during Sabbath services, saying that we need to remain pacifist. It's one thing to be noncombatants, but it's a totally different position to be combatants, to bear arms, to kill, and to break the Sabbath.
AToday members can read the entire article here.
The other interviews in the Viewpoints series can be accessed here.
Denis Kaiser, a presenter at the recent symposium on World War I held at Friedensau Adventist University, has written a reflection piece on WWI for Adventist World--"Love Your Enemy" (August 2014, pp. 24-27).
Kaiser providers a brief history on the first world war and the Adventist response to it, including the formation of the Reform Movement. Kaiser explains:
As armies mobilized, young Adventists were conscripted and dragged into the machinery of war. Some denominational leaders in Germany lost their nerve and assured the military authorities that its conscripts would defend the homeland with weapons even on the Sabbath. At the same time they sought to convince church members that the Old Testament readiness for war was still applicable today.5
This position was, admittedly, not entirely new for Adventists in Central Europe. Yet the fact that these leaders practically told church members what they expected from them was certainly unique. A number of individuals voiced their discontent and opposition. The subsequent turmoil and contention could apparently only be stopped by disfellowshipping the “troublemakers,” resulting in further alienation, antagonism, and hard feelings. This internal “war” eventually led to the establishment of the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement.
Kaiser then turns to an ethical exploration of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, arguably the portion of scripture to which Christians (i.e., followers of Jesus Christ) should first turn when attempting to discern Christian moral responsibility. "In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) Jesus outlined the laws of His kingdom and gave us a glimpse of the wide framework in which He addressed moral and ethical issues. John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite theologian and ethicist, detected seven ethical principles in that sermon that I find helpful in considering how we can apply biblical principles under changing conditions and circumstances."
Kaiser concludes the article by considering the Adventist Church's mission. "God’s children should be characterized primarily by the attempt to resemble God’s character of perfect, excessive, and reconciling love to friends and enemies. Ultimately, Seventh-day Adventists consider it our mission to proclaim the three angels’ messages 'to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people' (Rev. 14:6) to draw people to Jesus so that they may not perish but be saved."
The complete article can be read online here.