Could You Qualify as a “Conscientious Objector”?


February 28, 2011 by Ron Madson

My father was a WWII veteran that served in Patton’s infantry in the European theatre.  It wasn’t until he was 91 years old before he told me the details of his war experiences—and I am not aware if he told anyone else.  My father was the most Christ-like person I have ever known.  In the fall of 2002 I sat with my father listening to the war rhetoric seeking to justify our nation’s invasion of Iraq.  This man, who rarely showed emotion and spoke seldom, emotionally told me that he did not believe that there was any scripture or Christian principle that would allow us to attack another country as we did in Afghanistan and were about to do in Iraq.  He was certain that in our anger, fear and pride we, like the Nephites of old, were abandoning our covenant with the Lord by being the aggressor. He was hopeful that as a people we would surely denounce these wars.   Knowing his character I am certain that if he were magically young again, he would have applied for conscientious objector status as to our current wars— as he would have in Viet Nam.

Could he have qualified as a conscientious objector?   In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue as to whether someone could decide which wars were just and, thus, “selectively’ qualify as a conscientious objector.1 The court focused on section 6(j) of the Military Service Act, which provided that “no person shall be subject to service in the armed forces of the United States who, by religious training and beliefs, is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.” Interpreting this statute, the Court ruled that one could not pick and chose which wars were just or not just.  In other words, one’s objection could not be selective (there is proposed legislation seeking to allow “selective” objection).  Therefore, if my father was not also opposed to our involvement in WWII, then he could not qualify as a conscientious objector to Viet Nam, Iraq or Afghanistan.  Then addressing the issue of “religious training and belief,” the Court, while recognizing that some faiths have well developed traditions, teachings, training and beliefs that sustain conscientious objection to “war in any form,” determined that one is required to qualify individually in order to obtain a CO status.   Undoubtedly, if someone, to name a few, is Amish, Jehovah Witness or Seventh-Day Adventist, it is already presumed that they have a well established “religious training and belief” system that they can point to in order to establish their conscientious objector status.

So what about LDS “training and belief” as to whether to engage in war?  In March of 2009, I attended a Job Fair at Utah Valley University.  The U.S. Marines and the U.S. Army had their booths seeking recruits.  I, with several others, went there to speak to those that were listening to the recruiters.  We provided them with literature and arguments as to why they should not join the military.  My personal approach was to ask each potential recruit:  “Do you have a spiritual or ethical reason for joining the military at this time, and if so, would you share it with me?”  They would often refer to their ultimate action hero, Captain Moroni, or cite some slogan like “fighting for freedom.”  I would also ask if there were any scriptures or doctrine that they could point to that, in their mind, justified our nation’s involvement in either the Iraq or Afghanistan war.  Their responses to this question was even more general—“the scriptures tell us we are allowed to defend ourselves.”  After this experience, whenever I had an opportunity to have a serious discussion with someone as to our current conflicts, I would try to always start with this question:  “Without reference to the current wars, tell me what doctrines and beliefs govern whether you believe you are justified, if ever, in supporting a particular war?”   My intent in this question is to invite us to first determine the spiritual and ethical framework that governs our approach to taking the lives of others— before examining the details of a particular conflict.  Personally, I believe the mental and spiritual exercise is needed before being presented with an actual war/conflict.  Otherwise, we might find ourselves selectively choosing doctrine and evidence driven by fear and anger.

I had the opportunity over the past few years to visit and assist two LDS individuals that were in the military, but were considering applying for a conscientious objector status.  After reviewing the legal requirements with them, I suggested that there is, in my opinion, ample doctrinal basis in our scriptures to claim a belief that one can be opposed to participation in war in any form.   First, we believe the Bible to be the word of God.  Other faiths have founded their creedal opposition to all wars on selected passages of the Bible:  Jehovah Witnesses—Isaiah 2:4 “neither shall they learn war anymore”; Seventh Day Adventist—Jesus’ teachings to love enemies and refuse violence; and the Historic Peace Churches such as Quakers, Mennonites and Amish who saw Christ’s very life and death as a denunciation of all forms of violence.  Second, the Book of Mormon explicitly commands us that the common words and example of Christ found in the Bible and Book of Mormon (Sermon on the Mount/life of non-resistance) override all other examples and words (2 Nephi 31:40-41; 2 Nephi 26:1; and 2 Nephi 32:6); and third, modern day revelation mandating that we “renounce war and proclaim peace.” (D&C 98:16).  I recognize many in our faith cite the words of war generals and Prophets in the scriptures that do not allow for objection to “participation of war in any form” even to the point of putting to death conscientious objectors, but the issue is, as defined by Gillette v. United States, is whether you personally have a well anchored faith and belief that causes you to object to “war in any form.”

While I believe a doctrinal basis in our faith can be found to qualify one as a conscientious objector under Gillette v. United States, I also caution those that seek CO status that there are some practical obstacles that LDS face that other faiths like the Amish do not face.

The review board is fully aware that the LDS, as a faith, have not denounced, but rather have been very supportive of all our nation’s wars since becoming a state.  This is further reinforced by the perception that in our most recent wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, our leaders have not only not “denounced” these wars, but have given implicit support.  Elder Nelson’s conference address on D&C  982 in October of 2002 was interpreted by major news outlets that the Mormon Church had issued a strong anti-war message referring to our “current hostilities.”3 However, the church public relations department, seeing the potential fallout, immediately responded with an official statement that Elder Nelson’s talk had been misinterpreted as to its’ application to our “current hostilities” and that “the Church itself, as such, has no responsibility for these policies, other then urging its’ members fully to render loyalty to their country.”4 The following spring, and just days after our invasion of Iraq, President Hinckley delivered his key note address in General Conference directly addressing our doctrine as to “war and peace.”  While the address can be parsed to mean different thing, I believe stripped of his general commentary the doctrinal “summum bonum” of  his address can be succinctly stated that we are obligated as citizens of our respective nations to support our nation’s wars5, and, moreover, ““Those in the armed services are under an obligation to their respective governments to execute the will of the sovereign.  When they joined the military they entered into a contract by which they are presently bound and to which they have dutifully responded.” To those I have counseled, I have responded to these practical issues as follows:  First, President Hinckley made it perfectly clear that he was expressing his personal opinion; second, our church leaders teach us principles that they believe are correct, but that we govern ourselves; third, their words are not the very words of Christ, but rather their interpretation of the words of Christ, and each of us have access to the same scriptures/words of Christ; and fourth, past prophets/leaders do not all concur as to the standard we must apply to whether we should engage in a war.  The Prophet Mormon told us that we must lay down our weapons of war and not take them up “save it be that God shall command you.” (Mormon 7:4)6 and that is the inverse of recent prophets that have essentially said, “we having no revelation” from the Lord to the contrary, you have an obligation to support your nation’s war. Therefore, one can either believe that our doctrine requires us to not engage in war unless God commands, or that we will engage in any and all wars of our nation, unless we receive revelation to the contrary.

In conclusion, I would tell anyone seeking conscientious objector status, that they not make the mistake of believing that they will receive support from the institutional church or current leadership pronouncements in seeking conscientious objector status—they are on their own.  But one need not despair, for from the Spanish American War to the “current hostilities” faithful members, albeit few, of our faith have secured conscientious objector status—including many during WWII.6

So, I return to the question I asked the students at Utah Valley University.  What  “training and belief” governs your conscience when it comes to issues of war and peace?  Does your faith in the words of Christ cause you to object to “any and all wars.”?  And if not, then are there wars to which you would selectively qualify as a conscientious objector– if such a standard would be allowed?  And what doctrine could you articulate that reflects your core beliefs that would support a conscientious objection– either as to any and all wars or a particular kind of war? And, as required in all conscientious objector requests, the person seeking that status must show that his/her claim as a conscientious objector is “truly held” as an opinion that has become settled over time through their verbal and written expressions— even in times of peace.  So are you making your case everyday?  With family and friends even when it is not popular?  I just found out from others that my fourteen year old son has written on his Facebook wall that his heroes are Gandhi and Noble Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo.   With each book he reads or paper he writes for English or History class where he “denounces war and proclaims peace” he is building word by word his own case as a conscientious objector.  I believe his grandfather would be pleased.

What case are you building?  Have built?  And what words of Christ support your “belief and training?”

–Ron Madson  2/23/2011

written on the fourth anniversary of my father’s passing as a tribute to his legacy

1 Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437 (1971) United States Supreme Court

2 Russell Nelson, “Blessed are the Peacemakers” LDS General Conference October 2002

3 CNN Reported: “The Mormon Church issued a strong anti-war message at is semiannual General conference clearly referring to current hostilities in the Middle East, advocating patience and negotiations” and “The Golden Rule’s prohibition of one interfering with the right of others was equally binding on all nations and associations and left no room for retaliatory reactions, Nelson said at the meeting Saturday.”

4 “Message of Peace Misinterpreted” retrieved from the official LDS website Archives April 25, 2007

5 “War and Peace”, President Gordon Hinckley, LDS General Conference, April 2003, DF“As citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders”;

We also are citizens of nations and are subject to the laws of our government” and

One of our Articles of Faith, which represents an expression of our doctrine, states ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.’”

6 Mormon’s standard in Mormon 7:4 would qualify him as a conscientious objector consistent with Sicruella v. United States, 348 U.S. 385 (1955). In Sicurella a Jehovah’s Witness who opposed participation in secular wars was held to possess the requisite conscientious scruples concerning war, although he was not opposed to participation in a “theocratic war” commanded by Jehovah. The Court noted that the “theocratic war” reservation was highly abstract—no such war had occurred since biblical times, and none was contemplated.

6 Confirmation of the fact that there were Latter-day Saints conscientious objectors in World War II is to be found in the Selective Service System Special Monograph No. 11, Conscientious Objection, (Washington D.C.: GPO, 15—pages 25,26 and 319).

28 thoughts on “Could You Qualify as a “Conscientious Objector”?

  1. mormongandhi says:

    Excellent post, Ron – and it is comforting to know that WWII veterans are also opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 🙂

    Alma 34:32 is my strongest reason for not engaging in war or give support to any war (any longer): “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors”. By engaging in war, and by default engaging in willful or unwilling killing, I deprive others of their chance to repent, to change their ways and behaviors, their ways of thinking and their attitudes towards each other before meeting their God – in fact I would be instrumental in shortening their very own probation period. This would go against everything we believe in with regards to free agency being such a central part of God’s plan of happiness for his children – and for that reason the work of death, as spoken of by Alma (“And the work of death commenced on both sides, but it was more dreadful on the part of the Lamanites, for their nakedness was exposed to the heavy blows of the Nephites with their swords and their cimeters, which brought death almost at every stroke”) must be central to Satan’s counter-plan: he would take away from both man and woman their opportunity to change.

    In my search for a personal argument on conscientious objection from an LDS perspective, I came across Tolstoy’s writings (which I think are fundamental and it turns out that your post reminded me strongly of what he wrote in “the Kingdom of God is Within You”):

    “I have often asked different soldiers: ‘How can you kill people when the law of God says “Thou shalt not kill”?’, and my question has always caused the man uneasiness and confusion by reminding him of what he would like to forget. He knew that there is an obligatory law of God: “Thou shalt not kill”, he knew too that there is an obligatory military service, but he had never considered the contradiction between the two.
    ’Why is it’, they asked [in return], ‘that the Government’ (which according to their precepts cannot do wrong) ‘sends the army to war when necessary, and orders the execution of offenders?’ When I replied that the Government does wrong when it acts so, they were thrown into still greater confusion and either broke off the conversation or grew angry with me. ’They must have found such a law, and I expect that the bishops know better than we do’, one of them said to me. And by saying this he evidently set his mind at rest and felt fully convinced that his spiritual leaders had discovered the law under which his forefathers had to serve the Tsars and the Tsars’ heirs and which compelled him and millions of other men to serve. […]

    Everyone knows that if murder is a sin, it is always a sin whoever may be murdered, just as it is with the sin of adultery, robbery, or anything else. Yet at the same time, from their childhood and youth up, people see that murder is not only permitted but even blessed by those whom they are accustomed to regard as their spiritual leaders, appointed by God. They cannot imagine that the learned men who instruct them could so confidently preach two propositions so obviously contradictory as the law of Christ and murder. An unperverted child or youth cannot imagine that those who stand so high in his estimation, and whom he regards as holy and learned men, could mislead him so shamefully for any purpose whatever. But that is just what has been and is constantly being done. It is done, first, by instilling by example and by direct instruction from childhood to old age into all the working people who have no time to examine moral and religious questions themselves, that torture and murder are compatible with Christianity, and that for certain purposes of State they are not only allowable but even necessary; and, secondly, by instilling into certain people that the perpetration of torture and murder is a sacred duty, and even a glorious exploit worthy of praise and reward”.

    I suppose I put my mind at rest when reading Tolstoy, and realized that in order for me to be an LDS conscientious objector, I had to “first study it out in my own mind and then ask of God if it was right”. I did, and now I don’t wonder anymore. As saints in the latter days, we must avoid ending up in situations of contradiction between Christ’s commandment to love and forgive our enemies and Satan’s interference with God’s plan. “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other”, or as Alma also said: “I say unto you, can ye think of being saved when you have yielded yourselves to become subjects to the devil (and carried out his work of death)? And now I ask of you, my brethren, how will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness? Behold, what will these things testify against you? Behold will they not testify that ye are murderers, yea, and also that ye are guilty of all manner of wickedness?” (Alma 5)

    Alma’s words might seem harsh, but they work extremely well in this context.

    • Ron Madson says:

      Amen and Amen–Mormongandhi. Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God is within You” is a must read. As Tolstoy so effectively points out, we do as a group what we would never do or should do individually—as if doing it a a group sanctifies the act. I personally appreciate your input here as well as your blog here:

  2. Dave P. says:

    Another thing that members of the church seem to never grasp is the fact that while Moroni had people executed, it wasn’t because of the conscientious objector status (the Ammonites), it was because the Kingmen were committing treason. Also, the Nephites knew that Amalickiah was preparing for war against them for 4 years, whereas Americans today would have greatly supported a preemptive strike, Moroni knew full well the Lord’s laws regarding war and spent those years beefing up vulnerable cities and fortifying them immensely. The Nephites did not take up arms at all until the Lamanite armies marched into their land and attacked their cities.

    There’s also this little exchange in 3 Nephi 3, 19-21 that people seem to forget:
    19. Now it was the custom among all the Nephites to appoint for their chief captains, (save it were in their times of wickedness) some one that had the spirit of revelation and also prophecy; therefore, this Gidgiddoni was a great prophet among them, as also was the chief judge.
    20. Now the people said unto Gidgiddoni: Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands.
    21. But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands.

    What was the final nail in the coffin for the Nephite civilization? Waging an aggressive war. By this time Nephite soldiers were committing greater atrocities against their prisoners of war than the Lamanites: rape, torture, etc. and considering them as “tokens of bravery.” It doesn’t matter what kinds of abominations our soldiers participate in because we must “support our troops” because they “protect our freedoms.” Anyone who doesn’t see the parallels between back then and today simply does not understand the scriptures. What’s worse, how many members of the church began to support the war after Gordon B. Hinkcley’s talk that not only violated the commandment to renounce war and proclaim peace, but wherein he stated his opinion that it would be over soon? Go ahead and “follow the prophet” off the edge of the cliff, members of the church, because it is entirely possible for him to lead you astray.

  3. Ron Madson says:

    Dave P,
    I forgot about Gidgiddoni’s statement. How fitting for our time! President Hinckley expressed what he called a “personal opinion” and further informed us that we are entitled to our own opinion and the right to dissent. Unfortunately, his “personal” opinion for most members of our faith carries the same weight as the tablets written by the finger of the Lord himself. We are each entitled to read the scriptures and seek personal revelations as to such matters.
    Dave, I agree with you the parallels of our time with the Nephites having become the aggressor is sobering. Isn’t it odd that we would have a record of a fallen civilization and the voice of the editor (Mormon) telling us to be “more wise” then they and yet we can’t seem to connect the two dots–A to B? Every generation seems to believe that they are the exception. American exceptionalism is no less repugnant then Nephite exceptionalism when a nation believes the law of heaven and nature do not apply to them/us.
    Finally, my father agreed with your take on this. The problem is that the US government does not allow “selective” conscientious objectors–yet, but they should. With the advent of the Iraq war, there is a movement to change the Selective Service Act and allow soldiers to “selectively” conscientiously object.” I hope it passes. We need it.

  4. James says:

    Since accepting the Health Professions Scholarship for medical school, my attitude towards the armed forces and war have evolved considerably. I have never been pro-war, but I never questioned the morality of war like I do now. I would never have joined the armed forces in an infantry capacity, or aggressor capacity (essentially someone carrying a gun seeking out the “enemy”); I wanted to be a healer, not someone who inflicts harm. I agree that our religion provides ample enough evidence supporting opposing war–there is no doubt that our members, generally speaking, are too supportive of such violent endeavors. While I recognize the complicity that I may incur by wearing the same uniform, I feel justified in a healer capacity. I accepted the scholarship for several reasons:
    1) I wanted to serve an underserved population. I grew up as an army brat, and realize that many in the armed services are as Bob Dylan says, “pawns in the game.” Many are poor, manipulated, and often left with the choice between prison and the army. Then they are shipped out to hell holes to do our country’s dirty work. The soldiers of this country are not to blame for war, but are more often the victims, in my opinion.
    2) I have a desire to serve in austere environments and reach people that cannot usually be reached. While there are other NGOs that work to provide health care to those in war-ridden countries, there are none that work so close to those most effected by violence. The military physicians that I have spoken with have told me in Iraq/Afghanistan that they treat a large number of innocent civilian victims, as well as “aggressors.”
    3) I wanted to work in a system free of health insurance managed medicine and the be free from the immorality of a profit driven healthcare system.
    4) I wanted to avoid the extortionate amount of debt that is accrued by today’s medical students–$250,000-$400,000.
    5) In some aspect I wanted to give something to the people of this country, before I began a career in international medicine. While I believe firmly in being a global citizen, I wanted to first provide some service to the United States. Those were my thoughts then, and I continue to feel many of the same sentiments today, but I certainly am going forward with caution.

    I question whether I can be of greater service as being a healer within the system, or a critic outside the system (either way, my taxes are supporting violence). I wonder what the readers/members of Mormon Worker feel about my sentiments?

    • Ron Madson says:

      Personally I applaud your thoughts and sentiment. The movie “Platoon” really portrays IMO effectively how the “pawns in the game” are used and manipulated. It is criminal IMO. That is why during Viet Nam the war really was doomed once they instituted the draft–no rich white kids were in danger. But what has changed since the dawn of civilization? As Shakespeare’s Falstaff told Prince Henry—these losers can fill up a trench with their bodies as well as anyone else (can’t remember the exact quote). I really think it noble to want to be a healer in the crucible of conflict. I do not see how that is supporting an immoral war? Again, for me I really do not judge or condemn the grunts/soldiers at all. It is just the Bush/Cheney/ neocons and manipulators that should bother all of us–that and the corporations that profit through the military industrial complex…

    • Joseph says:

      I admire your integrity. What happens to soldiers is incredibly unjust and a bloodstain on our society. Your trying to help those who carry the burdens of war is a worthy cause as far as I’m concerned. No, I do not believe that we are safer or more “free” because of the armed forces. But because of those in the armed forces carrying out and sacrificing themselves to the rich and their causes, the rest of us don’t have to. That is a realization that does bring up questions I don’t have answers for.

  5. Brooks W. Wilson says:

    1. President Hinckley, as you said, made it clear that he was stating his opinion. This is good because he was wrong. The reasons given for invading Iraq, which he apparently accepted were false. Not all the governments of countries in which LDS resided were in favor of the war. His admonition would bifurcate Mormon reaction to the war. Is it the role of our leader, of a multinational Church, to state a position that all LDS can follow? I’m asking. I don’t know the answer. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that ideally, he should but practically, he can’t. Our Prophets are all anointed by God buy are not given omniscience.

    2. I was 12 years old on December 7, 1941. I have studied the war, before, during and after. I served in the Korean war, not in Korea but in the war. I volunteered for paratrooper training because my platoon sergeant told me it would keep me out of Korea. He was right. The reason for my aversion to Korea was not fear, it was to killing. I guess that makes me a conscientious objector of sorts; a passive one.

    3. I am an American History buff and I have read as much as I have had time to read (I will be 82 in April so that’s a lot) about the wars. I am convinced that the only war that was justified was WWII; not for American freedom but for humanity. I guess that my acceptance of that war would disqualify me as a conscientious objector.

    4. The most blessed people in the Book of Mormon were the Anti-Nephi-Lehis who lied down and died rather than to break their covenant to not kill.

    • Ron Madson says:

      Wow Brooks! Couldn’t have said it better. You might not legally qualify as a CO, but you are truly a CO “selectively” and that would be a major improvement over what we have now which is “you are all in or all out.” Your voice is a real resource given your study and experience. I wish there were more like you and my father who IMO get it. I am not a complete CO or pacifist, but I would have preferred that we really examine our doctrine and the evidence before launching into a conflict–at the least. DC 98 has a fail safe system that would eliminate pretty much all wars—with the exceptions like WWII as you mentioned. Good points.

      Your point about “bifurcating” the church is one I had not considered due to fact I live where pretty much everyone was on board with our pre-emptive wars. Do you live somewhere where the opinion was divided? I could see how that could divide people in other countries among our faith. Do you have any observations as to that occurring? It is a very valid point to consider. Perhaps we should see teaching us straight from our doctrines and leaving us to govern ourselves. It is just that an “opinion” often turns into a tablet written by the finger of the Lord around here.

  6. Aaron says:

    I have enjoyed reading this essay and the following responses. War has always been one of the few issues that I go back and forth on for one reason.

    The war for our independence, the civil war and WWII all put doubt in my anti-war stance on life. All three of these wars enabled things that needed to happen, giving people freedoms (though through the taking of freedoms of others).

    My question is an unanswerable one, if these wars were not fought, would we have the same freedoms we do today? The more I read and study the gospel, the stronger I feel in opposition to war; so how can I justify these few and condemn others…thoughts?

  7. J. Madson says:

    War for Independence – Canada seems pretty free to me. And frankly, Im dubious it was necessary at all. We prob would have ended slavery sooner as well abrogating the “need” for a civil war.

    Civil War – I personally would have never signed the constitution as it was and agreed to allow slavery to continue. The problem with history is we know what happened and rarely realize there are always a myriad of other options. There were many options that could have ended slavery in other ways, imho.

    As to WWII – again there is the elephant in the room about what caused WWII. The unchristian vengeful treaty at the end of WWI helped create the conditions that led to WWII. There is also ample evidence that the holocaust could have been avoided if the US and other nations were not anti-semitic as well. See the excellent book “Human Smoke.” Many of the tragic events in history could have been avoided if people would have listened to those advocating non-violence in the first place. The reality is that we study for war and prepare for conflict as nations and people whereas we rarely study peace and he conditions necessary to create peace.

    Even if you were to allow for war as a last resort and suggest these wars are ok despite the horrors that accompanied them (great literature whether from vonnegut or catch22 certainly expose some of the lies) we would have to say they are the exception and work hard to make that exception rarer and rarer

  8. Aaron says:

    Madson – Thank you for your response, it was helpful. At no time did I think that killing is ok, I just was wondering what others thought on this subject. My thoughts were that if these things needed to come to pass, a way would be found…war or not.

    I guess it comes down to what Wendell Berry said of war, “I can no longer imagine a war that I would believe to be either useful or necessary…but only a failure of imagination.”

  9. Ron Madson says:

    Aaron, I love that quote from Wendell Berry. I am personally convinced that one can get the “brass plates” without cutting off someone’s head. One can shake off the yoke of an imperial nation with civil disobedience—as Gandhi did without firing a shot. However, we engage in violence and then make it “sacred.” VIolence in the OT was made sacred when in fact it was just violence. That to add insult to injury the people of the covenant took the Lord’s name in vain and said it was His will that they kill every living thing when they entered the promised land. The prophets came deconstructing their narratives and paid with their lives. Then the ultimate deconstructionist came, Jesus, and they couldn’t shut Him up fast enough.
    I am convinced that there is always “another way.” But making sacred our violence (as Girard points out so well) is just what we do. We use force/violence and then say there was no other way. I don’t buy it. It is very rare if ever that there is no other way.

    • tariq says:

      I like the sentiments I am seeing expressed here. I just want to note that there were plenty of shots fired against the British in India’s struggle for independence. Westerners often make it seem like the Gandhians were the only people fighting against British rule, but India’s anti-colonialist struggle was very diverse and employed a range of tactics, including violence. The western view of the struggle seems to be summed up as, Britain ruled India and then Gandhi did some civil disobedience and beat the British with love and creativity. I don’t know any Indians or Pakistanis who view the struggle in that way. The reality is, the Indian people, many of whom had nothing to do with Gandhi, resisted and fought back in many ways and made it impossible for the British to stay in India any longer. I don’t mean to say that Gandhi wasn’t important, but he wasn’t the only element in Indian resistance.

      I don’t agree that there is never a need for violence in any situation, but I do agree that even in the rare instances when violence may be necessary, it should never be glorified or made sacred.

      Your father sounds like he was a good and wise man.

  10. Robert Poort says:

    I stand somewhat corrected by my comment that “the area of conscientious objectors or war resisters to militairy service, is an area that remains largely unexplored in our mormon communities”, in my recent post:

    because I just read this great post by Ron Madson!
    Thanks very much for your insights Ron, a worthy tribute to your father for sure !
    Perhaps we can explore the issue further by adding more posts to this category which I just created
    in the category options on this site. In many countries the military draft is no longer in effect -but could always resurface of course – however in many other nations for young latter-day saints and others this issue is very much a reality. And yes, there are of course ample opportunities to bring this issue to the attention of those who are considering to join the military voluntarily!

    • Robert Poort says:

      And another thing becomes clear as well:
      As you indicated, your Dad would in retrospect have become a conscientious objector, and that is probably true for many war veterans. It’s also true for me: I was drafted in The Netherlands military for two years (1972-1974) and at the time thought nothing of it, but much later in life became conscious of the need for non-violence and pacifism. It’s even true – of all people – for mormongandhi who wrote about that in one of his posts! Goes to show how urgent our mission is in order to create a much higher level of awareness.

      • Ron Madson says:

        So true! It is astounding, looking back, at how utterly clueless I was on some of these issues, such as “War and Peace” when I was a young man. I suppose that is another compelling reason that 18 year olds are drafted rather then us older, wiser, more wary senior citizens.

      • Robert Poort says:

        very true, … we don’t take authority all that serious and … we don’t run as fast as we used to !

  11. Kelton Baker says:

    I could qualify as a conscientious objector, I consider myself one I began as a teenager reading the teachings of Jesus and agonizing over registering for Selective Service. It felt devastating to me when I encountered LDS leaders in strong support of war,such as a Vietnam-era pamphlet presented to me by an apostle stating that “we do not believe in being conscientious objectors”.

    I went years trying to compromise these concerns among the majority of my fellow Mormons on this issue until so much history and evidence was before me that three years ago I took a final stand and no longer justify any position other than anti-war.

    Though the teachings of Jesus is adequate, my position is founded on the basic idea that the governmental entity among humanity known as the state is a legal fiction, and therefore its claims of super-human powers, rights, or privileges beyond what an individual in society can claim are strictly illusory.

    Self-defense can be justified, individually and collectively, but war is something different altogether. Power becomes the central issue in this domain of the state, evidenced by the fact that innocent civilians are routinely killed. I cannot justify supporting aggression and murder against my fellow brothers and sisters no matter how magnificent and regal be the flag of whatever given kingdom of this world demands my allegiance.

    Being a conscientious objector is the sword I am willing to fall on, so to speak, for my membership in the Church. I have had my share of concerns and serious doctrinal questions, and have valiantly defended the Church against its enemies, but when a recent Sacrament talk droned on and on about the goodness of war, almost worshipping the institution and its practitioners, my family and I got up and walked out, and didn’t come back to church for several months afterwards.

  12. Ron Madson says:

    your words/thoughts hit the mark for me personally. The teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, if we take them to heart and mind, have such effects on us—or at least they should. I admire your willingness to protest and envy that your family would support you in your walking out under such circumstances. thank you for your appearance in this thread. I/we would like to hear from you again and again.

  13. Craig Schade says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments.

    I would be proud of my sons if they defended their country and a draft wouldn’t be necessary to do that. I would volunteer to defend the Republic against invasion and that is in accord with the rules of engagement spelled out in the Book of Mormon. However, if a draft were reinstituted to force citizens to fight a war of aggression, that would be destructive of freedom. Those supporting this would be the domestic half of ‘enemies foreign and domestic’.

    I taught my children that they have no leaders, except Mom and Dad until they’re 18, and that’s what it means to be an American. Freedom has suffered because people think of themselves as either leaders or followers. This is how we’ve been conditioned. Control freaks are only part of the problem. The other part of the problem is those who want to be controlled. Those people who have no respect for themselves or their agency are free to live that way, but when they make decisions that endanger the lives and freedoms of my family, they are threatening us with deadly force. The Lord won’t forgive all stupidity because much of it is willful.

    You people have made my day. I appreciate your willingness to acknowlege your intelligence and conscience. I’ve tried to tone down my words but my feelings are strong on this subject.

  14. sunshine85 says:

    What a wonderful website/blog out for the world to view and learn from. I actually am just starting my process of applying as a conscientious objector. I too am LDS however, wasn’t very active growing up and am very skeptical about certain issues about the church. But I do believe that at the very bare minimum, all religions hold a true message – one being of love and peace. This past year in the military for me has truly been a blessing in disguise. It has guided me to this point in my life where I have awakened to the bigger purpose of life here on earth and to having to face my true being – guiding me to take responsibility for who I am, what I now can say with all my heart and soul believe and my actions.

    I am nervous for I am not the most eloquent in explaining very personal feelings and beliefs. Frankly, I just don’t – but now I have too which I know is for my own higher good BUT it freaks me out! I’m very thankful I stumbled across this site for it, in the short period i’ve been viewing this site, has been of immense help.

    Its weird but I know going through this process and proclaiming my belief that war is wrong and that I cannot have any part of it is going to be for the good of my higher self and higher purpose. I intend to go through this process with pure love and light and for that I know that all will turn out the way its supposed to – the right way.

    Thanks again for blogging these true words. Let us proclaim peace and live through love!


    • tariq says:

      Hats off to you, Sunshine. I don’t know if you need help or not applying for CO status, but if you do, let me at the very least refer you to a couple of helpful resources.

      If the military gives you a hard time about it, there are plenty of folks, including me, who are happy to get your back.

      • sunshine85 says:

        Thank you so much tariq! It means so much to me the amount of support I am receiving from all that hear my story/current situation!!! All my leadership have been very supportive of me; there was one that I could tell took my decision to apply for CO a bit too personally and wasn’t too happy about it BUT he was professional with me and did say if I needed any help he would do his best. I know how others can misinterpret my stance as an affront to what they do and believe but its really not about them and that’s what makes it hard is that I’m not here to judge anyone. This is about me, who my true self is, what I truly believe, and to serve a higher purpose. And it breaks my heart at times for me to think that I’m offending others. Definitely not my intention. So yeah, overall though I’ve been very fortunate with those I’ve had to confront regarding the issue and with those in my higher leadership who have taken me aside and told me how they are here for me. So blessed! Honest. It makes me feel bad that I could be leaving them…But I know doing this is the right thing. =)

  15. Ron Madson says:

    Sunshine, I can’t tell you how proud I am of you and your willingness to apply as a conscientious objector. Thanks for visiting here and visit often. I think your words or very eloquent because they are sincere and heartfelt. If I or any of us can be of assistance in your process of seeking a CO status, let me/us know. Best wishes

    • sunshine85 says:

      Thank you soooo much Ron!!! I know I don’t know you but you being proud of me means SOOOO MUCH to me! It’s very easy to feel alone and wrong when amongst so many others that don’t share the same feelings and beliefs as you (me)….So for you to have this site up is truly a blessing to all that come upon it for support in all ways (moral, emotional, spiritual). Thank you Thank you!!!

  16. Ron,
    Thanks for posting on this subject. I’ve been very interested in the subject of Latter Day Saint COs of late as a convinced friend (convert to the Society of Friends/Quakers). The Quakers have a strong tradition of pacifism. However I grew up LDS, and always wondered about the paradox of the strong military support, despite there being the example of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s in the Book of Mormon (which was one of my favorite stories growing up, and I suppose which I always had a testimony of peace). Interestingly enough, the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s seems to closely mirror the legends of the Iriquois League, of which Joseph Smith would have been very familiar with growing up in the Up-State region of New York.
    Are you aware of any substantial studies/collection of stories that exist on LDS COs?
    Kind Regards,
    Joshua Howard Behn

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