Monday, March 22, 2010

Conscientious Objection to War

In the sixth chapter of my book, The Presbyterian Pendulum, I discuss the history of the Presbyterian Church's advocacy for conscientious objection to war as one end of the pendulum's swing. As indicated by this recent letter from the Stated Clerk of our Presbyterian Church (copied here) this is still a very important issue for the church. . .

March 2010

To every congregation and presbytery in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and its predecessor denominations, has long recognized that
followers of Jesus Christ make different choices in regard to military service. The Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) teaches that one way Christians can be faithful is through service in the armed
forces. The General Assembly’s first statement in support of conscientious objection as an option
for people of faith was made in 1930. In 1969, the General Assembly made a statement in
support of selective conscientious objection, which means that objection to a particular war
judged by the individual conscience to be wrong is a moral obligation that may stem from
Christian just-war teaching.

The 218th General Assembly (2008) took actions that relate to Presbyterians and military service in several ways. These actions include implementation steps for General Assembly programs, presbyteries, and sessions. The assembly’s action On Supporting Those Who Feel Called to Seek Status as Conscientious Objectors:

 “Reaffirms the church’s position on the freedom of conscience, especially as it relates to
a person’s status as a conscientious objector against participating in the armed services.

 “Encourages the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program to produce and identify study guides
and discernment materials for individuals, congregations, and presbyteries to help church
members and their friends be able to articulate God’s calling on their lives in regard to
participating in the armed forces, and war.

 “Encourages presbyteries to provide education opportunities for ministers, military
chaplains, and sessions on how to fulfill their responsibility of educating young people
about issues of faith, conscience, and war, including civic alternatives to serving the
country through the armed forces.

 “Encourages presbyteries and sessions to create a structure to document and support
those who feel called to seek status as conscientious objectors to participation in the
armed forces, or war.

 “Encourages presbyteries and sessions to create a structure to document and support
those who feel called to seek status as conscientious objectors to participation in the
armed forces, or war. Active members of the church can now register with the Stated
Clerk of the General Assembly for conscientious objector status, and certificates are sent
to the church for their records and for the church member (Book of Order G-5.0202; GA
Minutes, 2003, Part I, p. 651, Recommendations 2, 3; “Presbyterians and Military
Service” – PDS #7027005035).”

In the action, On Building Peace in Iraq, the 218th General Assembly (2008) voted to “call upon
the United States government to support our military personnel by granting speedy discharges to conscientious objectors; fully funding veterans’ benefits; ensuring that injured service personnel and veterans have the best medical, mental health, and rehabilitation care available; and providing generous benefits to surviving family members.”

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program has created a Web page with resources to help
individuals discern God’s call in relation to participation in the armed forces. It is available at

The Office of the Stated Clerk is prepared to register active members, baptized members, and
active nonmembers of congregations as conscientious objectors. Contact Joyce Evans at (888)
728-7228, ext. 5424, or read “Presbyterians and Military Service” (PDS# 70-270-05-035 in
English; PDS# 24-358-07-012 in Spanish) for the process. This information will be included in
future publications related to this issue. The Presbyterian Washington Office has communicated
the concerns of the 218th General Assembly for our military personnel to our elected officials in

Choices related to military service may be challenging. We will hold you in prayer as you
provide assistance to individuals as they make and live out their decisions.

In Christ,

The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Book: The Presbyterian Pendulum

I am glad to announce that my book, The Presbyterian Pendulum, is now published and available from

The Presbyterian Pendulum is a study in mainline Protestant social ethics
with a focus on the Presbyterian Church (USA). This book is written for the
church with the hope that it will provide theological foundation and
spiritual encouragement for our efforts to find unity despite the diversity of
convictions and perspectives in our midst. This is a historical study of the
significant social and political issues to which the church responded
throughout the twentieth century. With a foundation in solid historical
research, this book offers the compelling thesis that the Presbyterian Church
is at its best when the wild diversity of worldviews, theological perspectives,
and convictions are encouraged. Even more, the book offers the spiritually
rich thesis that it is in this wild diversity, not despite of it, that the providence
of God is seen and known. What is unique and compelling about this study
is the guiding metaphor of the pendulum swinging. The vast difference of
opinion in the church around social issues has historically always been true,
is necessary today, and itself points to a deeper truth about God’s sustaining
providence. The church must discern and hold onto that deeper truth. We
must let the pendulum swing. It is my hope that this book will be an encouragement
for the church even as we continue to be mired in deep conflict.