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Below is the text of a document I prepared when filing for conscientious objector status to leave the navy.

I joined the Navy because I wanted to serve my country. My religious beliefs no longer allow me to kill, but I still want to serve. Service, in fact, is an integral part of my beliefs. My country has given me a lot. I value the ideas of freedom and democracy. I want to give everything I have to my country and the ideals for which it stands. Ideally, I would serve in a capacity that maximizes the peace and welfare of the United States, but minimizes my contribution to war. I believe these goals are not mutually exclusive. This document explores how well my service options meet these goals, both inside and outside the military. This will explain my decision not to apply for noncombatant (1-A-0) status. Read the rest of this entry »

I am a Christian pacifist, but I still have a lot of respect for certain people in the military.  This post is about how I resolve this apparent conflict using a tool called the “pacifism parallelogram.”   I’ll explain exactly how it works.

Here’s a picture:

parallelogram

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This is the story of an AK-47 and a dead man named Isaiah.  Because of Isaiah, I forged this AK-47 into a serving ladle.

ak47-into-spoon-arrow

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Growing up, I wanted nothing more than to be a Naval officer.  But then Jesus changed my heart.  He’s been teaching me that instead of killing my enemies, I’m supposed to love them.  In fact, I’m supposed to dedicate my life to serving them.  Maybe even die for them.  So after 7 years in the navy, I left as a conscientious objector.  That’s also why I’m not paying my federal taxes this year.

You see, in the United States, roughly half of our tax dollars go to financing war.  (You can find a detailed breakdown here.)  This is ridiculous and unacceptable.  I would gladly pay more taxes to finance roads, schools, or public health care.  But I will no longer pay other people to kill America’s enemies on my behalf. Read the rest of this entry »

We don’t know what God wants, and we wouldn’t know how to do it even if we did.  Therefore (as Gandhi put it) we must “experiment with truth.”  We must discover truth for ourselves, and how to achieve it.

These are my experiments from 2012.  I didn’t try these experiments because they are somehow the “most Christ-like” thing to do.  I tried them because I don’t know what the most Christ-like thing is, but I want to learn.  I want to train myself to do it at all times.  Some of these experiments succeeded and some failed.  But all of them made me a better Christian.

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Jesus washing his disciples' feet

Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.

– Mark 9:35

Being the servant of all is a hard task that we often forget to do.  We need to remind ourselves constantly that we are here to serve everyone.  One easy way to do this is to call everyone else “Sir” or “Ma’am.”  This language serves as a reminder to ourselves, and at the same time uplifts the person we’re talking to. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s hard because no one ever listens as soon as a conversation turns political. It’s just about waiting for our turn to regurgitate the pros of our favorite candidate or policy.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about: How should I change my conversation strategies in response to this fact?

In the past, when people asked me, “Are you democrat or republican?”  I might answer with: “I just call myself a Christian, but other people also call me an anarchist.”  Everyone just explodes with how naive and irresponsible that is.  Or sometimes how I can’t possibly be both.  We go back and forth on political theory.  But nobody listens.  Not even me.  (To my shame!)

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I’ve been thinking recently about ways to formalize exactly what makes Christianity different. One way to approach this is through ethics.

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines virtue as the mean between two vices. For example,

Every ethical virtue is a condition intermediate between two other states, one involving excess, and the other deficiency. The courageous person judges that some dangers are worth facing and others not, and experiences fear to a degree that is appropriate to his circumstances. He lies between the coward, who flees every danger and experiences excessive fear, and the rash person, who judges every danger worth facing and experiences little or no fear.

In picture form, that looks something like:

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After almost seven years in the navy, I was discharged as a conscientious objector in February 2011.  There’s no one thing I can point out as being the the last straw that made me become a pacifist.  Instead, it was a very gradual process.  Jesus kept pulling at my heart, and ultimately I had to do what he asked.  I applied twice for discharge, was denied twice, and had to go to federal court before my discharge was granted.  The official record for my case is over 1000 pages.  I’m posting some of that here that others might find helpful.

I’m posting the stuff here mostly so that anyone else going through the process has something to reference.  I remember when I went through the process I wished I had more stuff to help guide me.  If that’s why you’re reading this, you should call the GI Rights hotline and the Center on Conscience and War right now.  I was skeptical at first.  I thought I didn’t need help from other people, but I was wrong.  After my first application was denied, I called these organizations and they hooked me up with the ACLU to get great legal representation.  Also, make sure you find a good support group to help you out.  I spent a year at St Francis House, a pacifist community, while all this was going on.  The whole thing was a pretty miserable experience, and I wouldn’t have made it without all these people.

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In February 2011 I was discharged as a conscientious objector after 7 years in the Navy.  Part of the conscientious objector process is an interview with an investigating officer.  His job is to assess the “depth and sincerity” of the applicant’s beliefs.  The interview spanned three days and covered both technical legal points and broad theological concepts.  Here is a longish excerpt where we talk about the development of my beliefs as a conscientious objector.

The investigating officer is in bold, and I am in plain text. Read the rest of this entry »

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