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. My interview spanned three days and covered both technical legal points and broad theological concepts. Here is a short excerpt where we talk about the “Jesus Revolution” and the sermon on the mount.
The investigating officer is in bold, and I am in plain text.
Can you explain why specifically that your beliefs cause you to object to warfare?
My beliefs are against warfare because I believe that I’m supposed to follow Jesus as closely as I can and I believe that…
How do you know Jesus was against or for warfare? Did he ever talk about war? War between nations?
Jesus’s main teaching was the sermon on the mount. That’s the one that’s most influenced my life. He talks a lot about how its the inside of you that matters, not outside that matters. My interpretation of his saying “When struck turn the other cheek,” is that it applies to me at all times. I believe this because of his teachings, and the way the early church’s understood Jesus’s teachings, and the example of Jesus’ life
People expected him to go lead a violent revolution and he didn’t. He said, “That’s not why I came. I came to lead a peaceful revolution. My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my people would fight for it.” The early church interpreted Jesus nonviolently, and I want to live like the early church. They actually talked to Jesus, after all. Or knew people who talked to him.
Did Jesus lead a revolution?
In my opinion, yes.
How was it a revolution? When I think about the Revolutionary War, that’s where we fought for our independence and all that. Did Jesus take a part another country and separate from the rest of the country?
No, my idea of a revolution is just a complete paradigm shift. There was certainly a paradigm shift in Judaism at the time into Christianity. Christianity spread rapidly. It’s that rapid growth that I would call the Christian Revolution if you want to put that name on it.
So he talked about if your enemy slaps you in the face turn the other cheek. Would that seem to be like a nation against nation thing or a neighbor against neighbor thing? I mean, is there anything in there that would suggest that it’s talking about nation against nation like in the old testament where there was several nation against nation discussions?
My interpretation is that Jesus’s teaching applies to me at all times. It applies to me whether I’m wearing the uniform or not wearing the uniform. I applies to me whether the person striking me is my neighbor, my family, a terrorist, a German Nazi, or anybody. I don’t feel that I can participate in war, a nation to nation conflict, where that is going to cause me to go against how I would resolve a person to person conflict.
I take the sermon on the mount literally. And it’s hard, and it’s very different, and I don’t always know what I’m doing, and sometimes I fail. But I’m trying my best to follow it.
Like I said before, I wanted to be a military officer my whole life. I wanted to serve my country in those nation to nation wars you talked about. But I can’t do that anymore. Jesus turned my life upside down. I wish he didn’t, but he did.