Testimony: why I'm "pro-peace" and not "anti-war"

posted on 2012-06-30

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 why I prefer to describe myself as “pro-peace” rather than “anti-war.”

The investigating officer is in bold, and I am in plain text.

Why are you anti-war?

I wouldn’t describe myself as anti-war so much as pro-peace.

Maybe we should clarify that statement.  Did you mean you’re not against war?

No, sir.  This whole process has characterized my beliefs as anti-war in a very narrow way because that’s what the regulations require. That’s true, but it’s much broader than that. I’m not just against something, I’m for something: I’m for trying to follow Jesus and I’m for building peace wherever possible.

This means a lot of things.  It means helping the homeless and those marginalized by society.  It means working really hard now to prevent wars that might happen ten years from now.  It means actually being nice and helpful to my enemies.

A very small aspect of being a peacemaker just happens to be that I can’t participate in war.

On page 10 of your application you state, “I want every aspect of my life to contribute to peacemaking because I believe every aspect of Jesus’ did.” When Jesus cleansed the temple, was he trying to make peace with the Pharisees or was he trying to correct them?

I believe both.

Do you think a peacemaker is someone who goes into a situation and is open to everyone’s concerns, even if someone has thoughts that are wrong? Say somebody was in here and that person wanted to kill you, or wanted to kill me. Just to make peace with that person, you’d say, “Well go ahead. I don’t want you to be un-peaceful, so go ahead and murder people because that way you and I can have peace between us. I won’t tell you it’s wrong.”

That sounds ridiculous, and it’s not what I believe. I think Gandhi’s a good contemporary example of peacemaking that’s at least a little bit easier for me to understand. When people attacked him violently, he didn’t stand back and do nothing (although some might call it that because he didn’t try to kill people in return). He used what he called Satyagraha, or “truth force.” He believed, “What you’re doing is wrong and I’m going to tell you it’s wrong. I’m not going to force you to change, but I’m going to try to convince you it’s wrong and show you the error of your ways.” When that Satyagraha process, which is peacemaking and what I believe I’m called to, is done properly, it’s not that the person doing it wins and the other person loses. It’s that both people win. That’s the essence to me of peacemaking: that both sides will win.

Edit: I really like the protest movement Food not Bombs for this reason.  Instead of going out and being obnoxious, we go out and give food to hungry people.  You should check us out.