I have never been in the military service. I could make use of the Dutch law that stipulated that those who were studying for a ‘ spiritual profession’ were exempt from this duty. So, it may be a little too easy for me to state that I have always been opposed to participation in any kind of military conflict or even to the bearing of arms. In those days, when I was approaching twenty, in most European countries Adventist young men were expected to avoid military service. Usually they chose to be a ‘non-combattant’ or they opted for a (longer) period of civil service.
In the United States the situation began to change around the 1960s-1970s. It gradually became more ‘normal’ for Adventist young men to enter the military, or, when the Selective Service system no longer existed, to choose a voluntary career in the military. The attitude towards military involvement changed drastically. I remember how shocked I was when, shortly after the first Iraq war, I visited an Adventist church service somewhere in Florida. During the worship service a few young men who had just returned from a term of service in Iraq received a heroes’ welcome!
I realize it is difficult to insist that using force is always, under any circumstances, wrong. Unfortunately, sometimes violence must be met with armed force. And, I realize that some people must be willing to implement that force in a responsible way. I realize further that I personally profit from the fact that we have policemen who arrest criminals and who can stop undue aggression.
But I continue to have a deep abhorrence for everything that is associated with war and violence. I find it utterly impossible to understand that some countries have laws that make it very easy for its citizens to buy fire arms. And I find it even more difficult to understand that some of my fellow-Adventist believers do not agree with me and have long abandoned the traditional Adventist viewpoint of non-combattancy. This sense of abhorrence for war and violence was re-ignited yesterday when I saw the pictures of the rows of victims in Damascus, wrapped in white cloth, of what most likely had been a poison gas attack by the Syrian army. How can people do something like this to other people? The sad reality is that Syria is not the only place on earth where people die because of armed conflicts.
I was, however, pleased yesterday to also see another bit of news. I received an e-mail message to inform me that there is a totally revamped website of what might be referred to as the Adventist peace movement: http://www.adventistpeace.org, sponsored by the Adventist Peace Fellowship. While I travelled yesterday by high speed train (equipped with internet) to Arlanda Airport (near Stockholm), to fly from there back to the Netherlands, I spent a considerable amount of time on this renewed site. I was pleasantly surprised by the great array of activities and initiatives. The interest for peace may actually be greater than I feared. I would like to suggest to all my readers to surf to this site and, may be, receive inspiration to also become more actively involved in the promotion of peace.
I could mention quite a few aspects of early Adventist traditions which I would not like to see return. But I would welcome a rekindling of the early Adventist rejection of everything associated with violence and war. I know that violence and war will continue to be part of our imperfect world. But followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace, have been called to work for peace. Wherever and in whatever way they can!