Teaching Peace

“We are caught in an American culture that says violence is the way,” he said, “but the way of Jesus is different. I could not kill anyone according to the words of Jesus.”

Mark appeared before his draft board in Pontiac, Michigan, and received the classification of 1-O, “conscientious objector available for civilian work contributing to the maintenance of the national health, safety, or interest.” The draft board assigned him for 24 months to the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Home, Farmington, Michigan, where he worked as a counselor and director of recreation for boys and girls who were wards of the court. Mark was reaching for peace by teaching peace.

The U.S. military draft ended on June 30, 1973. Yet, with a preemptive strike policy in place and frequent U.S. military action around the world, twin legislative bills, S. 89 and H.R. 163 currently sit in the Committee on Armed Services to reinstate it. The act, known as the “Universal National Service Act of 2003,” would require both men and women 18 to 26 to serve for 2 years in the uniformed services or in some civilian capacity determined by the president. The Pentagon denies it wants another draft, but last November it posted on its web site, “Defend America,” an appeal for volunteers to fill all 10,350 draft board positions nationwide and the associated 11,070 positions for appeal boards. Politically, no discussion about the draft can begin till after the presidential election. Morally, however, men and women ages 18-26 must start now to examine their understanding of peace and war in light of Church teachings and the words of Jesus.

The Catholic Church recognizes the status of conscientious objectors who stand against an individual war and all wars in general. The U.S. government only grants C.O. status to those standing against all wars. By 1969 during the Vietnam War 2,494 Catholics had received C.O. status.

Obtaining C.O. status remains tricky, but doable. The candidate needs to prove: 1) a firm, deep, and fixed belief against personal participation in any war; 2) the conviction is based upon religious training and belief; and 3) the claim is sincere.

If the draft gets reinstated, parishes can become great sources of support with training, testimonies and organized peace activities. C.O. candidates can file documents with their parishes attesting to their gospel beliefs about creative nonviolence. Occasionally sermons can address the Catholic position on peace and war.

The Church continues to recognize the validity of the just war ethic, but Catholic reflection today has clearly moved in the direction of an imperative for peace. Addressing the diplomatic corps assigned to the Holy See in 1997, John Paul II said, “For a long time international law has been a law of war and peace. I believe that it is called more and more to become exclusively a law of peace, conceived in justice and solidarity.” His teachings evolved from witnessing the creative nonviolent resistance that brought victory to Solidarity in Poland and dismantled the Berlin Wall in Germany. In 1979 the pope admonished the world community with simple yet profound words: “To reach peace, teach peace.”

A conscientious objector represents a person courageously teaching peace with an alternative witness.

Fr. Rausch is a Glenmary priest who lives, writes and organizes in Appalachia.

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage