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Conscience, Creativity and Courage

by John K. Stoner  (October 27, 2017)

About 250 people gathered in Kansas City last week to remember the courage of WWI conscientious objectors in the U.S., Canada and beyond.  Casting an eye back at history is always good if it doesn’t take our other eye off of the present and future.
The conference was organized by individuals (notably Andrew Bolton,  Community of Christ Church), the The National WWI Museum, and peace churches.  Bolton said, “We’ve been learning about the past because it has relevance for the future.”  This column is in hot pursuit of that relevance.
“Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civil Liberties in WWI” was the title of the conference. see news story  Special attention and ceremony were given to four Hutterite conscientious objectors from Freeman, South Dakona who were imprisoned.  Two of them died from effects of their treatment.  
Those men showed amazing courage.  Where do we look for courage like that today?  Should we expect it, or anything like it?
The United States is currently engaged in war  on several continents.  We may not be waiting for or fearing WW III, we may be living in it.  How do we object, dissent and resist this current war reality?  This blog is a call for conscience, creativity and courage.
Conscience is an innate capacity of individuals, and it is the creation of communities of conscience.  Both must be recognized and encouraged.  It is important at this time in American history to recognize that the two party political system does not offer a party of conscience—the endless war policy of the U.S. is fully embraced by both.  Anything even close to conscientious objection to the war system will not find a home with the D&R political party(s). 
Conscience, therefore, is the precious seed of alternative voices, and looking for those voices may be the first step toward making history relevant to the future.  We may need a conference titled “Recognizing Muted Voices:  Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civill Liberties in WW III.”  Remembering is good, recognizing may be life or death. 
Creativity will be required.  In my Mennonite “peace church” (a questionable description, to be sure), I don’t know how often I’ve heard “We lost our peace witness when the draft ended.  The all-volunteer army has silenced our conscientious objection voice.”  So…so…where is the creativity in that?   Is that the best we can do—virtually hoping that the state will do more bad so that we can do our good?
Creativity would find a way for conscience to express itself.   The state has been creative with war:  ending the draft, mechanizing and digitizing war, and conscripting taxes instead of bodies.  How have people of conscience and peace churches responded to all of this?  Do we see imagination and creativity?  Do we see resources of conscience, mind and material dedicated to forging a clear and compelling alternative to servile submission to this juggernaut of endless war?  
Creativity might ask:  If war has become the business of big profits, how do we become conscientious objectors to the war business of big profits?  If money is the voice, how do we speak with our money?  Might we become conscientious objectors to war taxes?
Courage will be necessary.
And one of the big things about courage is the timing of it.  Coming too late, it doesn’t help.  Jesus called us to courage with his frequent challenge: “Do not be afraid!”  And to timeliness with his “Watch!  Stay awake.”  The opportunity will pass if you are not alert.  Do not fall asleep on your watch.
We will not all be martyrs—we should not be.  But neither should we be naive about the necessity of taking risks, including costly ones.  Make no mistake, the state always describes those who die in its wars as martyrs—they die to make men free.  They die herocially for a cause—they are in that sense martyrs. 
And so, painful as it is, there is a calculus here, if you will.  We are actually testing the question of whether risking suffering and death in an effort to kill people and ideologies is a better choice than risking suffering and death in an effort to implement the way of love in human affairs.  It does take some courage to ask this question honestly and head on.  But I submit that asking it will take our children and our generation further toward an adequate response to our times than not asking it.  

1 comment:

  1. One ethical way to avoid contributing to the nation's wars without end is to renounce materialism, reducing income to a level where support for evil is minimal. Sometimes that happens to the faithful, even unintentionally.