I grew up with the story of Desmond Doss, the World War II conscientious objector whose story was told in The Unlikeliest Hero, among other books. A few years ago I reconnected with his story in the form of The Conscientious Objector and, earlier this year, I was privileged to again see the film with Terry Benedict, producer and director of this award-winning documentary.*
Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist who took the sixth commandment—“Thou shalt not kill”—both seriously and literally, at the same time as serving his country in the midst of World War II. Both in military training and in combat, he would not carry a gun and refused to take life, even in the heat of battle. Under heavy fire on the Pacific island of Okinawa, medic Doss rescued 75 injured men, treating their injuries, and lowering them to safety at great risk to his own life, for which he became the first conscientious objector to receive the United States’ Medal of Honor.
Desmond Doss was a true Adventist hero and—as evidenced by the success of Benedict’s excellent documentary—his story is one that can connect with people beyond our church. But the real value of such stories is not only to offer us a hero or role model, or even a reflection of what our faith can look like at its best, they should also prompt and guide us toward living with similar courage, principles, and faithfulness in our time and place.
One year on from the Sandy Hook school shooting that shocked the world, it is a puzzle to many outside the United States—and to many within—how such an horrific outrage has not prompted more than arguments about restrictions on the production, sale, and possession of automatic assault weapons. This is not only an American issue, gun crimes play out in so many places that they have to be particularly shocking or uncomfortably close to home to claim some media coverage and get our attention.
Yet we should never take such violence for granted. Apart from the political, constitutional, and cultural debates, perhaps these looping headlines and ensuing discussions about the place of violence in our societies should call us as a church to live out the kingdom of God in ways we might not have previously imagined, even when we are prompted toward this by the best of our history and heroes.
Imagine if, amid the ongoing debates and tragedies, we remembered that historically we are conscientious objectors. Imagine if we as a church stood up and spoke out, calling on our church members, and all other people of good will, to live as conscientious objectors today. And imagine if we were not only talking militarily, that in the face of ongoing social and cultural violence we chose to be civilian conscientious objectors, disarming ourselves, our homes, and our churches.
Imagine the attention and impact this kind of moral leadership could have in societies that seem unable to make progress toward curbing violence and its tragic results. Imagine if Adventists again became known as members of a “peace church,” creatively and conscientiously objecting to and resisting the culture of violence and fear that threatens to infect even our own attitudes and responses.
In saying this, I quite understand that I write from a relatively secure society, one in which I am rarely overtly threatened physically or otherwise. But I am reminded in the story of Desmond Doss of how we Adventists act at our best, resisting terrible pressures toward conformity and self-preservation, at the same time seeking to help and heal those who are most hurt by the evils around us. If Doss could live this out on the Pacific battlefields of World War II, surely it is applicable to even the worst of circumstances today.
Even in many Christian discussions, peacemaking is too often painted as some kind of flower-loving, daydreaming, disconnected approach to life. But Desmond Doss-type conscientious objection might well be regarded as the most courageous and counter-intuitive way of living, especially when done so in such difficult and dangerous situations.
Courageous and counter-intuitive except when we consider the alternative: that we lose our souls in the tragic spiral of violence and fear. As Jesus warned, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). How much more so, the automatic assault rifle or concealed handgun, possession of which implies their use is somehow justifiable?
Of course, Jesus also said this in a much more positive way: Those who work for peace will live as children of God (see Matt. 5:9). Courageous and counterintuitive as it might be, this is the way of faithfulness and true security. And in a dark and tragically violent world, what better way to shine a light of courageous hope and transforming love?
Let’s say it again: We are conscientious objectors.
I am in my third year of university and have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for about two years. He is a Christian studying to be an engineer. He is very smart, studies diligently, and encourages me to do well in school. He often gets angry when we disagree on issues of little consequence. He even screams at me. Last week he pushed me while we were discussing a matter we feel differently about. I am concerned and afraid of his behavior; despite the fact that he quickly apologized and promised he would never do it again. What do you think?—Christina
Abuse in relationships is a difficult topic for anyone to speak about. Everyone should develop a better understanding of abuse, and find out what resources are available to support people who may have such a need.
As smart as your boyfriend is, he obviously has difficulty managing his anger. This is a situation for which he will need professional help. It is easy to be fooled when you’re in a relationship with a person who has many of the traits one looks for in a potential mate. God can heal and forgive anything, and He can certainly do so with your boyfriend. However, while your boyfriend is healing—if he chooses to get help—you may get hurt more than you already have.
Here are some sobering facts about abuse among young adults in relationships: Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.1 One in five teens in a serious relationship reports having been hit, slapped, or pushed by a partner. Fourteen percent of teens report their boyfriends or girlfriends threatened to harm them or themselves to avoid a breakup. Studies indicate that as a dating relationship becomes more serious, the potential for, and nature of, violent behavior also escalates. Date rape accounts for almost 70 percent of sexual assaults reported by adolescent and college age women; 38 percent of those women are between 14 and 17 years old.2 While the need to be in a close relationship with another person is how God created us, relationships are complicated. You have to be aware of what God says about love. The way you are being treated by the person you are dating is a good indicator of the way that person will treat you when you are married. Healthy relationships follow the principles of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: patience, kindness, self-control, and many other virtues. True love will not hurt you. Think seriously about terminating this relationship. While it is a decision only you can make, we hope you will do so before it is too late. As a university student you should have access to the counseling services at your institution. You may also get help from your pastor or campus chaplain. Speaking to your parents about this matter is also a good idea, so you can receive their guidance and support.
God is the source of all love. He loves you more than you could ever ask, think, or imagine. Trust God with all your relationships and your quest for finding the right spouse. Remember, God has promised to supply all your needs (Phil. 4:19).
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister and family sociologist, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.