My personal experience with military draft and my religious basis for Conscientious Objection

Since the 1960s I have devoted all of my adult life to working for peace, nonviolence, social justice, and related issues.  Sometimes people ask me how I started in this.  Here is a bit of information about my spiritual and ethical grounding for peace.

I grew up in a mainstream Lutheran church.  Although it taught the usual middle-of-the-road theology, I recognized that underneath was the very radical message of Jesus and his early followers.  Jesus and his early followers were promoting a new society that would be radically nonviolent, radically inclusive, and radically egalitarian.  Mainstream theology missed this larger, more profound message, but as a kid, I saw the radically nonviolent grounding as crucial for a society trapped in racial injustice and the Vietnam War.

I figured I needed to become a Lutheran pastor in order to help the Church discover the radical message that it was ignoring.  After college I entered a theological seminary for the master’s degree that would allow me to do that.  However, even while I deepened my understanding and commitment for these values (peace, nonviolence, social justice) my other theological beliefs continued to move far leftward, and I felt it would be unfair for me to inflict my very unorthodox beliefs upon any Lutheran congregation, so I left the theological seminary in March 1972.

The Vietnam war was raging, and the protests were escalating along with the war, so President Nixon devised a cynical scheme to reduce the numbers of anti-war protesters.  He created a lottery system for the military draft, so each young man’s birthdate would correlate to a priority number (1-365 or 1-366), and the military draft agency (Selective Service System) would start at #1 and proceed part way up the list for the main year in which a man would be vulnerable to the military draft.  This draft lottery system was designed to take the pressure off from a majority of young men so they would not feel personally vulnerable and would quit participating in the peace movement.

My birth date was #5, so people with that lottery number were called up in early January 1972.  I had already decided to leave the theological seminary and give up my very safe draft classification (II-D for divinity students).  I started writing my very thorough application for Conscientious Objector status (I-O draft classification), and I knew that if I could not convince the Selective Service System that I met the legal and conscientious qualifications sincerely, they would reject my application for 1-O and would re-classify me 1-A, which means immediately available to be forced into the army against my will.  I spent a lot of time and effort figuring the pros and cons of escaping to Canada or going to federal prison for refusing to be inducted into the army.

Nearly all religious faiths are grounded in core values such as:

  • The recognition that all people are one human family; and
  • The recognition that God loves all people regardless of our nationalities or demographic variations; and
  • The recognition that God requires us to practice love and compassion and social justice.

In 1972 my draft board recognized that I am indeed a Conscientious Objector because my religious faith prohibits me from participating in war.  My application for Conscientious Objector status was about 50 pages long and very thoroughly explained my beliefs.  I explained my solid grounding in the belief that God wants each of us to fulfill our best potential, and that war prevents that by killing people before they can be who God was wanting them to develop into being.  I explained much more.

The draft regulations do NOT allow conscientious objection only to specific wars.  A person’s conscience must object to ALL war.  Of course my conscience does.  I have devoted half a century to organizing against all of our nation’s wars (Vietnam, Central America, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., etc., etc., — and nuclear war.  Also, I am equally committed to social justice and nonviolence throughout all of society.  This has kept me busy for more than half a century since my beliefs had jelled in the late 1960s.

I am interested in talking with — and working with people of ANY faith (including people whose spirituality does not involve any “brand name” religious label).  We can deepen our consciences and recognize that preventing nuclear war and stopping all wars is an obligation to God as well as an obligation to all of humanity – and to God’s beautiful Creation, which all of us share and enjoy.

If you are interested, want resources, or have concerns about the military draft — which, in the future, might include women along with men — contact me.  (For news about the danger that Congress might authorize drafting women, see this blog’s section on “Military Service.”)