NOTE: The following information is particularly pertinent to our readers in the U.S.A. However, others may share similar problems and will find the position being taken by the church in this matter helpful in evaluating the appropriate response that should be made to their specific situations.
IN A TIME of peace when jobs are difficult to obtain and at the same time pay in the military forces is high, it is a real temptation for those needing work to enlist in the military forces. When you add the additional factor of educational benefits both while in service and later after leaving service, the pressure becomes even greater. Spot checks indicate that a great number of Adventist youth are voluntarily entering the U.S. military forces.
Earnest counsel needs to be given so that our young people might be aware of what the situation is when they voluntarily enter the U.S. military service. This counsel is published in the NSO leaflet 1-d, entitled "Military Service and You." This leaflet, revised in September, 1974, is available free of charge from the youth director of your conference. Get a copy for yourself and become familiar with its contents. Then see that every young man and young woman in your church between the ages of 17 and 25 gets a copy.
Basically the counsel of the church remains the same as it has been.
1. Loyalty to God and country: to God supremely; to our country within the framework of our loyalty to God.
2. Recognition of the separation of church and state, each with its proper sphere of action.
3. Noncombatancy as the teaching of the church, but also recognition of the right of the member to a deep personal conviction at variance with this teaching.
4. Enter military service only when legal military obligations (such as the draft) place you there, being certain to utilize all provisions to obtain an assignment compatible with your personal religious convictions.
In following these principles we have counseled our members not to volunteer for military service. Exceptions to this are chaplains, which the church endorses, and physicians, dentists, and other medical specialists, who during the draft had military obligations but could not serve within their professional training unless they obtained a commission. The basic practical reasons behind this counsel are the dual problems of noncombatancy and the difficulties encountered in obtaining the privilege of Sabbath observance while under military discipline and military law. These problems are very real, and this is still the church's counsel.
New Enlistment Program for Noncombatants
A new facet of this situation came with the announcement in mid-1974 by the U.S. Army that for the first time in history it would accept for voluntary enlistment in assignments restricted to the Medical Department those who were noncombatants by personal convictions. In implementing this new program the Army took recognition of the fact that noncombatants, when allowed to serve within their personal convictions, do good work. The Army even took recognition of the fact that traditionally the majority of noncombatants received through the draft were Sabbath observers, members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Thus arrangements were made to accord Sabbath observance during training to those noncombatants who entered this new program and wished to observe their Sabbath.
When this new program for noncombatants was being studied the question as to whether the Adventist Church would recommend this program to its members was raised informally by the Army. The reply was given that we as a church could not do so. Then the question was raised as to whether we would make the details of this program known to our members. This we agreed to do in view of the fact that so many were volunteering already.
As part of this new program for noncombatants in the Army Medical Department, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, has informed us that they value the two thousand Adventist draftees who volunteered for service there during the past eighteen years. Though they have other sources for obtaining research volunteers today, they would still welcome Adventists into the program. Those interested can write the following address for details:
Commanding Officer USAMRIID
Frederick, Maryland 21701
During World War II and following, most Adventist women in military service were in the Medical Department, mostly as commissioned nurses. Women in the U.S. military do not face the problem of bearing arms, though there are indications that this could change. Thus the most practical problem confronting Adventist women is that of Sabbath observance. From the information available to me at present I understand that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for women to go through basic training with the privilege of Sabbath observance in any of the armed forces.
Needless to say, we counsel our young women, as well as our young men, not to place themselves voluntarily in the U.S. military forces.
Each of the branches of the U.S. military has in the past experienced some difficulty in getting physicians, dentists, nurses, and other medical personnel. In order to attract such personnel a program of helping students financially through their professional training in return for service after graduation has been inaugurated. The usual formula is a payback in service on the basis of a year of service for a year of training, with a minimum of two years' service. Those receiving these scholarships continue in what ever school they choose to receive their training. Many Adventist youth are receiving this help, and many others have finished their training and are now serving as commissioned officers in their professional capacity to amortize the expenses they incurred during training.
At the time of the writing of this article there have been no reports of any difficulty concerning serving within their conscientious convictions on the part of those in this program. Counsel given by the National Service Organization personnel on this program has been that, whereas we cannot as a church recommend the program, neither do we have counsel to stay out of it.
Questions in regard to military situations that may not be fully understood by a pastor or other worker should be referred to conference youth directors, who will know where to get the specific information needed.