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Jan Paulsen Reaffirms the Priority of Noncombatancy

In his current Adventist World article, “Clear Thinking About Military Service” Seventh-day Adventist Church world leader Jan Paulsen explains that deciding to carry arms puts “the spiritual and moral foundations of your life in serious jeopardy.”

The Adventist News Network reports:

Referencing a resolution made at the church’s Fifth General Conference in 1867 Paulsen says “This has, in broad terms, been our guiding principle: When you carry arms you imply that you are prepared to use them to take another’s life, and taking the life of one of God’s children, even that of our ‘enemy,’ is inconsistent with what we hold to be sacred and right.”

The three-page article opens with Pastor Paulsen’s own experience as a child during the Second World War, then goes on to say that because God values each human life Christians should never be involved in the taking of life. “Every human being, no matter what their choices or conduct is of infinite value to God … the God we serve is a healer and a Savior. Healing and saving are the first business of the church,” he writes.

Paulsen also makes it clear that although there are more and more church members taking combat positions — there are 7,500 Adventists engaged in combat positions in North America alone — the church’s position has not changed.

He writes, “I have sensed, at times, a certain ambivalence toward our historic position, a sense, perhaps, that ‘that was then, and this is now.’ And yet I know of no reason why this should be so.”

But what about those who live in countries where military service is compulsory? Pastor Paulsen counsels them saying, “Accepting the penalty of dissent — perhaps even imprisonment — may be the decision you make simply to be faithful to your fundamental convictions and your Lord.”

Paulsen concludes by asking members of the world church not to put aside those who have made the decision to serve in combat positions but to embrace them. He admits that this is not a simple topic and encourages church members to consider this issue in “our homes, our churches, and our schools and let us do so with open hearts and a spirit of humility.”

I especially appreciate that Elder Paulsen presents his world-wide educated views respectful and even lays out some constructive space for accommodating dissent. But the onus now is certainly on those who have advocate martial violence to rise to our church president’s level of thoughtful moral reasoning.

This Thoreauian echo of Christian conviction vs. the state is a significant change from General Conference silence or recent “conscientious cooperation” rhetoric. As at least one GC vet has mentioned, this comfort with conscientious objection is not universally held among our leadership. But much ink has been spilled, including in increasing numbers among evangelicals, noting that Jesus – God incarnate, humanity’s example – taught and practiced non-violence as the way to conflict resolution.

Read “Clear Thinking About Military Service.”

Adventist Peace Fellowship notes that this statement upholds the attitude of Adventism’s founders.

Sherwood M., blogging at Gather, ponders the political implications.

Loma Linda University Professor Johnny Ramirez-Johnson writes on this blog:

I believe the moral convictions that the Adventists General Conference president expressed are a reflection of a biblically sound position. I am proud of his moral stance and I support it.

Consider writing Elder Paulsen and expressing your thoughts; he’ll certainly be hearing from those who disagree:

If you do, post a copy of your letter in the comments section.

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