Why Was I Carrying an M-16 in the Garden of Eden?

This was the question that prompted one American soldier to question his conscience while fighting in Iraq: Why was I carrying an M-16 in the Garden of Eden? From this question and others like it a Truth Commission on Conscience in War developed that draws on soldiers, religious leaders, philosophers, ethicists, historians, and others to lead a public conversation on freedom of conscience in time of war.

Watch the video trailer to learn more:

Check out the incredible group of veterans and experts who testified at the March 21-22 public hearing at Riverside Church in New York.

The Truth Commission on Conscience in War, a national gathering of community and religious leaders, advocacy groups, and artists, will receive personal testimony from veterans and briefings from expert witnesses about:
* moral and religious questions facing soldiers both before and during combat
* moral and religious criteria of just war
* international agreements governing the justification and conduct of war
* limits of military regulations on Conscientious Objection

Truth Commission proceedings will launch conversations about just war, international law, and greater freedom of conscience for our nation’s service members, conversations led by the Commissioners.

What are others saying about the Commission on Conscience in War?

One of the issues we wrestled with throughout the apartheid years was that of military service (a minimum of two years required of all white male youths), as well as issues of just war, just revolution, and the defensive use of violence. One of the struggles the End Conscription Campaign waged was to try and get the state to recognize the moral rights of persons who might not necessarily be pacifists, to refuse to fight in certain conflicts. I applaud the effort of the Truth Commission on Conscience in War and wish you every success.–Rev. Prof. Peter Storey, former President of the South African Council of Churches

This Truth Commission, rather than focus on troop deployments or withdrawals, has been designed to step back and ask the most important questions: Are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just? Are they permissible under international law? Are they moral? And if they are not, as I believe they are not, what are the options for a person of conscience serving in uniform?–Mr. Chris Hedges, Pulitzer-prize-winning war correspondent for The New York Times and author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

I am heartened by this conversation between those whose faith commitment leads them to nonviolence and those who adhere to a just war ethic. This is not always an easy conversation, but it is a vital conversation for our common ground far exceeds our differences.–David B. Miller, Associate Professor of Missional Leadership Development, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary

Giving testimony – and bearing witness. These are practices as old as the hills and as needed today, in the midst of two wars, as much as they have ever been. Let’s hear the voices of the traumatized echo in our midst – and be moved to justice anew for all who serve in the armed forces and willingly sacrifice on our behalf. –Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary and author of Trauma and Grace

Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dominate much of current U.S. foreign policy, I cannot think of a more timely moment for this Truth Commission. It holds the promise of bringing moral ideas too often hidden in narrow academic circles into a setting of lively public discourse, thereby making a principled contribution to an urgent, fractious national debate. The focus on conscientious objection centralizes the core question of individual, citizen moral rights in relation to the practical interests of the nation-state.–Rev. Dr. Traci C. West, Professor of Ethics and African American Studies, Drew University Theological School

Current requirements for Conscientious Objector status require opposition to “war in any form.” This requirement denies freedom of conscience to any service member who believes that some wars may be morally justified while others are not. Service members who oppose a particular war, such as those in Iraq or Afghanistan, have no legal basis for refusing to deploy. Instead, they face sanctions, and even court martial and prison for following their conscience.

The rightful place of Christians an the Church is beside these men and women as they make painful and liberating decisions of conscience. Where does your church stand?

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