The Conscientious Objector

Travis Bishop was released from a military brig last Thursday. He had been serving a 12-month sentence after being court-martialed for refusing to serve in Afghanistan. Here’s what Bishop had to say upon being granted a 3-month reduction in his sentence:

“Three months clemency. Wow. I am truly astonished. Great for me? Sure. Great for future resisters? Even more so. I cannot believe that I told the Army ‘No,’ refused to deploy, pleaded not guilty, and then indicted the entire system and blamed my command in court, and still merited clemency.”

And here’s what he said back during his court-martial:

“As a real Christian, I must be opposed to all violence, no matter what, because that is what Jesus taught.”

While I applaud his feelings toward violence, I can’t help but feel strangely ambivalent about the case. The US Army is currently a volunteer outfit; there’s no draft involved. If Bishop felt this way all along, why did he join the Army in the first place?

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One Response to “The Conscientious Objector”

  1. Marc Tumeinski says:

    It’s a fair question. I don’t know Mr. Bishop so won’t comment specifically on him.

    I think there are a range of reasons why someone might come to a position of conscientious objection after joining the military. Perhaps someone joined the reserves for other reasons (e.g., college tuition: this is one of the biggest recruiting tools on college campuses, though it is not always as good of a deal as it is made to seem) and then was sent over. I know it sounds unbelievable, but particularly someone who signs up for JROTC in high school or ROTC in college might not yet have the life experience and maturity to understand the depth of what they are doing. They truly may not realize what war is all about until they see it, for example. Video games and movies certainly are not giving them the truth about war. Many mature adults don’t truly realize what war is, so how could an 18 year old?

    I think another sad reason is that most churches do at best an awful job at sharing the Gospel message and teaching Christians about a valid Christian response to war and violence, and at worst send a thoroughly nationalistic (not Christian) message that engaging in war is the height of Christian sacrifice. Because of this, at least some Christians may join the military and get sent to a war zone, before they start to reflect on their faith and what it teaches about participation in war and killing. It is almost impossible to make a mature, moral decision without proper information.

    A good resource on this topic is:
    http://www.catholicpeacefellowship.org/index.asp

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