Christadelphians are conscientious objectors (1 Peter 3:16, 21) to all forms of evil doing. In the past, this has been manifested publicly in regard to military service. Whether in times of peace or war our position regarding conscience needs to be constant. The very life that we lead will be an open declaration of our conscience. When it relates to military involvement, what we say we are we must surely be. Any inconsistencies will be very quickly brought to light under the scrutiny of Tribunal proceedings.

Today’s environment is significantly different from that of our Pioneer brethren and the days of the American Civil War when the title “Christadelphian” was used for the first time in a petition for conscientious objection. The matters requiring a decision of conscience then and in the First and Second World Wars and even the Vietnam War vary in many ways from the matters of conscience facing us in our environment as we enter the year 2000.

Australia’s contribution to the multi-national forces in East Timor has raised the issue of re-introducing conscription. There is also the possibility of Military Cadet training being brought back into secondary schools.

One of the “doctrines to be rejected” in our Statement of Faith is “that we are at liberty to serve in the Army”. We are conscientiously opposed to all forms of military service, whether combatant or non-combatant. Combatant service involves being part of the fighting forces. Non-combatant service covers supporting roles such as nursing, truck driving etc.

In seeking exemption from military service, applicants must have personal convictions. They must know their Bibles and be able to give Scriptural answers.

Main Scriptural Arguments

  • Christ’s commandment—Matthew 5:38–39
  • Christ’s practical illustration—Matthew 26:5–52
  • Christ’s example—1 Peter 2:21–23
  • Apostolic example—Acts 7:54–60
  • John the Baptist’s teaching—Luke 3:14
  • Apostle Paul’s teaching—Romans 12:18–21, Ephesians 6:12
  • We are soldiers of Christ—2 Tim 2:3–4
  • New Conscientious Objection Laws in Australia

The legislative provisions dealing with conscription and conscientious objection to conscription are contained in Part iv of the Defence Act 1903.

Amendments were made to the Defence Act in 1992. There is now provision in the legislation for Conscientious Objection Tribunals to be established to consider claims for exemption if the need arises. These Tribunals, rather than the Government, would determine any claims for exemption.

In order to give clear guidance to the Tribunals, the following has been defined in the legislation.

“A person is taken to have a conscientious belief in relation to a matter if the person’s belief in respect of that matter:

(a) involves a fundamental conviction of what is morally right and morally wrong, whether or not based on religious considerations; and

(b) is so compelling in character for that person that he or she is duty bound to espouse it; and

(c) is likely to be of a long standing nature”.

In the amended legislation, under the section “liability to serve”, the word “male” has been omitted. Women would now certainly be involved in any further conscription.

Ecclesial Preparation

Although conscientious objection is an individual matter the ecclesia has an important supportive role to play. There are a number of things associated with our stand on conscientious objection that can be easily incorporated in ecclesial arrangements and provide not only exposure to, but also answers for these issues.

Maintaining adequate records

In order to substantiate the membership status and the ecclesial involvement of individuals there is a need to keep ecclesial records for a reasonable period. Ten years is not unrealistic in relation to the following:

  • Sunday school rolls
  • Youth Group activities
  • Ecclesial rolls
  • Annual syllabus
  • Baptism details

These have been used as evidence in the past very effectively and are a good indication of the outworking of a conscience towards God.

Practical Workshops

These are invaluable when properly and frequently run by ecclesias. There can be no substitute for the experience gained by individuals that are called upon to defend their conscience in a “Mock Tribunal”.

Bible Marking Workshops

These are recommended and when led by experienced brethren are invaluable. Brethren and sisters who have systematically marked the relative sections of Scripture will be well placed to clearly explain their conscience on these matters.

Instruction for Baptism

Those involved in preparing individuals for baptism need to ensure that the candidate is well versed in all aspects that relate to the believer and the State. This is a critical time to relate our position to things that are “a matter of conscience”. Ecclesias are advised to ensure adequate coverage is given to these matters when discussing the practical issues of being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Advocacy

It is considered undesirable and unwise to seek for representation from legal practitioners in presenting or defending our cases before Tribunals. It will therefore be necessary for ecclesias to select and prepare appropriate brethren to present our cases as advocates for those seeking an exemption from military service. This will have the advantage that the brother will personally know the brother or sister on trial and be in a better position to speak on their behalf.

A Christadelphian’s case will not be won at the Tribunal. His or her case will be won before going to the Tribunal.