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June 17, 2012

Question:  Does your faith support conscientious objectors to war?

 To play on the words in the question — I would hope that all faith-based believers would object in conscience to the practice of warfare. However, the question intends all those who refuse take up arms for any reason. In so doing, such individuals, usually based on their understanding of scripture, refuse to follow the government when it has made a declaration of war. These people refuse to participate in any aspect of war, including humanitarian works of non-combatant rescue and relief. Such actions are negative, passive acts of non-cooperation or disobedience toward the government, based on individual conscience. In this sense, such a stance may be regarded as anti-social, even disloyal.

The Bahá’í sacred writings repeatedly and emphatically condemn war as the greatest calamity and tragedy that can overtake humanity. The whole purpose of the Bahá’í Revelation is to eliminate warfare through the establishment of the unification of humanity. But this does not mean that Bahá’ís are “conscientious objectors” in the sense intended by the question, nor can we be called absolute pacifists.

While Bahá’ís do not voluntarily enlist in the armed forces, if they know that such an action will lead to the shedding of blood, if they are asked to bear arms, rather than disobeying a duly-constituted government, and to show that they are loyal citizens, Bahá’ís request non-combatant duty, such as nursing, doctoring, ambulance, rescue, office or administrative work. In so doing, Bahá’ís are not interested in securing a safe berth from harm, but rather in engaging in social or humanitarian service, without violating the divine command to take another’s life.

We should also recognize that in cases of naked aggression, governments have the duty and right to maintain and preserve the life of their societies and to protect their peoples from harm, even if this response means engaging in war. Bahá’ís do not regard the prohibition of violence to be absolute. In case of naked aggression, “collective security” demands a forceful response.
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen June 17, 2012
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