The most divisive issue in the United Pentecostal Church in my lifetime has been television. The debate was not about whether we should own televisions and use them for recreational viewing in our homes, but whether we should advertise our churches on television. That issue sent us in to a tailspin. The stench wafted across two General Conferences. I received e-mail about the issue. I sent e-mail about the issue. There were blogs. There were Internet forums. There were threats that some would leave the UPCI if the conference did not vote their way. Some published booklets in defense of their view. An entire issue of the Forward, the magazine for UPCI ministers in North America, was devoted to the debate. A survey of all ministers was conducted. Ultimately a group of ministers left the UPCI citing the outcome of that conference as their reason.
We have before us now the resolutions that will be presented at the upcoming General Conference of the United Pentecostal Church International. These resolutions include one, Resolution 6, that relaxes our historical position against Christians taking life in military service, leaving the decision up to individuals. I am writing this article two weeks before the General Conference, and I have not heard one comment about Resolution 6. I have not received any e-mail about Resolution 6. Most people I have talked to are unaware the resolution exists.
Can we delete the following text from our Manual, as Resolution 6 proposes to do, without a vigorous debate?
As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we believe in the implicit obedience to His commandments and precepts which instruct us as follows: “That ye resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39); “Follow peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14). (See also Matthew 26:52; Romans 12:19; James 5:6; Revelation 13:10.) These we believe and interpret to mean Christians shall not shed blood nor take human life.
Therefore, we propose to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizens, but are constrained to declare against participating in combatant service in war, armed insurrection, property destruction, aiding or abetting in, or the actual destruction of human life.
The point here is not to articulate a position on television or taking life in the military service. The point is that we ought to vigorously debate matters of holiness, and there is no issue deserving of debate more than the taking of human life. But there has been no outcry. There has been no debate. Furthermore, the issue of television only goes back about six decades; the matter of taking life in military service has been debated among Christians since the first century. The literature—not to mention the Bible—available to us for a rigorous debate is voluminous.
Where are the heated Internet forums?
Where is the entire issue of the Forward devoted to the ethics of killing?
Where is the survey?
Where are the summits and conferences?
Where are the self-published booklets?
Where are the threats?
Where are the breakaway groups?
Where are the cries about methods (what we do) shaping our message (what we believe)?
Where are the pleas for maintaining holiness?
I am deeply moved by the silence.
Is advertising on television a greater moral offense than taking the life of another human being—likely in his land at the command of a secular leader for reasons we may not fully know or understand? Do we give less thought to the taking of human life than we do to advertising on television? What right do we have to take another human life? In a war who is morally right? Who is morally deserving of death? If I take up arms and kill, can I be assured it is in self-defense, either of the nation or of myself? (If one takes the commands of the New Testament literally, self-defense is not a basis for violence.) Is it okay to kill another Christian because he wears a different uniform? (The Civil War is a great example of Christians killing Christians while both prayed to God for victory.) Under what circumstances is it justifiable for us to kill another human being, one who likely is unprepared to face Jesus Christ in judgment? If he or she is prepared to face Jesus Christ, would not this be a greater atrocity? At whose command should a Christian be willing to take another human life? For what cause should a Christian be willing to take another life? How does one’s call to be an ambassador for Christ intersect with one’s loyalty to an earthly state? To what should one pledge allegiance other than to Christ, and how widespread should this allegiance be? For what should a Christian be willing to kill? For what should a Christian be willing to die?
I recognize that the issue of war is extraordinarily complicated. Theoretically, I think a state has the right to defend itself. Further, I think a state has a moral obligation to protect its neighbors from aggressors when it has the wherewithal to do so. I think some version of a just war theory is workable. Further, if we are beneficiaries of the freedom and security accomplished through war, we are in some sense culpable for the actions of the community. We cannot wash our hands of violence and yet support the violent machinery in “non-combat” roles, pretending we had nothing to do with the violence that was wrought.
Most definitely there are ways to engage in ministry to military personnel and in support to those who have enlisted in the military that do not require one to take life. Even so, these roles often provide support and infrastructure for those who do kill, so in many cases moral culpability may still exist. But we are not talking about support roles. Resolution 6 specifically removes our historical stance against taking human life in military service.
Some have lifted up Cornelius the centurion as an example to justify bearing arms in military service. I hardly think Cornelius teaches us anything of the sort. Cornelius, being a Roman soldier, was in a position which would have required him to subjugate or perhaps kill Jews and Christians if it were deemed prudent by a Roman leader. Further, if Jews or Christians were to have taken up arms against Rome, they very well could have taken the life of Cornelius, a fellow believer.
Cornelius was a military man who feared God. Are there no military men and women across the world who fear God? Are there no Corneliuses in armies around the world? If we bear arms and kill enemy “combatants,” do not we take the risk of killing a Cornelius? Are we prepared to do that at the behest of a secular commander in chief? In reality, we have no idea what happened to Cornelius after his conversion, although he presumable retained his military career. (Luke 3:14 may be instructive here, although a career change likely was not an option for Roman soldiers.)
Apparently, as an organization, we can deal with the matter of taking human life in the name of a secular state with little angst, yet we can divide churches, families, and even an organization over the use of modern technology to spread the gospel.
I am not attempting to settle the issue of whether Christians should bear arms. I have a lot of questions for which I have not found satisfactory answers. My concern is the ease with which we brush aside this topic while fighting to the bloody end over technology. We have a split conscience. We are morally dissociative. If our real concern is holiness, there is no greater issue than the taking of human life. Debates in ethics frequently degrade into hypothetical scenarios, all the what if propositions intended to stump someone of another opinion. However, this is not hypothetical given our current conditions. As it stands, military service in the United States is voluntary, and it is possible to serve and object to serving in combat roles. Given this choice, what would motivate a Christian to intentionally enlist and train for the purpose of taking human life? One who is converted after enlisting could likely declare his or her conviction and request a reassignment. If reassignment were not possible, the individual could seek God for grace to avoid the predicament of having to choose whether to take human life.
One of the most interesting components of Resolution 6 is its call for the decision to participate in taking human life in military service to be left to individuals. The option to exercise personal convictions in other areas has been vigorously opposed in many of our debates, including the debate over television. To illustrate, I have taken Resolution 6 and substituted the language on military service with language about television. (See below.) If this sample resolution were circulated in the past or present, it would incite vigorous debate. If we are prepared to leave the matter of taking life to personal conviction, we should be willing to leave all other matters of holiness to personal conviction. Can we do this and remain in fellowship? If not, what is unique about this most serious matter that removes it to the realm of personal conviction?
We indeed strained out a gnat in our decades-long debate over technology. We have caught the tiniest speck and examined it ad nauseam. And we should have strained out this gnat. But the camel we swallowed lodged in our throat. What is the theology behind Resolution 6? Are our conclusions rooted in patriotism, politics, or theology? We need a holistic theology of life which includes both the unborn as well as the already-born. Since this involves taking lives of people from other countries, should not this be discussed by the Global Council and not left solely to the UPCI in North America, especially since military service is compulsory in some countries?
How can we willing send combatants and missionaries into the same field?
I hope we at least have a vigorous debate.
Resolution #6 Rewritten
Whereas, Our position in the Articles of Faith concerning Conscientious Scruples on advertising on television causes concern and has mixed support from the ministerial constituency and does not therefore accurately represent our corporate identity, and
Whereas, Many of our pastors are ministering to members in combat positions who own televisions, and
Whereas, Many of our churches are ministering near military bases and serving the needs of many members in the military and aggressively reaching the lost serving in the ranks of the military, to people who own televisions and are aggressively reaching the lost who watch television and
Whereas, Some of our military personnel have faced the difficult decisions of military service and some have chosen combat positions some of our people own televisions and have a shadow cast over them by our present position, and
Whereas, The present position leaves no room for individual choice for a minister offering counsel to a member who is making military choices personal viewing choices, and
Whereas, We have taken no written position on the involvement of a United Pentecostal Church member service as a Police Officer or Security Agent, thus carrying a weapon with the possible use of force banning the use of the Internet, and
Whereas, We have not addressed the equally difficult decisions concerning personal home and family protection in the event of a confrontation with a violent attacker developed a comprehensive plan to deal with technology, and
Whereas, In signing ministerial applications and affirmation statements, many ministers are not in agreement with our stand on Conscientious Objector Status owning a television or ministering on television and are consequently endangering their personal integrity, and
Whereas, This deep and complicated issues merits the value of individual deliberation and heartfelt consideration, and
Whereas, A restating of position will in no way limit a local church pastor from teaching to refrain from active combat in the military watching television or advertising on television, and
Whereas, A new approach to this sensitive subject will not limit the child of God from declaring a conscientious objector status refraining from watching television nor a church from advertising on television if their conscience so dictates, therefore
Resolved, That the Article of Faith entitled “Conscientious Scruples, contained in the Articles of Faith of the United Pentecostal Church International, as set forth on page 35 of the Manual of the United Pentecostal Church International, 2011 Edition, be amended to read as follows:
. . . . The whole idea of taking of human life technology is complicated with a wide variety of complexities. . . . We recognize the deep and difficult deliberation required in these decisions. We therefore support our members in prayerfully and scripturally exploring their individual responsibility to God in these matters. We therefore honor the right of our members to serve as conscientious objectors and not bear arms refrain from owning or advertising on television. We also encourage those who serve watch television or advertise on television according to their conscience, in any and all capacities, to express courageous loyalty to country while serving in appropriate roles working ‘heartily, as to the Lord’ (Colossians 3:23) to the biblical teachings on holiness.”
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