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Reflections on the Truth Commission

by Zachary Moon, M.Div 2010

I recently had the opportunity, along with President Alice Hunt, to represent Chicago Theological Seminary at the Truth Commission on Conscience in War, held in New York City March 21st and 22nd. The two day event included a number of engaging sessions, including a public hearing that featured the testimony of five military servicemen speaking about the crystallization of conscience in the midst of participation in war, an awakening that changed the trajectory of their respective military service. Their respective backgrounds were quite diverse, as was their treatment in the aftermath of declaring for conscientious objector status.

Many of us may be familiar with the legal protections for conscientious objection and the history of resistance in eras with an active draft process, but these individuals are pioneers of an emerging concept not yet canonized: selective conscience objection. Each of these servicemen does not reject the potential necessity for war-making, yet each has experienced firsthand that war is not unquestionably acceptable, and that in instances where war-making has crossed acknowledged moral standards there is a need to stand up and speak out.

Their testimony as well as an assortment of other witnesses, including religious leaders, journalist Chris Hedges, lawyer J.E. McNeil, and clinical psychologist Jonathan Shay, stimulated a lively discussion and time of organizing the following day. Approximately 75 commissioners, including the two of from Chicago Theological Seminary, were charged in hearing and responding to the testimony of the initial sessions. The group of commissioners was gathered from across the nation and included scholars, grassroots organizers, and religious leaders from many faith traditions.

As rich as the event’s offerings were, the lingering and urgent question remains: what will the next steps be in this work? This testimony was recorded and will be made available by the event’s organizers, and there will be a published report, scheduled for release in November. The documentary film, Soldiers of Conscience, features the stories of a number of the military servicemen heard at the event, and is an excellent resource in initiating conversation at the congregational or community level.

Reverend Professor Peter Storey, consultant in the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process and later for the TRC process in Greensboro North Carolina implored some of us in preparation for the Commission on Conscience in War to take seriously the need for grassroots mobilization. He reflected that the energy generated in South Africa could have been engaged by religious communities around the country and carried further in terms of the hearing of testimony and the work of reconciliation.

There is not a neighborhood or religious community in this country that has not been impacted by the war-making of the last nine years. These stories need to be told and engaged at the grassroots.

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