Thanks to Elisabeth J. for today’s post
Our class was on to Stage 5 of the C.S.S.A. notes for Sunday School which covers the Acts of the Apostles and one of our aims was to make the studies come alive for our young people. The Apostles preached the truth amongst great trials of their faith. They did not waver from their steadfast commitment to the Lord and his commission to them to preach the truth throughout all the world. The question that we wanted our young people to examine in themselves and encourage them to develop was whether we, in this Laodicean age, have the same commitment as these 1st Century believers. Are we ready to give an answer of the Hope that is in us with meekness and fear? Do our lifestyles match what we profess to believe? Would we be ready, as brethren and sisters in the past have had to be ready through our World Wars, to stand up for our beliefs through tremendous persecution and unwaveringly stay faithful to our Lord? We wanted the young people to take this questioning seriously and it be a motivator for spiritual growth in their lives.
A program was planned for the class for over the next few weeks to prepare them for a possible mock trial on their position of conscience concerning objection to military service. They would not know who would be picked, but three out of the ten students would be chosen to stand on trial. The studies commenced with starting out by watching, over 2 Sunday School classes, the Christadelphian DVD “Test Case for Canada”. The class discussed, after each session, the trial of the young brother in Canada during WW2. The young people were given reading assignments from various Christadelphian literature and personal letters and experiences of our brethren who had faced tribunals. Homework was assigned to listen to some classes online which were found on Conscientious Objection through different Christadelphian websites. The young people were requested to each mark, into a section in their Bibles, references that they would need on hand if they ever faced a military tribunal. They were told that they would not be allowed any pieces of paper at the mock tribunal in order to encourage them to take the time to get the references right into their Bibles. They were also asked to each prepare a submission of their request for conscientious objection, that would be ready to hand in, outlining their beliefs scripturally as to why they object to being in the military.
It was then decided that they were ready to be tried! Three of the young people were chosen who were considered best able to handle being tried and had voiced that they would be excited for the challenge. ‘Investigators’, unbeknownst to the young people although the parents knew, went into their houses and took pictures of possible incriminating evidence. This was sent to us to scrutinize and come up with a strategy for the trial. We then told the young people to each come with their statements of request and Bible marking ready, for they would not know who we were going to choose. There was a mixture of nerves and excitement as they anticipated their upcoming Sunday School Class.
Little did they know that we were going to go all out on this. A couple of brethren were approached to help with the tribunal, and they decided amongst themselves who was going to take on which position. They divided up between them questions concerning lifestyle, general questions, combatant and non-combatant role questions, and questions concerning society. Each of the brethren were also appointed a specific personal lifestyle challenge that our ‘spies’ had found possible incriminating evidence of.
The Sunday School teacher took the role of a Major General. Another brother acted as a Chaplain who is generally on the panel of the military tribunal, for they are experienced in persuading from a religious perspective the importance of serving one’s country. There was also a Lieutenant. Finally, a sister played the role of a court secretary. Ahead of time, costumes were chosen from WW2 to represent the different roles.
On the morning of the special Sunday School class, we arrived early, blocked off the classroom, and commenced decorating the room to look like a tribunal. Canadian flags were positioned around the room and on sticks at the tables. A podium for a witness stand was set up where they would each make their statement. Two tables, semi-facing each other with 3 chairs at each table, were positioned. The windows were blacked out and spot lights set up to light up the witness stand, the table of young people, and the tribunal. An area with rows of seats was set up where the rest of the class (the audience) would sit. Lastly, a table for the secretary to sit at with a computer for typing out the proceedings was put in place.
We were poised and ready for these unsuspecting young people. The Lieutenant waited outside the door of the classroom. The secretary waited in the classroom to direct the young people to their assigned seats. The Major General and Pastor waited in a side room. As the young people came down the stairs, we could hear their surprise at being met by a stern Lieutenant that confiscated all their bags and phones and only allowed them to keep their Bibles on request. Each came in, one at a time, and were told to sit in their assigned chairs. The three who were chosen quickly found out it was them as they were told to sit at a different table. The secretary had to remind some students to sit quietly, for there were some nervous giggles, as we were in a court of law. With everyone seated, the lights dimmed, and the spotlights on, the mood was set. The Canadian national anthem was played, and they were all told to rise as the Major and Pastor entered and stood behind their table in the position of saluting for the anthem. The young people did not know whether they should stay sitting or stand and so began their trial of conscience.
The Major then announced to have the applicant’s paperwork from the secretary and the Lieutenant delivered them. Each of those to be tried was given the opportunity to take the witness stand and read their prepared application for military exemption. The three applicants were then seated at the table together. The tribunal then took it in turn to ask them all questions. (We had told them ahead of time that they could confer somewhat with each other if they got stuck.) The Major General started by asking all three some general questions. Then the Lieutenant asked some questions about serving in a combatant role. The Chaplain asked some questions about serving in a non-combatant role. After this, the Lieutenant questioned them on issues concerning society. Then the Chaplain asked questions on lifestyle.
Throughout this questioning, points of lifestyle were brought up with the ‘evidence’ that had been found in their homes to challenge the young people. One of the applicants had to defend why there were pellet and BB guns in his room. Pictures from his room were shown to the court as evidence of his fitness for serving in the military. He was asked why he should receive military exemption with such incriminating evidence being found against him. He did a great job defending his use of them for hunting to feed his family. He was greatly challenged on this but came through the trial clearly showing his objection to them being used in a combative role.
Another of the applicants had a note on their bedroom door which said, “GONE TO ARABIA: PS MOM PLEASE CALL ME FOR TEA.”. Much to her amazement, she was grilled as to whether she had been to the Middle East lately and her involvement in I.S.I.S. The applicant explained that she made the sign after listening to a class by a Brother in our assembly by the name of Roger Lewis who did a class on the Apostle Paul. She explained that she had learned from the class that after the Apostle Paul was converted and then he went to Arabia for three years to study the Bible with his new understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ being the Messiah. She explained that the speaker had suggested making the sign and putting it on the door as a reminder to do diligent Bible Study. Her answers were accepted.
The third applicant had a submission of evidence against him which at first seemed innocent enough, for it was a photo of numerous Bible books in his bedroom. The challenge came when he was grilled as to whether he had read them or not. This really made him and everyone else think of the libraries that we each have at home and whether we invest the time to read the books.
Finally, the Major General wrapped up with some summary questions, conferred with the tribunal, and gave a verdict. They were all exempt, much to their relief.
The lights were then turned on and the opportunity given to discuss. The young people, who had been spectators, were able to put forward some helpful verses and points and to ask their own questions of how to respond. The applicants were able to ask for help in parts they had found challenging. The brethren who were conducting the mock tribunal encouraged them all with how well they had done, noted how well prepared they came, and helped offer some verses and points which they could have used in their defense.
Come back next week to find out how we turned the whole experience into a play presented in front of the ecclesia!
Here is a list of further resources on this topic:
Bro. Harry Tennant on Conscientious Objection (We advise you to use earphones as it is an older but very valuable recording)
Bro. Ian Macfarlane on Conscientious Objection
Citizens of the Kingdom of God powerpoint by Bro. Ron Cowie
Test Case for Canada ‘331454′ by E.R. Evans (Book and enclosed DVD)
Conscience in Action: Christadelphians in Australia by the Association of Australian Christadelphian Ecclesias
This is where the majority of the questions came from. (Pages 195-199)
In Defence of our Conscience: A History of Conscientious Objection Among the New Zealand Ecclesias by the Wellington Christadelphian Ecclesia; Published by the Christadelphian Scripture Study Service
Are We Ready for Another Time of Testing? By Graham Pearce
The Christadelphian’s Relationship to the State Camp Adelphos 2000
In the back of this booklet is a further list of resources
Please take the time to listen to these very interesting audio recordings of Christadelphian experiences as conscientious objectors during World War 2.
“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:”
1 Peter 1:7