Adventists, War, and Oppressive Governments, WW1 to the Present
by Ronald Lawson, PhD | 5 July 2019 |
The American Civil War forced the Adventist Church to grapple with the issue of military service just as it created its organizational structure in the early 1860s. After an open debate, and after the introduction of conscription in March 1863 obliged it to publicly embrace a stance, Adventism adopted what was known then as a non-combatant position; however, in doing this it really embraced pacifism, for it rejected any military service. Ellen White, the Adventist prophet, played a key role in this when, in Testimony IX published in January 1863, she declared that Adventists could not participate in this war because it was “opposed to every principle of their faith.” Once adopted, the stance was enforced: members who participated in the war were disfellowshipped. The General Conference sessions in 1865 (just after the end of the war), 1867 and 1868 issued declarations against participation in any war because this was against the commandment forbidding killing and the injunction of Jesus that his followers love their enemies.
This position was adopted by a young, sectarian church that was expecting persecution from the American government, and which thus lived with tension between itself and that government. It was also adopted when Adventism was young and small, and before it had sent missionaries abroad and had set out to become global. Would this position hold once Adventism put down roots in both the USA and other societies, and when it faced different situations in other countries? Indeed, to apply this to a very current issue within Adventism, would a uniform position on military service be seen as necessary to maintain the unity of the world church?
I will argue that it is impossible to understand Adventists, war and oppressive governments without also understanding the changes taking place over time in attitudes towards war in the American church.
The research reported here is part of an extensive study of the evolution of Adventism from an American sect to a global denomination—a broad canvas. While the data base is very diverse—including participant observation, an analysis of official and independent publications and documents, the use of statistics from both church-related and other (such as census and other surveys) sources, questionnaires, etc.—its central core is approximately 4,000 in-depth interviews of church, college, hospital, and publishing house administrators, educators, pastors, students, and leading laypersons in 161 countries in all divisions of the world church carried out over the past 30 years. These interviews included some oral histories, and all interviews were designed to understand change over time. Although trained as a historian as well as a sociologist, I have not attempted to carry out my own historical research of early Adventism, but have, with a sociologist’s eye, read the work of historians. I have also questioned some interviewees about historical books they have written or read in languages that I am not familiar with.
In most cases interviewees were promised confidentiality in accordance with the human subjects protection agreement I signed with my university. I therefore do not cite their names as sources, but the type of position of the person (administrator, pastor, etc.), country or region where he/she was located, and year of the interview, in order to inform the reader about the source without identifying the person. The most prominent leaders were told explicitly that because of their position it would not be possible to hide their identity so that they could not be promised confidentiality. I was told many times by interviewees that because I promised confidentiality, I asked “the right questions,” and my career was independent of the Church so that I did not control their careers, they felt comfortable telling me things that they would not disclose to visiting leaders of the General Conference.
I have drawn extensively from data published in two of my published articles for this paper, but have sought to explore different questions through those data.
Early positions adopted abroad
The questions associated with military service faded from view for several decades following the end of the Civil War. Meanwhile, a wave of missionary activity beginning in the 1870s planted Adventism on every continent, including some countries whose political traditions and views of religious freedom differed greatly from the U.S. Any deviant position there was likely to result in open conflict with the state. Nevertheless, because these were years of peace, no major issue erupted until the emergence of military training in peacetime when international tensions deepened in the new century. Because America seemed very far from the threat of war, Adventist leaders gave little direction to these situations. The reactions of local Adventist leaders were shaped by their perception of their government’s tolerance of religious diversity. For example, when Australia and New Zealand introduced compulsory military training in 1909, the local Adventist Religious Liberty Committee petitioned successfully for noncombatant status. However, in states with authoritarian governments Adventists gradually adopted a position where they avoided such conflict through accommodation to the demands of the state. Such compromises were usually so great that they totally reversed the official stance of the church. In Argentina, for example, Adventists chose not to request special privileges for fear of severe punishments–that is, they typically trained with weapons and on the Sabbath.
German Adventists conscripted in the years prior to 1914 braved prison rather than be trained with weapons or desecrate the Sabbath. However, when war broke out suddenly in 1914, their leaders made an abrupt accommodation with the state, agreeing that German Adventists would now bear weapons in the service of the Fatherland. Moreover, their announcement stated explicitly that “under these circumstances we will also bear arms on Saturday.” This decision resulted in a bitter schism, which concluded with the members making up the pacifist opposition–the “two percent”–being disfellowshipped and forming the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement. The patriotism of the official Adventists, together with their realization that Imperial Germany would not countenance a noncombatant option, led them to reduce their tension with the state and to discard those who insisted on maintaining high tension.
American Adventism and the Great War
The General Conference directly shaped the position of the American church when the US entered the war in 1917. The stance it adopted towards Adventists and military conscription differed sharply from what it had voted in 1865. This occurred even though a pacifist option was again officially available, and Adventists could easily have reaffirmed that this was their position.
Adventism had been putting down roots in American society as it built institutions and as its members began to experience upward mobility through, for example, entering the medical profession, and consequently it had become more concerned about its reputation in society and its relations with governments. In its eagerness that Adventists demonstrate their patriotism, it changed its definition of non-combatant to allow members to serve in the military while avoiding killing. It began to prepare for this before the US entered the war by arranging for its young men who were likely to be conscripted to be trained as medical orderlies at Red Cross training schools operating at its colleges and other institutions. They would thus be prepared to help the injured without themselves carrying or using weapons. This had the added advantage that medical work was considered suitable for the Sabbath, so that both major problems would be solved in one fell swoop. They saw no problem in helping to save and restore soldiers so that they could kill again. The concerns about bad company and an unsuitable diet, expressed strongly during the American Civil War, largely disappeared from view. However, once conscription was instituted in 1917, Adventist conscripts discovered that during basic training they were expected to use weapons and work on the Sabbath, and many who refused were sentenced to prison.
Once the war ended, the General Conference was faced with the problem of the rift in Europe, which had already spread through several countries. In 1923 it made an incongruous decision to embrace the official church in Germany and reject the Reform Movement, which left the schism in place, while endorsing noncombatancy as international Adventism’s official position.
Adventists under Authoritarian Governments, 1923-1945
However, this position was soon breached once more by the Stalinist crackdown on religious freedom. This began at the church’s 1924 All-Russian Congress, when its leaders were forced to sign a statement that military service was a matter of private conscience. This statement was strengthened considerably at the next Congress in 1928, with the proclamation that military service was a Christian duty and that anyone teaching otherwise was a heretic and should be disfellowshipped. Meanwhile, new laws proscribed proselytizing activity and charitable work by religious groups. By accepting these demands the Adventist church was able to function openly but under highly compromised circumstances.
However, this capitulation caused another schism when some of the Russian Adventists broke away from the officially recognized church and went underground, thus attracting persecution. The schismatics called themselves the True and Free Adventists: “true” because they were faithful to the commandments to observe the Sabbath and refrain from killing, which they accused the official church of breaking, and “free” because they refused to be registered or connected to the government .
Thus two positions concerning military service had emerged within international Adventism. One, which was declared to be the official position, was noncombatancy, redefined to mean unarmed military service. However, its observance was largely confined to the English-speaking world. The second option–serving in the normal fashion, with arms–was invoked where the first was not available. That is, in both cases tension with governments was kept relatively low. Indeed, in two cases the Adventist Church had chosen to cut off minorities whose resistance to government military policies caused high tension with the authorities.
In Nazi Germany the accommodation went further still, for most Adventist conscripts bore arms willingly even though they had been accorded the right to opt for orderly or medical duties, and the Central European Division encouraged civilian members to work in munitions factories on the Sabbath. Adventist publications also went out of their way to express support for the regime, praising Hitler and his National Socialists with enthusiasm, declaring that he was “almost an Adventist” because of his abstemious lifestyle, and celebrating his birthday. They also avoided using the word “Sabbath” and disfellowshipped Jewish members in order to avoid the risk of being thought Jewish, and reported the pacifist schismatic Adventists to the authorities in order to separate themselves from them. As a result of their toadying to the Fuhrer, they sharply reduced tensions with the state, and survived almost unscathed in spite of the similarity of several of their beliefs and practices to Judaism. Their experience was in marked contrast to that of the Reformed Adventists, who suffered greatly, often to death, because of their unswerving commitment to their pacifist positions. After the war, it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had also suffered severely because of their refusal to compromise, who grew rapidly in almost every country in Europe, rather than Adventists. They had gained credibility as a result of their commitment to principle.
US Adventism, 1934-54
By the 1930s Adventism’s comfort with American society had increased significantly. For example, its colleges were seeking accreditation, creating the prospect of greater opportunities for upward mobility for Adventist youth, and the introduction of the five-day working week opened up many new occupations to Sabbath-observers.
As the international situation began to heat up again in Europe, the General Conference reaffirmed the church’s noncombatant position once more. In “Our Youth in Time of War,” a pamphlet issued in 1934, it urged Adventist youth to prepare for noncombatant service by graduating or gaining experience in a medically related field. It again endorsed the concept of the church providing medical training for members liable to be drafted. During World War II and then the Korean War the Adventist noncombatant position became a vehicle for creating close relations with both federal and military authorities in the U.S. Both sides were party to this shift.
In 1939, as war broke out in Europe, the American church again established a program to provide medical training to potential draftees. This time, however, it had the support of the armed forces: called the Medical Cadet Training Program, it was directed and supervised by regular army officers. The official church paper commented: “Refusing to be called conscientious objectors, Seventh-day Adventists desire to be known as conscientious cooperators.” Some 12,000 American Adventists served as noncombatants in medical branches of the services during World War II. Church leaders were especially proud of their military heroes such as Desmond Doss, whose bravery earned him a Congressional Medal of Honor.
During the Korean War the Medical Cadet Corps was revived, and conscripted American Adventists again served in large numbers in medical units. On numerous occasions church leaders equated the 1-A-O noncombatant position with “conscientious cooperation,” and signs of cooperation with American authorities multiplied. The Adventist Church appointed military chaplains, who were paid by the armed forces and had military careers, for the first time. In 1954 the U.S. Army established a special camp at Fort Sam Houston in Texas where all noncombatants could receive their basic training. This removed them from regular units where their refusal to bear arms had been a source of confusion. Over half of the men who trained there were Adventists. “It was a program engineered for the needs of conscientious cooperators.”
That same year the U.S. Army Surgeon General contacted the General Conference seeking approval for the Army to ask Adventist draftees to volunteer for a research program designed especially for them which would “contribute significantly to the nation’s health and security,” and the General Conference responded positively. The upshot was the creation of “Project Whitecoat,” under which volunteers from among drafted Adventist noncombatant servicemen spent their military service as guinea pigs in biological warfare research for the U.S. Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Thanks to the enthusiastic encouragement of the General Conference, 2,200 Adventists participated in the program between 1955 and 1973. In taking this position, church leaders subordinated a church doctrine, healthful living, to cementing relations with the U.S. military.
Since the draft was continued during the years between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the church continued to urge young men at Adventist schools to take medical training through participating in the Medical Cadet Corps before draft age. The most enthusiastic of these did intensive field training at a roving Camp Desmond T. Doss, which was usually located at Adventist campgrounds. The military staffed this camp and spent large sums setting up a field hospital.
Adventists under Authoritarian Governments since 1946
The South Korean Adventist Church was taught through its interaction with American Adventists during the Korean War that the Adventist position on military service was to refuse to undergo military training with arms. This understanding was reinforced by visiting General Conference officials during that time. Consequently, following the American model, the Korean Adventist College gave basic medical training to those expecting to be drafted, who then asked the military authorities to assign them to medical units or other noncombatant positions where they did not have to use weapons. However, since the South Korean regime failed to issue an order accommodating to the Adventist stance, obtaining noncombatant positions was a matter of chance, and the unlucky conscripts sometimes found themselves with an unsympathetic commander who refused to respect their religious restrictions. Two of these were executed at the front line during the war when they refused to bear arms, and about 100 other Adventists were sent to prison for as long as seven years during the 1950s and 1960s for failure to obey orders concerning weapons or Sabbath activities; many more were beaten or otherwise mistreated. Appeals to President Park were successful in securing the release of some of these men, but this approach never solved the basic problem. Indeed, the prison terms to which Adventists were sentenced lengthened during the 1960s. Such a degree of tension with the state over military service was unprecedented among Adventists.
In many other countries without provision for alternatives to military service, ranging from Franco’s Spain to Communist Eastern Europe to the military dictatorships in Latin America, Adventists would have faced similar difficulties if they had refused to train with arms. In some countries, such as Argentina, the church provided youth with some medical training, again hoping that the possession of these skills would shape their paths when they were conscripted. However, the main concern of local church leaders was usually the preservation of Sabbath observance for conscripts rather than the avoidance of training with weapons–and they often accommodated on this issue also. They frequently concluded that the General Conference did not understand their situation, so that its statements reflected the American setting, and could not be applied to them. In this way they avoided the tension with the state over military service which the Korean Adventists experienced.
Given this diversity of practice, it is perhaps surprising that the Quadrennial Session of the General Conference held in 1954, shortly after the Korean War–which included delegates from around the world–voted a major statement which not only reaffirmed the noncombatant position voted in 1923 but provided for it to be included in the Church Manual as a fundamental belief throughout the world:
…The breaking out of war among men in no way alters the Christian’s supreme allegiance and responsibility to God or modifies his obligation to practice his beliefs and put God first.
This partnership with God through Jesus Christ, who came into this world not to destroy men’s lives but to save them, causes Seventh-day Adventists to take a noncombatant position, following their divine master in not taking human life, but rendering all possible service to save it. In their accepting the obligations of citizenship, as well as its benefits, their loyalty to government requires them to serve the state in any noncombatant capacity…asking only that they may serve in those capacities which do not violate their conscientious convictions.
Delegates thus voted to affirm the position adhered to by the U.S. and South Korea, and to ignore the practice in much of the rest of the world.
However, when the next edition of the Church Manual was being readied for printing in 1959, the General Conference Committee voted to omit the above statement from it. Church leaders were becoming more aware of the problems of observing noncombatancy within many portions of the world church, and some felt it would be inhumane to discipline members caught in such a bind–a likely result of including the position among the fundamental beliefs of the church.
Nevertheless, when the Executive Committee of the General Conference voted a statement intended to inform military officers of the Adventist position as American involvement in Vietnam was increasing, it affirmed once more that “Seventh-day Adventists…are noncombatants.”
Adventists made no attempt to raise the issue of separation of church and state outside of the U.S. This left them free to foster relationships with political leaders who could facilitate their missionary endeavors. They were often especially successful in developing exchange relationships with authoritarian governments of both the Right and Left. The Adventist response to the Nazi regime in Germany became the prototype of such relationships.
Exchange relationships between Adventists and such regimes multiplied during the period from the 1950s to the 1990s: Adventists sought liberties (freedom to evangelize, to observe the Sabbath, and protection of their institutions) and favors (for example, accreditation of schools, facilitation of projects through duty-free import of equipment) and, in return, were willing to help legitimate or otherwise assist regimes. Such relationships became especially numerous among the military regimes that ruled most of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. For example, in Pinochet’s Chile Adventists became known as friends of the president, providing him with legitimacy from a religious source when he was under attack from the Catholic cardinal for torture and disappearances. In return they received accreditation for their college. Adventist leaders in Argentina boasted of their closeness to generals during the military regime. When I asked them shortly after the transition to an elected government how they felt about those who had “disappeared” because they had been seen as opposing that brutal regime now that the truth of these allegations had been demonstrated, their response was “Adventists did not disappear!”
Adventists in Latin America refrained from making an issue of military service. Church leaders in Brazil explained that this enabled them to avoid conflict with the state and also the stigma and penalties that accrued to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are conscientious objectors. When a missionary teacher wanted to teach noncombatancy as part of an ethics course at the Adventist college in Argentina, which had ceased trying to train students for medical positions in the military three decades earlier, he was discouraged from doing so. Church leaders there explained that training with arms did not worry them unduly, for they felt that Argentina would never fight a war. Such statements were outrageous, given the recency (1982) of the war between Argentina and Britain in the Malvinas (Falkland Islands), when Argentine Adventists must have been greatly surprised to find themselves fighting, and dying, in combat.
Adventists also established exchange relationships with almost every Communist regime in Eastern Europe in the decades after World War II, with a great deal of toadying to the authorities, of spying for them, of putting survival and personal advantages first. For example, Polish Adventist leaders accorded first priority to achieving a good relationship with the government and then making use of it. They could be useful to the regime because they were willing to attack its prime enemy, the Catholic Church: for example, they published one such issue of their magazine to coincide with the first visit home of Pope John Paul II, the Polish pope. They also cooperated in issuing patriotic appeals to vote in the rigged elections. In return for their assistance, they were allowed to publish so freely that in a seven-year period the amount of Ellen White’s material published was exceeded only by the Bible and the works of Lenin. Other privileges accorded them included permission to sell their material freely on the streets and in government book kiosks, and to secure public halls for evangelism. This favored treatment was extended to them even though the Adventist membership in Poland was only 4,700 in a total population of 38 million.
In most of the countries of Communist Eastern Europe Adventists abandoned the weapons issue and limited their focus when it came to military conscription to attempts to gain Sabbath privileges and alternatives to a pork-based diet. Church leaders feared that any attempt by Adventists to avoid armed service would sharply escalate tensions with governments. They associated the weapons issue with the Adventist Reform Movement and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who regularly faced prison for their beliefs. Consequently, Adventists there typically trained with weapons but attempted the often daunting task of observing the Sabbath and securing an Adventist diet while in the military. These problems were so great in Romania, for example, that many Adventists chose to delay their baptisms until after completing military service so that their sin of violating the Sabbath commandment could be forgiven as a result of their baptism.
The initial decisions in these countries to compromise by training and serving with weapons and, later, to pursue close relations with governments, seem to have been largely a matter of local initiative. However, church leaders took increasing pleasure in such relationships and the legitimacy and status they afforded to the Adventist Church, and intervened directly to further them.
Neal C. Wilson, President of the General Conference 1979-1990, personally took control of building one such exchange relationship with the authorities in the USSR. In 1979, at a time when the latter were anxious to silence the antigovernment propaganda of the schismatic True and Free Adventists, who were bitterly opposed to such ties, he intervened with an open letter to Soviet Adventists:
“The General Conference can recognize only one Seventh-day Adventist organization in any country. This would normally be the one recognized by the authorities. …we encourage all who consider themselves to be Seventh-day Adventists to identify with the recognized body of believers.” 
During a subsequent visit to the Soviet Union, Wilson established a close relationship with Konstantin Kharchev, chair of the USSR Council on Religious Affairs. During two visits to the U.S. in 1986 and 1987, Kharchev visited church headquarters and several of its major educational, medical, and publishing institutions. These contacts resulted in approval from the Council on Religious Affairs for the creation of an Adventist seminary outside Moscow. Adventists returned the favor by participating in and reporting favorably on Gorbachev’s International Forum for a Non-nuclear World and the Survival of Humanity in 1987, by disavowing President Reagan’s characterization of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” by offering cooperation in areas of science, education, and medicine, by praising Soviet religious liberty in their respected Liberty magazine, and by awarding Kharchev, at their Third World Congress on Religious Liberty in 1989, a citation honoring him as “Spokesman for Human Rights, Promoter of Religious Freedom”–at a time when Gorbachev was seeking to liberalize the Soviet image. Subsequently, they also received permission to establish a publishing house and church headquarters and a medical clinic in Moscow.
A reform movement emerged in Hungary that was similar to that of the True and Free Adventists in Soviet Russia. Some of the Hungarian laity felt betrayed and shamed by the overt domination and manipulation of their church by the state, and they objected especially to an agreement to train Adventist pastors at the state-run inter-denominational seminary. They too formed a schismatic group and appealed to the General Conference for recognition. However Wilson, after meeting with Imre Miklos, the head of the Hungarian Office of Religion, in 1984, declared again that the General Conference would recognize only groups with government recognition. The church president endorsed the relationship which the official Adventist church had established with the regime when he brought Miklos to the General Conference Annual Council as a special guest in 1987.
Wilson fancied himself as something of a traveling diplomat and reveled in “photo opportunities” with political leaders. When he was asked about his dream for the church, he replied that it should “grow numerically and financially, and in terms of world acceptance and influence.” His successor, Robert S. Folkenberg, told proudly that when he had been located in Guatemala City as the leader of the Adventist Church in Central America he knew General Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, the president/military dictator of Guatemala, so well that he often visited him in the presidential palace, and that he was the first Protestant leader to be given a state farewell reception when he was about to move to a new position.
Although there was no general conscription in the Philippines, considerable government pressure was exerted on colleges to include military training within their programs. At the time of my research there (1989), Mountain View College in the south was feeling considerable pressure to train students with weapons. The senior Adventist college, Philippine Union College (PUC), in the north, had avoided such pressures because its program to train medics was recognized. Both colleges were located close to insurgencies. There was controversy because PUC had chosen to hire armed guards who, at that point, had killed four intruders.
The most remarkable involvement of Adventists with weapons and military conflict that I became aware of was among the Karen rebels against the Burmese government, who had declared an independent state of Cawthoolie along the Thai border. Adventists are the third-largest religious group among these Karens, behind Buddhists and Baptists, but they provided much of the military and political leadership. The general who then (1989) headed the state, Bo (General) Mya, three of his top deputies, and several other leading military figures were Adventists. Since the Adventist churches and schools there could not be linked to the denominational structure through Burma, they were linked instead to the Thai structure. A missionary was stationed there for several years, and church leaders in Thailand visited there frequently to nurture, evangelize, collect tithes, and pay the salaries of clergy. Several of them reported having been asked to pray with soldiers before battles. Neither they nor leaders from the church’s Southeast Asia Union took a stance on the military issue–“We have not made bearing arms an issue at all, have not said they should not be shooting”–but instead they kept their role spiritual: “Our hearts are with them, but officially we cannot take sides–it would jeopardize missionaries elsewhere.” They had not received advice from the General Conference or the Far Eastern Division on how to handle this very unexpected situation, and leaders from these higher levels of the church structure had not visited Cawthoolie. Indeed, the church leaders at these levels seemed nervous about the situation. They tried to dissociate the church from Cawthoolie and to keep missionaries and tourists away from there in order to prevent stories of an Adventist-led armed struggle from surfacing.
In South Africa under Apartheid, the military was white, used as an oppressive instrument to stop black rebellion. White Adventists were typically conscripted willingly into its ranks. Indeed, Adventism itself practiced internal Apartheid, with two race-based unions that had practically no contact with each other. The white South African Union saw the Apartheid government, which was founded by a Reformed Church cleric, Dr. D. F. Malan, as a bulwark against Catholicism. One young man told me that his farmer family had not practiced Apartheid and that he felt revulsion at the thought of entering the army, since he regarded it as a tool of racial oppression. Declaring himself a conscientious objector, he asked the white-dominated church to support him in taking that position. When it refused to do so, he was so disillusioned that he abandoned Adventism.
The Transformation of Adventism’s Official Stance on Military Service
As the Medical Cadet Corps strengthened ties between American Adventists and the military, many church members became militant patriots. They scorned conscientious objectors, who refused to be involved with the military in any manner and opted for alternative service when drafted. The director of the General Conference National Service Organization was quoted by Time in 1950:
We despise the term “conscientious objector” and we despise the philosophy back of it… We are not pacifists, and we believe in force for justice’s sake, but a Seventh-day Adventist cannot take a human life.
Consequently, when the ideology surrounding the antiwar movement of the late 1960s led to a spurt in the number of Adventists choosing the 1-0 classification (conscientious objector choosing alternate service), this caused dismay in many quarters. However, since evidence for religious belief was essential if individuals were to receive this classification, the Adventist church was obliged to deal with them. The Annual Council of the General Conference voted in 1969 that such Adventists should be told that the historic teaching of the church was noncombatancy (1-A-0), and urged to consider this first; however, if they persisted in pursuing the 1-O classification, pastors should provide the needed help if the draftee’s wish was consistent with his religious experience.
When disagreement and debate on the military issue persisted among American Adventists, the General Conference formed a Study Committee on Military Service in 1971. This large committee received and debated many papers, but remained deeply divided. When the General Conference’s Annual Council took up the matter in 1972, it chose to embrace both the militant patriots and the Adventist pacifists, declaring that military service was a matter of individual conscience. Its vehicle in this was the statement on military obligations voted by the General Conference Session in 1954 (quoted above), which it transformed by adding to it a new ending:
This statement is not a rigid position binding church members but gives them guidance, leaving the individual member free to assess the situation for himself.
The document then interpreted this by confirming that, for members in the U.S., the statement was best reflected in the traditional 1-A-0 (noncombatant) classification, but that the church would also facilitate members applying for a 1-0 (conscientious objector) classification. However, it then added:
For those who conscientiously choose the 1-A classification (military service as a combatant), pastoral guidance and counsel should be provided in ministering to their needs since the Church refrains from passing judgment on them.
This decision, then, represented a sharp break with the position that had, in 1954, been declared a fundamental belief.
The new flexibility was tested and confirmed in Korea the very next year. It was noted above that young men there had endured beatings, imprisonment, and even death, rather than renege on their commitment to noncombatancy. However, as time passed younger Koreans began to question whether the costs were worth the stand, and increasing numbers of them opted to violate the recommended church policy in the late 1960s. Then, as the military situation in South Vietnam deteriorated, and Korean troops were withdrawn along with American troops, the Park regime panicked and insisted that all conscripts train with arms (which thus removed the noncombatant alternatives previously available to some Adventists), and that such training be included within college curricula.
This demand placed the Adventist college in a dilemma: should it conform to the new policy or reject it and face closure? When Korean leaders contacted the General Conference seeking advice, the latter reversed the position it had advocated in the 1950s, arguing that it was not worth risking serious trouble with the government: training with arms should be a matter of individual conscience. The College consequently conformed to the government’s demand that it train students with weapons, and left the choice of whether they would comply to the individual consciences of the students, not urging them one way or the other:
If the College had refused to do the training, the Ministry of Education would have closed it, unless the Lord performed a miracle… We decided that the college was more important than noncombatancy.
The result of this decision was that almost every Adventist student and conscript in Korea thereafter trained with weapons. The church’s abandonment of its noncombatant position was a wrenching experience for the Koreans who had earlier endured prison; it was reported to me that more than half of them had since exited the church.
Meanwhile, Adventism in America had backed away from the serious teaching of noncombatancy through Sabbath Schools, youth programming, and the church school system. When the U.S. switched to a volunteer army in 1973, and recruiters began emphasizing educational and vocational benefits that appealed to lower-SES (socioeconomic status) racial minorities, Adventists began to volunteer for military service in unprecedented numbers–an act which removed the noncombatant option available to conscripts. The church chose to direct its main effort into chaplaincy: the National Service Organization, which was originally staffed by pastors and evangelists and whose object was to handle the problems of draftees with noncombatant status and Sabbath observance, was taken over by chaplains socialized into military values, who now tried primarily to serve the spiritual needs of the Adventist volunteer soldiers. Its new focus was confirmed when it was renamed the office of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries.
Within the U.S., “military recruiters come to Adventist school campuses, and school and university bulletin boards display posters advertising the benefits of service in the armed forces.” It is not surprising, then, that “most young Adventist adults are unaware of the strong pacifist thread in the fabric of Adventist history.” In contrast with earlier generations, many young Adventists have enlisted in the military since 1973, thereby agreeing to kill America’s enemies if ordered to do so. The office of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries estimated the total number of military personnel listing Seventh-day Adventist as their “religious preference”–that is, of Adventist background—in 1991 as 6,000–8,000, and that 2,000 of these had participated in the Gulf War.
Adventist attitudes became much more openly jingoistic beginning with the Gulf War:
Not only have (Adventist volunteer soldiers) been to the Persian Gulf and back; they have come home to welcoming applause in Sabbath worship services and patriotic accolades in the church’s publications.
A non-Adventist church attendee wrote of being told by church members, “We should nuke them,” that “according to the Bible, ‘there is a time for war,'” and that “God instructed the slaughter of women, men and children.” This mood was matched by the majority within the General Conference headquarters. An official there who was troubled by President Bush’s decision to launch the war told of a sense of isolation from his colleagues because of widespread enthusiasm there for American participation, for “sending in the missiles and the bombs.”
The Adventist message concerning military service has become blurred and confusing. Pamphlets available from Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries at the General Conference warn that “the Adventist Church strongly counsels its members NOT to enter military service voluntarily if they have conscientious beliefs that they either cannot bear arms or be available for routine military training or duty during Sabbath hours,” but then it adds that views on these questions are a matter of individual conscience (n.d.). Similarly, an article in a church periodical reviewed the biblical evidence:
“The attitude of the Christian should always be one of loyalty to his government,” says Charles Martin, director of the National Service Organization of the Adventist Church. “But when the government conflicts with the requirements of God, he must obey God, at whatever cost.”…
“Whether defensive or offensive, just or unjust, war means killing,” says Martin.
“It’s hard for some to believe that a soldier who shoots, stabs, shells, napalms, or bombs another human being is in harmony with One who said ‘Resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’… Many Adventists and other Christians agree with Tertullian: Christ, in disarming Peter, ungirt every soldier.”
But it then concluded:
The Adventist church recommends that its youth, if drafted, enter the armed forces as noncombatants. But the church also recognizes the right of individual conscience. An Adventist bearing arms is in no way a second-class church member.
In contrast, any Adventist found to be smoking or drinking alcohol would be at least censured and possibly disfellowshipped. But Adventists do not claim that any of the Ten Commandments bear directly on either of these!
The evidence supports the conclusion that “on the question of military service, the anything-goes school, under the banner of ‘individual conscience,’ has pretty much taken over in North America.” Indeed, this is the case in most of the Adventist world.
Meanwhile, several Adventist military chaplains had risen high in the ranks. Two of these, Barry Black and Darold Bigger, rose to the rank of Admiral, the highest position.
The history of how Adventism has related to military service at the national level is one of diversity in practice and of dramatic compromises over time. The General Conference applied no pressure in this matter for uniformity of practice in the name of church unity. Indeed, if church unity is measured by uniformity, Adventism has shown no unity in this matter since the early years of the twentieth century. This story is strongly reminiscent of Robert Michels’ account of how the German Socialist Party abandoned its most cherished goals in order to give priority to ensuring the survival of the organization, as told a century ago in the book that developed his famous concept of “the iron law of oligarchy” and became a sociological classic. In many countries, especially those with authoritarian governments, Adventists have proved willing to encourage members to contravene central tenets of their belief system in order for the church organization to survive or to win official favor.
Meanwhile, the official Adventist position on military service affirmed by votes of the General Conference also changed markedly over time. For many years it evolved in response to the changing needs of the American church, as some Adventists there, with whom the leadership identified, achieved upward social and economic mobility as a result of Adventist educational and medical institutions, and consequently, having begun to appreciate the advantages of putting down roots into society, desired to reduce the tension between Adventism and government, other churches, and society in general. After mid-century, General Conference leaders apparently became more aware of the extent to which practice in countries with authoritarian governments differed from the official position when they faced military conscription, and of the likely huge cost to the church organization and the lives of members there when they attempted to follow the official recommendations. Nevertheless, further evolution of the official stance continued to respond primarily to the changing attitudes and tensions within the American church.
When Adventism and governments faced conflict situations, which accommodated? In this case, while both sides have accommodated on occasion, and sometimes reciprocally as when engaged in an exchange relationship, overall the Adventist Church compromised its position far more frequently and deeply. On many occasions it compromised not only its official stance on military service but also its commitment to Sabbath observance, which was considered so important a belief that it was included in the denominational name. Ultimately, its accommodation on military service was so complete that it officially abandoned not only its original pacifist position but also its long-held noncombatant position, and instead endorsed individual conscience, wherever that might lead.
When did accommodation occur? A state is more likely to tolerate deviant views and practices by citizens when it is a liberal democracy committed to religious freedom, and when a religious group holding such views, such as the Quakers in the U.S. or the Jehovah’s Witnesses in post-World War II Germany, wins respect. Adventists, being latecomers and relatively small in number, and not having won respect as a result of surviving persecution as did the German Witnesses, have had to rely on more established groups preparing the way for them in such contexts. (One would expect that the state would be more willing to accommodate to the beliefs of Adventists where they make up a notably large group in the population or have representatives in high places, as is the case today in countries such Jamaica and Papua-New Guinea. However, neither of these states has enforced military conscription.) States have also proved willing, even eager, to compromise, when both sides stand to gain via an exchange relationship. This was at the root of post-1939 cooperation in the U.S., when the armed forces needed well-trained medical personnel and later human guinea pigs. Although Adventists established exchange relationships with many authoritarian regimes in recent decades, none of these resulted in major concessions on military service: in all cases, Adventists had accommodated completely in that respect before the relationship was consummated.
For its part, the Adventist church proved willing to accommodate when it was eager to avoid conflict or to win approval, both of which became increasingly important to it as time passed, and when it accorded these goals priority over its commitment to its beliefs. These goals were related, in turn, to upward mobility among hereditary members, increasing participation in society, and to leaders placing high value on acceptance and reputation.
Under what conditions does failure to come to terms occur? When beliefs are valued too highly to compromise, regardless of the resulting danger–as in the case of the schismatic Reformed Adventists in Germany during both world wars and the True and Free Adventists in the Soviet Union from 1928 onward; also when a stance based on a model developed and tested in a tolerant liberal democracy is transferred to a military dictatorship which refuses to budge–as Adventists in South Korea found in the 1950s and 1960s. When, as in these situations, both sides fail to come to a meeting of minds, the outcome is persecution.
Unlike the highly sectarian schismatic Adventists, the Adventist Church has proved eager to lower tension with state and society and has frequently given higher priority to these goals than to its commitment to its belief system. Adventists have shown parallels of direction in both authoritarian and democratic states, although for different reasons: while Adventists toadied to authoritarian governments in order for the church organization to survive without persecution, in democratic societies such as the USA they came to value acceptance and praise from government members.
Although Ellen White, the Adventist prophet, had predicted that Adventists would face great persecution from governments, especially the US government, they have in fact experienced insignificant persecution compared to that faced by Mormons in America during the nineteenth century and by Reformed Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses in several countries during the past century. Beginning with the Adventist decision to attempt to prevent the passage by the US Congress of a National Sunday Law, which they regarded as the sure harbinger of the eschaton as they understood it, in order, ironically, to “extend the time” for them to spread their message that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent, and burgeoning since to the success of many of their efforts to establish close relationships with governments, including that of the US, Adventists can be seen as working assiduously to postpone the apocalypse.
Ellen White had taught Adventists that the Catholic Church was the persecuting beast of Revelation, and the Protestant Churches were its future allies against them. As a result of their close focus on the expected actions of the Papacy, Adventists totally failed to recognize the beast-like characteristics of modern authoritarian and totalitarian governments, and in fact cooperated eagerly with them and made major compromises in their beliefs to gain and retain their favor. I conclude with a striking example. In 1940, Pastor Adolph Minck, President of the Central European Division, which centered on Nazi Germany and its then-extended territories as a result of World War II, wrote to the union and conference presidents and the pastors within his Division, warning that
…some church members who work in important factories have refused to work on Sabbath. Even so, these cases were rare. These people were reproved by the pastors, and in relation to that I want to remind the members what kind of duty on the basis of the Holy Scripture people have toward their people and their Fatherland and towards the government… The more faithfully an Adventist serves during war time in the post given him and does his duty, the more he can count during a time of peace on some kind of reward concerning his faith and ethical freedom from the government.
 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church I, 1885 (1863), 355-368.
 Ron Graybill, “This Perplexing War: Why Adventists Avoided Military Service in the Civil War,” Insight, Oct. 10, 1978, 4-8.
 Cited by Douglas Morgan, “The Beginnings of a Peace Church: Eschatology, Ethics, and Expedience in Adventist Responses to the American Civil War,” in Barry W. Bussey (ed.), Should I Fight? Guardian Books, Belleville, Ontario, 2011, 33-48.
 Ronald Lawson, “Onward, Christian Soldiers?: Seventh-day Adventists and the Issue of Military Service,” Review of Religious Research, 37:3, March 1996: 97-122; “Church and State at Home and Abroad: The Evolution of Seventh-day Adventist Relations with Governments,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, LXIV/2, Summer 1996, 279-312.
 Francis McLellan Wilcox, Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War, 367. Review and Herald, Washington, D.C., 1936.
 A.C. Sas, In Defence of the Law of God (Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement Publishing House), Roanoke, VA, n.d., 14; Erwin Sicher, “Seventh-day Adventist Publications and the Nazi Temptation,” Spectrum 8(3) 1977:12.
 Wilcox, op.cit., 113; Eric Syme, A History of SDA Church-State Relations in the United States (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1973), 70-71.
 Wilcox, op.cit., “Noncombatancy,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia: 979 (Review and Herald, Washington, DC, 1976), 346.
Marite Sapiets, True Witness: The Story of Seventh Day Adventists in the Soviet Union (Keston College, Keston, England, 1990), 52-57; Ludmilla Alexeyeva, “The Human Rights Movement and the True and Free Adventists,” Spectrum 19(2), 1990:25.
 In 1989 the Adventist Church in Germany was preparing a tardy public apology for its toadying to the Nazis. This has been issued since then (interviews, Germany, 1989, 2014).
 Sicher, op. cit., 11-22; Christine Elizabeth King, The Nazi State and the New Religions: Five Case Studies in Non-conformity (New York: Edwin Mellen, 1982), 89-119, 147-179.
 Ronald Lawson and Ryan Cragun, “Comparing the Geographic Distributions and Growth of Mormons, Adventists and Witnesses,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 51(2) 2012, 220-240.
 Wilcox, op.cit., 383-395.
 Everett N. Dick, “The Adventist Medical Cadet Corps as Seen by Its Founder,” Adventist Heritage, 1(2) 1974:20.
 Editorial, Review and Herald, July 24, 1941.
 M.Q. Sibley and P.E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1952), 86; R.W. Schwarz, Light Bearers to the Remnant (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1979), 443; Clifford Goldstein, “Soldiers without Guns,” Liberty, 80(5) 1985, 2.
 Everett N. Dick, “The Military Chaplaincy and Seventh-day Adventists: The Evolution of an Attitude,” Adventist Heritage 3(1)(1976): 42-45.
 Roger Guion Davis, “Conscientious Cooperators: The Seventh-day Adventists and Military Service, 1860-1945,” Ph.D. dissertation, George Washington University, 1970.
 George R. Knight, “Adventism and Military Service: Individual Conscience in Ethical Tension, (paper read at a conference on Pacifism in American Religious Tradition), 1992.
 Letter, Theodore R. Flaiz to George E. Armstrong, Oct. 19, 1954 (Whitecoat File, General Conference Archives).
 Krista Thompson, “Project Whitecoat: An analysis of Seventh-day Adventist participation in defensive biological warfare research” (unpublished history class research paper, Walla Walla College, 1991); interviews with several Whitecoat participants, 1984-2006.
 Interviews with Koreans at Andrews University in 1988 and in Korea in 1989, and with former student missionaries in the US, 1990.
 From many interviews with church leaders in Latin America in 1986 and in Europe in 1989.
 Minutes of the General Conference Session, 1954.
 Minutes of the General Conference Executive Committee, September 26, 1963.
 From interviews with church leaders in all three countries in 1986.
 This included large quantities of The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan, which is strongly anti-Catholic in tone.
 From interviews in Poland, 1989 and 1997.
 Interviews with church leaders in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, (East) Germany, and the USSR/Russia in 1989 and 1997.
 Neal C. Wilson and Alfred Lohne, “A Letter to Soviet Adventists,” Oct. 31, 1979. Published in Spectrum, 11/4 (1981), 45-46.
 Editorial, Spectrum, 19/2 (1988), 44.
 Roland R. Hegstad, “Peace Words Flying,” Liberty, May/June, 1987, 2-6; Neal C. Wilson, “Proposals for Peace and Understanding,” Liberty, May/June 1987, 8; Robert W. Nixon, “Fireworks, London Style: A Report on the Third World Congress on Religious Liberty,” Liberty, Sept./Oct. 1989, 6-13.
 Correspondence between the schismatic Hungarian “Small Committee” and both the General Conference and the Euro-African Division, 1980s, Heritage Room, James White Library, Andrews University; interviews with both officials of the official church and leaders of the “Small Committee,” Budapest, 1989; Sidney Reiners, Betrayal in Budapest. Grand Rapids, MN: Christians in Crisis, n.d.
 James Coffin, “My Dream for the Church” [an interview with Neal C. Wilson]. Adventist Review, January 23:8-11, 1986:9.
 Interview, 1985.
 Interviews, Philippines, 1989. PUC has since changed its name to Adventist University of the Philippines (AUP).
 Interviews with missionaries and church leaders, Thailand, 1989.
 Interviews, South Africa, 1986 and 1999.
 “Conscientious Cooperators,” Time, September 1950, 4:68.
 National Service Organization, Seventh-day Adventist Teachings on Governmental Relationships and Noncombatancy. National Service Organization of the General Conference, Washington, D.C., n.d.
 Interviews, USA, 1984.
 Annual Council, Statement on “The Relationship of Seventh-day Adventists to Civil Government and War,” Minutes of Annual Council, General Conference, 1972.
 Interview with an administrator of the Korean Adventist College, 1989. The administrators apparently did not think it likely that God would intervene miraculously.
 Interviews with Koreans in the US (1988) and Korea (1989).
 Interviews, US, 1985.
 Fred Thomas, Letter to the editor, Adventist Review, August 1, 1991:2.
 Warren Zork, Letter to the editor, Adventist Review, June 6, 1991:2.
 Interviews with staff of the Office of Chaplaincy Ministries, 1985-2014.
 Charles Scriven, “Should Christians Bear Arms?” Adventist Review, June 13, 1991.
 Mari C. Banks-Bergmann, Letter to the editor, Adventist Review, June 6, 1991:2.
 Interview, General Conference, 1991.
 Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, What an Adventist Should Know about the Military, Washington, D.C.: General Conference, n.d.
 Clifford Goldstein, “Soldiers without Guns,” Liberty, 80(5) 1985:3.
 Scriven, op.cit., 1991
 Interviews, US, 2012, 2014.
 Robert Michels, Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy, translated by Eden and Cedar Paul (The Free Press, New York), 1962 (1911).
 Ronald Lawson, “Sect-State Relations: Accounting for the Differing Trajectories of Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Sociology of Religion, Winter 1995, 351-378.
 Document 25, page 185, from a book about Adventist responses to the Nazi regime published by AWA in 1985, as translated for me in 1992 by an interviewee.
Ronald Lawson was Professor in the Department of Urban Studies at Queens College, the City University of New York, where he taught courses focusing on the sociology of religion and political sociology. He is also the President of the Metro New York Adventist Forum, a position he held for 41 years. He is completing a book, Apocalypse Postponed, that will give a sociological account of international Adventism, the first major study of a global church.