WHEN I FOUND out years ago that most early Pentecostal denominations had been committed to nonviolence—including the Assemblies of God, the denomination of my heritage—I thought it was about the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. Not kill for the United States of America (or any country)?
Then I stumbled upon the Pentecostal Evangel, a weekly magazine of the Assemblies of God (USA), which published these revealing words during World War I:
From the very beginning the [Pentecostal] movement has been characterized by Quaker principles. The laws of the Kingdom, laid down by our elder brother, Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, have been unqualifiedly adopted, consequently the movement has found itself opposed to the spilling of the blood of any man.
This was new to me. I was reared in a U.S. Pentecostalism that taught intense loyalty to the United States and deep pride in combatant military service. Where did this hidden history of Pentecostal nonviolence come from?
Reading other early accounts of Pentecostal peacemaking prompted me to further examine where it had gone and whether it could re-emerge. It would also challenge and deconstruct my understanding of Christianity.
A senior Vatican official on Tuesday (April 17) called for stronger protection for conscientious objection for both the Catholic Church and individual Catholics when they are faced with laws that conflict with their “moral norms.”
Speaking at Italy's Catholic University in Milan, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, former governor of the Vatican City State, waded into the fight between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Obama administration over mandatory insurance coverage for contraception, saying the mandate raises "serious problems of conscience” for Catholic institutions and citizens.
One of the U.S. Constitution's difficult balances is found in the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
What happens when those two values conflict?
That is the issue with the controversy over whether religiously-affiliated organizations should be required to offer free coverage for contraception in health insurance plans made available to employees. Those opposed — most notably Catholic organizations — claim that this requirement would violate their freedom of conscience. Those who support it claim that exempting religiously-affiliated organizations would establish a religion over the rights of individuals.
Last March I testified at the Truth Commission on Conscience in War (TCCW) at the Riverside Church in New York City.
Life is easier in black and white, when things are clearly right or clearly wrong. We tend not to like the gray very much. It was certainly easier for me to hard-headedly disapprove of all war, including those who took part in it. But, working at an orphanage in India, I met Chad, a young man fresh from Iraq with an American flag tattoo, and he muddled up my clarity.