What Does Non-Combatancy Mean?

The Seventh-day Adventist Church officially organized during a tragic civil war that divided the United States of America (1861-1865).  Early in their denominational formation Adventists were confronted with the dilemma of how to fulfill civic and faith relationships responsibly, especially when temporal and religious obligations were in apparent conflict.  After much prayerful and thorough study early church leaders concluded that the best position to adopt was the principle of non-combatancy.  This stance was officially registered with the United States federal government in 1864 and has remained the position of Seventh-day Adventists ever since.

Non-combatant service and training is defined as follows:

1.  The term “non-combatant service” shall mean (a) service in any unit of the armed forces which is unarmed at all times; (b) service in the medical department of any of the armed forces, wherever performed; or (c) any other assignment of the primary function of which does not require the use of arms in combat; provided that such other assignment is acceptable to the individual concerned and does not require them to bear arms or to be trained in their use.

2.  The term “non-combatant training” shall mean any training which is not concerned with the study, use, or handling of arms or weapons.

The official position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was reaffirmed by action taken at the 1972 Annual Council of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists held 14 – 29 October in Mexico City, Mexico. The statement reads:

“Genuine Christianity manifests itself in good citizenship and loyalty to civil government.  The breaking out of war among men in no way alters the Christian’s supreme allegiance and responsibility to God or modifies their obligation to practice their 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 advocate a noncombatant position, following their divine Master in not taking human life, but rendering all possible service to save it.  As they accept the obligation of citizenship as well as its benefits, their loyalty to government requires them willingly to serve the state in any noncombatant capacity, civil or military, in war or peace, in uniform or out of it, which will contribute to saving life, asking only that they may serve in those capacities which do not violate their conscientious convictions.”

This statement is not a rigid position binding church members, but gives guidance leaving the individual member free to assess the situation for her or himself.

When national laws permit options, church members, in making a personal decision on how to fulfill obligated terms of service to their country, should first consider the historic teaching of the Church on non-combatancy.  If because of personal convictions they choose otherwise, pastors, chaplains, teachers, or other church workers should aid the member in satisfying any legal requirements for securing their choice and should minister to the member’s spiritual needs as follows:

a.  For those choosing civilian alternative service in lieu of military service, pastoral counsel and guidance should be provided when it is established that such a request is based on consistent religious experience.  Pastors, chaplains, teachers, or other church workers should provide statements of their personal knowledge of the member’s position on the following:

(1) church membership,
(2) attendance and participation in services of the church,
(3) personal standards of conduct,
(4) previous expressions of belief supporting the request for exemption.  Those providing such statements should request government officials to respect and honor the individual’s personal convictions.

b.  For those who conscientiously choose military service as a combatant, pastoral counsel and guidance should be provided in ministering to their needs since the Church refrains from passing judgment on them.

Notice that the Seventh-day Adventist Church advocates a non-combatant position, but does not require it.  Thus, some church members are willing to train with and use weapons; while others cannot, because of their own individual conscience, have anything to do with weapons or military service.  Historically, most Seventh-day Adventists have served as non-combatant medics for several reasons:  (1) Such service minimizes Sabbath conflicts (saving and maintaining life is honorable on Sabbath), and (2) Such service is more in harmony with the Church’s stated recommendation.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not seek to be the conscience for any member or commander.  But we do seek to inform the conscience and behavior of both, so decisions can be made with maximum understanding and thought.