It's sometimes amazing to me how our contacts with faith and people of faith when we're young can change our lives.
A man with whom I grew up (well, he was a couple of years younger than me, but we went to the same church and the same schools and his brother was in my class) recently told me a story of how his life was affected by the Presbyterian pastor of our church and by some lay members of the congregation.
When he went to college, he said, he was part of a Methodist campus group, and "it was here that I learned about the Conscientious Objection option to military draft."
Right after graduation, he received the draft board status of 1-A, which meant he was immediately eligible to be called up -- in the time of the Vietnam War. (I myself briefly was given that same classification, but eventually was classified 1-Y, meaning a medical deferment because I had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. And although I went through two years of mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps in college, I never served in the active military.)
He wrote this to me in an e-mail: "After much deliberation and prayer, study and discussion with others in my life," including with the pastor of our church and one of the youth leaders, "I requested a Conscientious Objector draft status. Here, my point is that Rev. Al was very helpful and took my deliberations seriously and researched the official church position on the subject.
"He came back with the statement that the church's position is to support the member's decision -- either way. They did not take a stand one way or the other -- which actually felt kind of supportive at the time as I was finding out how passionate and extreme the feelings were against CO's in many quarters (and still are).
"I was very impressed that the U.S. government acknowledged that an individual's fidelity to their own conscience took priority over cultural norms and conscription laws in some cases. Some of the most critical of me were mothers who insisted that their kids get drafted and sent over to Vietnam and in harm's way. That never made any sense to me to be so gung-ho about military service -- especially in a war like that one. I knew that participation in military service would change me forever and in significant ways that would cause major problems. That was a very interesting time for me and required a lot of personal introspection, thought and difficult action.
"I was granted CO status, was drafted into two years of community service in lieu of military service. I started a drop-in youth center in (our hometown of Woodstock, Ill.) along with another CO. Your dad was instrumental in helping us get incorporated and he served on our governing board." Another church member also helped with the youth center's work, especially in legal matters.
So here was a sincere, if somewhat confused, young man who learned from a faith-based group about CO status and turned to his church for help. He got that help from his pastor as well as help from other church members, one of whom happened to be my father.
And my friend's life was forever different because of that experience. It's just another reminder to people of faith and their leaders and congregations that what they do can affect young people in many ways, some of them good, some not. So the call is to be attentive and discerning -- and loving.
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SORT OF CHRISTIAN, SORT OF JEWISH. . .
As a follow to the blog post here the other day, here's a story about people known as the "nominals," who are nominally part of a religion but rarely practice it. It seems to be a growing phenomenon.