Remembering resistance, 1960's to today

J.R. Burkholder, professor emeritus of religion, along with members of the Peace, justice and conflict studies department, joined together with PAX club to hear stories of draft resistance last Saturday morning.  The conference, titled “Resistance:  Taking a Stand Against War: 1960s to Today” was an idea generated by Burkholder, who provided support to GC student draft resisters in the 1960s.

Guest speakers included seven Mennonite draft resisters who shared their stories of resisting the Vietnam War draft during the late 1960s. Four of these men, Dennis Koehn, John Lind, J.D. Leu and Doug Baker, were part of a panel that answered prepared questions by students from PAX club, as well as members of the audience.

Leu, Baker and Lind, all GC graduates, attended the 1969 Mennonite General Conference in Turner, Oregon, which dealt with amending the Mennonite position from a slightly coercive non-participation stance to the more active non-cooperation stance.  Each of the four panelists spoke directly about the conference in 1969 and their role in shaping it.

Koehn had not been directly involved in the 1969 conference at Turner, but was arrested during his first year at Bethel College because he refused to register for the draft.  He spent a year and a half in prison.  Lind spent a number of years in Asia doing alternative service during the draft and participated in the 1969 conference.  Leu reflected on 1968 as “a year of radicalizing.”  Living in California, he experienced the secular peace movement and felt driven to apply it to his own Mennonite background.

Baker was the “token youth delegate” at the 1969 conference.  After helping amend the Mennonite position on draft resistance, he wrote up a report on the happenings at Turner, Oregon, as a record for himself and others.

After lunch, the conference broke up into three mini-workshops focusing on tax resistance, counter recruitment and working with conscientious objectors in the military.

A common theme throughout the conference was discovering strategies for witnesses and how to use witnesses in an increasingly complex world.

Baker replied to this by saying, “Whatever breaks your heart, respond to that.”

Koehn added, “Our highest calling today as Mennonites is to go live with the enemy and report back what’s going on.”

Duane Shank, a draft resister and author, ended the conference with his closing remarks.

“How do we as Christians relate to war and the war system in absence of the draft?” he asked.  His response was that the church and its members should be “Christian witnesses to the state.”

Written by Benjamin Handrich

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