Voting, military arguments not the same

The writer, who lives in central Missouri, attends the Columbia, Mo., congregation of the United Church of God.

By Ewin Barnett

ASHLAND, Mo.--The events of Sept. 11 open up the issue of military service and war once again, especially for the young adults in the Church of God. This has provoked some discussion on the Internet forums. This article contains my reply to one of the groups.

One writer posting to one of the forums wrote that "we are not allowed to partake in this country's wars for the same reason we are not allowed to vote!"

Excuse me, but the Herbert W. Armstrong­approved policy was that, where a church member was a citizen of a country in which voting was required, the decision was for members to vote. Thus voting is shown to be a matter of church preference rather than a matter of sin.

Any port in a political storm

Similarly, in the '70s the Worldwide Church of God tried to sell its Feast site at Lake Ozark, Mo., to a city's convention bureau. The church determined that this would require financing through government bonds, which in turn would require the approval of local voters.

The announcement was made in church (which I heard with my own ears) that members who lived in that jurisdiction could vote if they wanted to, and it would sure help the church if the bond issue passed.

Again, if voting were a matter of sin or righteousness, there should be no question as to the issue.

The traditional WCG doctrine against voting and to some extent for not serving in the military is wrong. It was speciously based upon the 20th-century interpretation of a word selected in 1611 by the King James translators who were translating a word that Paul penned in the first century in Greek.

That word is presbeuo and is found in 2 Corinthians 5:20: ". . . We are ambassadors for Christ."

The word ambassador today has a substantially different meaning from when Paul wrote 2 Corinthians.

Selective crux

When a person insists on applying the 21st-century Western meaning to this first-century Greek word, he does so in order to take the listener to the crux restriction: An ambassador cannot entangle himself in the affairs of the country he was sent to.

The problem with this crux, although well intentioned, is that it is arbitrarily selective. If this person were really an ambassador, then he must have fulfilled all the other requirements as well. One of those requirements is that the host country officially must accept his credentials.

How many of us have been officially accepted by our governments? Not a one.

Further, an ambassador cannot hold citizenship in the host country. How many of us have given up our national citizenship so we could move into the office of ambassador? Not a one.

Subtle addition to Scripture

The crux really has to do with unnecessary involvement with that which is "worldly." We had better really understand what that means. Whether political decisions and positions are any more or less worldly than, say, business decisions or positions is another subject. But our Lord set us apart by the truth, so all I'm trying to accomplish here is to try to be honest about this subject.

Since presbeuo is clearly a metaphor, then nobody has the authority to arbitrarily add conditions to it, such as "We are ambassadors for Christ; therefore we do X, but we don't do Y."

That is a subtle way of adding to and taking away from Scripture.

Sadly, we have built a doctrinal and church cultural structure based in large part on this foundation of sand. Such structures are weak. The farther out they try to reach, the weaker they are, and one of these weaknesses is manifest in the problem of members being asked to vote where the church's interests are served, such as was the case with the Lake Ozark bond issue.

It insults sensibility to say you should vote for our bond issue but you can't vote for dogcatcher--or for someone running for councillor in Queensland, Australia.

Weakens the military argument

Our traditional argument for not voting also weakens our traditional stance on not partaking in a country's wars.

We are "allowed" to vote; we just don't choose to do so in many cases.

But, more important, don't destroy the ability of our young people to successfully argue in favor of their conscientious-objector applications because of specious reasoning that is easy to see through. They will need all the rock-solid and bullet-proof arguments they can muster or they could end up in jail or in the Army.

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