Yakima is in a religion/culture war that has lasted for decades. I am the ovalpike.com Religion and Culture writer in Yakima Washington. I like living here. The climate is good, the people are friendly.
I chose to write about religion and culture because those two subjects have long held a fascination for me. I’m drawn to history, beliefs and perceptions.
Studying the interplay of religion and culture reveals this: Beliefs determine perceptions. I know because I once believed deeply in fundamentalist understanding of the Bible and Christianity. The lines from the wonderful song Amazing Grace tell my story. “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see”
My conversion to Christianity at 19 years old was transformative. I knew nothing about the Bible but I read voraciously and prayed with heartfelt intensity for understanding. Everything I learned was taught or reinforced in the evangelistic, fundamentalist church that had reached out to me.
I became a born again Christian in January of 1971 and was drafted into the Army three months later. I was a baby in Christ with some very adult decisions to make. I hugged and kissed my crying motherr good-bye and rode with my father to the induction center on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. I took the oath and immediately applied for Conscientious Objector status.
My church didn’t preach against serving in the military or to be a conscientious objector. The church taught that military service was a duty. I simply knew from reading books like Albert Speer’s Inside The Third Reich that “going along” with immoral policies was to be an active part of immorality. I thought that atrocities might be eliminated if enough people refused to do them. To me the immorality of the Vietnam war was obvious.
The Army is not especially fond of conscientous Objectors but many of my fellow soldiers encouraged me and wished me luck. Others tried to trip me up by tossing a weapon to me, a potentially disqualifying act is to touch a weapon. I resisted instinct and let them drop. I did a lot of KP.
I had to interview with the Company Commander, Chaplain, Psychologist and various others with the authority to deny my request. I was naive, earnest and determined. Eventually my request along with interview evaluations and a recommendation from the Base Commander at Fort Ord would be sent to the Pentagon.
I read my Bible for survival, kept it with me at all times and believed everything I read without benefit of critical thinking or historical context. I knew a denial at the Pentagon would be final even if there was an appeal. That’s how it worked. I was nervous. Being in the Army was depressing enough, the thought of going to prison was frightening.
The Base Commander was the last interview. I imagined he would be very intimidating. Authority and intimidation is a Base Commander’s stock in trade.
I read something in the Bible that paraphrases If you are called before men for my namesake, think not on what you shall answer for I will give you words in that time. That was my hope. I was so literal in reading scripture that I wondered if I should tell my name when asked or wait for the words to enter my brain from heaven or the Holy Spirit.
The Colonel was a professional military man with a proper bearing. He invited me to sit facing him at his desk. I sat in approved military posture. He began to explain that he would make a recommendation and that recommendation would determine the Pentagon response. He went on to explain that if my request for Conscientious Objector was denied, “You will be given a lawful order to train with a weapon. If you refuse you will be given a direct order to train with a weapon. If you refuse you will be Court Martialed.”
This was the kicker “The sentence for refusing to train and follow a direct order is usually six years in Ft. Leavenworth prison.”
Then he asked, “What do you have to say?”
What to say? Next: What I said and how my life changed once more.