Advent Hope Church's Peace Ministry Screens "The Conscientious Objector"

The Seventh-day Adventist faith will be making one of its rare forays into popular culture on November 4, when the new feature film Hacksaw Ridge opens in theaters everywhere. The movie tells the story of Adventist Desmond Doss, a World War II soldier who served as a medic and refused to carry a weapon as a matter of conscience. Doss showed stunning heroism in the war, saving 75 men in one battle while under intense fire and having no way to defend himself – and he deservedly received the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

As an Adventist Peace Church, we at Manhattan’s Church of the Advent Hope use our Peace Ministry to facilitate conversations on social justice issues, so we feel that the release of Hacksaw Ridge offers a great opportunity to address the challenges that Doss and other would-be healers and helpers face in a violent world. So prior to the movie’s release, we decided to do a screening of an earlier film about Doss, the documentary The Conscientious Objector. Although it doesn’t have the star power and recreated battle scenes of its counterpart, this movie gets to the heart of Doss’s story, which is one of unshakable belief in a personal duty to save lives, even as others are taking them.

The Conscientious Cooperator Released in 2004 by director/producer Terry Benedict (who is also a producer on Hacksaw Ridge), The Conscientious Objector features Doss himself telling his story, from his home in Georgia and even on location in places ranging from training grounds in Arizona to the Maeda Escarpment (known as Hacksaw Ridge) in Japan. The film starts out relaying anecdotes of the young Doss that reveal his developing character. For instance, the horror of the Cain and Abel story, contemplated side by side with the biblical commandment not to kill, convinced him at an early age that he would never use a weapon to hurt another person. A story about how the young man walked six miles roundtrip (twice!) to donate blood after hearing about a nearby accident on the radio foreshadowed that he had the makings of a battlefield rescuer.

When World War II broke out, Doss was determined to serve as a medic, but the army didn’t make it easy. The movie details his many skirmishes with superiors who did not appreciate his refusal to touch or carry a weapon. Doss didn’t care for the designation of a “conscientious objector,” the status that ultimately allowed him to serve without a gun – he preferred to think of himself as a “conscientious cooperator.” The military didn’t always see it that way. His insistence on keeping the Sabbath made him an even bigger “pest,” as another soldier put it. Once shipped to Okinawa, though, Doss had the chance to demonstrate his faith in action, fearlessly risking his life by tending to the injured and dragging them to safety under enemy fire.

The film uses some harrowing images and video footage that illustrates what Doss and his fellow soldiers were up against in battle, but The Conscientious Objector most movingly recreates the war through testimony. Benedict tracked down a number of men that Doss served with, and their vivid remembrances are deeply affecting. They provide some really honest talk about the complex moral calculations soldiers must often make and share experiences that continued to haunt their dreams years later.

Directing Desmond Doss We were thrilled to be able to welcome Terry Benedict as a guest to Advent Hope for the screening. After the audience finished watching the film, Lincoln Alabaster (who hosts our church’s faith & film podcast, Evidence of Things Screened) conducted an illuminating interview with Benedict, who described his early fascination with Desmond Doss. When, years later, he was able to convince Doss to tell his tale on film, Benedict discovered that decades of talks and presentations meant that he was used to telling it by rote. The director had to employ all his skills (including literally shaking the old war hero by the lapels) to get him to relate it in a fresh and authentic way. His efforts were well worth it.

Although Doss’s story hearkens to a time when many Adventists took a stand as conscientious objectors and non-combatants, Benedict’s aim with his documentary – and now with Hacksaw Ridge – is not so much about promoting Doss’s particular stand as it is about encouraging viewers to consider their own beliefs. He hopes viewers will be inspired to think about their own core values and ask difficult questions about where they are (and are not) willing to compromise themselves. Ultimately, he’d like to know that people have been changed by Desmond Doss’s story, just as he was.

Continuing the Conversation On November 5, Church of the Advent Hope will be welcoming Adventist Peace Fellowship co-founder Ron Osborn to preach during our morning services, then lead a discussion on how we can practice peacemaking in our daily lives in the afternoon. That evening, we will meet at a movie theater to view Hacksaw Ridge and see how Hollywood handles Doss’s incredible true story. Join us for our next Peace Ministry meeting on November 12, when we will continue the discussion. And be on the lookout for the next episode of Evidence of Things Screened, which will feature more from director Terry Benedict.

Brooke Pierce studied Dramatic Writing at NYU and works as a freelance writer/editor in New York City. She serves as the Communications Coordinator at Church of the Advent Hope and is actively involved in the church’s Peace Ministry.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7721

The Desmond Doss story is a sober reminder that true disciples inevitably bring peace and healing to a chaotic and injured world. Doss engaged in the battle as completely as his conscience would allow and without accommodation to his own safety. The new Mel Gibson film, “Hacksaw Ridge”, should do much to take that story - so familiar to older generations - and reintroduce it to inspire a new generation to bring that same peace and healing to that still-injured world. I’m inspired by the story. I hope all of you are as well.

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Great Work Advent Hope Church!
What a splendid opportunity every Adventist Church has to connect with our own community and share a positive portrayal of real faith in action!
This is certainly “a great opportunity to address the challenges that Doss and other would-be healers and helpers face in a violent world.

The Australian Union Conference is recommending that congregations do similar things. Of course, this is in addition to our personal interaction with others about the faith of Doss and issues of conscience, peace-making and violence.

They recommend that in the next few weeks congregations set aside a whole Sabbath to connect with our individual community. For example, they say that congregations could show the documentary “The Conscientious Objector” on the Friday evening, followed up on the Sabbath morning with a presentation on ‘The Gift of the Sabbath’ and in the afternoon another presentation ‘Who are the Adventists.’

@ray
As you will readily recognize Ray, the topic the ‘Gift of the Sabbath’ was chosen as the topic because the Sabbath features so prominently in the story of Des Doss! Done correctly this presentation can be an invitation for believers to rest in Christ from any attempt to ascend to the hill of God by pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.

@GraemeSharock
You may wish to look at the following website created by the an Australian Adventist project team:
www.faithofdoss.com
This website has links to a plethora of video material about both Doss and the latest movie. It also has links to several reviews about the movie. And also the free offer of the Remnant Publications abridgement of the authorized biography of Desmond Doss. This abridged version is now called Hero of Hacksaw Ridge.

Also John Bradshaw and Gary Kent, speaker/directors for It is Written/USA and It is Written/Oceania respectively have produced a small blooklet title The Faith of Desmond Doss. Bulk supplies of this booklet are available at negligible cost from the following website:
https://itiswrittenoceania.tv/store

Or maybe the Sabbath meeting could be ‘The Gift of Jesus Christ.’

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For two or three months, the Honolulu Japanese SDA church has discussed whether or how to respond to the movie “Hacksaw Ridge”. At this point, Pastor Michael Brownfield is supporting three actions: 1) a preliminary showing and discussion of the Doss Foundation’s documentary on Sat night Nov 6, as a method of preparing the church membership to answer questions about Doss and the beliefs of Adventists. 2) a public seminar in early 2017 to respond directly to the public’s interest in the movie and Doss. This will likely focus on Adventists and war and peace issues, including Doss’s (now) unusual stand as a Conscientious Objector. The discussion will possibly held on one of the university campuses. 3) Movie screening advertising slides that will offer more information on Doss and Adventists, including a “text to --” and free website offer.

We welcome your thoughts and suggestions!

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Knowing how he distorted the story of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” one wonders how much embellishment there is with this one. Hollywood can’t seem to leave a good story alone. They think that sex and violence are a necessity. We’ll be giving away a lot of copies of the book made available by “Remnant Publications.” It’s an abridged version of the original book written by Booton Herndon in 1967. It tells the true story, without embellishments.

It is seldom I agree with you but on this occasion I must.

One would think that a movie about a conscience objector to killing and bearing arms would be true to some ideal about not taking life and would convey a message that was anti-war. This film does not do that whatever the intentions of Benedict and Gibson. It is nothing like all quiet on the Western Front or Gallipoli where at the end you are completely convinced of the futility of violence and war, and sorrowful for the needless waste. Convinced that we should never let this happen again. In the end this movie is a paean to the inevitability of war and the nobility of death and sacrifice in a just war. It is a celebrates violence as perhaps the canvas for mans greatest nobility.

Gibson has a pedigree of violence from Mad Max and Lethal weapon franchises to Passion of the Christ. One expects violence in this movie and it is there in spades, graphic and confronting. It is not in any way an anti-war movie but is a celebration of violence as THE solution and the enemies death the only pathway to redemption of a nation. A celebration of American culture, a “civilized” culture that can use violence and hate to stem evil personified and to protect and nurture, albeit reluctantly, even objectors to violence.

Doss is unquestionably a hero who was prepared to stand up for his beliefs but even his conviction is subverted by the unrelenting violence of a just war and his protest is seen as not against war, violence and hate, but against personal killing. In the end any allusion to SDA pacifist traditions is subverted by the final Sabbath assault where his worship is reduced to a cursory prayer and he becomes simply a talisman for the successful and glorious assault on Hacksaw ridge. A transcendent moment when Doss is lowered from the ridge almost as a messianic figure who somehow seems to sanctify both the nation state and the death that is required for that victory of good. Doss’s parting words “these are the true heros” reinforces this message of salvific value of death in war and violence inevitable but ultimately good.

Many in the church have been excited to use that as a vehicle to witness for Adventist belief. But the problem as I see it is that we are not at all sure what our witness is. Not working on sabbath? Reading the Bible? Yes of course but not personally killing? That message has changed from the message of peacemaking and pacificism we had in 1860’s through conscious cooperation to the current position of everyone doing what is right in his own eyes which translates to full committment to war efforts as combatants if the Gulf war is to be taken as the paradigm for Adventist position on war.

The review by Douglas Morgan on the history of Adventisms response to war titled between pacifism and patriotism at http://archives.adventistreview.org/2003-1535/story5.html is very illuminating. How does the GC now feel about Adventists who were combatants for Serbia, Iran, iraq, or even Germany. What do we feel about mercenaries, or freedom fighters that are not fighting for God’s republic?

It seems to me we have certainly lost our way in terms of principled position on the politics of Jesus as Grace and Love incarnate.

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