Young Adventists Speak: Ronald Osborn on Desmond Doss

Over this weekend, we will be releasing a series of short, experimental videos of young Adventists discussing issues, ranting, and even singing about contemporary culture and politics. In connection with today's opening of the Desmond Doss biopic film Hacksaw Ridge, we begin with Ronald Osborn briefly explaining the shifting history of Adventists and war. 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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The final words are stunning:

“Adventists are left to decide for themselves without any moral guidance or instruction [regarding combatancy] from their community.”

As an electrical engineer that trained at WWU I noticed that the ethics of designing weapons was never discussed. Clearly some of our teachers did participate in the design of weapons systems. Many of my fellow students eventually did. I had been brought up as an SDA in the Desmond Doss tradition. I always took the position that if I was not willing to pull the trigger I could not design the system. While I know that the military did buy and use many of the instruments that I designed, I never participated in customizing them for military use. Any American could buy them.

Many years ago I was in Boston visiting some relatives. An ethics professor from Loma Linda was also visiting at that same time. I will never forget the discussion at the supper table. I admitted that I routinely drove 5 mph over the speed limit because I knew that I probably would not get a ticket for that speed. (I never have.) The professor assured me that this was unethical. I noted with interest however that his wife was a mechanical engineer that designed heat shields for nuclear missiles. This he considered ethical.


Thanks for this informative summary Ron.

It is always fascinating to hear theories and histories from those who look at the world’s conflicts from the outside of military service. Balanced perspective, and reductionism is so aparant in our theorists. You can tell they have never looked into the eyes of the world’s vulnerable people from the position of representative of a nation such as ours, bringing with us hope. In my experience it is usually hope that we will influence their government to permit them to have the freedoms we have. Hey, what a thought, most of the time our military does not shoot anyone, yet is engaged with nations and cultures all over the world. Not like missionaries who are only interested in them if we can change their religion. Should not, our Adventist perspective be integral to this institution also? Freedom of faith takes hold, where our democratic ideals become real.

I am sure Ron Osborne has looked at this very deeply. So this in no hit on him. This lack of perspective is more on all of us, because so few Adventist serve. Surveys on the topic such as this video, treat Adventist thought, as it has evolved, almost the way that evolutionists claim to ‘age’ a fossil by tracking the decay of carbon. The fatal flaw is that they do not understand the variables. Maybe they understand historical variables in society, but they do not understand our military. Increasingly I see that our country means something very different to those who fought to preserve our way of life. Adventists still live (and even worship) in a bubble. The us vs. them mentality is not helpful to any discussion but it is very Adventist. Like linking just-war theory to catholicism without context. Well, Trinitarianism also originated within catholicism, so shall we consider it suspect?

My 26 years of service as a non-combatant in three branches has given me a perspective that only one percent of Americans ever get. In our church, it probably .001 percent. So, there is a lot I just shake my head at, and keep silent about, in conversation. There is no way I could ever let them know how small their world is, or missing-of-perspective their views are, without offending them. It is hard to explain if you have not lived it.

I once looked at combatancy as our earlier Adventists. But, as I have been exposed first hand to the horrors of evil that our nation keeps in check, and what we really do, the world over, I see that I was as naive as our early pioneers. They were a product of a sheltered, simple 19th C society. Many Adventists seem to think all the answers are back there. I for one, think they are in front of us as we have collective responsibilities in a much bigger and more complex world. I am glad our church is not still back at the beginning in our thought. I am also thankful to the Lord that we have left this up to the decision of individuals in the community. May we never kick out all the David’s and keep only those like Solomon.

We do need to provide the missing education, so people who are deciding if they want to serve or not, know on what basis it has made sense theologically to Adventists in the past. I hope we leverage people like Barry Black, former Navy Chief of Chaplains and current Chaplain of the US Senate. Voices like his, know first hand what the worlds issues are from the inside of military service, and will provide the variables we lack in our homogenous vacuum. Believe me, thinkers like Ron Osborne need to be there too. With a broad perspective we will have what we need to chart a course forward for our church when it comes to combatancy, military service and how these things coincide with our doctrine.


Desmond Doss deserves great respect for standing up for his deep held principles. Given the SDA culture from which he came, his actions on the battlefield are a testament of his devotion to the will of his God. The flip side of this perspective, focuses on the now familiar photos of emaciated skeletal people, staring blankly at the allied forces that had come to save their lives. Had there been no battles - had the US sat this war out, declaring it unethical to participate, what would the world look like now?

As Christins, answerable to God, we have the added responsibility to stand up for the vulnerable - the widows and the children, not just after the widow-making bombs have fallen, but before they do their wicked job. How ethical is it to rely on other people’s (what we would call) unfaithfulness to the commandment “not to kill”? How can Christians rely on other people’s courage to defend their homeland, where they can reap the benefits of freedom, while railing against military interventions?

When an assailant is threatening to burst into our home, where our children sleep, who doesn’t make that 911 call hoping men with weapons will arrive in time? Carnage by evil forces is not unlike carnage by cancer cells - for which we have intervention. Are we so focused on saving our commandment- keeping souls that we are willing sacrifice those for whom we are the only hope?

This is the human dilemma - we have to either, sacrifice ourselves to protect others; or we save our own skins at the expense of the lives of the innocent. For those who still think there’s going to be a generation of perfect people who can do both - there’s a bridge in Brooklyn… Thank God we have Romans 8.


Let me allow Ellen
– the once-upon-a-time quintessential SDA-woman-leader –
to speak first:

"Had Adventists, after the great disappointment in 1844, held fast their faith, and followed on unitedly in the opening providence of God, receiving the message of the third angel and in the power of the Holy Spirit proclaiming it to the world, they would have seen the salvation of God, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts, the work would have been completed, and Christ would have come ere this to receive His people to their reward. {1SM 68.1}

But in the period of doubt and uncertainty that followed the disappointment, many of the advent believers yielded their faith. Dissensions and divisions came in. The majority opposed with voice and pen the few who, following in the providence of God, received the Sabbath reform and began to proclaim the third angel’s message. Many who should have devoted their time and talents to the one purpose of sounding warning to the world, were absorbed in opposing the Sabbath truth, and in turn, the labor of its advocates was necessarily spent in answering these opponents and defending the truth. Thus the work was hindered, and the world was left in darkness. Had the whole Adventist body united upon the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, how widely different would have been our history!
{1SM 68.2}

It was not the will of God that the coming of Christ should be thus delayed. God did not design that His people, Israel, should wander forty years in the wilderness. He promised to lead them directly to the land of Canaan, and establish them there a holy, healthy, happy people. But those to whom it was first preached, went not in “because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). Their hearts were filled with murmuring, rebellion, and hatred, and He could not fulfill His covenant with them. {1SM 68.3}

 For forty years did unbelief, murmuring, and rebellion shut out ancient Israel from the land of Canaan. The same sins have delayed the entrance of modern Israel into the heavenly Canaan. In neither case were the promises of God at fault. It is the unbelief, the worldliness, unconsecration, and strife among the Lord's professed people that have kept us in this world of sin and sorrow so many years.  {1SM 69.1}   

Now this world-weary old man:

When I first heard a reference to this quote I believe the speaker dated it to the 1850s . . . BEFORE the U.S. (un-)Civil War . . . BEFORE the SDA church needed to organize to avoid contributing to the bloody, gory violence of that inglorious mayhem made possible because ‘the coming of the Lord’ was not yet possible . . . because of the reasons stated above, by Ellen.

It makes me deeply, nauseatingly ashamed in the face of the world I’m weary of,
to solemnly consider that the SDA church I was raised to be so proud of belonging to, has allowed the miseries of bloody war to gradually become the world’s ‘norm’, by default . . . because we have thought so very less, and less,
of ‘The Prince of Peace’.

The Civil WAR . . . the Spanish American WAR . . .
The Russian Revolution . . . World WAR One . . . World WAR Two . . .
the Korean WAR . . . the Viet Nam WAR . . .
the Bosnian/Yugoslavian WAR . . . the Iraq WAR, and WAR . . .
the Afghan WAR . . . .

ALL OF THESE WARS, and more, and their misery were made possible by default, because of SDA ‘Adventist’ failures to perform our God-given privilege of , FIRST, ‘receiving’ the Third Angel’s Message – INCLUDING the all-too-misunderstood last part of the sentence, “. . . AND the Faith of Jesus.” – and THEN ‘proclaiming’ it. Clearly we SDAs still do not ‘get’ that ‘message’, ourselves, well enough to ‘proclaim’ it and STOP ALL WAR altogether.

So, for me, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ will contain nothing to be proud of as an SDA. Rather, I will be re-re-re-reminded that I’m pathetically stuck here in this increasingly calloused world making lemonade out of lemons, which I don’t even like . . . because that too-long-wandering proud ‘dog’ at the very heart of SDAdventism still refuses to be ‘wagged’ back on to the track it lost so long ago in the 1840s. We still seem to prefer the ‘glory’ of the trappings of the Prince of All Wars, over the ‘humiliating’ civvies of, ‘. . . and the Faith of Jesus’ don’t we ?

. . . or, did I miss something ?
Has ‘peace’ been made over the W.O. issue, while I slept, perhaps ?

In reply to bigtomwoodcutter’s, “God is in charge, not any church.”:

God and the prophets knew exactly when Jesus was to ‘die’, but was God in charge of crucifying Jesus ? . . . or, had ‘the church’ – which clearly made themselves in charge of seeing that Jesus was crucified – bothered listening to their own prophets to warn themselves, at least, against murdering their Messiah, if not rather to spread the good news of His first arrival ?

If today’s church has no ‘charge’, no ‘mission’, no ‘message’ or involvement in the second arrival of Christ, then what gospel are all of our newly-ordained women (like the prophet, Ellen) going to preach ? . . . and, for what purpose ? . . . if ‘God is in charge’, anyway ? In charge of what, exactly ? He knew beforehand of the Women’s Ordination movement within the SDA church . . . then why do we bother to support it, or not ? God is in charge. God knows that tomorrow I am going to go to work, so why bother getting out of bed tomorrow morning ? ‘God is in charge’. . . .

No, there’s a missing, human, link in supposing that God’s omniscience excludes human cooperation. God does not need ‘salvation’, humanity does. So ‘God with us’ enables us to choose to be, or not to be, with God.

But, like the rest of the world, I only know what I hear and ‘read in the papers’, so to speak. So God shares the privilege of ‘confessing’ Him to the world, with ‘the church’, with humans . . . a job angels would have finished 2,000 years ago, if we humans did not need the experience of ‘light-bearing’, for our own ‘healing’, for our own ‘salv-ation’.

“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Matthew 24:14

“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed ?
and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard ?
and how shall they hear without a preacher ?
And how shall they preach, except they be sent ?
as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things !” Romans 10:14-15

The ‘Faith of Jesus’ – when you study into what Alonzo Jones was understanding over a century ago – involves BOTH Divinity AND humanity in an affectionate embrace, or ‘dance’, so to speak. . . just as Jesus demonstrated by continually ‘emptying Himself’ of even His Divine self, by depending 100% upon the Father. He did this as our human example, ‘the last Adam’ as Paul described Him. Therefore, the Father – not Jesus, the ‘Son of Man’ – essentially ‘kept’ ‘the commandments of God’, then, ‘in Christ’ who plainly, and very affectionately, and faithfully, ‘worshiped’ His Father, alone. He always beheld the friendly face of His Father in Heaven . . . until the ‘cross’, when His Father temporarily gave Him over to the charge of ‘His church’, who clearly did not have ‘the faith of Jesus’, in Jesus.

So, perhaps we need to understand just what degree of faithlessness the human race needs to be healed of, in order to better understand why ‘the church’ is not yet ready for the second arrival of Christ. Does God’s church love and trust the Father of Jesus like Jesus loved ‘Our Father’ ? If not, then whatever the Father ‘knows’ about the date, He will wait until His church does . . . and there is where our responsibility lies, right now:

If we believe that our Father, alone, is ‘in charge’,
then He is also, alone, 'to blame’
for the long, miserable delay,
isn’t He ?

Will we – His church – continue to faithlessly let ‘Our Father’ bear that ‘cross’, alone ?

If so, then we have no ‘faith of Jesus’ ?

“Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.” John 8:28-29

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Indeed. Indeed. This idea is applicable in so many ways.


The Adventist church still gives guidance. It still lifts up noncombatancy. And it encourages members to work for peace. See this statement from BRI.

I have heard all this groveling since childhood about Adventism delaying the second coming ofChrist, as told by EGW… How ridiculous! God knows when Jesus is coming the second time before He even came the first time. God is in charge, not any church. To blame the church for all the wars that have taken place since 1844, because we “didn’t get our act together so Jesus could come” and spare the world all this carnage is a pathetic exercise of man made religion, where the tail wags the dog.


I understand the feeling that we should take “our collective responsibilities” to include support of the military. But I have read the book Ron mentioned at the start, and have also read a lot of Neo-Anabaptist witness concerning nonviolence.

The best of writers in this tradition are precisely urging non-violence as a FORM of collective responsibility. I can’t make their case in a short comment, but I can and will say this: thoughtful Adventists should immerse themselves in the best work on non-violence (think Yoder, McClendon, Osborn himself). Fine scholars, it turns out, are now defending views very like those of our early pioneers.

We may not end up agreeing with them or with each other, but we would be taking the opportunity to engage in SELF-QUESTIONING reflection.

As our political process (in the US) is reminding us, too few people bother themselves with such reflection.


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When I was drafted in 1966, I went into the service as a Conscious Objector just like almost all SDA’s at the time. Arriving at Ft. Sam Houston a week later, the company of several hundred men were 99 % SDA. It may not have been stated by the church that you must be a CO, but almost no young man would have thought to join the service and carry a gun. All of that has changed. I cannot tell you why because the fundamental reasons for not carrying weapons hasn’t really changed.

Unfortunately, I know a number of gun toting Adventists. I know of one individual who has an entire arsenal of weapons as well as having steel bars on his windows and is one of the most outspoken bigots I have ever met, yet he is a faithful attendee of the SDA church. I can only shake my head in amazement.

I see a great deal of rationalization on the part of the commenters to this piece. “Letting others do our fighting for us” the atrocities of the “enemies of this country and other countries”. Is war disgusting? Absolutely. It is very easy to get caught up in the eye for an eye, or better them than us approach. Maybe you were not aware that Desmond Doss was not drafted. He joined the military so that he could help win the victory over the aggression from the other side. His position was simply that he would not kill, but rather he would do everything he could to save life. And no one did it more effectively than he did. Every military has a medical division whose job is to try and preserve the lives of those who’ve been wounded.

Some have even commented as to how this movie had been a disservice to Adventists. For those, I would say, Why do you bother to call yourself an Adventist? You frighten and sicken me. You don’t have to agree about non-combatants, but for God’s sake, please respect the position of us who’s conscious won’t allow us to take life.

This discussion has absolutely everything to do with your trust in God, and not in a Smith and Wesson. If you’re going to protect yourself, then you’re basically telling God, “No, I don’t need You. I’ve got this myself.” This hasn’t changed since the time of Christ. You either trust God or you trust yourself. You don’t get to have it both ways.

As for killing people in war. The people you are killing are most likely being pushed, forced, or persuaded to participate on the other side just the same as you. Most wars are fought with conscripted participants. These men are just as frightened at the possibility of being killed by you as you are of being killed by them. Some recent conflicts are not as coursed and their participation is more likely driven by a false ideology. It still doesn’t change the dynamic. You’re taking a life, and all life is precious to God.

Every Adventist needs to see Hacksaw Ridge, if for no other reason, so that you will get a sense of how God still works through human instruments to demonstrate His will for His people. There are supernatural things in this story that cannot be explained by any other means, than the will of God. If you can’t see that…then I am sorry to say, you’re probably on the wrong path and you need to get on your knees and ask for guidance.


Thanks Ron! You have provided a most helpful discussion of the historical and the contemporary Adventist attitudes to war. One other thing that Ron may have chosen to highlight is the impact of legislation on the changing attitudes of Adventists.

It is also true that Adventists have various attitudes to war depending on where they live in the world today. For example, Adventist young men in Korea, for example, engage in the compulsory military service and enter into this fact of Korean life as any member of Korean society. Those rare Adventist young men there who refuse to carry and train with a weapon, and those who wish to act according to their conscience as far as the Sabbath is concerned are treated very harshly, even imprisoned. Meanwhile, many times Adventist pastors and administrators mostly just sit on their hands when people are imprisoned in such circumstances. These young men are kept at arm’s length lest Adventist pastors and the denomination in Korea loose face with society. What a contrast between the way the church in America have treasured the memory of Desmond Doss. (I lived in Korea for 6 years and taught young men eligible to do military service for five of those six years).

Last statistics I found mentioned by SDA chaplains was that over 90% of SDAs in armed forces bear arms. Plus the Church says that to do so is up to one’s conscience.

The problem here is that US armed forces have carried out wars of aggression lately (and previously, true). Meaning murdering people defending their land for various disgraceful reasons. So how is that a private matter between God and one’s conscience, when Scriptures underscores that as a serious sin?

Especially in light that you get excommunicated for things like drinking wine, which is not even forbidden in Scripture?

Edit: I must clarify that I am not a true pacifist; violence is last resort to saving one’s own life or that of another. I am also against consumption of alcohol for various health reasons.

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I’m not sure why but this article in the New England Journal of Medicine really gets me each time I read it.
“A Never-Ending Battle”