Offering another way: Countering military recruiters

AKRON, Pa.  Organizers and participants in a November counter-recruitment conference sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. say they hope that the event will inspire churches to work together to further develop strategies for countering the lure of military recruiters.

About 75 people attended the Nov. 3-5 conference in San Antonio, Texas.

There were military veterans, pastors, church youth and student activists who are organizing campaigns countering the promises of military recruiters.

Each year, about 180,000 young people enlist in the U.S. military.

Titus Peachey, director of peace education for MCC U.S., said the conference intended to provide a forum where churches could learn more about the realities of military recruiting, become familiar with some models for countering the lure of the military and, perhaps most importantly, begin to share with other churches some of their own grassroots strategies.

We now have a lot of information to take home to our church members, people in our community, and the other youth who did not come to the conference, reported Verel Montauban, of a Haitian Church of the Brethren congregation in Brooklyn, N.Y. The commitment I found here is to help other people how to stay away from the military and teach them that their body belongs to God, not to the military. I believe we have to live for the glory of God not live to kill each other.

Another participant from the congregation, Sandra Beauvior, reported that she walks away from the conference believing that war is not an option. She, like others in the group, said they want to talk with other teenagers to help them commit not to join the military.

On many high school campuses, military recruiters have a strong presence. Students talked of how they circle during lunches and at the career center. One Army veteran said that the military recruitment was so heavy at her school that she didnt realize until later that colleges too recruited students. At the high schools I went to … I never saw colleges ever, Mari Villaluna said.

The military is passionate about enticing young people in and spends an enormous amount of money on recruiting  including paying scores of recruiters who are dedicated only to figuring out how to best entice more young people to join, said former Marine recruiter and Mennonite pastor Ertell Whigham.

Anabaptist church leaders and members may talk passionately about helping people avoid the military, Whigham said. But rarely does that translate into a paid position.

Just as the military has people who are dedicated to recruitment, we ought to be putting into place people who are counters to that, Whigham said.

Norristown (Pa.) New Life, where Whigham serves as an associate pastor, has appointed a full-time minister of youth and community outreach who works to identify opportunities for education and training that youth in the church can tap into. He dreams that more congregations will put money into such positions or that churches would join together to hire a person who could pinpoint resources for their youth.

In the urban setting, he said, the decision to go into the military is often spontaneous  and driven by immediate needs of the family or by a strong desire for education. When youth begin to ask, How can I make things better for me? How can I make things better for my family? the military has a ready answer. The church, too, needs to have an answer ready for them, Whigham said.

That includes setting the stage for alternatives years before students start to ask.

I think we need to be working with young people long before they get to high school, Whigham said. And the focus needs to be not so much on avoiding the military as on building a strong foundation of beliefs in peace and justice. Ideally, he said, when they get to high school, the military will be the last option on their list.

Whigham said he and Norristown plan to work at creating a manual of ideas and resources that can undergird area churches efforts to counter military recruiters. In addition, he hopes to contact people interested in replicating Norristowns model of providing a staff person to research and talk with youth about alternatives to the military.

Peachey said MCC U.S. will continue to develop resources related to countering the lures of military recruiters and that he hopes local groups will begin to build networks to carry out this work at a grassroots level.

Counter-recruitment provides a great opportunity for congregations to make the way of peace practical inlocal communities, Peachey said. It was exciting to see the conference bring together both the people and resources needed to help this work growamong the Anabaptist family of churches.

To learn more about counter-recruitment, go to www.mcc.org/us/co/counter.

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