Printed in The New York Times, March 28, 1993, section 4, page 14.
To the Editor:
In covering the tragic armed conflict between the Federal Government and the Branch Davidians at Waco, Tex., wire services have identified the cult as a "splinter group of the Seventh Day Adventist Church." Since the mass media also use David Koresh to preach their own gospel against "religious zealots," some might suspect the Seventh Day Adventists of a similar cultic trend.
As a priest of the Orthodox Church who writes on religion and culture, I am hardly a missionary for the Seventh Day Adventists. In the Vietnam War, however, I served as an Army medic with many S.D.A.s, as they were called. As conscientious objectors, these young men refused to bear arms but agreed to serve as medical personnel. Most of those I trained and served with were black Southerners.
Vegetarian, cheerful, stolidly faithful to their tradition, they were harassed mercilessly by drill instructors, who routinely insulted their beliefs. Some were chosen to participate in a "white coat" program, where they served as human subjects for what they thought was humanitarian research. Later, the program was identified as a facet of our germ warfare program. (Cynics point out the Seventh Day Adventists were chosen as guinea pigs because their beliefs forbid them to bring suit in civil court [see Adventist source quoted below].)
Most often, Seventh Day Adventists were sent to combat units, where without even a sidearm they crawled directly into enemy fire to patch the wounded and retrieve the dead. Their casualty rates were among the highest of the war. There are names of Seventh Day Adventists etched in the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Their memory is seared into those hapless cynics who served with them. They were the bravest, most committed, most heroic Americans I have ever known.
Given that they openly confessed Jesus as Lord, a habit the mass media find annoying, I guarantee that Hollywood or the secular press will never tell their story as a counterweight to people like David Koresh. But to honor the memory of those whose faith led them to die, rather than take up arms, we can spare the Seventh Day Adventists in condemnation of cults.
Elijah Kresge Professor
Franklin & Marshall College
Lancaster, Pa., March 20, 1993
"Now I want to state a little further upon the principle that no Christian, being a citizen of the kingdom of God, can of right start any procedure in connection with civil government. After it is started by the government itself, that is another questiion . . . I repeat therefore, that upon the principles which govern kingdoms and governments, the very principle of the law in heaven, or law in earth, a Christian cannot start any procedure in connection with civil government. And of all Christians, SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS cannot do it. The very keeping of the Sabbath forbids it."
A. T. Jones, 1895 General Conference Bulletin, page 28.
Historic SDA quotes regarding bringing suit in civil court
Cross-country American flag petition