'Hacksaw Ridge' calls Adventists to revisit commitment to non-violence
With a pre-release Tomatometer rating of 91%, and Oscar buzz, Hacksaw Ridge will hit the ground running when it debuts nationwide on November 4. Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield (Spiderman) the film tells the true story of Seventh-day Adventist army medic Desmond Doss who saved 75 American soldiers on Okinawa in one of the worst battles of World War II.
The film is rated R for graphic scenes of war violence and grisly imagery.
For Seventh-day Adventists, the film portrays just one part of the Christian denomination's history of commitment to non-violence. In 1936 the Adventist Church established the Medical Cadet Corps Training Program to train non-combatant church members for supporting roles in the military.
Between 1954 and 1973, many Seventh-day Adventist noncombatants, including many medics, placed their lives on the line, participating in medical biodefense research at Fort Derick, Maryland, as part of Operation Whitecoat. According to USA Today (12/20/2001) , during the program, more than 2,300 U.S. Army soldiers allowed themselves to be infected with bacteria that researchers suspected would be weaponized by enemy forces to determine the amount of antibiotic needed to cure the infections.
The fact that so many were willing to put their lives on the line rather than carry weapons is a testament to a commitment to the principle of non-violence, and more importantly, a Christlike self-sacrificing expression of love.
Despite an early commitment to non-violence, in the years after the draft, the Adventist church closed its Cadet Corps and backed away from encouraging members from taking on non-combatant roles if they joined the military which no longer honors non-combatancy for those who join voluntarily. The shift away from nonviolence has created a dilemma for the denomination that Adventist attorney Barry Bussey explored in his book, Should I Fight? (Guardian Books, 2011).
In an essay published by the Adventist Review, Bussey wrote, "War, peace and conscientious objection require a response. We can't ignore these issues; they're not going away. As a church and as individuals, we have no choice but to grapple with the basic moral questions they raise. Jesus said, "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
"When the time comes, we must be prepared — like so many who have gone before us — to give an account of whether our lives are in accordance with the spirit and intent of His words."
Gibson's portrayal of Doss, a genuine hero by all counts, calls this generation of Seventh-day Adventists to rediscover and embrace the church's heritage of non-violence.
Photo: Hacksaw Ridge (Summit Entertainment)