Freedom of Conscience in Time of War

Message from the President banner

photo of Rebecca Parker

Dear Starr King Friends,

This month, I’ll be traveling to New York City, along with several of our faculty members and students, to participate in an extraordinary event:  the first Truth Commission on Conscience in War. The public hearing will be held at the historic Riverside Church, and I hope those of you in New York on March 21 will join us. (Event website:

How can soldiers exercise individual moral conscience with respect to specific wars or combat duties and what are the consequences if they are forced to fight a war they believe is unjust?  This is the key question the Commission will explore. Dr. Gabriella Lettini (bio), Starr King’s Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Professor of Studies in Public Ministry and Director of our M.A. in Religious Leadership for Social Change, will guide the work of the Commissioners in response to testimony from military leaders, soldiers, veterans and family members. Currently, U.S. military regulations allow people to register as conscientious objectors (CO’s), only if they object to all wars.  No provision allows soldiers to conscientiously object to a specific war.  What impact does this have on soldiers and their families?  What kind of spiritual, emotional, and psychological support is required when soldiers violate their conscience in the line of duty? What changes in military policy might be advised in order to honor the importance of conscience?
Conscience in War poster The Truth Commission method places first-hand testimony of human struggles at the center of public discussion of moral issues. Two years ago, Dr. Lettini led the Poverty Truth Commission in Berkeley, California, using a similar method to gather testimony from people experiencing poverty.

Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock (bio), Director of Faith Voices for the Common Good (, and a Visiting Professor at Starr King School, has been working closely with Dr. Lettini to organize the Truth Commission, which is now the united effort of Starr King, Faith Voices, Riverside Church, and Union Theological Seminary. It is being supported by more than fifty co-sponsoring organizations which are sending commissioners from all over the country.

Supporting scholars and teachers who advance new intellectual work on religious and ethical issues is an important dimension of Starr King’s mission.   At Starr King, our faculty members and students are applying their imagination, intellectual gifts, and organizational skills to produce transformative scholarship that opens minds and hearts to new questions and more humane ways of life.
If you wish to follow the progress of the Truth Commission on Conscience in War, visit the website or join the group at Facebook.
In grace and gratitude,

Rebecca Parker
President and Professor of Theology

Your comments and questions are always welcome.
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