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Bringing Peace

Posted on July 1, 2021, by Mary Swain SL

David Edwards’ book describes his deep belief in living a life aligned with God’s love for all.
Photo courtesy of Leslee Moore

David Edwards was a college student during the Vietnam War, planning to continue his studies in the seminary. He was thus exempt from the draft that threatened so many young men in the U.S. Soon he began to chafe under his “divine” exemption from the decisions and fates being faced by his male colleagues. He gave up his exemption, filed to be a conscientious objector, and did two years of alternative service. His story about this time and the impact of this decision on the rest of his life is in his recently published book, “What Belongs to God: Reflections on Peacemaking by a Conscientious Objector.”

During his two years of alternative service, David worked at Boston Children’s Hospital. As the only male on the nursing staff, he was sometimes given patients who were boys and often the toughest patients to work with. In this work with children and in many interactions throughout his life, David found in children a strong and resilient bent toward kindness and love, not toward violence.

In his book, David remembers youth camp in the Virginia mountains when he and the campers sang “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” sitting around the campfire. He came to realize that the last line had something to do with why he became a conscientious objector. “Let there be peace on earth … and let it begin with me.” Just as peace had to begin with him and the decisions he made, so did violence and war have to end with him.

In a Scripture class in seminary, David came to understand the words Cain said to God after killing his brother: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Hebrew word for “keeper” is used only in reference to God in the Hebrew Scriptures. God alone is the keeper of human beings. Anyone killing another human being is guilty of playing God. In this new learning, David recognized what he had understood a few years earlier about the nature of killing, including the killing legitimized by the military and the nation in war.

David also recounts the time Jesus was asked about the coin. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” Jesus responds. Or Jesus could have said, “Here, take your little coin back. Give it to Caesar. But give everything else to God.” David writes about allegiance and the pledge to the U.S. flag. He says he came to learn that his allegiance is pledged to the everywhere-presence of God, a universal and compelling Love that is non-violent at its core and in its essence. It was clear to David what belongs to God, compelling him to make his decision to become a conscientious objector and to devote his life to peacemaking.


Mary Swain SL

Mary Swain SL has been a consultant to the National Religious Retirement Office and has served on the board for the National Association for Treasurers of Religious Institutes. Along with her math background and service to the Loretto Community in the financial area, she has experience as a church organist and plans and prepares materials for Loretto liturgies at Loretto Motherhouse and for special occasions. Mary resides at Loretto Motherhouse, the grounds of which receive her careful tending and loving touch.
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