The Lord has always given the first opportunity to the leaders to exhibit faithfulness and courage but, sad to say, when the crisis loomed up before the church in 1914, it found them unprepared. The decisive majority of the membership in Europe were unable to see that the brethren in the highest offices were leading the church in the wrong direction by committing the members to combatancy.
Under that fiery test, the SDA leadership in Europe issued declarations instructing the brethren to take a combatant part in the war. These writings brought much confusion in the churches. Thousands of SDAs in Europe were thrown into great trial and perplexity, as, to avoid persecution and possible death, they consented to give up Sabbathkeeping, bear arms, and do as other patriots were doing. The great majority acted in accordance with the decisions of their leaders.
It was only a small minority of conscientious objectors who had the necessary faith and courage to stand for truth and righteousness. They were not troublemakers; they were honest Adventists who stood up in defense of the law of God in a time of crisis, when the church was wavering between loyalty and compromise. But their position was out of harmony with the decision of the leaders, who wanted the church to be in favor with the government. Therefore, the faithful few who stood for their convictions were disfellowshiped from the church. The persecution and tribulation which followed as the result of this attitude is part of denominational history. In the crisis caused by World War I God had His faithful witnesses in every country, as we will see in the following pages.
Since the beginning of the war, the General Conference was aware of the troubles that had come upon the church in Europe. The contentions and divisions that were taking place in the Adventist ranks were not concealed from the General Conference brethren. Therefore, at the end of 1916, William A. Spicer, General Conference secretary, was sent to Europe to obtain firsthand information about the problems and, if possible, help find a solution. If he had contacted the disfellowshiped minorities and heard also their side of the story, he might have taken back to Washington, DC, a balanced picture of the situation. But he was satisfied with the one-sided reports obtained from the European leaders (especially L. R. Conradi) who were responsible for and directly involved in the difficulty. Thus, the visit of Elder Spicer, instead of serving to solve or minimize the question at issue, regarding faithfulness to the commandments of God also in time of war, only served to aggravate it.
Thousands of Adventists were filled with consternation and began to protest when they read the circular letter of August 2, 1914, signed by Elder G. Dail, secretary of the European Division, which contained the following instructions:
"We should do our military duties cheerfully whilst we are in service or being called to serve, so that the officers in charge will find in us valiant and true soldiers who are ready to die for their homes, for our army, and for our fatherland."
To aggravate the distress of these conscientious objectors, the commitment of the leadership, according to a declaration submitted by the East German Union to the Ministry of War (August 4, 1914), signed by the Union president, H. F. Schuberth, was brought to their knowledge providentially a few days later. They said:
"We have bound ourselves together in the defense of the Fatherland, and under these circumstances we will also bear arms on Saturday (Sabbath)."
An additional shock to those faithful few was the publication of the booklet Der Christ und der Krieg (The Christian and War), in 1916. There, on page 18, three of the main Adventist leaders in Germany made the following declaration:
"In all that we have said, we have shown that the Bible teaches: first, that taking part in war is not a transgression of the sixth commandment; second, that doing military service on the Sabbath is not a transgression of the fourth commandment."
No one can deny that a fundamental change took place in the doctrinal position of the Adventist Church in Germany and that this change affected the law of God directly. A crisis, followed by separation, was the unavoidable consequence.
Even outsiders commented on this event. A Lutheran minister wrote:
"The World War brought a great crisis upon German Adventism. The Koelnische Zeitung (Cologne Newspaper) of September 21, 1915, writes: ‘A division occurred among the followers of Adventism after the outbreak of the war. The majority wanted to see the fundamental teachings invalidated during the time of the war. The other part, on the contrary, desired the sanctification of the Sabbath (Saturday) even during this difficult time. These differences of opinion finally led to the disfellowshipment of the followers of the old faith from the church.’ Above all it was the position taken toward war service in general that caused this division.
"Already on August 4, 1914, the great majority of German Adventists had declared in a very submissive communication to the War Office in Berlin: ‘In this present solemn time of war, we consider ourselves duty-bound to stand for the defense of the fatherland and also, under these circumstances, to bear arms on the Sabbath (Saturday).’ A similar declaration was sent to the office of the commanding general of the 7th army corps on March 5, 1915. This declaration was signed by L. R. Conradi, the president of the European Division of Adventists, and by P. Drinhaus, the president of the Saxon Conference. Therefore, this official position was taken in conflict with the pacifist teachings laid down by the American Conference [of Adventists]. For this reason, part of the German Adventists withstood this official resolution. This disagreement resulted in a bitter conflict. Those Adventists who accepted participation in war and who had become disloyal to the original principles turned most vehemently against the followers of the old teachings. In an article published in the Dresdener Neueste Nachrichten (Dresden Latest News), April 12, 1918, they call these people ‘unreasonable elements’ with ‘foolish ideas,’ and in very unkind words they say: ‘We would, indeed, regard it as a favor done to us if such elements met the fate which they deserve.’ In the same article they recount, to exalt their own merits, what they have done for the fatherland. This way of fighting each other, we feel, is a very unpleasant thing. On the other hand, the followers of the original teachings, in a special number of their periodical Waechter der Wahrheit (Watchman of the Truth), narrate the unkindness that they have suffered on the part of their hostile brethren."–Dr. Konrad Algermissen, Die Adventisten (The Adventists), pp. 22—24 (booklet published in 1928).
In a pamphlet published by the Adventist Church in Germany, the crisis which came upon the Adventist people during World War I was explained as follows:
"As children of their heavenly Father, they [the Adventists] cultivate peace among themselves and with their fellowmen all over the world. At the same time, they seek to uphold the principles which the Lord of Christendom has given to those who are the light and salt of the world in this solemn time. Where general conscription exists, they [the Adventists] have always been ready, as a denomination, to fulfill their duties both in time of peace and in time of war, like every other loyal citizen. In the observance of the weekly seventh day, peculiar to them, they only desire the same rights that are granted to other professors of religion with regard to their rest day.
"At the outbreak of the war, the denomination firmly complied with the conscription law as its members had done in times of peace. They desired, only if possible, the privileges which could be granted to others under the same circumstances. Thousands of their members are in the army. Many of them have fallen on the field of honor, both in Europe and some also in the colonies, while many others have received decorations or have been promoted. Also, at the beginning of the war, many of their members, both men and women, reported voluntarily for ambulance service, and the denomination placed their roomy mission establishments without hesitation at the disposal of the Red Cross.
"In the course of the war, however, there were unfortunately some individual members who failed to openly confess their own personal conscientious doubts to the authorities, but rather withdrew from their duties secretly and wandered from place to place inducing others by word and literature to take the same step. When they were called by the denomination to account for their procedure, they accused the leaders of being in apostasy. Therefore, they had to be disfellowshiped, not because of their personal convictions, but because of their unchristian attitude and because they became a threat to internal and external peace." –Zur Aufklaerung (For Clarification), pp. 2, 3.
In a circular letter entitled The European Situation, Elder C. H. Watson gave the following explanation:
"There was in Germany and those other countries concerned a minority of our believers who refused to follow the leadership of Conradi and others into combatant participation in the war.
"These were subjected to much suffering at the hands of their governments because of their stand.
"In Germany, those who took their stand against Conradi’s wicked action in thus committing them to war were treated with great harshness by Conradi and his associates. The resistance of the minority to military service threatened to compromise the whole body of Adventists in the eyes of the German government; and, to avoid this, Conradi had the minority disfellowshiped from the church.
"Thus the noncombatant minority was forced out of the church in that country, and this separation continued throughout the war years.
"When this state of affairs became known to the General Conference leaders, it created deep concern in their hearts, and led to their sending W. A. Spicer to Germany at a time when the German submarine peril was extremely grave. Brother Spicer took his life in his hands in order to get firsthand information on that situation.
"The result of that visit was that the General Conference became possessed of firsthand information regarding:
a. The wrong done to these minority believers.
b. The division and strife which had resulted among our German members.
c. The development of bitterness in both groups, and especially in those wronged by Conradi.
d. The extreme views to which these groups were driving each other in their differences."
While Conradi was a leader of the SDA Church, he was whitewashed and defended even by the General Conference representatives. After he left the Adventist Church, some leaders began to admit what they should have admitted at the beginning of the trouble (1914—1920).
Elder Watson’s admission, however, is a very rare exception. SDA publications on this great crisis generally miss the point by ignoring the fundamental aspects of the whole problem. One of these aspects is that the faithful minority were disfellowshiped–a fact which is usually concealed.
Another rare admission of the responsibility of the church in the treatment dispensed to the conscientious objectors is found in a booklet published by the Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, Tennessee:
"In truth the ‘reform’ movement . . . sprang into being in Germany during the World War, while [L. R.] Conradi was the leader of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in the whole of Europe. That movement as it is today and has been since it came into existence is the practical protest of a large number of Seventh-day Adventists, not against the teachings of the denomination, but against the high-handed actions of this very man Conradi and a few others who were associated with him in his leadership of the church in Europe–actions which he took without either the counsel, consent, or even the knowledge of the General Conference. The departure of these people was not from ‘a lot of gross errors and a dominating hierarchy,’ but from Conradi’s leadership which had committed them, without their voice or consent being given to his action, to the cannon and the bayonet of the battlefield. From the hour that he so basely betrayed them, they have had absolutely no faith in him either as a man, a minister, or a leader in the church of God." –Walter H. Brown, Brown Exposes Ballenger, p. 30.
It is true that Conradi and other European leaders betrayed the confidence of these "unfortunate victims," as Elder Brown admits in his defensive writing against Ballenger. But Elder Brown was greatly mistaken when he said that Conradi acted "without either the counsel, consent, or even the knowledge of the General Conference," because evidence proves the very opposite. Furthermore, Elder Brown did not state facts correctly when he said there were a "protest" and a "departure"; he should have said that there were a "protest" and a "disfellowshipment."
During World War I, well over 2,000 conscientious objectors were separated from the Adventist Church in Germany. Together with the conscientious objectors of other religious groups, these faithful believers were put to the hardest test that Christians have ever been called to endure. Since Germany had no provision to accommodate these heroes of the faith, they had to face the firing squad or suffer horrors in prison.
During a conference that was held in Yugoslavia in 1933, Brother Otto Welp gave the following report, which was published by our Yugoslav brethren: As far as conscientious objectors were concerned, the sentence pronounced against them was that, from among the men eligible for the army, one out of every ten was to be executed. Then, if the others did not yield, every fifth man was to be put to death, and finally every second one. Only God knows–and the day of judgment will reveal–how many conscientious objectors were actually executed. At that time they were often despised as cowards who were afraid to go to the battlefront; now they are more often regarded as heroes who refused to take human life but were not afraid to die for their convictions. Those who survived the firing squad were kept in prison until the end of the war.
Also in other countries which took part in the war, faithful Adventists went through great hardships.
We do not know how many conscientious objectors there were in Great Britain when World War I broke out. But there were some. One earnest Adventist, when called to take up his gun, stated that he could not fight.
"Cannot fight!" said the officer. "What do you mean by that?" The soldier explained his position in a few brief words.
"But it means death to refuse service in the face of the enemy!" said the commanding officer.
"I expected that it would," said the reservist.
"But you will be shot," said the officer. "I can do nothing else than order you shot."
"Yes," said the young man, "I know that is your military duty. I expected as much when I came. But as I see Christ as my example, I cannot bear arms."
The officer hesitated for a moment while the battle was raging. Then he made arrangements for the young brother to serve as a noncombatant, according to his religious conscience. We are only narrating what happened. Of course, not everything he did was according to our stand as a Movement.
After one year or more, the young man was sent back for reassignment. Being assigned to drive the ammunition trucks, once more his conscience brought him into difficulty when he stated to his commanding officer that he could not do that.
"Can’t drive the ammunition to the front! What do you mean?"
The soldier again explained his convictions.
"But you will be court-martialed at once."
"Yes," he replied, "but I cannot do that kind of work."
Only after he had shown unflinching courage to stand for his conviction and take the consequences was he given an alternative duty. (Condensed from the book Providences of the Great War.)
Another young man told his experience as follows:
"I was alone among some 900 desperate men on the docks, with armed guards on every hand. During the morning the governor appeared on his rounds and sent for me.
"‘You are to work with this party till 6 p.m.,’ he said, ‘with none of this Sabbath nonsense we had from you last week.’
"‘Pardon me, sir,’ I said, ‘but I must follow my convictions, though I have no desire to be troublesome.’
"Sternly the officer barked out, ‘Look here! If these men see you refusing to work at sunset and they mutiny, you will be held responsible, and you will be liable to be shot. . . . You’ll be taught not to mutiny today. Back to work.’"
In the midst of his desperate struggle, when that soldier began to falter inwardly, he felt encouraged at the thought that he was not going through those trials alone. He knew that eleven other Adventist brethren were in the same furnace of affliction. Constant prayer was his main source of strength.
When the black and lonely Friday was coming to a close, he said to a senior guard, "I’m sorry, but I can work no longer today." Instantly several guards grabbed him and dragged him behind some sacks of oats out of sight of the other prisoners, where they mistreated him. Then they chained him and thrust him into a small cell.
"An officer came to me," he continued, "and said in a somewhat conciliatory tone:
"‘Your companions have all come to their senses and are quietly working now. I’m sorry you are so misguided as to bring this punishment on yourself. Why not change your mind, and give up this impracticable Sabbath idea, as your friends have done?’
"‘I cannot be untrue to my beliefs, even if the others have been,’ I replied.
"As the guard’s steps died away, I began to think in the silence of the solitude: surely all my companions could not have failed. Yet I ought to have heard them, I thought, had they been in the adjoining cells. After a few minutes, I whistled softly two bars of the hymn, ‘The Lord is my light, my joy, and my song.’ No answer. Gloom began to settle on me. But I whistled the bars again, and a little louder. Suddenly came the next bar from the adjoining cell. The song of the angels could hardly have been sweeter to the shepherds than was that whistled hymn which told me my companions had by God’s grace endured another Sabbath test, and were all still rejoicing in Jesus." (Condensed from the book Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War.)
Other brethren who also got a very grueling treatment in prison told their experiences as follows:
Since they refused to work on the Sabbath, they were driven like wild beasts to the cells amid much cursing and the cracking of whips. There they were immediately handcuffed and, as the manacles were too small, they consequently tore the flesh on the backs of their hands. And then the sergeants made sport of them and punched all over their bodies.
Those young men were also subjected to what was called "number one field punishment" or "shot drill." This torment consisted in having heavy weights placed upon their backs and chests, with which they were made to run from place to place for one hour.
One of those soldiers was declared to be the ringleader and was handled with so much cruelty and violence that he collapsed and foamed at the mouth. He did not die, as it was feared he would, but he was ill for some time.
Friday morning, they were all lined up before the sergeant major, who asked what they had decided concerning the Sabbath which was before them. As they said that it was their duty to obey God rather than men, keeping the Lord’s day holy, they were sent back to their cells quietly. The punishment they received was solitary confinement with bread and water only, together with one hour’s shot drill daily, for seven days.
The next Sabbath, as those Adventist soldiers refused to break the law of God, they received the same type of punishment as before, which was extended for two weeks. It seemed to them that it was only a matter of time and they would all die in prison. They prayed to the Lord continually that He would give them strength to bear the test.
On a Friday, at the end of the fourteen-day period, a prison official was sent to talk to them separately. He said to each one that all others had given in, "so you might just as well do the same." This was the severest test that came upon them at a time when they were physically very weak through starvation and exhaustion. But God inspired each one of them with sufficient valor to reply: "Even if I am alone, I will continue obeying God rather than men. I will keep also His holy Sabbath." Then one or two of the group began to whistle a hymn, and soon they were all whistling, assuring one another that they were all loyal to God. In answer to prayer, their strength was renewed day by day. (Condensed and adapted from the book Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War.)
When the hostilities were breaking out in Europe, the leaders of the Romanian Union of the SDA Church encouraged its members to take part in the war. In a declaration issued (August 4, 1914) by P. P. Paulini and G. Danila, respectively president and secretary of the Union, they said:
"Those members who are called to serve in the army should not lose sight of the fact that, in time of war, all must fully perform their duties. From Joshua 6, we see that the children of God bore arms and that they fulfilled their military duties even on the Sabbath day. . . . Therefore, in a special meeting with our leaders, which was attended by a large number of fellow believers who had been called to bear arms, we came to the conclusion that all members should cooperate in the above spirit."
The following decision was later published in a denominational paper in Romania:
"We, the Conference of the Romanian Seventh-day Adventists, make known the biblical standpoint that military service and the call to bear arms is a duty imposed by the state, to whom God has rightfully given authority, according toand .
"This same stand was also taken by the General Conference Committee during their meeting of November 1915. So, in this matter the different countries in the world have complete liberty, of their own, to continue meeting these legal requirements as they have done until now." –Curierul Misionar, 1916, No. 3, p. 35.
The combatant position taken by the Adventist leadership caused much confusion also in Romania, and the faithful few who stood in defense of the law of God suffered much abuse at the hands of the leaders–not only criticism and defamation, but also disfellowshipment and persecution. Betrayed to the authorities, they were separated from one another, imprisoned, and tortured (only God knows how many died under these circumstances), while the regular members, following the recommendations of the church leaders, had no problem, because they were prepared to do what all others were doing. The leaders explained the official position of the church as follows:
"We have had cases in which the brethren in Germany asked: ‘What must we do in war?’ The answer was: ‘Remain faithful to God, but do what everyone else is doing.’ And what happened? Where the soldiers could get permission to rest on Sunday and keep it holy, our soldiers went to their officers with the request: ‘We ask you to give us Saturday off. . . .’ But where no one could think of holidays, it would have been a strange attitude for our brethren to ask permission to keep the Sabbath." –Ibid., p. 37.
As it happened in other European countries, it also happened in Romania. Some conscientious objectors distinguished themselves as heroes. Gheorghe Panaitescu reported the following experiences:
"When Romania entered the war, 1916, in one regiment three faithful Adventists were sentenced to be executed by a firing squad because they had refused to serve as combatants. One of the three was called and ordered to dig his grave. Then, as he was standing on the edge of the hole, the officer appealed to him: ‘Soldier, because of your position as conscientious objector, you have been condemned to be shot. But, before you fall backwards into the hole, you are given a short moment to meditate upon what you are going to do. Consider your family. If you want to escape being shot to death, take your gun and go to the front. Not all soldiers are killed in battle. Many will return home and be with their families. Think about it quickly.’ That brother said he had already thought about it a long time before and was determined to remain firm in his position, because he could not act against his conscience. When the officer saw the resoluteness of the brother, he said to him: ‘Follow me,’ and he led him away. A shot was fired into the air, the hole was filled up, and a bit of blood of an animal was spilled on the ground nearby.
"Then the second brother was called and the same appeal was made to him with the following warning: ‘You see, your brother is dead and buried in this first hole because of his stubbornness, and this second hole is reserved for you in case you continue showing the same stubborn attitude.’ This other man said: ‘If my brother remained faithful to Christ unto death, I will also remain faithful to Him who taught us to love one another, because I don’t want to forfeit the crown of life.’ The same procedure was repeated. Again a shot was fired into the air, the hole was covered, and a few drops of blood were sprinkled on top.
"When the third brother was called, the officer said to him, pointing to the two covered holes: ‘This is where the bodies of your two brothers lie. They lost their lives because of their obstinacy. But you still have a chance to save your life. It’s easy. Take your gun and fulfill your military duties to avoid being shot to death. After the end of the war you can live in peace and happily follow your religion.’ This third man began to think. Then he hesitated for a little while. And finally he declared himself ready to bear arms, go to the front, and do as all other combatants were doing. The officer said to him: ‘We must shoot you, because you are not faithful to your God as your two brethren were. You are a hypocrite and a coward. If you do not serve your God, we have no confidence that you will serve our government. You will shoot into the air, and when in danger you will play into the hands of the enemy. Your two brethren, who maintained their decision and remained faithful to the end, have survived; but you will be executed.’ He then ordered the firing squad to shoot.
"The two survivors who did not deny their faith were put to work in the fields and were sent home after the end of the war. That is when the whole story became known among the brethren in Romania."
Here is another interesting case that was reported by Brother Panaitescu. Because of his religious convictions, which did not allow him to be a combatant, a faithful Adventist brother was condemned to death by the military court. Standing with his back turned toward his grave, he asked permission to pray for the last time on this earth. Kneeling down, he prayed aloud imploring God to be merciful to his executioners and forgive all those who were responsible for the death sentence that was being applied. Before he finished his prayer, a high officer happened to pass by and asked what was going on.
"Who gave orders to shoot this man? and for what reason?"
In a few words, the soldiers explained the problem: "He will be executed because, as a conscientious objector, he says he cannot break the law of God. This means that he will not bear arms or do any secular work on Saturdays."
"This man shall not die," said the officer. "He will go with me to the military court, and I will defend him."
This is the gist of the appeal that the officer made in court, in defense of that faithful believer:
"Here we have a great man before us. A man who is conscientious in the fulfillment of his religious duties, and who would rather die than break the commandments of God, is a great man. This is the kind of men that Romania needs, and we don’t have machines to manufacture them in one day. Not all competent men go to the front. Many things must be done all over the country, far away from the firing line. There are men who were not born to kill–men who have their religious convictions–men who can be a blessing to mankind in many other occupations. It is in the best interest of the country not to put such men to death, but to preserve their lives."
In some cases, God was honored in delivering His faithful servants in a miraculous way; in other cases God was honored in giving His faithful servants strength and resignation to suffer martyrdom. Whichever way God chooses, He knows what He is doing. May His name be honored and glorified!
Also in Russia there was a minority of Adventist believers who, because of religious convictions, refused to take part in the war. We read in an Adventist book:
Some time after the war broke out, our leaders in Russia learned that the government had sentenced about seventy of our brethren to ‘hard labor in chains, with terms of from two to sixteen years.’ Thousands of young men of other denominations were serving similar sentences. But God’s loving eye was following these suffering Christians. He saw their fettered hands and heard their cries of anguish. He brought deliverance in an unexpected way. The régime of the ages went down, a new one was set up, ‘and . . . the new government issued decrees for the liberation of conscientious objectors and their exemption from the using of arms.’" –Matilda Erickson Andross, Story of the Advent Message, pp. 173, 174.
Besides these 70, there must have been other true Adventists whose faith and courage were severely tried.
A new convert, whose heart was filled with the first love, proved to be a hero among other heroes of the faith. After he was released from prison, he told his story:
"I had tried to explain that it was against my religious principles to carry arms, but that I would serve my country to the best of my ability in any other capacity. But nobody paid any attention. At last our company was called out, and we were lined up before the long line of arms. The order was given to pick up guns. There was a gun lying before each man. All bent over at the command. Only I remained standing there erect, praying earnestly for sufficient grace to be given at this crucial moment.
"The officer quickly asked, ‘Did you not understand?’
"After an affirmative answer from me, he asked again, ‘Well, is it not necessary then to obey orders?’ and angrily, ‘What is this new idea?’
"By this time all eyes were fixed on me. I felt that I must reply, but as I began to speak, the officer commanded me to take the gun, no talking being necessary.
"‘I can not,’ I said.
"He quickly drew out his sword, holding it in a position to strike, and said angrily, ‘You know the law.’
"Then, turning to an underofficer, he said, ‘I shall kill him, for I must be obeyed.’
"I really expected the sword to come down on my neck in one fatal blow, and yet someway I was not one bit afraid. That uplifted sword meant no more to me than if it were a piece of paper. For some moments he maintained this position. Then as if he had a command to sheathe his sword–I doubt not that it was a real command from our heavenly Father–he lowered his sword and ordered some soldiers to take me to the lockup.
"It was February, and very cold. The prison to which I was taken was an old broken-down place. Everything was taken away from me but my Bible and an old, worn-out blanket, which was altogether insufficient covering when wrapped about me on the cold bare floor, with blasts of winter coming in through many crevices. I took a severe cold, and began coughing blood . . . and I was released without further questioning.
"Five or six days later all the soldiers in our barracks were awakened at night by an officer who brought in a notice that I was to appear at some place of trial and be judged. . . . I knew that according to law my sentence would be death, or lifelong imprisonment in Siberia, so I felt that I must witness for my Master now. Nearly every evening the boys asked me to talk to them. . . .
"One day the priest came in, and in every way tried to persuade me to change my views. When he saw that it was useless to argue longer, he became very angry, and addressed the soldiers around us, saying, ‘Children, do not listen to this man. Do not speak with him. He is a leper.’ But this simply amused the boys, and they were more eager to have me talk with them. . . .
"Finally, I was taken to be judged. The charge against me was read, namely, my refusal to bear arms. . . . My sentence read, ‘Eighteen years in Siberia. The first two in heavy chains. The next eight in heavy work and close confinement. The remaining eight in government employ.’ After these eighteen years I could return, but not to any city, and was to report to some police station every week. . . .
"I was immediately handcuffed and led to prison, waiting to be sent to Siberia. . . . [Meanwhile,] I was kept in very close confinement with the poorest, scantiest fare imaginable. . . .
"I was in this prison until April 29, 1917, when the government was changed, and the old despotic rule of the czar fell. . . . Under these new circumstances I met a dear brother of the same faith, also imprisoned on the same charge. We spent many happy hours together in Bible study and prayer. When our cases were settled, he was freed and sent home, and I was asked to continue my service in the army, but was given noncombatant work." –W. A. Spicer, Providences of the Great War, pp. 129—131.
During World War I, many Adventists went through trials and persecutions also in other ways which were not directly connected with the military question. And the Lord often showed His powerful hand to save the faithful ones who put their confidence entirely in Him.
A Russian general, for example, had threatened to banish all the Adventists from a Latvian town and to kill all those who decided to remain. It happened that on the very day that he had set to carry out his decision, he was deposed and was ordered to report to the headquarters. On that day, which was a Sabbath, the brethren were fasting and praying, and the Lord defeated the plans of that wicked general.
In another place in Russia, the judge, with the help of the local priest, had vowed that "no Adventist should be allowed to set his foot in the territory" under his jurisdiction. But the revolution broke out, and that wicked judge, who had wronged the people by his arbitrary rule, was seized by the mob and hanged on a tree.
In this country, conscientious objectors were generally, but not always, accorded exemption rights by the military authorities. When the United States entered into World War I, a number of Adventist soldiers were subjected to severe trials because of their stand as conscientious objectors. We quote:
"There were times when the very existence of our work was threatened by those who were in military authority, concerning the misunderstandings and false reports sent to government headquarters. The federal department of justice received over ten thousand complaints against us, our published literature, and our work, during the first six months of war.
"Many of our boys had to suffer terrible abuses at the hands of military officers and private soldiers for their loyalty to religious principles. . . . The Sabbath was the greatest test of all for our young men in the army. More than one hundred of our young men were court-martialed for refusing to do military duty on the Sabbath day. Over thirty were sentenced to Fort Leavenworth, as military prisoners, whose sentences ranged from ten to fifty years of imprisonment at hard work.
"Their troubles had just begun when they were sent to Leavenworth. The military prison officials endeavored to compel our young men to work on the Sabbath at ordinary labor crushing stones. Of course, they could no more do this kind of labor in prison than they could do it out of prison in the military camps.
"The prison officials endeavored to coerce them by meting dire punishments upon them. For refusing to work on the Sabbath, they were deprived of their daily rations and given only a few slices of bread and water, and the amount of stone they were to crush was greatly increased per day, and at night they were confined to underground dungeons and strapped on bare hardwood planks for their beds, and exposed to the dampness and the cold. This punishment lasted for two weeks. If they refused to work the second time upon the Sabbath day, they were put upon still smaller rations, and their hands were handcuffed behind their backs around the prison bars of their cells on a level almost with their shoulders, and in this awkward standing position without any relief they were compelled to stand for nine hours each day. Others were confined in dirty dark cells for months where they were unable to stand upright or lie down without being cramped for room." –F. C. Gilbert, Divine Predictions Fulfilled, pp. 397—399.
Appeals were made to Senator W. G. Harding, who later became the 29th President of the United States and, through his assistance, those Adventist military prisoners were released from that inhuman form of punishment and were exempted from Sabbath labor in prison. They were finally released from prison parole.
It is encouraging to know that some faithful Christians, following their personal convictions, decided to obey God rather than men and that they were prepared to suffer even martyrdom for Christ’s sake, if necessary. We have no controversy with these conscientious believers, although we may not agree with them on every point. However, according to evidence included in this book, the reader will see that the official position adopted by the Adventist Church as a church is completely different from the independent stand taken by those serious-minded Adventists as individuals.