Conscientious Objector Speaks About Realities of War

By Heather Bowser, Daily News-Record

MJ Sharp, EMU grad
EMU grad MJ Sharp at chapel on Wednesday. Photo by Jim Bishop

When M.J. Sharp graduated from EMU in 2005, his conscientious objection to war was “merely academic.”

But over the last two years, all that has changed, he said.

Since leaving the Friendly City, Sharp has worked as a counselor with the Military Counseling Network in Heidelberg, Germany. When soldiers question their desire to fight, they call Sharp and his crew to talk about it.

The work, he said, has made war “personal” to him, and has helped him understand and embrace his faith’s pacifist views.

“Every time I hear about the realities of war and how [the soldiers] experience it, my objection is not so much academic any more,” Sharp said. “It’s not just a theological argument. It’s real.”

On Wednesday, Sharp, now 25, returned to EMU to make the first of dozens of planned stops across America where he will share his work experiences. For the next seven weeks, Sharp will visit schools and churches – many of them Mennonite – to raise money for the network and also to help build the bridge between “Peace People” and “War People.”

“When we hear the stories and when we see the faces of soldiers, we might actually start to feel something,” he said. “We might decide we want to do more than just talk about it.”

The Stories

On Wednesday, Sharp told the 150-member audience stories from two of his clients.

The first was a story about a 23-year-old soldier, Sharp’s first client on the job.

The young man was working two jobs and taking classes at his local community college. One day, a military recruiter approached him, offering $40,000 for college. Short on cash, the man took the offer and joined the U.S. Army.

Then, while serving in the Middle East, the soldier had to kill someone, Sharp said.

“Killing someone is a personal thing,” Sharp said the soldier told him. “You have to live with it afterwards. And you don’t do it for college money.”

Sharp’s second story was similar.

This man, a 20-year-old soldier who also served in Iraq, came to Sharp to talk about the first time he saw a dead civilian, who had been run over by a tank. The soldier also talked about the first time he killed someone.

“It was personal to him,” Sharp said. “Despite his training, he wasn’t able to make it nonpersonal. He knew he was done [serving in the military].”

“War has the power to transform,” Sharp said. “It doesn’t matter if you are in the military or not, doesn’t matter if you’re Mennonite or not. War has the power to transform you.”

Audience Reaction

Several audience members commented they liked hearing Sharp’s perspective.

“I appreciated learning about how war is a personal thing and how violence affects people,” said Lars Akerson, a 21-year-old EMU senior.

Luke Drescher, 72, of Harrisonburg, said Sharp’s presented the faith’s nonresistant pacifism well.

“The military finds the Mennonites unpatriotic and the Mennonites find the military ungodly,” said Katie Zook, a 19-year-old freshman, who says she is not a Mennonite. “I liked how he talked about a great middle ground of working with the military. Jesus himself worked with the military.”