First Assembly



We are pleased to be able to announce that the first National Assembly to Honor Freedom of Conscience will gather here in Austin, the first weekend of Oct. Living by the rule of conscience was the foundational element in the dream that became the United States of America. Like those persons who crafted the documents that structure our republic, we continue to validate the critical significance of this principle as well as discover the implications of it.

The nurturing contributions made to our community emerge from persons who dare to follow the wisdom of their heart. Such wisdom acknowledges the common nature of all human beings who live on this planet. We know the kind of behaviors that bring fulfillment and contentment to us, and we know what frightens us and causes us to suffer. And within our hearts we know that this truth is common to every other person, regardless of their culture or their circumstance.

Persons of conscience embrace this knowledge. This knowledge informs their choices of what they will think, how they will act. Persons of conscience know that what they do impacts others. The choice to depend upon relationship rather than violence to resolve conflict dramatically demonstrates an intentional decision to yield to wisdom of the heart. We have organized this assembly to be a celebration that not only affirms, honors, and encourage persons who have the vision and courage to refuse war but also clarifies the motivations for defending freedom of conscience.

Our special guests will be Dr. Walter Wink and his wife, June. Walter has both written about and practiced active non-violent resistance to force used to impose a solution for conflict that benefits only the most powerful. In our hearts we too know that imposing solutions will never lead to peace because it is unjust. We are indeed fortunate to be able to share this weekend with Walter and June.

Thank you for your interest in and support of this event. We believe it will bring new enlightenment and resolution to us all as we seek the way to live in harmony with the intention of the great holy mystery, the source of all life.

October 3-5, 2008

Austin, Texas

To affirm, honor, and encourage persons who have the vision and courage to refuse war, and to clarify the motivations for defending freedom of conscience.


Dr. Walter Wink, Theologian, Activist, Author; Keynote Address

Gene Stoltzfus, Founding Director, Christian Peacemaker Teams; Opening Address

Col. Ann Wright, Author, Dissent: Voices of Conscience; Closing address

June Wink, Artist

Sherry Glover, Co-coordinator, Texas Military Families Speak Out


Antiwar Literature in Historical Context (Michael Sirmons)  

Confronting the Powers That Be — “Principalities” Without and Within (Doug Zachary and Hart Vigas)

Dissent and propaganda/Politics and delusion: Challenges and choices at the end of the empire (Robert Jenson)


Movement and Meditation: Releasing the Creative Spirit (June Wink)

Panel Discussion:

What leads us to be Conscientious and Where is Conscientious Objection leading? (Panel Members)

Description of seminars and workshop

Antiwar Literature in Historical Context, presented by Michael Sirmons
We will examine antiwar fiction (Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer”) and poetry from the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War (especially World War I poetry: Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, e. e. cummings). The program will include excerpts from Benjamin Britten’s opera “War Requiem.” Contains graphic imagery and language. Handouts will be included.

Confronting the Powers That Be — “Principalities” Without and Within, presented by Doug Zachary and Hart Viges
Hart Viges (US Army 2001-2003) and Doug Zachary (US Marines 1968-1970), both military veterans discharged “Honorably” as Conscientious Objectors, are sensing – and proposing — a shift in our collective and individual consciousness to one that will see ourselves as At One With Each Other and as integrated pieces of the overall life system on Earth. They share a belief that humanity is engaged in an evolution of our consciousness that will lead to new personal identities, new belief systems, and new institutions. They are hopeful that these changes in the way we see and describe the world and our place in it will lead to a more wide-spread Freedom of Conscience and to the eventual elimination of war as well as many other forms of alienation and oppression.
Hart is President of the Austin chapter of the Iraq Veterans Against the War and Doug is President of the Austin chapter of Veterans For Peace. Together they recently launched a discussion with rural and small-town Texas citizens regarding “Christ and Empire – Then and Now.” They are both engaged in outreach activities with active-duty military personnel, encouraging soldiers to ask themselves deep questions regarding their conscience and their relationship with the State.

Dissent and propaganda/Politics and delusion: Challenges and choices at the end of the empire, presented by Robert Jensen
When governmental and corporate institutions have at their disposal the sophisticated tools developed in the Delusional Revolution of the 20
th century (the third of the great revolutions in human history), what does it mean to dissent? What risks do those of us with privilege really take when we speak and assemble in the United States today? Is the public expression of dissent meaningful in the contemporary world, or has it become just another spectacle? Are there other channels for progressive energy that are potentially more effective? And, what does this mean for the political choices we must face in the coming years as the power of the U.S. empire fades? These are the troubling questions that Robert Jensen will address in his discussion of freedom of conscience in the 21st century in the most affluent society in the history of the world. What does freedom mean in a mass-marketed/mass-mediated/mass-medicated society?

Movement and Meditation:  Releasing the Creative Spirit, presented by June Wink
The movement will seek to heal the ancient split between physical and spiritual that fractures our being and sets us at odds with our bodies.  We will explore new ways to release depths of feeling and creativity in relationship to ourselves, others, and the divine.  This is a movement experience for everyone regardless of age, sex, physical ability or disability.  It is an invitation to those of you who have not explored movement before.  It is an invitation to you who feel uncomfortable moving.  We focus on our own experiences; we will not be watching or judging the experience of others.  The approach is gentle with some meditative background music.  You will be encouraged to find your own natural way of moving.  You will be encouraged to move because it is enjoyable, not because it will be good for you in the future.  Participants are asked to wear loose fitting comfortable clothing.

What Leads Us to Be Conscientious and Where Is Conscientious Objection Leading?Panel Members: Thad Crouch, Ray Gingerich, Tomas Heikkala, Mike Nordstrom Panelists will reveal personal experiences, values, feelings and deep questions that lead to nonviolence and various forms of conscientious objection, including objecting to war tax resistance and selective conscientious objection. There will also be a discussion on how non-military communities and congregations can creatively support CO’s and even become CO’s themselves. Participants will be given tools to examine their own values and to spark their imaginations for living conscientiously and envisioning a future of conscientious individuals and communities. 

Program Scenario

Friday, October 3 Central Presbyterian Church

5-8pRegistration; receive packet, name tag, t-shirt

Photo/story Gallery open; Displays open; Bookstore open

Dinner on your own

8pAssembly session, Opening address; see Session Description

Photo/story Gallery open; Displays open; Bookstore open

Saturday, October 4 Central Presbyterian Church, unless noted otherwise

9aSeminars/Workshop; see Descriptions and Location Guide

10:15aBreak w/refreshments; Gallery, Displays, and Bookstore open

11aAssembly session, Keynote address; see Session Description

Noon Lunch on your own; Gallery, Displays, Bookstore open; extra t-shirts ($5/ea) and pens ($2/ea) on sale

2p Seminars/Workshops; see Descriptions and Location Guide

3:15pBreak w/refreshments; Gallery, Displays, Bookstore open

3:45pSeminars/Workshops; see Descriptions and Location Guide

Service Project prep and activity

Dinner on your own

7pMovie, Body of War, co-produced by Dr. Ellen Spiro, Associate Professor, Univ of Texas Department of Radio-TV-Film

Sunday, October 5 Wooldridge Square Park, 9th and Guadalupe St

Worship in local faith communities, as desired, and

9a-3p Labyrinth Journey, individual prayer/meditation/ritual walk, see Guidance for the Labyrinth Journey

10aAssembly session, Wooldridge Park, 9th and Guadalupe; Closing address; see Session Description

NoonWooldridge Park Picnic (need name tag as ‘ticket’), full service, catered by Rudy’s BBQ and Veggie Heaven (Chinese vegan)

2pClosing gathering; see Session Description

Story  Conscientious Objectors during WWI, before there was any option for them to be exempted.

Some of these persons objected for nonreligious reasons, some were socialists, some totally refused any corporation with the military institution, some went on hunger strikes.

Among those objecting to military service because of religious conviction were four Hutterite draftees from South Dakota—David Hofer, Joseph Wipf, and brothers Joseph and Michael Hofer. These were perhaps the most severely treated. They were court-maritaled at Camp Lewis, Washington, then imprisoned at Alcatraz. There they continued to refuse to wear a military uniform, persisting even when placed in a dungeon on a bread and water diet and given no other clothing except the uniforms.

After being weakened by the ordeal they were transferred to Leavenworth. Because of the harsh treatment they had received, the Hofer brothers thereafter died while in prison. As a final insult to these men who courageously honored their commitment to refuse war, prison officials sent their bodies back to their home dressed in military uniforms.

Assembly Working Group:

Doug Longenecker  Paul Snow  Sarah Abraham

Heidi Ratzlaff Xiong  Ray Gingerich  Steve Friesen

Jared Diener  Ron Diener  Walter Wright

Michael Sirmons  Rudy Anderson  Werner Severin

Micheal McEvoy  Ruth Ann Abraham  Garland Robertson



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