Oscar-winning film shows importance of respecting conscience

Andrew Garfield stars as ‘Desmond Doss’ in Hacksaw Ridge. Photo: Mark Rogers

Hacksaw Ridge tells the incredible true story of a conscientious objector who saved 75 men in one of the bloodiest conflicts in World War II – without ever firing a gun.

Its message on the importance of conscience is as vital in 2017 as it was in 1945.

Today, in situations that are not life and death, conscience is being disregarded. Hacksaw Ridge should make us think again.


The double-Oscar winning film focuses on Desmond Doss who – because of his understanding of the biblical commandment, “You shall not murder” – refused to take up arms for his country.

However, he fiercely believed that he wanted to help and so took to the battlefield in a medical capacity.

Desmond Doss
Desmond Doss

Sent to Okinawa in the Pacific to what would become a site of intense horror, Doss evacuated many wounded men from the battlefield at great personal danger.

He saved 75 lives, and became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Intense battle scenes

The film, rated 15, has been described as featuring “some of the most brutal depictions of war ever put to screen”. The BBFC states: “There are extended and intense battle scenes in which many soldiers are killed or wounded.”

Desmond Doss was a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA), who see themselves as a Protestant denomination.

…the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor

Biblical Christianity

SDAs are most well-known for observing Saturday as a day of rest.

They have a number of views which seriously differ from biblical Christianity (see below), but despite that, Christians can learn from Doss’ example in Hacksaw Ridge.

Although most Christians would not share his pacifist views on war, some prominent evangelicals have taken a similar stand. Ernest Kevan – the first Principal of London Bible College – missionary Jim Elliot and public school camp leader EJH Nash were all pacifists.

Conscience attacked

And today, conscience is under attack from multiple angles. Most prominently in the UK is the case of the McArthur family, the owners of Ashers Baking Company.

Desmond Doss receiving the Medal of Honor
Desmond Doss receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor

Their decision to turn down an order for a cake that said “Support Gay Marriage” led to them being sued.

The Christian Institute is supporting Ashers through this challenging time, but instead of costly court cases, how much better it would have been if their conscience could have been respected.

Christian registrar

Another case is that of the late Lillian Ladele. She was a Christian registrar who had a conscientious objection to same-sex civil partnerships.

a powerful film, based on a true story, about an incredible individual
Colin Hart

Lillian was eventually forced out of her job over the issue. The Christian Institute supported her all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. But judges rejected her argument.

Director of The Christian Institute, Colin Hart, said: “Hacksaw Ridge is a powerful film, based on a true story, about an incredible individual who acted courageously in saving so many soldiers’ lives.

Outstanding courage

“It is a violent film and someone thinking about watching it should take that into consideration.

“But it shows the outstanding courage of a conscientious objector. Surely it teaches us that conscience should be respected.

“If a nation can respect conscience at a time of national emergency, in a life and death situation of war, how much more should a nation respect conscience in business and work in a time of peace?”

What do Seventh day Adventists believe?

Beliefs of individual Seventh Day Adventists vary widely. Their relative orthodoxy varies from nation to nation, and while holding to the Trinity, the substitutionary death, resurrection, return and judgement day of Christ, here are some differences that evangelical Christians should be aware of:

• SDAs believe the proper day of worship is Saturday not Sunday.
• They do not believe that hell is eternal, but that the souls of the wicked cease to exist.
• Ellen G. White (1827-1915) is regarded as a messenger from God with prophetic authority.
• They believe in an ‘investigative judgement’ as part of Christ’s atoning ministry in heaven, in which he reveals the sincerity of those who profess to be believers.