Veteran’s Day: A theological view

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In my book Go Golden, I write about war and peace, because warfare is the polar opposite of enacting the golden rule. Yet, here in the U.S. (and in other powerful nations) the military is constantly front and center in society.  One way in which militarism is perpetuated is the near deification of the military and its members with all of the hero-worship that goes on in the media, in sports, and by politicians. This is a tactic to make warfare the norm, to make members of the military (and the police by extension) into a group that is above reproach. It is blatant propaganda used to convince the unwitting citizenry that the military keeps them safe while ensuring that our “freedoms” remain in tact, despite the fact that none of those things is true. America hasn’t been invaded by a foreign power since 1812 (Pearl Harbor was an attack, not an invasion) but has invaded, bombed, occupied, and robbed dozens upon dozens of nations in its quest for global dominance and the perpetuation of the “American way of life,” which by the way is destroying the planet.

From a theological perspective, it is absolutely imperative to state that Jesus of Nazareth was a pacifist. The Gospel record makes this abundantly clear. Jesus promoted pacifism and non-retaliation even in the face of an oppressive Roman Empire that was occupying his homeland and brutally repressing his fellow Jews. He promoted a form of nonviolent, direct action to highlight injustice and when he was arrested, brutally beaten, and ultimately crucified as an enemy of a Roman state that used crucifixion as a form of terrorism, he still prayed that God would forgive all of those responsible. He told his followers that anyone who claimed to follow him would have to take up their cross to do so. That means enacting nonviolence and a staunch refusal to retaliate even under the most extreme duress. That’s a tough ask for anyone, even for those who aspire to Christ-like pacifism. God, give me strength…

It is also important to know that the early church followed Jesus’ pacifism. Christians, knowing that they were called by Christ to be peacemakers, to love both enemy and neighbor, and to avoid pagan idolatry, could/would not serve in the military of an empire rooted in violence, paganism, and the deification of the emperor. All of these things were in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus, for whom there is no such thing as a “just war.” The merging of a persecuted church with the Roman empire by Constantine seriously undermined the church’s early adherence to Jesus’ teachings so that now, all these centuries later we have empire Christianity running amok and ostensibly Christian ministers espousing authoritarianism, promoting American warfare, and calling for people to have more guns. Folks like Jerry Falwell Jr., and Franklin Graham would be sorely surprised to meet Jesus today.

On November 9, 1990 in San Diego, CA, Senior Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Stanley Becton dismissed platoon 2073 after 13 weeks of arduous physical training, mental stress, bodily fatigue, and learning to brutally maim or kill our brothers and sisters from other nations. I was in that platoon, having signed enlistment papers as a seventeen year old high school senior, and then flying to California in August of 1990 to fulfill my obligation, and to get as far away from my abusive mother as possible. While there my platoon mates and I marched for hours on the parade deck, aka “The Grinder,” ran and humped (forced marches) countless miles, and learned to “locate, close with, and destroy my enemies.” We spent hours in hand to hand combat training where among other violent moves, we were taught to perform a leg sweep followed by a boot stomp that the drill instructor explicitly stated that our goal was to “peel off the side of the enemy’s face” with our combat boots. We spent a week “snapping in” and dry firing our M-16A2 service rifles before heading to the rifle range where we fired round after round at 200, 300, and 500 yards. My last time on the rifle range as an active duty Marine, I put 9/10 into the bulls-eye at 500 yards with the open sighted M-16. We also learned how to use our rifles as blunt force weapons with fixed-bayonets for slashing and stabbing to add to their lethality. On the bayonet assault course each one of us was required to literally run through the course while screaming in a deranged manner at the top of our lungs as we butt-stroked, stabbed, slashed, and otherwise attempted to bodily destroy the “enemies” stationed throughout the course.  In the film Full Metal Jacket, former real life Marine Corps D.I.,  R. Lee Ermey’s character demands to see Matthew Modine’s “war face” and then demonstrates a nearly demonic visage as he screams at Modine to show him how it’s meant to be done. That’s how all of us looked as we went through the bayonet assault course. We were trained killers, taught to dehumanize anyone the government deemed an enemy, and to follow orders instantly without any questioning. There is nothing in the Gospels to suggest that Jesus would be on board with any of these things.

I spent four years as an active duty Marine. Mercifully, I was never called upon to shoot my rifle at another human being, nor to commit any act of violence on another person. I was merely a minor cog in the demonic U.S. war machine. Despite that, I now see my time in the Marines as my biggest sin because of what I have since learned. I’d grown up in rural north Texas, in a Southern Baptist Church (a denomination founded to promote Christians enslaving Africans) and failed to understand that Jesus’ teachings were for the here and now: that we are to love everyone now, that we are to promote peace and to live it out, to be Christ-like in our words and actions. No one can do that while carrying a weapon, while serving an empire, while dehumanizing other people. We can not live into the Kindom of God while making the military an idol to be worshiped. Holidays like Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day,  and the Fourth of July all ask us to forsake Jesus in favor of militarism, violence, warfare, and making enemies out of our brothers and sisters. I adjure fellow followers of Jesus to renounce nationalism, warfare, militarism, and the hero-worship of the military and to follow Jesus instead.

The only logical conclusion to retaliatory violence is for there to be one remaining , living, human being looking around for someone else to fight…

Peace be with you.


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2 thoughts on “Veteran’s Day: A theological view

  1. Pingback: “I’m still here.” – A veteran’s story. – The Tattooed Theologian

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