There are good men (and certainly at least a few women) who have been slipping through the cracks within our military. Too often service members are not made fully aware of their rights under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Sgt. Travis Bishop, out of Ft. Hood, Texas (you can read his story here and here), came to the understanding that war went against his Christian beliefs. Tragically, he was forced to walk the lonely road of doubt and uncertainty, plagued by thoughts of betraying his convictions in order to serve our country. Without knowing it, he came to be a conscientious objector (CO).
Regardless of whether one approves of his beliefs, nobody may argue against the fact that we have been blessed (for the most part) to live in a nation that protects the interests of its minorities (or is legally obligated to, at least), including COs. Unfortunately, Bishop was not made aware of Army Regulation 600-43 or Department of Defense Directive 1300.6, both of which outline the legal process by which one may be fully recognized as an objector to war in all its forms. This is not just, and does not reflect the standard I was brought up to bear as a soldier.
Bishop was court-martialed for having gone AWOL due to his (constitutionally protected) religious beliefs. He has been sentenced to one year in the brig, a reduction in rank and pay, and given a bad conduct discharge. Again, before we jump to conclusions, I remind the reader that the church has a rich and beautiful history of soldier saints who left the front lines (like Martin of Tours at Worms in 336 C.E.), as well as patriot pacifists (such as Doss and Bennett); even military deserters (such as a certain young pope from a certain military).
Interestingly, a similar sentiment is possibly reflected in the gospels themselves. Remember Luke 3, at the river Jordan? "Some soldiers," pagans in the midst of a Jewish ritual in occupied Palestine, seek out John the Baptizer (their enemy) for advice. The fact of their relatively scattered presence must not be overlooked. The term "some" may refer to a contubernium, the smallest Roman unit of 10 soldiers. However, even by modern standards, it is highly unlikely that a group of even 10 would wander away from their forward operating base (perhaps Fort Antonia on the grounds of Herod's Temple) into extremely hostile territory to gawk at an ethnically/religiously charged ritual. You couldn't pay me enough to risk death (or discharge, for that matter) with a couple of buddies in Iraq to seek the advice of a guy who ate crickets and dressed in camel skins. Those guys were AWOL, sure as the sun they sweated under.
You can hear more of Travis' story through YouTube, where his lawyer posted videos to document his story before he was shipped off to confinement. The path of a genuinely pious patriot is always difficult, but it should never be lonely. A few friends and I work to keep this kind of thing from happening, but we failed to be able to provide care for this young man and fellow centurion. If you know of someone wrestling through their allegiances to God and Caesar, please put them in touch with us. We'll try to keep stuff like this from happening again, so that fellow airmen, marines, sailors, and soldiers know they are not alone and that other people really believe that the red letters ultimately trump the dotted line.