For God and Country (in that Order) | Sojourners

For God and Country (in that Order)

Nobody today will be able to celebrate our many veterans without the memory of Fort Hood fresh in our collective conscience. It is a horrible irony that such an inexcusable evil took place so near one of our nation's most hallowed holidays. As a veteran myself, I reflect quite painfully on the memories of those I knew who never got the chance to become veterans; those who were robbed by lethal force of their chance to return to "the private sector."

I am fortunate to be part of a community of fellow former warriors (well, actually, one of us is still in the National Guard) who wrestle alongside me with the political implications of our shared faith. Centurion's Guild members have all, as part of our communal covenant, agreed that our service is "For God and Country (in that order)." For those who vigilantly watch the news, this statement may alarm you, since Major Hasan, the accused Fort Hood shooter, allegedly made similar statements to classmates -- that his allegiance to his religion outweighed his allegiance to America.

As troubling as it may seem, several of us can sympathize with the Major without validating his atrocious decision to use violence. After all, in our enemies, we often find hints of ourselves. It is worth noting that several of us can also identify with being subjected to harassment and ridicule on account of our peculiar religious beliefs, one reason being widely proposed as (at least partial) motivation for Hasan's indefensible actions.

In Centurion's Guild we take allegiances very seriously, but we differentiate between our national service and our faith in the God who sent the Son to die (not kill) for us. Where we would agree with Hasan's principle of distinguishing between one's national and religious service, we cannot part forcefully enough with the reasoning that violence is an acceptable means of affecting our goals. Frustratingly, we cannot know for certain what summoned Hasan to violence (well, besides his combat orders).

As we go about memorializing those who know full well the formidable debt freedom incurs, let the Church not forget the One who has already paid that debt and the body he has given us to remember that gift. Let us remember to differentiate between church and state, including their distinct histories. As Americans, we may pay our veterans homage, or reflect on Armistice, but the Church has a history that actually looks ahead to God's final armistice. We even have our own veterans that we would do well to remember, at least one of which we actually celebrate today, Martin of Tours.

Martin is a favorite of ours in the Guild, many of us regarding him as a model soldier. Martin, named after the god of war, was part of an elite force commissioned with guarding the Emperor himself (Caesar Julian in Martin's case). However, being a catechumen, he felt he could not participate in the bloodshed battle asks of all soldiers. He refused to fight at the Battle of Worms in 336 CE, but offered to be placed on the front lines nonetheless. Before his commanders could rush the seditious centurion off to certain death, the Gauls negotiated an armistice, and Martin was honorably discharged, continuing on to be the Bishop of Tours, in modern day France.

I remember being told, when I was pursuing a path not too unlike Martin's, that good Christian soldiers obeyed the commander in chief, ideologically fusing allegiances that should have been quite distinct. The person who told me this had quoted, of all things, the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" to reinforce his point. Paradoxically, I discovered that there is nothing in it that overtly supports violence, since we are to march as to war, not literally to war.

I mentioned in my last post that when the Church parrots the world's calls for retribution, we fail to reflect the peculiarity of Christ's redemptive kingdom, effectively trading piety for patriotism. Derek Webb (an artist I have profound theological respect for) has another avian figure in mind: a mockingbird, with no new song to sing. It was his music that helped me to see that "my enemies are men like me." I pray the Church has the audacity and the imagination to sing to the world a new song, one so beautiful it honors the patriots as well as the pacifists.

Merry Martinmas, everyone! Just as importantly, I hope you have a happy Veterans Day too.

portrait-logan-laituriLogan Laituri is an Army veteran with combatant service in Iraq during OIF II and experience with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel and the West Bank. He blogs sporadically and is a co-founder of Centurion's Guild.

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