From All Saints until Veterans Day, I’m posting a blog series on soldier saints at Centurions Guild. “Ten Saints, Ten Days” explores ten lives, their context, and their relevance to soldiers today. In the Bible, the number ten signifies completion and wholeness—something many soldiers today do not feel. The moral complexity of their service is too often brushed away with a quick “thank you” or an upgrade to first class. But soldiers’ experiences, their testimonies, are part and parcel to the integrity of the church—especially in this time of war.
A theologically credible account of war requires the voice of soldiers, the actual bodies that participate in it.
A recent episode of PBS’s American Experience explored how the massive number of deaths in the Civil War sent the nation into shock. The catastrophe—750,000 dead—was equivalent to the U.S. suffering 7 million deaths today. Besides evoking this ghastly experience, Ric Burns’s film Death and the Civil War (reviewed here in the New York Times), which is based on Drew Gilpin’s book The Republic of Suffering, offers a fascinating perspective on current political debates over the size and scope of the federal government.
The fourth of July joins Memorial Day and Veterans day as the three times a year I feel out of step with the rest of American culture. While I’m grateful for my country’s freedoms and opportunities, and I want to mourn with those who mourn the losses of war, I cannot participate in rituals that glorify war.
On Easter Sunday, Jake Tapper interviewed Rick Warren on ABC’s This Week, asking the influential pastor a series of questions on faith and politics. Of particular interest were his comments on soldiers and war (which did not make it into the aired segment but are available here). At the end of the interview, Warren exclaimed, “God hates war, but loves every soldier.”
As a combat veteran, I was impressed by and grateful for Warren’s statement. The Bible makes clear that war is at best a necessary evil--the idea at the core of the just war tradition. And yes: God loves each and every soldier. But I want to look more closely at the latter thought, especially in light of the suicide epidemic that currently afflicts our nation’s veterans and soldiers.