PW Starred Review
Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience
Logan Mehl-Laituri. IVP Books, $15 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-8308-3652-9
In his first book, Army veteran Mehl-Laituri describes his transformation from gung-ho infantryman to conscientious objector, a journey propelled by his growing conviction that the gospel of Jesus is incompatible with the violence he witnessed while stationed in Iraq. A born-again evangelical, he mingles with and learns to love liberal Christians. A warrior who deeply honors the values of the Army, he becomes, as well, a committed peace advocate who speaks from conscience against wars that violate the very principles the Army is dedicated to upholding. Peace is patriotic, Mehl-Laituri argues, and both peace churches and evangelicals have much to learn from each other. His heart stands with soldiers, who are often either glorified or vilified, but seldom understood. Mehl-Laituri seamlessly weaves church history and facts—e.g., the word “love” occurs in the Bible 584 times, “war” only 133—into the narrative. With a well-crafted story and a compelling narrative, this book is well worth reading and rereading. (July)
Photo courtesy Pilar Timpane
Logan Mehl-Laituri, an Iraq War veteran, is both an evangelical Christian and a pacifist. In his first book, Reborn on the Fourth of July (InterVarsity Press, July), a memoir of his experiences as a soldier, pacifist and a reborn Christian, he hopes to start a conversation between people in opposing camps. Can pacifists learn to respect the military? Can evangelical Christians who support war learn to respect pacifists?
How did Reborn on the Fourth of July come about?
I first pitched the book to IVP in 200? and they rejected it. I started seminary at Duke in 2010. During orientation, the school psychiatrist said to the students, you can tell us anything—you can even tell us you killed somebody. The class burst into laughter. At that moment, as an Iraq War vet, I felt an absolute estrangement from my classmates. I spoke to the dean and the psychiatrist about how sheltered and insulated the church can become. I was intentional about articulating this at the seminary, especially as I heard some thoughtless comments about soldiers and war. As a result, I re-pitched the same book to IVP in 2011; this time they accepted it. Dave Zimmerman [at IVP] is entirely to thank in that regard. I was glad they said no initially, as I couldn’t have written the same book in 2007.
Your book builds a bridge between evangelicalism and pacifism. What challenges did you find in this?
A friend of mine said when you are a bridge everyone walks all over you. However, we need bridges because we get caught in binaries that become black and white. When you’re either a liberal or a conservative, an evangelical or a pacifist, this distracts from the spectrum of color between black and white. In reality, it must be a very short bridge between evangelicals and pacifists because those for whom war is “good news” are few. For example, the Just War doctrine is inherently pacifist; in their interest in restraining violence, Just warriors and pacifists are on the same side. Often the assumption is that lethal force is the only way we as Christians overcome evil with good. Nonviolence, however, is a force more powerful than we give it credit for. Besides, most pacifists will act if put in an extreme position—but they might not kill their attacker.
What do you hope most people will take away from this book?
That a conversation is waiting to happen upon which real lives rely: soldiers, veterans, and their families need churches actively engaging in more compassionate dialogue about faith and service. If I sell three copies, but get 100 churches talking, I’ll be dancing in the streets. Though I wrote the book fueled by anger and disappointment, I tried to remain honest in interpreting my military experience in Christian terms. I hope that doing so illustrates that love really does triumph, that God truly does seek to reconcile all things.
What are your plans as a writer?
There is at least one more book in my future. Coming out next summer is For God and Country (in that order) from Herald Press/Menno Media. It’s a mix between Toby Mac’s Jesus Freaks (Bethany) and Shane Claiborne’s Jesus for President (Zondervan). It’s a series of profiles of people walking a line between [loyalty to] God and country, such as Martin of Tours and Ignatius of Loyola. Beyond that, I hope to finish my degree at Duke. I don’t describe myself as a writer or an activist, but as a Christian. As for other books, I trust they will be a genuine response to God’s call in my life.