I picked up The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer awhile ago. I was struck first by the Memoir, written by G. Leibholz. The memoir was basically an abbreviated biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I was amazed by how much I sympathized with his worldview, titled ‘Christian Humanism.’ Leibholz described Bonhoeffer as a man who “lived in, and loved this world.” I feel compelled to stay with the military, if it will have me, because I can’t imagine a Jesus who would have severed himself from people trapped within an institute which is so enveloped by ego, greed, and despair as any military is. It is my hope to serve God by serving those young men who find themselves in a cold, uncaring environment. I see many Christians who are so secure in their own salvation that they sit at the base of Golgotha and gawk at Jesus’ cross without taking up their own. I have heard of this disorder as ‘falling asleep in the warmth of the light,’ like cuddling up next to a fireplace. I have a gospel that tells me that I am to actively take up my own cross, to bring light wherever I go, wherever it is needed. There is a need within the armed forces. Another soldier is also seeking to meet the need of peace, but is requesting discharge in order to finish seminary and join a monastic order, probably Franciscan. Bless him for his vocation, but I could never be a monk, as I don’t see very many of them out here, in the same world that Jesus walked. On the north shore of O’ahu, where I call home, there is a Benedictine monastery. The fact that it is there is not significant, but what surprises me is that it is behind locked fences and ‘Do not Trespass’ signs. (interesting digression: double meaning of the word ‘trespass,’ maybe there is a purpose for the sign which I do not initially understand; perhaps it is a statement, not a request, ‘Do not Sin’). The monastery sits nestled against the mountains, removed from the rest of the community. Jesus immersed himself in a sinful, abusive, dangerous world. He was an activist.
G. Leibholz thought that “Christianity [is] not the concern of the believing, pious soul who shuts himself up and keeps himself within the bounds of the sacramental sphere” as the Pharisee did in the temple next to the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). Since I first held an interest in missionary work, I imagined myself not just in the war-torn nations, but the warring nations. Not as a war-bringer, but as a peace-offerer. The problem with modern pacifism, as I have seen, is that it offers no solutions, it states simply ‘bring our soldiers home.’ The means would not bring about the end; peace in the middle east requires a certain amount of assistance, not in waging war but in bringing peace. So I hope to go as a solution, a compromise. I will not go with a weapon, as an agent of war and intimidation, but with ideas and hopes for true understanding and empathy.
I have been accused by other Christians within the military of straying from the will of God because I will not honor the Army and it’s intentions. I have also been highly scrutinized as ‘sympathizing with terrorists’ (NOT an accusation one takes lightly in the army…) because I have said they (terrorists) are not beyond redemption and deserve Christ’s love just as much as I do. As Shane has said, if terrorists were beyond redemption, it would negate 14 books of the New Testament, as Paul endorsed the killings of Christians as heretics and agents incompatible with Jewish society. Along the same lines, I have been discreetly accused of brainwashing a fellow soldier, and ‘directing’ him to submit a CO packet of his own. So be it. I told him nothing of the sort; he began examining his conscience and the Gospel independently, and has been given a completely different vocation than I have.
I have never felt so in touch with the true meaning of the gospel, as Jesus reminds us that we are not of this world and that few will follow the hard, narrow road to redemption. So many fellow soldiers see America as a righteous theocracy; that our current leaders are acting out of love for the Middle East, even as we bring death and destruction to their doorstep. I believe it is erroneous to assume we have a single human being on Earth who acts as God’s steward because it implies that Jesus is dead. It implies that there is not a living, active savior in the world today. I think that is what is so unique about the resurrection and ascension; Jesus never died again, he is still here today. He is the rightful king from David’s line, the last and only necessary king for man on earth. So many soldiers don’t understand where a Christian’s loyalties truly must lie; God above country. The state is not equal to nor a substitute for God. G. Leibholz stated in his memoir of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that “There are loyalties which transcend those to state and nation… nationalism stands under God and it is a sin against Him and his call to fellowship with other nations if it degenerates into national egotism and greed.” I stated in my application that I cannot follow a governing body if it contradicts God’s defined provisions for mankind. That would be to deny God and his plan not just for me, but for humanity as a whole.
The problem with the Just-War Theory is that it allows Christians to surrender to the end times. I can’t count how many Christians tell me that God’s plan is revealed in Revelation as the end of Earth as we know it, and we, the lucky ones who proclaimed with our tongues that Jesus was Lord, get to spend eternity with him in bliss, separate from those Godless infidels who refused Him. Well, maybe if they had a better example to follow than Christians making war and trying to remind the victims that the death of their loved ones and the destruction of their entire way of life was simply collateral damage to an otherwise just cause, they might not be so reticent to allow that Christ into their broken hearts. Is it not these Christians, who lean heavily on eschatology to save instead of grace, that break their hearts? “The kingdom of God” is thought of as some future event, like we can only be in communion with God after we die. How many times is the kingdom referred to in the present tense in the New Testament? It is here and now, in the poor and destitute.
(sigh…) Maybe I am being too harsh, too judgmental. This is why I propose a solution. If I want the world’s armies to lay down their weapons, I must be the first to do it, from within the machine. What we need, as someone said (Dorothy Day?), is “a mighty army of conscientious objectors,” of weaponless soldiers ready to do God’s will. I fear that if I am to request discharge, it would allow the machine to silence another voice of reason, of hope. Martin Luther King reminds us; “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” The only silence that this voice will meet will be at the doorstep of death. My objection to war is killing, not being killed.
“The future of modern society depends much more on the quiet heroism of the very few who are inspired by God. These few will greatly enjoy the divine inspiration and will be prepared to stand for the dignity of Man and true freedom and to keep the Law of God, even of it means martyrdom or death.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I have learned that true freedom really is free, by grace through faith, but you have to be willing to die to yourself to achieve such complete freedom. Seek and you shall find, ask and you shall receive. What the reformer Martin Luther said before Counsellor Eck is particularly inspiring to me; “my conscience is captive to the Word of God, for to go against [my] conscience is neither right nor safe… Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”