Hauerwas Interview Transcript

*Minimally edited transcript of interview in 2011. My questions are in bold, and ellipses (…) indicate redacted content for brevity. Video edited and used for After The Yellow Ribbon conference. 

Stanley Hauerwas: The truth of the matter is, is I don’t have familial connections with the military. That’s very important. My family somehow, none of them served in WWII, their ages just didn’t fit. My father had a war related job grinding bombsites and so, though he often received draft notices, they said no, his job was too important. Not everybody could do this. He was exempted. He had five brothers, none of them served in the military. That’s important because I think often times familial connection with the military means that future generations feel like they need to repeat the moral obligations their forebears performed for them. So I didn’t come out of a family who were positioned to think that the military was something that you just had to do. Now I knew and have known many people in the military who I admire and who are friends. I’ve educated many chaplains who have come to the Divinity school. I have high estimation of many people who have claimed me as friends who have been in the military. But it doesn’t have the same kind of personal pull on you as having come through a family where this has been part of your history. I think that has to do with the kind of general argument that I’m trying to make about service in the military. And that’s oftentimes about a moral renewal that we think it worth having our children sacrifice their lives and their normal unwillingness to kill in order to reaffirm that in the past our forbears have made those sacrifices. That is at once a very understandable moral set of commitments that are embedded in the world in which we find ourselves. But it is exactly a set of commitments that what it means to be Christian calls into question. So I think the question about what your relationship is to the military, particularly in terms of the interactions of familial connections, is very strong. Logan, did you have family in the military?

Logan Isaac: Yeah, my dad was, he was in the Navy in Vietnam. He enlisted in order to avoid getting drafted. He analyzed the pictures of bombers dropping bombs in Vietnam. My grandfather tried to be a fighter pilot but he was too tall. What resources does your discipline have for healing the hidden wounds of war in military personnel and their communities, most notable posttraumatic stress and moral injury? I think I’ve asked before about the paper on moral injury, or about the truth commission on conscience in war. Moral injury is now a subset, of interest in the VA. PTSD was the big thing they discovered. That’s experiencing traumatic events, in combat, but not exclusive to combat. Moral injury is perpetrating, witnessing, or failing to prevent acts that violate ones own moral or religious training of beliefs.]

SH: Yeah, I read that section of the book [Reborn on the Fourth of July manuscript] about how the rules of engagement keep being fudged. I think its a moral injury just to think about you’re in the National Guard in Minnesota. And being in the National Guard for Minnesota you think that means that you’re gonna do flood relief. And suddenly you find yourself in Iraq and you’re having to envision the possibility that the youngster that doesn’t look more than 12 or 13 is walking down the street. And they’re trying to kill you and so you must be ready to kill them, I think that’s a moral injury. I think most of us are not prepared to think about what it means to kill. That leaves a scar, because there’s a silence to it, that you can’t articulate in a way… the silence is right because you can’t articulate it in a way that is shareable because there’s a shame to it, that you don’t know quite what to do with. I think people are damaged by that, even if they haven’t killed anyone. I think the very fact that they have to envision the possibility that they kill someone is not something that any of us know how to envision as an ongoing way of life. I think that at least the Christian practice in the past, where those that had participated in warfare, even if it was fought as just, had to undergo penance and reconciliation for having participated in warfare, in order be received back into the unity of the church most exemplified in Eucharistic celebration. Now that’s gone. When it existed, there was a possibility that you could bring your silence to god, that there would be a way to be reconciled to God by the fact that we have had to kill. I think that’s gone now and I took your criticisms of my accepting too readily the military’s understanding of giving them [officers? see Grossmans book] medals and so on as a way to deal with this silence. I share some of your cynicism about it, but I wanted to accept as much as I could the good faith that was being said, was that I think therefore what people now locate as PTSD and that has always been part of a moral exchange that’s always been there in terms of… you see it in the very silences of people that participated in WWI, allegedly the good war, which they are unable to talk about. I mean if you go over to the VA today, you’ll find people after years from WWII now suffering from the inability to ever come to terms with the killing they had to perform in WWII.

LI: Anathea Portier-Young was here, we talked about exile and return and she brought up Cain, particularly Vietnam vets that I know seem to share some kind of moral heritage with Cain in that we send them to combat and its like an exile. Particularly with Vietnam, and I don’t know if its true of Iraq, like the Israelites not coming home and Cain being afraid of being condemned to wandering the rest of his life, I think the question for the church is How do we encourage people in that moral wilderness to come home? How do we prepare a way to receive the redemption of Christ? You talked about silence and I think you’re right that there is something that cannot be articulated. But silence, like we’ve talked about, can be betrayal. How does the church proactively speak a word of hope into these service members?

SH: I think, first of all, saying ‘we want to be present to you and when you want to tell us what is hard to tell, we want to listen.’ so the first thing the church does is listens. Part of listening may be helping those who have trouble telling us what they want to tell become articulate by providing a language that otherwise might be there, such as; this is a confession. The language of confession is a powerful speech act that you don’t have to feel that you’ve got anything to hide, that you can confess what it is that’s absolutely possessing you, in a way that you find it hard to live out. When I’ve given that paper Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War, where I try to make articulate the pain of people in the military who have had to killing don’t know how to come to terms with that, I’ve had almost without exception, military people come up afterward and say ‘thank you very much, can I talk to you?’ because they say no one understands. I think the first thing that the church says is 1) we betrayed you. One of the things that, of course I’m a pacifist, but one of the things that I think the church has failed miserably to do is to prepare people who might feel called to the military to understand what the kind of moral preparation they need to undergo that. We start by saying ‘you’re a Christian, you’ve got a problem with war.’ if you’re going to feel called to the military, and the service it performs, you’re gonna have to undergo quite an extensive training prior to even undergoing the training you’re going to have to undergo in the military. So what kind of moral formation you need, I mean, you can’t hate the enemy. You can’t depersonalize the enemy. You’re going to face extraordinary debilitating temptations as part of the military that you nee to be prepared for if you are going to be able to sustain a life that is as demanding as the life of the military. So those are the kinds of things… in some ways it’s too late for those that have already undergone Vietnam, but then we need to listen to you, but then 2ndly, we need to start being serious, as the church, to be able to say to our young people ‘if you feel called to the military, you need to undergo some very strong forms of disciplines that’s part of the church prior to even entering.’ I think that that means for the church itself and the churches; we need to express and confess our complicity in the destruction of people for not preparing adequately them to understand that we Christians have a problem with war. Just to begin there, that would be a big deal.

LI: A lot of people would really wonder if that’s even possible, and I would wonder with them…

I agree! That’s a terrific comment, Logan, and I agree. It’s not clear to me what it would mean to prepare. 

What ramifications that might have for whether or not we could remain even just warriors. I was thinking of liturgies. William Portier is going to be coming out to the conference and talking about liturgies. But there are also things within church tradition that speak of this quite evocatively. In the catholic church, the last thing the priest says before consuming the Eucharist is something a centurion says; lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed. That’s a centurion, and people take that quite well.

I say it every Eucharist as well, it’s not part of our liturgy (in Anglican communion) but coming out of worshipping with the Roman Catholics I picked it up. It’s very powerful and it always reminds me I’m not worthy to receive you.

But also in the form of creeds and the lineage of the saints. many of the earliest soldier saints were also martyrs until martin. There were actually two people who were martyred who served alongside martin under Julian. How might access to the narratives Saint Maurice and the Theban legion; how might this 6 thousand plus unit who was en masse was martyred for refusing to harass Christians. Or Maximilian, who at 21 was beheaded for refusing to be conscripted, how can we ignite some kind of access to that narrative in order to inform how we treat a service member, in the church. I spoke to dean hays about the hardest reading that you can get of centurions in the New Testament is that Jesus doesn’t condemn them. he looks at people who are humble, who do the best they can from within an unjust system. he seemed to really enjoy that. How can we deepen our understanding of centurions and saints that inform the church, how can we provide access to that kind of narrative?

One, the argument that Jesus didn’t condemn the centurion is an argument from silence, which is not a very good argument.

What I’m saying is the worst that you can go is to say that service members we may very strongly disagree with in terms of what has been done, but this is how we treat them, regardless of what we think.

That’s true. But what I take it that part of your comments is one of the problems of the contemporary church is most Christians don’t know dip about Christian tradition to begin with. We begin by helping the church recover why it is that we are a people of memory and in particular memory of saints who have died rather than kill. That begins with the crucifixion. Yoder’s argument seems to me to be completely persuasive, that Christian commitment to think that war is a problem always derives not just from a specific scriptural text, but from the fact that our god refuses to save us by coercion. And submits to our violence without returning that violence. Therefore part of what our challenge is today is to make that understanding of what salvation is thru the cross, the center of the churches life. So what is entailed here is, you know I say after teaching for 45 years I hope to have some Christians just bringing to think ‘we’ve got a problem with war.’ most people in our churches, that thought doesn’t pass across their lives because the understanding of salvation, satisfaction, accounts of the atonement, don’t seem to have anything to do with the politics of a people vis a vis war. I think what we have to recover is exactly why it is that Christians have a problem with war. Because our god refuses to save us thru violence and we refuse to protect others thru violence, including ourselves. Just to get that across seems simple, but it doesn’t go down well because in America, Christians have so determinatively identified the Christian We with the American We.

I want to talk in a minute how that might be a tool to overcome some of these… How that might be a tool to overcome some of these… affects our entire orientation as Christians? I think before we talk about how it might overcome these wounds… what is your appraisal of the American church and their inability to lament, particularly war, but I think there is a general hesitancy. We talked in APY’s class about lament, we were forced to incorporate it into a sermon.

Good exercise. I’m not sure I agree that lament is always a terseness to moral wrong. I can lament the death of a child. I can lament and should lament the death of a child. I can lament the death of my parent. So lament is the expression of sadness appropriate to a tragedy, and I don’t mean that death is always tragic. I’m 71, its not going to long away for me. And its not gonna be tragic, I’ve had a wonderful life. So lament doesn’t seem to me always the lament I relationship to a moral wrong, though that’s certainly is included.

Do you still stand to do the penitential order at holy family?

We do. We started with the declaration of the first gulf war and we said that, as a church, we are now living in a country that is at war and that we have to take we have to regard that as a judgment of our failure to be Church. So we begin with the penitential order.

And you’ve been doing it since?

That’s right, for over 15 years I guess. And so you get to name, of course that’s the Decalogue and we get to see ourselves as people who do not live according to the Decalogue and have to ask for forgiveness at the start of the service. But I do think lament is absolutely part of the Christian life and that’s one of the reason I love so deeply the psalms. Because we are taught to lament and we are taught to have words that articulate for us what it means to appropriately lament. Because you have to be trained to lament appropriately. I think the word that I want to use about lament is not that a moral wrong has been done, but that we have discovered our unfaithfulness when we’ve been offered such an alternative. A positive alternative to the moral terrors that we otherwise might perpetrate. So lament is that we have to acknowledge we had such a great opportunity given to us by God and we failed to live up to that. And to respond to it. Lament is part and parcel to the Christian life.

The other thing that we’re doing with these videos is that they’re going to continue to be in use by a student group… Do you think that it’s possible or advisable for lament to precede that action that says to service member that we are ready to listen to you?

It depends on who is doing the lamenting. That if the… I think the people that most need to lament are usually the people that think they can celebrate Veterans Day without sadness. [laughter] I think they need first and foremost to lament. Because Veterans Day often times puts people from the military in a very awkward position because they are celebrated for being heroic, and they know better. They can’t tell the people that want to celebrate their heroism that they know better. And so they’re…. my hunch is, if you do a study of the people who are so gung-ho from having been in the military to wanting to show how important it is at veterans day, that they put on their little hats and all that, I’ll bet you that so many of them never killed anyone.

One of the things I had with Dave Grossman… be a place in which some of these conversation can continue that we hope will start veterans day. one of the things I’ve heard from other service members is the most important thing to them is whether a preacher preaches on psalms or something, about … 40-50% of people have [PTSD?] but only 20% are seeking [medical intervention?]. if the infantry, the artillery, and the combat arms specialties, are a minority within the military…


Within the whole military is 40%, that’s gotta include just about the entire combat arms

Yeah, that’s a terrific… because people that are in supply, they’re just bureaucrats so they get to celebrate the military life because they never saw it! I take it that the pictures in that book that you gave me that its not just when you see someone’s, inside someone’s head because its been blown apart, I mean, you don’t get over that real quick. The story of the young man who saw the leg sticking out of the Humvee [me] who knew the person was alive but said ‘no,’ you know ‘in terms of triage, you couldn’t get to them’ and so on. I mean you don’t get over that real quick. You never get over that probably. So I think that Veterans Day and the celebratory kinds of rituals around it put people that are serious about what happened in very morally awkward positions, is what I think.

Yeah, the language that I’ve been using is that it seems as though that because our society has become so polarized that the two gut-check reactions are that we either venerate or villanize.  


And service members, you know, you can’t live up to Hero, so the other option that you know you can do is, well ‘I know I can certainly do Monster,’


 But I agree, I think the options for them are very limited.


One, they just want to say, ‘I was scared shitless! And I need to tell you, that fear is a tyrannical emotion, and I didn’t know what was going on.’  Battles are only coherent after the fact.

This touches on another question. I was in Elkhart (in July, 2010 for Peace Among the Peoples conference at AMBS) so the military has a monopoly on the language of virtue, of sacrifice, of duty…


That the church doesn’t really have. I still think its true, especially for young men, who feel expected to embody these kinds of virtues. How might the church reimagine or reclaim the language and practices of virtue so that young men but most people would desire these kinds of virtues but who feel that the military is the way in which you do that?

I wish I had a good answer to that Logan. I mean that’s exactly the right question. I don’t know that I do have a good answer other than you’ve got to give them good work to do. And that means that they… you know you need some spend a good deal of your life in this or that service that were going to ask you to perform, such as We want to send you to Guatemala to dig wells. Because they need good clean water there. We need you to submit your life to caring for immigrants, and so on. The virtues ride on the back of good work to do. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Rick’s book on the marines, there’s a little book that Will and I wrote called Where Resident Aliens Live which we talk about this book in terms of how the marines are really able to offer moral transformation to kids who come from very doubtful backgrounds, who then through basic training have their lives transformed. They then have trouble relating to the wider society. I wish we Christians were at least that interesting, and were able to do that. Indeed, I think one of the great (and they know this in the military) one of the great challenges of the contemporary military is the military, in many ways, is the last honor society we have left. And you are to act honorably, and that has to do with your fellow soldier being able to trust you. As an honor society and as a society that asks great sacrifices of those that participate in it, they now know they are defending a social order that their way of life is unintelligible to. The military now is defending a bourgeoisie culture that is in great tension, torn. So one of the questions is how can you continue to sustain the morality of the military when those coming into it do not have the kinds of moral formations that are necessary to sustain the morality of the military. I mean, it is a very… and for the church, that needs to be articulated. It needs to be articulated. And the church needs to be able to be the kind of community that’s at least as morally serious as the military. If we are to be any kind of alternative to it.

This is pressing on a couple conversations I’ve had with Andy Alexis Baker, some of the Jesus Radicals types. So if it sounds like I’m switching sides, I promise I’m not.

Nah, its alright. I know Andy well, you know I help him.

You were talking about how serious the military takes its own mission and its true. lately, in particular there’s language of professionalization of the military. And this concerns me because now were being introduced to whether or not military personnel can conduct humanitarian assistance.

Ah, uh huh.

I don’t think they can, but on some level, I can see how that kind of rationale is formed. I’m wondering how you think this diffuses the culpability of the individual, even if its merely by sheer confusion of being told ‘well, you need to be prepared to kill anybody at any time, but here’s an MRE.’ how does that diffuse moral culpability?

I think the attempt to have the military perform these humanitarian, alleged humanitarian interventions, is 1) a PR gambit, is very doubtful. And as you know, most of the time, to be… humanitarian intervention best would be understood, as, insofar as it involves coercive intervention, is police work. Police are not the military, because in the military the police work works within a controlled context in which police may intervene only to the extent that the law allows. And the police are not the judge. In the military, in military intervention, there isn’t such law and insofar as you kill, judgment is made. There’s no going back. So to ask people trained to be soldiers to be humanitarians is a deep confusion, it seems to me, of role training. That’s implied there. What would I think about, for example, having used the military to intervene in Rwanda? General volatre, the Canadian general, thought if he had had another 1500 troops, he would have prevented Rwandan genocide. I don’t know what I think about that. I certainly would have wanted the Rwandan genocide to be prevented, obviously. But you’ve got train soldiers to, in those contexts, if they are to function as police, that they will have to envision of their death prior to their killing. Because they’re policemen, and they they’re not there to be a soldier per se. So I think it’s a mess, is what I think. And what we did in Bosnia in the interventions and the bombing that we did, I think, was a war crime. I mean, I can’t imagine that that was in any way legitimate in terms of what we were doing at that time. And I think that Madeline Albright ought to be arrested for engaging American military in that regard. It was called a humanitarian intervention, but I hardly think that.

So it seems as though we are using, culturally, the language of humanitarian assistance or intervention, so we are building into service members or recruits mental environment that fact that they’re doing good. so how…And I think I am also hearing (Dave) Grossman in, on the other side of that same coin, the desensitization that occurs with video games and TV

Absolutely, right.

That seems like I want to say, on the one hand, ‘well, the military should just do the thing its good at,’ which is killing people. But how does someone who is a pacifist begin thinking in those terms without becoming an isolationist? And my next question has to do with reinstating the draft…

Well, I’m for reinstating the draft. Because I think if you did you would then… I don’t think you would be in Iraq and Afghanistan right now if we had the draft. Because it would require there be a conversation… I mean part of the problem, right now, is you’re in a country that is rich enough and powerful enough to be able to prosecute wars without the American people making any kind of sacrifice at all. And that’s just part of the politics of it that I think is disastrous. That would mean that my grandchildren, who I hope will be pacifist, would be under some duress in terms of what would be required. I of them, to oppose being drafted. There was something else I wanted to say but… say what you said to me again.

About reinstating the draft?

No, before that.

I think there’s a fine line between saying ‘I think the military should just be killing’ and the danger of just becoming isolationist, like ‘the military is just off doing their thing.

Yeah, well, the church… my account of what is required by Christians doesn’t mean we have to have a foreign policy. My foreign policy is “Christians don’t kill Christians.” lets start there, and I ask how you go on from there. I’m more than ready to enter into discussion about… I say look, you start with just war and you say ‘oh, a war is breaking out, you know, three out of the four criteria, three out of the five isn’t too bad, it’s ok.’ that’s too late. You have to ask ‘what would a just war people look like, that could produce a just war foreign policy?’ which would mean that a war would be your last resort. And then ‘what would a just war pentagon look like?’ I mean, the fact that you wait for a war to break out and then see if it meets the criteria is too late! You’ve got to start much earlier than that, and I’m ready to join with just war people to think through that. Why did we go to Iraq? Because we could? And why could we? Because we had a military left over from the cold war that was that strong. Why couldn’t you just say ‘look, after won the cold war, what would a built down pentagon would have looked like that was a just war pentagon?’ I’m not isolationist in that way, I’m ready to join into those kinds of conversations. They’re just not even on the radar screen. Now the other thing, though, that I want to make a point out about killing and being killed. One of the things… in your reference to the kind of video game kind of… I was at the air force academy 3 or 4 years ago, giving a lecture. And I said ‘is there any discussion in the military today,’ I ask the people in the philosophy faculty, ‘is there any discussion in the military today about the technicalization of war which those prosecuting the war are no longer in danger of being killed?’ and they said its a raging debate in the military whether this is honorable because you can only kill if you’re willing to be killed. That’s always been at the heart of the military ethic. Now it looks like we’re increasingly moving to a mode of warfare, with the drones, etc., in which American military are not exposed to danger and that dishonorable. I thought ‘that’s really interesting, isn’t it?’ that that would be a discussion. But of course the American public knows nothing about that.

So my next question has to do with the economic draft of young people. The conversation I got into with the Jesus radicals folks that the situation were in now, that the affluent and the privileged… And they have the option of it didn’t have to be militarily. I think it would be more realistic. One of the big things that I won’t be pushing for yet, after the Veterans Day thing, is selective objection. And trying to get the church to take seriously its own teachings.


That seems to be the stepping-stone before which [there is a split in the tape here]

One of the things I think we need to do is you can only get conscientious participation in the military if you can get conscientious non-participation. Where does conscientious non-participation come from?

I think I told you I applied to remain in the military, but I told them I wouldn’t carry a weapon. and it just didn’t compute. But it was still on the books from Vietnam, so it was very interesting to think about ‘wait I’m doing something you totally allow…’

The anomalies are everywhere.

Taking into consideration everything we’ve just talked about. the capacity for service and everything. One of the questions I pose in a blog I wrote is ‘what is the individual’s responsibility to the common good?’ if we accept that there is something common and which is good that the nation manages, or negotiates, without owning, or something, what is a pacifist’s responsibility in light of the fact that they don’t have to make any kind of justification? I told Andy Alexis Baker ’that’s great that you don’t believe in the American project, but the conservative argument that [“freedom”] is not possible in china still has merit. what do you do with that? You have a pretty strong online presence that wouldn’t be there if our nation were oriented as other nations are.

Well I think it is serving the common good to be a people that have convictions that will not let them kill so their imaginations have to seek out other ways of being of help to those that do not share those convictions. So it would mean that you would have to, as a people, discover how to train your youth to be ready to give their lives to commitments of how to have those people in this society, for example, that are simply given up as having no future, to say, ‘no we want to help you have a future.’ imagination is very much… once you say I can’t kill, then you’re forced into coming up with alternatives. I say look, I have deep sympathy with the police. We often times, many people that are in the police forces many times come from the social classes just above criminal classes. And we have them intervene in one family dispute after another family dispute and they get so cynical and they don’t know what to do. They end up, maybe, being violent in ways that are very unfortunate. What kind of social order do we need to be that people might be called to the police function in a way that they will never have to envision the possibility of killing someone? I mean what would your economic relations look like to be able to do that? Those are the kinds of ways I think that people that are committed to nonviolence can be of service to people that are not.

You mentioned the difference between conscientious participation and non participation. And you just said, you were using the language of ‘people who can’t kill.’ and you speak in The Peaceable Kingdom of personal agency. In my ears, there’s an important distinction between can’t and won’t. You said elsewhere that you’re a pacifist because you’re a violent son of a bitch. So two questions, the first of which is, for the church, should there be a distinction between can’t and won’t? And the second is ‘who is telling you you’re a violent son of a bitch?’  

I’m not sure… I hope training in won’t leads finally to can’t. If I won’t do something, I have to try. I hope if I m genuinely good, I can’t. It just doesn’t come up, I just can’t. And most of my life is won’t. In terms of being violent, I think it’s very tricky. I mean, one; I would say I’m a Texan; we’re natural born killers. And its just part of the imaginate possibility. I think that the language of violence and what it’s going to describe is always I want to limit it. I don’t want all forms of coercive relationship to be called violent. Because it becomes a greased pig. But I do think there is, for people like me, who for example are very articulate, there can be a very coercive and close to violence to that. That defeats others. And that means that you’re not prepared to listen. I’m sure that there’s a kind of violence to that people experience. And I would prefer not to be violent in that way. These are… to be non violent isn’t just something that has to do with saying ‘I’m not going to kill.’ it means that often times you have to take a lot of losses rather than coerce somebody into doing what you think they ought to be doing.

Is using the language of Cant, and I’m still thinking of violence in terms of a Christian, to say I can’t, on some level indicates that God has prevented me from doing it. And I’m…To say I can’t, or is it more effective or honest to say ‘I can and I will not’? And that’s also coming from someone who went thru a conversion after realizing that, quite clearly, I can.

I think ‘I can’t but I will not’, given the way you’ve described that, I understand that it seems perfectly right to me.

You’ve also said you’ve been accused of being a rhetorical exhibitionist, of using language in a way that is…

I like that, I’ve never heard that description before.

I think part of that is that it can be a kind of… and I don’t know that you’d use the same language to describe it, but there seems to be a kind of polemic in the church. so when I was going thru my own conversion, from the left it was being said that military was evil you must turn and run and get out of there. and on the right, I was hearing that we need, even from reasonable people, that we need Christians in the military to be some kind of voice for moral good. so from the middle… it doesn’t leave much middle ground. I think also the dichotomy between veneration of service and vilifying service is on that same kind of trajectory. one of the things we’re really trying hard to do with the veterans day event is occupy a middle ground that acknowledges the baby of the service that is being done but also is able to identify the bathwater of the violence. So how might Christians occupy that middle ground, how do we need to amend our language and our praxis in ways… that kind of paints a broad picture, but coming from someone who sits in an ethics chair, how do faculties do that? how do students do that? how do pastors do that?

Well when, for example, I try never, when people come to me who are in the chaplaincy corps, for example, I never begin by trying to say ‘how do you justify that?’ I assume, I never try to say to someone in the military ‘how do you justify being there?’ rather I assume that most of the time no one has ever raised any questions that made them think twice. so I try to occupy… I always say ‘I’m a pacifist’ and that doesn’t mean that I’m going to say ‘you’re a slimy son of a bitch because you’re in the military.’ but rather it means I’d probably would be in your position if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to have read john Howard Yoder. And I’m gonna have you read Yoder and I don’t know what that will mean for your life, but that’s part of my gift to you and you will give me gifts in return. It’s a way… I’m just saying, Logan, we gotta be human beings with one another. The middle ground is to be a human being.

I don’t mean… that wasn’t directed primarily at you, but I was at the Mennonite conference in Pittsburgh. and I was sitting in a session on men’s spirituality and the presenter… However many different images of men and we were asked ‘which one was the most spiritual man?’ and we chose basically whatever criteria we chose. Then a 2nd one was the same question, but there were symbols, there was a preacher, there was a monk, there was a farmer, an artisan, and a crusader. And uniformly, at least of the 4 or 5 of the 9 groups said ‘we know the crusader is over here’

We wouldn’t choose that one?

Yeah, and I really respect and appreciate the fact that they can articulate that well, or that that is something that is a part of [a Mennonite] narrative, but they were very reticent to consider whether or not there was any spiritual value in what they were doing. because just before, what we had said in our group, and a couple groups I thought I heard, was the one of the criteria for being a man was ‘willing to stand up and DO something for what is right and good.’ the other symbols we had, of a farmer and an artisan… but the crusader, a soldier, at least was trying to do something that is good. so how have we, in our language, partitioned off the idea of military service. maybe not even Anabaptists, and that was what was behind my question was people who only have access to your writings, who only have access to, I don’t know pat Robertson and code pink. how does the church deliberately enter that space and provide an alternative to the violence of polemic?

First of all, if I had been in those sessions, I would have walked out! I hate that kind of manipulative shit! I just can’t stand it. I wouldn’t have chosen any. One, I think we just need, quite frankly, people like you. Who got caught in between? And who help those of us not caught in between to come to terms, to recognize that there is the in-betweenness. That means that you cannot write off people who are in the military. Because they are god’s children, our brothers and sisters.

That exhausts all of my questions, I believe. is there anything else left over that you’d like to share, or kind of go off on a tangent? You know, and this may help jog some imagination, Veterans Day, on November 11th, is also the feast day for a particular saint.

Not Saint Martin? Saint martin!

Which is funny because this is the guy who tells the most powerful man in the world ‘I am a soldier of Christ; it is impermissible for me to fight. But his biographer, Sulpicius Severus, the numbers don’t match up, and so a lot of historians now think he actually served his entire 25 year enlistment term

Uh huh

He also was dragged into the city square to be made bishop on July 4th, 370 CE

Oh really?!

So we’re having an icon commissioned that we will be unveiling Friday during Morning Prayer time

Ah, that’s great, that’s lovely.

But I wondered if you would talk a little bit about the force that church tradition could provide us with if we just look. It took me all of 15 minutes on Wikipedia to find all this really interesting stuff about the guy we celebrate on Veterans Day. but we’re trying to get people to come there and also to think more seriously about what histories are we relying on. how do we look beyond 1956, when it became veterans day, and look to armistice day, and the fact that we failed to end… the great war was not so because it happened again.

I think this is just an extraordinarily serious challenge about how to tell the story of the church. I sometimes kid some of my colleagues and say ‘why do we teach American church history? Why don’t we teach the church’s history of America?’ intellectually, how you tell the story… I mean why don’t we teach church history, for example, using martyrs mirror? As a way to say this is the way, rather than using the Whig story, the Whig kind of history of that oh, we became we beat Rome by becoming Rome. Let’s tell the story in terms of martyrs mirror. I think it is some very deep challenges about how it is that for example, its not how do you read the sermon on the mount if you begin with the presumption that Christians can’t kill? It’s gonna be read very differently. So those are the kinds of questions it seems to me you’re raising about that. It has to do with the very form of theological education because the form of theological education continuing to be put forward is basically that which says ‘the way the church is the way the church has to be.’ and think, I obviously I want some other alternatives. I’ve really enjoyed this.

Yeah, it went really well

I wish you well. Do you edit this?


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