*The following was sent by email prior to the faculty panel to which I later responded here. Dr Hays never responded to this correspondence and made no apparent effort to reconsider the panel.
I have a letter in my hand that you wrote to me over five years ago now. In it you express how you hope that by the time Duke Divinity students graduate, they “might have a deeper understanding of the depth of human sin and suffering.” You go on to state that I, and presumably others bearing the unique burden of martial service, “will find a caring, supportive community” at the Divinity School. Earlier today I found out about a panel you and Drs. Hauerwas and Hall will be on tomorrow on war. This worries me because I am not sure that pacifism as it is expressed at Duke appreciates the depth of human sin and suffering that war imparts and I fear the panel is in danger of failing to express as precisely as it otherwise could.
In a class very early on in my studies, I read your exchange with Nigel Biggar in the Journal for the Study of Christian Ethics, in which you both assume a martial homogeneity unreflective of the reality of armed service. It is like the phrase “support the troops,” in which the significant diversity of the military community is flattened into one; an easy target for pacifists and an easy ally for just warriors. But it is not the case. It is not true that my Black Hawk crewchief roommate in 2006, when I was undergoing my request for noncombatant status, had a comparable experience to mine. He called his officers by their first names, he went to dinner with their families. I did neither. I saluted and did what I was told. When we talked about why I was doing what I was doing, I had to do the interpretive work that I am now certain aided in my current scholarship. It is work that you and Biggar, and Hauerwas in his own way, have not taken the care to do.
If this were just some academic exercise, that might be one thing. But human lives hang in the balance, and, as a prominent theologian, your hand is upon the scale. Your words matter in a way mine do not; they carry more weight, they affect more people, they alter more lives. Less than one semester in, another combat veteran left because the environment at Duke, of uncritical and disengaged pacifism, treated them without concern for their human dignity, much less their fellowship in the Body of Christ. Your words matter, but so do those belonging to the witnesses of war whom the panel seems to have no space for. For any theologian to “narrate and embody” a Christian account of war or to “specify and distinguish” how one’s theology incorporates the lives or deaths by which it is executed, they require the voice of a soldier, of whom there are none for tomorrow’s panel.
The work required for a coherent pacific account begins and ends in silence. Not because there is nothing to be said, but because silence dictates the experience of soldiers. It is evidenced by the absence of soldiers voices tomorrow. It is evidenced in the silence that shapes the deaths of those soldiers that I told you five years ago were killing themselves faster than they could be killed in combat. In the last five years that statistic has increased. Not by much, but enough to notice for those who must care for soldiers. Has the academic work and ecclesial witness produced by Duke matched it’s pace? I have a guess, and I hope I am wrong, but I suspect that tomorrow will tell.
Please end the silence to which Duke has relegated soldiers voices and experiences. Being the body of Christ to those left alone in the silence that war creates requires a deeper understanding of the depth of human sin and suffering unique to war. It requires their being sought out, seen, heard, and embraced as living members of the Church.