For lent this year, I am giving up silence.
I have silently allowed myself to be written out of the tribe which calls itself ‘nonviolent activist,’ passively acquiescing to the false idea that what I do is not nonviolent enough or is not activist-y enough. When I found out, I kept it inside, maybe because I had doubts myself about whether I was ‘enough’ to hang with Christian celebrities I had once looked up to. After all, if combat taught me one thing, it was to doubt myself…
In 2014, I was in Scotland for the centennial of the outbreak of WWI. I also went there to get an M.Litt, but that’s another story. From the feast of All Saints on November 1st to Veterans Day ten days later, I blogged #TenSaintsTenDays. I messaged a number of folks involved in discussions about armed service and Christian faith, to see if they’d be willing to help generate buzz on social media and hopefully elevate the conversation about God and country.
One Christian celebrity, who had made a name for himself talking about peacemaking, revealed his distrust of the canon of soldier saints from which I was drawing. In particular, he was worried his Tweeple would “push back” if he challenged their (his?) “black and white” notions about the military. Here is what he had to say;
As our exchange advanced, I noticed that he took the effort of going back in my blog archive to locate a soldier saint, Maximilian of Tebessa, who easily validated his brand of absolute pacifism. As wonderful as Max is, he wasn’t in my #TenSaintsTenDays series, meaning the self-styled peacemaker went out of his way to instrumentalize the story of Christian soldiers so that it said something that didn’t bother him or his bros (and preserved their preconceived notions about soldiers and veterans). The selectivity displayed makes clear that it wasn’t soldier saints per se that bothered this person, but only those which “challenged” him or left open the possibility of there being “merit” to the just war tradition.
I didn’t read too closely into all this until the last nugget of awesomeness in the above image, when he makes a hard and fast distinction between myself and all the “nonviolent activists” like him. When I called him out for his use of an “us” that was exclusive of me, he sent me string of declarative commands, concluded by “forgive me.” He made sure to throw in a few more “bro” references in there for good measure.
This was just the first time I realized I was getting written out of ‘nonviolent activist’ progressive Christian circles. In other ways, my work had already been erased or exploited by far more powerful institutions and people, like when another Christian celebrity went on all the major news shows during the 2012 election season with his conservative counterpart telling American Christians what issues should shape their vote. Nowhere in numerous appearances did the words “war” or “veterans” leave his mouth.
When I voiced my frustration privately to this person’s employees, citing a face to face conversation with him just six months prior, I was rebuffed. In the exchange, I submitted a blog, which was later published on another website, which was rejected “because of its criticism, which was not felt to be just given his track record and personal, quite public commitment to veterans’ welfare.” When asked for evidence of this commitment, the web editor offered none. I wrote dozens of blogs on veterans for their website, without pay, but I never saw one written by the man in charge.
One of the same editors I had worked with/for was prominently featured in a recent conference in Rome that sought to write out any reference to the just war tradition, a conference that notably lacked any contrasting voices. Cuz, you know, who wants to have engage in intellectually rigorous debate about the merits of just war? When I confronted her by email about “silencing or glossing over the reality of war, in which those who fight are written out of any discussions of peace,” she never responded.
My silence has allowed this kind of treatment to go without substantial challenge because the only person who sees it is me and those who may be indicted by their complicity in bias, discrimination, and other injustices. I am repenting of silently letting these hurtful words and actions remain behind a veil of ignorance, one which protects Christians harming people to whom I am called by God as an advocate.