Tuesday 20 March 2007

(Part 5) What Does It Really Mean to "Support Our Troops?" What Does It Mean To Be "Patriotic?" Can There Be Peace Without Justice? (part of a series)

I shared the essence of the following message with members of one of my professional chaplain lists to provoke discussion and moral discernment regarding initiatives such as the "Christian Peace Witness for Iraq." The workshops, a vigil, and lobbying efforts spanned over three days this past weekend in Washington D.C. In addition, many smaller vigils were held simultaneously across this nation. The big point is...the name of that event was chosen very carefully.

If the media mentioned what happened at all, with only a few exceptions I noticed they largely attemped to reframe its meaning and purpose into something very different, trying to minimize and reduce it to something simply "anti." For example, most news articles tried to lump it together with the anti-war protest which followed on Saturday in Washington D.C., lead by various anarchist groups and radicals, attracting lots of flash and attention from counter-demonstrators.

However, this event Friday was in a whole different category of its own. It attracted no counterdemonstrators whatsoever. It was rooted and grounded in worship which filled the National Cathedral and in "divine obedience" in the middle of the night at the gates to the White House. It was definitely FOR something - for important and constructive goals that honor people, preserve life and work towards justice. The agenda among leadership persons of an ever-increasing number of the major branches of Christian faith in this country is being motivated now by a special movement of God's Spirit. A Spirit uniting diverse but faithful followers of Jesus Christ characterized by many different theological stripes, colors and forms of piety. Yet it is powered by prayer, realism, and the sustaining hope of a much better way than perpetual war.

Admittedly, these goals are very difficult to attain, but who ever expected the non-violent resolution of conflict to be easy? Waging peace has always taken more guts than it takes to point the barrel of a machine gun and pull the trigger - or drop some bombs or fire some missles! Peace cannot ever come about without correlating strategies to effect justice. These strategies are often difficult to negotiate, and usually surrounded by an aura of criticism from the usual suspects and naysayers. But it does make sense. A lot more sense than what our administration is trying to pull off now. Why wait to utilize peace strategies as a last resort, when the deepest wounds of war have laid waste to so many resources that the antogonists have no choice but to withdraw?

So, I am re-posting here, but in edited form, what I shared yesterday with my chaplain colleagues to stimulate discussion and prod the conscience of those who simply "buy the party line" on what constitutes patriotism - thus revealing they have not yet thought through very clearly, for themselves, what it truly means to "support our troops."


Here is a link to an interesting, accurate, and excellent article about Staff Sgt. Liam Madden, the co-founder of the active duty soldiers', "Appeal for Redress." Sgt. Madden was recently honorably discharged from the Marines and Appeal for Redress is a movement of active duty, active reserve and National Guard soldiers filing a private grievance with their elected officials against the Iraq war.

I feel this article is extremely significant considering its source - the Feb. 12, 2007 issue of "The American Conservative." It flies in the face of anyone arguing that participating in events such as what recently transpired in Washington D.C. on Friday evening, March 16 is not very patriotic. To the contrary.

Further, it presents a solid case for responding to what President Bush said in his latest news conference about "the Surge" in Iraq, and provides support for those willing to stand decisively against his willful manipulation of a fickle Congress to fund it. We clearly need to redefine things now for those who harbor a narrow definition of what it means to truly "support the troops" and to love our neighbors. These are, quite often, young soldiers coming home to live among us, harmed with mental ills and deep spiritual/moral issues.

In that regard, Liam Madden will be speaking here in Michiana tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at the University of Notre Dame at 7 pm at Debartolo Hall, Room 102 on "The Ground Truth in Iraq: A Marine's View" - a lecture co-sponsored by The Progressive Student Alliance, the Center for Social Concerns, and the Kroc Institute. Another honorably discharged Marine from our locale, Wes Liggett, who bravely speaks out against the war in Iraq will also be on the panel with Liam. On Wednesday Liam will be speaking at Goshen College across the street from our hospital.

I hope you get to hear him or others from the Appeal for Redress speak in your own location; perhaps you could organize an effort to invite him/them!

View the February 25 footage of CBS 60 Minutes segment about the Appeal for Redress, a piece CBS entitled: “Dissension in the Ranks” with supportive footage and text.

Tonight in South Bend, IN there was a 7 pm Candlelight Vigil outside the Morris Civic Center; all day "Eyes Wide Open" was at IUSB which is the combat boots memorial display. That same memorial will be at Notre Dame University tomorrow - Tuesday, March 20, during this 4th anniversary of the official start of this current war in Iraq by the U.S. military and the so-called "coalition of the willing" - the later of which, I hope everyone now realizes, has virtually disintegrated.

Are any of you involved or engendering conversations like this in the public arena in your locale, in connection with this anniversary? If not, I’d like to know why not? (I’m really not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone here...I'm simply interested in how the rationales and responses of others actually stack up against the partial strategy outlined here. No, it's not the whole strategy necessary, but it's at least a very effective place to start, IMHO.)

I think that if pastors and chaplains who truly care about people are to remain faithful to their calling, an informed moral response is required on such important matters. Inaction, or some imaginary stance of "neutrality" is simply not an option -- not anymore! For those who may be tempted to quibble with that sentiment, I advise more reading among some of our greatest theological and ethical mentors who sought to apply sound biblical principles to the pressing moral and social ills of their day. We are talking here about very great minds and hearts -- such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, John Howard Yoder, among others!

There simply can be no peace without justice (or "righteousness/right-relatedness" as the biblical texts refer to it.) The real questions are...what is it going to take...and who is it going to take? Will you heed the clarion call for prophetic moral leadership to join the company of the committed and help inspire hope in the struggle against injustice when we need it most? The most important value is not necessarily success, but faithfulness to the call of Christ in our lives and fulfillment of his mission to "bring sight to the blind" and "freedom to the captives"...

Clair Hochstetler