Yesterday at church a military chaplain spoke about his work and I’m still feeling upset.
The slideshow had photos of all the chaplains in army fatigues, and of soldiers they were ministering to posing with large guns. Then a photo of a group in army fatigues praying, presumably before going out to do their duty.
I tried to keep my mouth shut, but I spoke up during the talk when he brought Jesus into it, relating how he was giving a sermon to military chaplains during the Iraq War about how they needed to follow the way of Jesus – including, he said, loving your enemy! I don’t understand how you can be giving solace and support to an invading army and talking about loving your enemy.
I think from his perspective he sees chaplains as a restraining hand on soldiers, keeping them comforted and in good mental and spiritual health so they don’t commit war crimes or atrocities, so that in the heat of the moment they don’t shoot civilians.
But I think war crimes and civilian deaths are not an aberration but an inevitable consequence of giving people guns and trying to take over a country or even trying to ‘keep the peace’ by eliminating insurgency. (Try separating insurgents and civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan anyway.)
The chaplain was gracious, and let me ask a question at the end. I asked how, even standing in the just war tradition as he must, he can embed himself with a military force which is fighting wars which do not meet the just war criteria. (And, I wish I’d added, have killed one million people, between the Iraq and Afghanistan War, according to some estimates.)
He said that under the Geneva Convention he is a non-combatant.
I find this unconvincing; you’re in military uniform and you’re supporting troops, meeting their spiritual needs, and thus lending legitimacy to what they’re doing.
I think all disciples of Christ should refuse to co-operate with the military, in every country.
I hate making a show of myself these days – but I couldn’t let this pass without comment.
I thought that I’d found a church which would be broadly pacifist in outlook. Someone told me that it is important to the church to hear different viewpoints, and hence have a military chaplain speaking. But support for the military gets heard at every church in Perth. I don’t know of pacifist churches in Perth, except the Quakers and perhaps Wembley Downs Church of Christ. And the Peace Tree Community, who are sort of a church. There should be at least a few churches in Perth where non-violence is a non-negotiable, where it’s seen as integral to discipleship. Where we don’t just politely say helping troops is a good ministry to have, but where we say that’s not what Jesus wants.