In his book, Reborn on the Fourth of July, Logan Mehl-Laituri describes his experience as a soldier in the US Army while being transformed both by war and God’s spirit. Part of that transformation was feeling convicted by God that his actions were not consistent with Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies. This conviction led Logan through a journey to Christian pacifism and a more honest recognition of what war was doing to American soldiers.
For decades now, the United States has proudly claimed the mantle of “the world’s only superpower” based on military might and the scope of military interventions throughout the world. As a result, whole generations are growing up with the understanding that war is the norm, that perpetual conflict is a way of life. But is it the way of Christ? Logan Mehl-Laituri grew up in a community that celebrated military service. His faith reinforced his love of country and his sense that that love was best expressed by fighting its battles. Then he went to war, and then he was born again. In Reborn on the Fourth of July you’ll learn through Logan’s story the real cost of war to military personnel, the real challenges to Christians that are raised by military service on and even off the battlefield, and the real questions that each of us must wrestle with as we hold in tension our love of country with God’s love for the world.
There are many pacifists who write about the inherent conflict of being a Christian and a soldier, but not many who write about it from the personal experience of military service.
Unlike some pacifists who merely point accusing and judgmental fingers at military personnel, Logan is making efforts to actually help veterans and their communities as they struggle through post-war life together. Although he no longer believes that violence is part of a kingdom ethic, he has never turned his back on those with whom he served. With that commitment as inspiration, Logan organized the After the Yellow Ribbon Conference at Duke Divinity School with the goal of coordinating a robust discussion of ethics, the church, and military service as well as bringing greater awareness to the spiritual, social, and mental damaged experienced by those who have served in war.
Veterans today commit suicide at the highest rate in our nation’s history, have startling rates of prescription drug and alcohol abuse, and are often thought of as “damaged goods.” Our society must accept the responsibility of acknowledging and confronting the moral fragmentation that our service members suffer as a result of their experiences in war. After the Yellow Ribbon at Duke Divinity School is an opportunity for the ecclesial, academic, and martial communities in particular to listen to and learn from those who endure the burden of doing violence in our name.
A brief video of Sam Wells, Dean of Duke Chapel, from After the Yellow Ribbon:
On a related note, the theme of war and Christian peacemaking is also explored in The Gospel of Rutba: War, Peace, and the Good Samaritan Story in Iraq by Greg Barrett.
“In 2003, three U.S. Christian peacemakers weathered the first horrifying days of Shock and Awe in Baghdad only to be nearly killed in a car accident as they were leaving the country. They were rescued by Iraqi Muslims who took them to a clinic in the already bombed-out town of Rutba, where they received protection and care. In sending the Americans on their way, their hosts had only one request: Go and tell the world of Rutba.
In fulfillment of that pledge, the peacemakers returned to Rutba in 2010 to thank the doctors and all who saved them, and to contribute to an ongoing process of peace, friendship, and reconciliation.
In his Afterword, Shane Claiborne (author of The Irresistible Revolution, and one of the three peacemakers) describes the impact of this experience and its ongoing meaning: Now that the war in Iraq is over, history will tell how we remember it. I m sure there will be all sorts of books on the Iraq war.. . . Political pundits will defend their parties and candidates. But in the end, I hope that history will also remember the story of this little town called Rutba.”
I recommend getting a hold of both of these books and deeply considering the stories you will find in them.