My Reasons for Putting off the Uniform

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Another article by my winsome and thoughtful brother on his route from ROTC to pacifism:

I watched a movie not too long ago. It was called “To End All Wars,” a true story about four Allied POWs during WWII who endure harsh treatment from their captors without fighting back. The forgiveness and grace offered by the POWs in the midst of persecution so shocks the captors that a camp-wide revival begins to take place. The film touches on themes about self-sacrificing heroism, the power of forgiveness over hatred, the futile tragedy of war, and God’s way of peace in the midst of it. After watching the movie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the radical teachings of Jesus and why I decided to get out of the Army: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:38-41, Revised Standard Version)

So, I suppose, the cat is back in the bag. I’m one of those: One of your classmates with long hair and facial hair worthy of 20 pushups, a lap around the campus, and a stern haircut; One of your classmates who sleeps in until 8, sometimes 9, and wears clothes from H & M and Banana Republic throughout the week. I am an ex-Army ROTC cadet and on my way to becoming a pacifist. There is a certain stigma to being a “quitter” from the Army and definitely for being a pacifist. “Unrealistic”, “naïve,” or “impractical” are terms thrown around to describe pacifists. And there’s no doubt that people look down on me for not staying with the Army and question my motives for doing it for only a year. I joined ROTC at Wheaton because I saw the Army as a way of bringing peace to the conflicted parts of the world by resisting evil. I began to see, however, that there were non-violent ways to do this, and I began to explore what creative resistance to evil looked like. Referring back to Matthew 5. In his article, “Doing Justice to Jesus” preeminent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has this to say: “Turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and so forth, were not a summons to ‘be a doormat for Jesus’, but were themselves a call to non-violent resistance, not just non-violence”.

The Jewish community at the time when Jesus was saying this had embraced a tradition of holy war, and was seeking vigorously to promote it. Wright also states in his book that, “Jesus in his teaching, and his challenge to Israel, aimed precisely at telling Israel to repent of her militaristic nationalism. Jesus was offering a different way of liberation, a way which affirmed the humanness of the national enemy as well as the destiny of Israel.” Pacifists argue that there are ways to protect others without violence. Action does not have to equivocate to violent action. The Biblical mandate to defend the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the ethnic outcast is not inherently connected to some sort of violence.

The question about war and pacifism is clearly a very emotional and controversial issue. I have wrestled and struggled through it, in theory and in practice. I saw my future go from a potential 4-year commitment fighting in Afghanistan to now, a potential commitment to serving with a church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia fighting to bring food to famine-stricken land.

I began engaging with this issue with pacifists on campus who I deeply respected. They wanted to completely reject war as an option for bringing peace based on the teachings of Jesus. With their help, I began to see war as an uncreative option, and that there is always a third way, that suffering in the name of Christ is better than taking on violence in the face of conflict. It seems to be a very deep part of the Christian tradition. Indeed, Church Father Tertullian said in his Apologeticus that, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.

I continue to grapple with the fallenness of our world, that there are sinful systems and dictators that must be called to account not only in the next life, but in this life as well. I do not want to be naïve of our world’s brokenness, and I do want to be harshly realistic. But I see people like Jesus, Ghandi, and MLK who used non-violence, and I cannot help but be moved, shaped, inspired to be radically engaged in the volatile parts of the world without a gun in my hand. I continue to pray and study through this profound question and continue to hear Jesus’ prayer ring out in my head: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

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