Is it ever appropriate for Christians to kill in the name of Jesus?
Church history has a long tradition of debating this, with everyone agreeing that mostly the answer is No. We diverge at the question of war: many Christians ascribe to some version of Augustine’s Just War theory, which claims that under some circumstances, war may be necessary and good (hence “Just”). Many other Christians follow the more ancient tradition of the earliest Christians in confessing Pacifism. Pacifism holds that it is never appropriate for one who follows Jesus to take the life of another person, and usually entails a complete refusal of violence as an option for resolving conflict.
Increasingly, American Christians cannot dialogue about the justice of war. One must either be a radical pacifist or jingoistic pro-war. Is there a better third way?
Logan Mehl-Laituri’s excellent, eye-opening book Reborn on the Fourth of July seeks to chart out that third way. Logan shares his story, his journey from kid to soldier to Christian to conscientious objector to (now) Christian peacemaker. While he doesn’t offer his story as a normative example that everyone should follow, his words are a powerful witness to what it means to be a Christian patriot.
Logan’s voice offers a picture of someone who loves God and country in that order.
Before his conversion, Logan served a tour in Iraq as an artilleryman. He narrates his journey from the frontlines to the baptismal pool clearly and simply. His journey wasn’t a one-time, Damascus-road type moment. Rather it was a series of small steps, of realizing he had domesticated God. But Logan found his pacifism hadn’t replaced his patriotism.
When Logan realized that he was more like his enemies than he was like God, everything changed for him. He could no longer kill for God or country. But he still loved his fellow soldiers and his country.
Perhaps the most interesting and well-presented aspect of Logan’s journey was his exit from the military. Even though he could no longer in good conscience carry a weapon, Logan wanted to remain a part of his unit. He applied not for the conscientious objector status that would have him withdraw from the Army altogether, but for 1-A-O status, which would allow him to return unarmed to combat with his unit. As Logan explained:
By applying for 1-A-O status, I was actively trying to return to combat. I didn’t see Christians as being prohibited from being present in war, only perpetrating it.
Unfortunately, Logan was rejected by both his fellow enlisted soldiers and Christians who objected to his desire to remain in the Army. Despite his earnest desire to continue to serve his country the way his God would permit, Logan was dismissed from the military.
Ironically – and this withering critique is central to Logan’s message, the Church had not prepared Logan to dialogue effectively about his desires – both to serve God and his country. Logan wasn’t content with an either-or dichotomy. As he says,
I found very little satisfaction in the two ideological extremes – strict obedience or absolute objection – currently available to me. Without any substantive theological training, I didn’t know how to respond in faith to the call to love my enemies… All too frequently we fail to engage meaningfully with how church history informs us about war.
Unfortunately, most churches are ill-equipped to help soldiers understand the ramifications of their choices, or to provide them a healthy space to heal from the trauma of war.
Today, Logan serves as a Christian peacemaker, and also works with soldiers and veterans to help them find peace in the wake of their service.
The Church’s debate over war and violence has – ironically – never been overly peaceful. Logan’s story bears evidence that we’re no closer today to being able to come together as brothers and sisters to wrestle together with such an important issue.
Could we find a middle third way to love the country that has undeniably shaped us without uncritically embracing and celebrating everything that country has done? Could we imagine a way to serve our country that does not compromise our first commitment to God?
If Logan’s story is any indication, that third way does exist. We would do well to hear his story.
Bottom Line: Logan’s story is sure to infuriate and inspire both sides. All the more reason that any Christian who seriously questions the role of violence should read this book. The Church needs this conversation.
YOUR TURN: Do you think violence is ever appropriate for Christians? Is there a place for pacifists in the military?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review purposes from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”