Friday, October 19, 2012

From Soldier to Pacifist

I have been a soldier in the U.S. Army for a little over 2 years. I have been a soldier-at-heart, for the past 7 years. When I was 13, I saw that Marines commercial where the guy climbs up the mountain and becomes a Marine:




This was the first time that I had ever given much thought to the military at all. I was a research-oriented kid, so I started studying the Marines, called and talked to the recruiters, looked up their history, read books and so on. A couple of years before this experience was the sad day of 9/11. This tragedy, coupled with my new found interest in the military, was a driving force pushing me towards service to my country.
       Over the next several years (between ages 13-17), I spent alot of time researching the various branches, their subdivisions, and various job possibilities within the service. I chose to enlist in the Army because at the time it gave me the most options as to what I could do in the service. I enlisted as an 11B Infantryman because I wanted to be the guy taking the fight to the enemy. I am not saying that other branches or jobs don't do their part to fight our wars, only that Infantryman appealed to me the most for what I wanted out of the service (get as close as possible to, fight and kill the enemy). My main motives for joining the military were: a desire to protect and defend my country and family, to protect others around the world who could not do so themselves, by extension of my actions help promote my countries objectives around the world. A key Bible verse for me when I enlisted was, John 15:13 . I felt that by laying down my life for my fellow soldiers, or if need be other innnocent people around the world, that I would be showing the most possible love for them.
       Fast-forward a little bit. In the summer of 2010, I left for basic training in FT. Benning, GA. After basic training I was shipped to Ft. Bliss/El Paso , TX. I have been here in El Paso for the last 2 years. The last two years have been filled with all kinds of military training, weeks in the field and at the rifle ranges preparing for deployment, a month in Death Valley, California this summer, and my wedding about a year ago. Like any job it's had ups and downs, good times, bad times, fun and not so fun times. I'm not complaining though, for a young, energitic, passionate patriot, it has been a blast. This past summer, however, something changed.
       Over block leave this summer (2012), I was confronted with the theology of non-violence that is taught in the New Testament. I understand that many may not agree with me that this is what the Bible teaches, but that's not the point of this article. I would be more than willing to comment on and talk to anyone openly about my beliefs and where I get them etc...feel free to comment on this post or shoot me an email, and I'll respond as soon as possible. Back to the story..... I was introduced to several books on the subject. Here's one that heavily infuenced me : Myth of A Christian Nation, by Gregory Boyd . A sermon series that immensly helped in my conversion (from soldier to pacifist) can be found here: Inglorious Pastors, taught by Pastor Bruxy Cavey (The Meeting House) .
       I've listed these resources as a starting point for the theology of nonviolence. This topic is very complex and could take many hours to fully explain and hash through. If you are interested in the deeper theology of my beliefs I encourage you to check them out.
       The key reason I have become a pacifist, or believer in non-violence...,whatever technical term we want to call it, is this. I was confronted with the words of Jesus. Words such as these:

"My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36) If Jesus would not allow his disciples to protect and defend Him, who was the most innocent person that ever walked the earth, I cannot justify defending others by using violence. If my King won't let me fight for Him, who can I fight for?

 "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."(Matthew 5:38-48) These verses were key in my conversion ( from soldier to pacifist). I already know how to love my friends and family and country. Jesus, however, says it is not good enough to just "love those who love you", but that we must also love those who don't love us. If my wife, child, brother, sister, father, mother, best friend, etc were to commit evil against me, I would NEVER respond with violence. If I am to treat my enemy the same as those close to me, I cannot do violence to him either.

Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." (Matthew 26:52) Peter had just lopped off the ear of one of the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus. Jesus rebuked Peter and then healed the wounded man ! Again, if ever there were a justified time for self protection, or the protection of another, this was it !

The Apostle Paul echoes Jesus' words by saying this:
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-21) I believe that even when we are wronged and feel that evil has been done to us, we must "leave room for God's wrath". In this passage Paul helps us to respond in love to those who wrong us by pointing out that everyone is accountable to God and eventually He will judge. It is our job to respond with acts of love, not hate.
      
       I was confronted not with a random man's teaching, a random pastor's beliefs, or what a book had to say, but by these words above. Certainly men and pastors and books can have good things to say, but they are not what convinced me. It was the words of Jesus, the words of the Bible that convinced me. Others, such as sermons and books helped, yes, but only to the extent that they pointed back to and made prominent the plain, simple, easy to understand teaching of Jesus. I came to a point where my own internal justification for my actions, my job, service to my country etc....mattered for nothing if it didn't fit within the teachings of my Lord, Jesus Christ. I had rallied around the belief in Just War, which I came to realize is just simply not taught in the Bible. I found the exact opposite. I found the call of Jesus, to join Him in the Kingdom of God, where the morals and ideals of this world are not good enough. I found that I am more than willing to die for a cause, but that Jesus was calling me to never kill for a cause. Here's a quick clip that captures what I'm getting at:



I found that as part of the Kingdom of God, fellow Christians would be off-limits for me to ever kill. I also realized that Jesus was calling me to not only love those that I wanted to love (i.e. friends, family, citizens of my own country), but to love my enemy as well. Here is another quick video clip that sums up this mentality:


I hope I haven't bored you with videos, if I have, sorry haha !
       As a result of this new-found conviction, I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I wanted to follow what I believe are the clear teachings of Jesus, but I was also a Soldier. What could I do? !Thank God that the United States realized back before WWI, that sometimes, soldiers can have a change of conscience. They created the Conscientious Objector status. It's a rather old tradition. Many countries other than our own have recognized the Conscientious Objector througout history. Some have been allowed to avoid the draft or get out of the military as a result, others were killed or imprisoned because they refused to serve their country through violence. After much prayer and seeking advice from family and friends, on September 12th, 2012 (a little over 1 month ago) I applied for a Conscientious Objector Discharge from the Army. As a result, the Army placed me on Rear Detachment in my unit, so that I will not have to deploy while the process is taking place. The process of becoming a Conscientious Objector (CO) takes several months. I have had to write an essay stating my beliefs and their source. I have been interviewed by several officers in my Chain of Command. Eventually, my case will make it up to Washington DC , where the CO Review Board at the Pentagon will decide if I can be released early from service because of my new beliefs. If all goes well ( which it has so far), I could be out of the Army by summer of 2013.
       I know I've probably raised alot of questions. Feel free to comment below or send me a personal email @ young.matt71@gmail.com 
I do not mean to offend anyone by sharing my beliefs. I am doing what I feel called to do by the teaching of Jesus. I'm not saying that others in the military, law enforcement or government are not Christians, only that I believe they are wrong in their interpretation of Jesus' teachings about violence. This is not a salvation issue but a discipleship issue. I must follow my Master wherever He leads. If others feel they can follow Jesus and his teachings and be in the military at the same time, I respect them for it. I don't want to knock or judge anyone ! My hope is that we can unite together around the important things, and help each other to follow our Lord better each day.
     
If all this post has done is start new conversations, get you thinking about this topic again or for the first time, then I'm satisfied. It also serves to inform about my journey, from Soldier to Pacifist. I pray that my story and experience will encourage others in their walk with Jesus. I pray that together, we can take seriously the “red letters” and start living the way the bride of the crucified Christ should.

Peace,
Matt




9 comments:

  1. Amen brother! It is one thing for a woman to say she is a pacifist, but I believe (and have seen first hand)that it takes WAY more courage for a man and especially a husband and father to be one.
    It is a new rode and way of thinking, "but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world"
    Keeping your growing little family in our prayers.
    Thank you so much for being willing to share what God is teaching you.

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  2. Convenient that you discovered these beliefs right before you were supposed to deploy. Not fulfilling your contract and getting out of the deployment will result in someone else going in your place. Hope you can sleep at night knowing that another soldier and that soldiers family will suffer the hardships of deployment while you hang out at home.

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    1. As you have replied as "Anonymous" I am not quite sure how to respond to you personally. I understand that the timing of my new beliefs may look to some as though I am intentionally trying to "get out of deployment". I am not, however, concerned with what others may think of my actions, but rather with following what I feel God is saying to me. As to your point of "not fulfilling my contract", I agree. It is not fulfilling my contract. I would only like to point out that the Department of the Army has seen fit to allow an entire regulation and process just for dealing with cases like mine. If the Army recognizes that soldiers may have legitimate change of conscience while serving, and institutes a system for determining if it will let them out or not, then it is not me but the Army that your frustration should be towards. I applied for CO status knowing full well that I may still have to deploy. The local and DOA chain-of-command made a determination based on the benefit of the Army, as to if I would deploy or not. I appreciate your contribution to this conversation Sir/Ma'am.

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  3. Anonymous Person #2November 8, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    Anonymous: I know your statement was not aimed at me, but I thought I had a point to bring out that may shed added light on the situation. You said that by him not fulfilling his contract, it would result in someone else going in his place, while he gets to "hang out at home". Yes, someone else will go in his place, but that is out of that person's own choice. That man/woman would have made the choice to go into the Army with the knowledge that he/she will deploy. They aren't oblivious to all the emotions/fears that one might feel for having to deploy; they willingly made that choice. Just because God convicts different people after a prior commitment they made does not make them any less of a person or some kind of "bum". It takes a lot more courage and commitment to stand by your convictions, no matter how hard the choice and how much ridicule one could get from it, than willingly do something that you previously committed to doing, but that would now violate your conscience and what God has told you to do.

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  4. I guess by reading this, I'm still trying to process it all. I do not fully understand why people believe what they do, and I'm not about to get into that with you. But without the Army, what are you going to do with your life? You basically already wasted 2+ years of your life to something that you changed your mind about. Now what? You have a child on the way, and you just threw away basically any income you had coming in. Now a days, recieving income, or better yet, even obtaining a decent job is not an easy thing to do. A college degree is normally necessary in order to get any where close to decent. And college my friend, is not cheap. So i guess that goes back to my question, Now what?

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    1. This post was meant to be about my conversion to nonviolence. It seems as though you are saying that because the Army is a "good job" or a steady source of income, and that the pressures of life, ie. having a child, are mounting upon me, I should have ignored my conviction ? Just making sure I understand what you are saying. As to "now what?", I'll be honest. I'm not 100% sure at this moment what occupation I will end up in if/when I am discharged. The way I see it I'm in the same boat I would be 1.5 years from now if I were to be discharged normally. I never intended to make the Army a career so I would be in this same position (searching for a job) roughly a year from now anyways.
      Before I wrap this up I want to make a quick comment on your statement, "without the Army, what are you going to do with your life". This seems to imply that the Army is my life. That no other option is available in life for me. What am I going to do with my life? I'm going to serve God, and follow wherever He leads. That may sound naive in light of the above life concerns you mentioned. I believe, however, it is the correct response for one who has purposed to follow Jesus. I can't help but think of this verse in light of this topic:

      "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."- Jesus

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  5. Matt, the dichotomy of war is that it is simultaneously the most heinous and the most honorable of human endeavors. We condemn, and rightfully so, the Hitlers, the Pol Pots, and the Saddams of the world, those who make war for power and profit.
    On the other hand, those who fight wars in order to defend the defenseless, restore the peace, and establish justice; they are among those whom the Apostle John was talking about when he wrote that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend.

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    1. I agree that it can be an honorable decision to be willing to die for a cause as in the Gospel of John. However, I cannot find reason from scripture that as citizens of the kingdom of God we should ever kill for a cause. I find it impossible to reconcile the command to love our enemy as Christ loved us, and yet be willing to kill that enemy at the same time.

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  6. Matt,

    Praise God for you Brother! This is an amazing story that I hope you are able to share with others in the army to help liberate them from violence and spur them on towards life in Christ. I realize this is a tough transition for you, and I pray that Christ will continue to strengthen you and help keep your eyes fixed on him throughout the process. I commend you for holding fast to these convictions in the face of backlash from your family/friends/army/ignorant blog commenters. Don't let them get you down! Hold fast to Christ and to scripture and no one can touch you!

    Peace,

    Ryan

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