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Bishop Magness on the ethos of service

Bishop Magness on the ethos of service

Bishop James Magness, Bishop Suffragan, Federal Ministries of The Episcopal Church, writes in the Huffington Post about “A New Era of Serving God and Country.”

Today the social and religious landscape of America is changing. While seeking the status of being a Conscientious Objector may be an honorable choice, there are other honorable choices as well. During that era I chose to be one of the draft-avoiders and joined the Navy. Though by that time I had a mostly dormant faith in God, even I knew that I need not expect much support from people in the pews — and perhaps not even from the clergy who led the congregations.

For those and other reasons many of us today struggle to understand why young men and women, frequently people of faith, are so eager to line up at Armed Forces Recruiting Offices to join up, be administered the oath of office and take the roller coaster-like ride of basic training or boot camp. The Marine Corps, the military service with the highest expectations and most demanding standards, has so many requests to join that an applicant may have to wait six months or more to go to boot camp. Considering that we have just completed 10 years of a brutal and ongoing war, and that there is no requirement for compulsory military service, something is happening that most of us may have missed.

My observation is that a new ethos is emerging about military service. Even though far less than 1 percent of our citizens of our country serve in any branch of the military, as a society we have become very connected with men and women in the military services. A significant part of this positive connectedness in no small part has come as a result of all the National Guard and Reserve members from our communities who serve alongside their active-duty counterparts. It is very possible today for a soldier, sailor, marine or airman to be in Afghanistan one week and then the very next week be back at home working in the office and sitting beside you in the pew of your synagogue, church or mosque.

I recognize that any war, by the very nature of what people who are engaged in armed conflict do to one another, will always be viewed through the lens of moral questions. Some of these questions will be faith-based. It is always possible that military service will result in periods of being immersed in the moral tension of war. As a follower of Jesus Christ I hope we will never cease to view the actions of our military within the context of the scriptures and teachings of the church. Though the wars of the current era are no exception, our military leaders impress me as having an incredibly high standard of moral and legal requirements that must be met before engaging in doing personal harm to our enemies. Accordingly, I think it is certainly very possible that people of faith can honorably serve in our country’s Armed Services.


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Gregory Orloff

Well put, JC Fisher.

It bears remembering sources like Hippolytus and the Apostolic Tradition, in which military life was on the list of proscribed occupations considered unfit for Christians, which one had to renounce before being baptized.

Needless to say, it’s “a little hard” to “respect the dignity of every human being” as we promise in our baptismal covenant when your occupation trains you to chant “Blood, blood, blood makes the green grass grow!” in boot camp and you have to look upon your enemies as less than human to shoot and bomb them.

There’s more of a disconnect here than perhaps most of us are willing to look at or admit.


While seeking the status of being a Conscientious Objector may be an honorable choice, there are other honorable choices as well.

Christians aren’t about “honor”, they’re about (or SHOULD be about) conforming to Christ.

Serving in the military will likely require courage, and be the result of thought-out principles and virtues.

But in terms of conformity to Christ, let’s be honest here: military service (or police, or any weapon-carrying profession) doesn’t.

JC Fisher

who took my WW2 vet dad to lunch today, thanking him for his service. Because he (or any veteran) certainly conforms to Christ at least as well as *I* do! Lord have mercy…

Gregory Orloff

It’s eerily ironic that this piece appears on the feast of Saint Martin of Tours — a man who so felt soldiering was incompatible with the values of the Gospel, he became a conscientious objector in the name of Christ Jesus.

The good bishop really must start keeping up with the news. Things like “preemptively” invading Iraq on false justifications, Abu Ghraib and automated drone attacks on civilian targets really call into question the “incredibly high standard of moral and legal requirements” he thinks our military leadership has in engaging the enemy.

Let’s never forget what Jesus said about loving one’s enemies, turning the other cheek and treating others the same way one wants them to treat us. The romanticizing of militarism in today’s America flies in the face of that.

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