(Originally given as a devotional at SDA military chaplains training; revised and extended)
Paul asked me to share with you some reflections based on an event I attended last week at the University of Notre Dame. I start with this text: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
General Douglas MacArthur, in his 1962 farewell address at West Point, said, “the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
And a third quote comes from a book sitting in most of your chapels–The Book of Worship for US Forces. Published in 1974, it was the last DoD sponsored hymnal. It has a prayer service for peace, and this has stayed with me:
In every prayer for peace there is a touch of blasphemy.
It is as though war were inevitable and only God could extricate us.
But we are the warriors, the makers and wagers of destruction.
(Not God. Not even “they.”)
Perhaps our prayers for peace should be for forgiveness.
And perhaps they should be said first to our brothers.
For some time I have been reflecting on how we teach noncombatancy. We haven’t done so with much intentionality as a denomination since the end of the Vietnam-era draft. In April, the General Conference hosted a conference on noncombatancy. In a published report, Mario Ceballos was quoted as saying, Adventists “are not a people of war. We are people of peace.”
In May 2019 I gave a presentation at the 180 Symposium on Youth Ministry at Andrews University on the topic, “Teaching Peace During Multi-Generation War.” I outlined there some of the reading I’ve been doing, making connections with Mennonites and Friends, and reviewing existing curricula. I’ve long wanted to attend an event at the Kroc Institute. A good friend I met when I was a campus minister a UCSB, Dan Philpott, has been a faculty member of Kroc for many years. I wrote to George Lopez, the director of the summer institute, to see if he had a bibliography, and he invited me to come and be a participant.
The presentations greatly expanded my understanding of what the field of peace studies includes. This graphic highlights, in the center circle, the main areas of strategic peacebuilding. The outer circle shows many of the different disciplines as tasks included.
Some of these tasks are done by civilian governments, some by the military, some by NGOs, some by churches.
I’d like to reflect on the roles we play as chaplains. And to show that this is not something original to me, and not something foreign I’m imposing, I’m going to quote from military doctrinal publications.
First, a couple of definitions. Joint Publication 3-07.3, Peace Operations, defines peacemaking as “a diplomatic process aimed at establishing a cease fire or an otherwise peaceful settlement of a conflict.” Peace building, on the other hand, “provides the reconstruction and societal rehabilitation necessary to resolve core conflict issues or prevent further outbreaks of violent conflict. It promotes reconciliation, strengthens and rebuilds civil infrastructure and institutions, builds confidence, and supports economic reconstruction.”
Military chaplains are involved in several aspects of peacebuilding; these are covered by Army chaplaincy doctrine under the headings of “External Advisement” (ATP 1-05.03) and “Internal Advisement” (ATP 1-05.04).
External Advisement consists of chaplains advising the commander about issues in the area of operations related to religion. It includes the specific products of Religious Area Analysis and Religious Impact Assessment, as well as our participation in Soldier and Leader Engagements with host nation religious leaders (such as those I participated in with Islamic Affairs Officers of the Kuwait Ministry of Defense). It also includes our involvement at the strategic level with diplomats and NGOs.
Chaplains operating at the strategic level can be important partners for their diplomatic colleagues. They promote the voices of the religious minorities and advocate for human rights, they can engage with intergovernmental and non-governmental agencies and foster reconciliation efforts among divided groups.
Internal Advisement consists of chaplains advising the commander “in regard to matters of religion, morals, ethics and morale” within the unit. This includes working with the JAG to advise the commander on ethical conduct of military operations. When I was in the Chaplain Officer Basic Course in 1986, we were asked, for example, “Where was the chaplain in My Lai?” We were instructed it was our responsibility to speak up when confronted with violations of the Law of Land Warfare. We were told that speaking up could end our career, but was an ethical obligation (here are some examples of chaplains who did speak up; we need to ask why chaplains at Abu Ghraib did not).
In both areas of advisement it is clear that “religious support” is understood very broadly. The chaplain’s “lane” includes more than just conducting religious services. Chaplains need to be prepared to advise on a wide range of issues including mental health, trauma impact, combat and operational stress, religious and cultural issues in the area of operations, wellness, morality, ethical conduct, etc.
Adventists bring to chaplaincy a framework that makes this broad involvement natural. Our senior Adventist Army chaplain, CH (COL) Jonathan McGraw, is Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Office of the Chief of Chaplains (he was my boss in my final two years of my Army career, when I worked for him as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee). He has spoken about the Adventist contribution to the chaplaincy being our wholistic perspective. We are not interested in getting the soul to heaven when we die (we believe in “soul-sleep” and annihilationism), but as shown by both our theological anthropology and our “health message,” we have a wholistic concern for the entire person.
This we see throughout Ellen White’s book, The Ministry of Healing (1905). Reviewing the social ills of the modern world, she pointed to Jesus’ example. “The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me'” (MH 143).
Flowing from this concern for the whole person, CH (COL) Dick Stenbakken created the Army’s Family Life Chaplain program. Likewise Chaplain McGraw, when he was a major serving as a brigade chaplain in Hawaii, created the Army’s Strong Bonds program of relationship retreats for single Soldiers, couples, and families.
Further illustrations of this wholistic perspective include Weimar’s NEWSTART program (Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunlight, Temperance, Air, Rest, Trust in Divine Power) and AdventHealth’s CREATION Health. These programs are easily used by chaplains in the military. CREATION Health includes materials which are explicitly religious, using Bible studies, and others which cover the same points referring only to their scientific basis.
This wholistic emphasis is also the reason the church serves through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), which works in 130 countries to provide not merely relief, but development and social justice, to people of every religion and ethnicity, in partnership with government agencies and NGOs.
Another issue we examined during the Summer Institute at Kroc was how to build interdisciplinary networks to aid in peace building. I went to a session on the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, which has its headquarters at Notre Dame. It links the Bishops’ Conferences, Development Agencies and Catholic Associations, and Universities and Institutes. I quickly saw Adventist parallels.
We need to create an Adventist Peacebuilding Network to intentionally connect our denominational offices (especially Education, Health, Chaplaincy, and Youth) with ADRA and our colleges and universities and healthcare systems. All of these are ways in which we are currently engaging the world to promote peace, justice, and wellness.
I’m not the first to call for this kind of systemic and strategic emphasis. You’ll find it in the 2002 GC statement, “A Call for Peace.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church operates what may be the second largest worldwide parochial school system. Each of its more than 6,000 schools, colleges, and universities is being asked to set aside one week each school year to emphasize and highlight, through various programs, respect, cultural awareness, nonviolence, peacemaking, conflict resolution, and reconciliation as a way of making a specifically ‘Adventist’ contribution to a culture of social harmony and peace. With this in mind, the Church’s Education Department is preparing curricula and other materials to help in implementing this peace program.
The education of the church member in the pew, for nonviolence, peace, and reconciliation, needs to be an ongoing process. Pastors are being asked to use their pulpits to proclaim the gospel of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation which dissolves barriers created by race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and religion, and promotes peaceful human relations between individuals, groups, and nations.
And in 1987, GC President Neal Wilson said this at a peace conference in Moscow called by Mikhail Gorbachev:
Our Christian commitment compels us to reappraise the contribution we may make to peace and the social justice intrinsic to peace. In the person of the God-man who walked among us as one of us, we see divinity and humanity combined. Thus we cannot serve God without also serving our fellowman. Not only in His incarnation but in His ministry to us we see an example of how we should relate to a choice between conflict and peace.
Elder Wilson highlighted two things: Peace and Social Justice.
A friend at Claremont Graduate University adds a third element, Thriving. I told him, I’m taking that. Because I think that adds the Adventist emphasis. “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Not just absence of war. Not just legal justice. But a healthy, balanced, thriving life.
That’s something we can all work towards and promote, wherever we are. And it fits into our role as Adventist chaplains in the military.
I conclude with a prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi, a military veteran and POW who devoted his life to service and to peace:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.