You know by now I’ve been wary of the growing infatuation with guns in our society. My concern is for those that may face moral and ethical temptations to use them for the wrong reasons. The Christian has a much higher standard to answer to than the Second Amendment ( as important as it is), state gun laws (as good as they may be), and sloganeering by secular political and advocacy groups (as clever as they may be). So, I’ve issued a caution to Christians when it comes to equipping ourselves for deadly conflict.
This past week, though, I got another view of the gun question, when I visited chaplains of the Arizona Army National Guard. Of course, military chaplains are unarmed non-combatants, and for very good reasons. I’ll explore that virtuous philosophy in a future post. Instead, here I want to reflect on the women and men these chaplains serve. They are virtually all remarkably brave and professionally trained bearers of weapons. One soldier, who may have misunderstood my position on the issue, made an emphatic point of telling me, “I’m trained to kill those that want to kill you. I don’t shoot to take life, I only shoot to save life.”
His was a poignant remark, and one I quickly came to fully appreciate as I talked with the men and women in uniform that serve our country at great risk to their own safety and that of their families. Though I’ve been around military people for a long time–and I’ve done plenty of funerals at Arlington Cemetery–for some reason this visit brought the whole thing home to me in a way I hadn’t seen it before.
First, I came to realize just how highly trained, rehearsed, and restrained our military professionals are in the use of lethal weapons. The ones I met were extraordinarily self-disciplined and conscious of the moral gravity of their task. In a conversation with their senior chaplain, I learned how the vetting process goes on whether or not to use lethal force, how it can be done with the least amount of civilian collateral damage. Chaplains advise on these literal life-and-death decisions because along the entire chain of command there is a serious commitment to neutralizing dangerous, life-threatening enemies while protecting innocent non-combatants.
The average Christian will never have to think about these things, let alone execute decisions that will take human lives, sometimes on a grand scale. Only a miniscule number of us will ever need to process in prayer the affect of the killing of a fellow human being on the soul. One chaplain told me a soldier that mistakenly identified a car on the battlefield as filled with terrorists, but instead he killed an innocent couple and their small children. The soldier was so deeply traumatized by the tragedy that he committed suicide.
These highly skilled, but overwhelmingly compassionate and goodhearted souls, must not only risk their lives, but their consciences and reputations as well. They do it by taking on an onerous responsibility most of us would rather pass on. They must risk incurring guilt, shame, and sin, being labeled baby killers, monsters, and invaders. Worse yet, they risk being ignored by those of us that can’t relate to the otherworldly experiences that have permanently altered their lives.
In my humble estimation, there is a HUGE difference between the men and women in uniform that train exhaustively, operate under strict command and regulation, expose themselves to both grave danger and severe reprimand and punishment because of the use or misuse of their weapons and the rank amateurs like me that may want to empower ourselves like soldiers, but shirk all the taxing demands they willingly endure–again and again–to earn the right to bear arms to protect us and our country.
Pardon me while I say it like it is: Taking on the power of life and death over other human beings with no corresponding demand on our souls, psyches, and mental and physical prowess, cheapens the commitment of the exceptional men and women I spent time with this week.
God bless our military for taking our safety so very, very seriously.
“[T]he one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” — Jesus (Luke 12:48c)