Citizenship Confusion: The Problem with Praying for Soldiers
Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
A year or so ago, one of our regular commenters posted an article that caused me to seriously question how I thought about war and our nation. While I have never been a warmonger (at least, not in my adult life), I suppose I had always felt that when America enters a conflict, Christians should pray for the safety of our troops and a quick victory. It was not until I read Seth’s article that I realized that I rarely considered praying for peace. Seth writes:
It’s not an easy thing, though people make sound as if it were with flip reminders to Pray for Our Troops! What does this mean for me as a citizen of two kingdoms—one of which is eternal and good, the other being oh-so-temporary and not all that good? How should I pray for “our” troops. Safety? Victory? The punishment of evil?
After I read this fascinating and challenging post, it struck me that for most of my life I have felt a bit uncomfortable with the concept of “peace.”
It was not that I wanted America to be at war; rather, I suspect I had picked up a bit of nationalism from my time in fairly conservative churches and allowed it to frame the way I viewed warfare, so that my primary desire was for America to “win,” to beat the “bad guys.”
(On a side note, I was fascinated to hear American soldiers refer to Afghan fighters as “bad guys” in the painful, but powerful war documentary, Restrepo. It caused me to wonder what this playground-terminology might say about the way soldiers and citizens conceive of our national “enemies.”)
I think what bothered me about the idea of praying for peace was that it felt like giving up, like I would be betraying my country or failing to support our military. It also certainly did not help that I considered “peace” a liberal, not a Christian, conservative virtue. After reading Seth’s article and evaluating why I felt so uncomfortable with the idea of peace, I was convicted that I had let my status as an American citizen who lives in a fairly conservative culture define how I viewed war, and therefore how I prayed for soldiers. These feelings of discomfort were not the results of conscious, rational beliefs in the sacredness of our country or the rightness of our fight; I was uncomfortable with peace because it felt wrong in my gut. But once I submitted these feelings to Christ and considered what my heavenly citizenship demanded of me, I quickly saw that my responsibility was to always pray for peace.
I strongly encourage you to read Seth’s article, The Problem with Praying for Soldiers and to consider what it means to pray for our soldiers.
I think we should definitely pray for peace. I am also aware that peace must sometimes be made to prevail with a sword–hence the divinely sanctioned economy of violence known as “human government,” which does just exactly that. However, there are institutions devoted to making peace prevail without the sword, which must not be encroached upon nor co-opted by the economy of violence: the family and the church. This sets sharp limits to patriotism.
Alan, excellent topic to think about. I’d like to push you on some things, mainly for clarity’s sake. 1) while we are citizens of heaven, we also are citizens of the where we reside (as Jeremiah tells us). What are our duties as citizens here, then? If we shouldn’t pray for our troops, should we serve in the military as John the Baptist and Jesus seem to support?
2) is there a form of prayer for troops you would approve from a christian standpoint? Could we pray for their safety or does that entail the unsafety of others? What if the soldier is a loved one, like a brother, spouse, or son?
3) Is your not liking referring to those a nation fights in war as the bad guys because a) no bad guys/good guys really exist b) because it inflates our thoughts of ourselves or c) because good and bad guys may exist but it is impossible to really distinguish in practice? Relating to your answer, can you make distinctions in actions such as World War II? Would you have prayed for peace if that included Hitler’s dominance of Europe? Would you have prayed for the success of the Normandy invasion? I only bring out Hitler for clarity. If we can’t make good guy/bad guy distinctions in such conflicts, then I guess we never can.
Just one more quick note. I know Seth answered a few of the questions in his post. I’m just curious as to your own thoughts on these matters.
I’m not sure I’m quite ready to say that we should always only pray for peace. I suppose I would say that we should always begin with a peace.
But a peace that allows an evil dictator to continue to oppress others and commit genocide is not really peace. So, I think you’re right to ask for some clarity. But what should we pray for? Seth suggests that we should pray for peace and empathy, and I believe that that is where we should always begin, but I also think that in certain conflicts and in certain situations would also be appropriate right to pray for the safety of our soldiers. For me, so this article made me aware that I was comfortable praying for the safety of our soldiers, but not for peace.
As far as the use of “bad guys,” the language seems to me to be far too simplistic to describe an enemy and almost in conflict. I wouldn’t have a problem saying that Hitler was a bad guy, but I don’t know if I would say that the German army was comprised of bad guys, since there were probably many soldiers with varying degrees of commitment to the war and Hitler’s ideals.
Nora got bored of me commenting, so I might come back and say q bit more once she goes down for a nap.
Okay, Nora is asleep. I’ll try to answer a few more questions before I need to go and study.
in regard to the question whether or not I believe Christians can be in the military, I don’t think that there is any good, biblical support for the claim that Christians should never be a part of any military. However, I do think that Christians should think long and hard about what they are signing up for before they join any military force. I do not believe that just because a Christian is obeying orders to shoot an enemy that that Christian is somehow not responsible if that violence was unjust.
As with any occupation, Christians need to consciously consider whether their work will demand them to go against God’s law. I don’t feel that I could join the military in America right now because I’m not convinced that our military engagements are just. And I believe that it is better to err on the side of caution; if we have any doubt about whether we might be asked to commit an unjust act, then we should probably avoid putting ourselves in that situation by not signing up for the military.
I suppose that with both the question of whether Christians should join the military and how Christians should pray for soldiers I believe that we need more thoughtful consideration about what these actions and entail and whether or not they truly glorify God.
I’m still sorting through these questions myself, but I do believe that Seth’s article is helpful because it calls into question the presuppositions that many Americans, or perhaps just me, have or had about our relationship to war and the military.
Alan, thanks for taking the time to respond. Your answers clarified what I was wondering, especially regarding possible implications. These are tough questions, especially since they have very practical implications and I certainly don’t have them figured out with any absolute certainty. Joining the military is especially tough, since in joining you can’t alway choose how you will be used. At the same time, there is something to the fact that the military is a means by which liberties such as free exercise of religion are protected. How willing should we be to participate in such protection (since we certainly enjoy the benefit) given your legitimate concern about possible injustice? How much should we take comparable considerations into account when buying clothing, shopping in certain stores, paying taxes, and many other activities which may have many connections to both good and sinful activity?
I should probably note that I’m not trying to take up more of your time by asking you to answer these questions. I think they only show how intricate these choices are. Thanks again for the discussion.
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