I served in the United States Air Force for eight years. I am grateful for the friends I’ve made, the many experiences I’ve had, and the lessons I’ve learned. Unlike many Veterans who have never deployed, I was able to deploy on three separate occasions. Ironically, becoming a follower of Jesus incited my joining of the military. Consequently, it was my maturing as a follower of Jesus that led me to leave. Let me explain.
In the summer of 2007, Jesus met me powerfully, completely turning my world upside down. I was playing college basketball and my obsession was to eventually play overseas, but something in me changed. My love for the game was replaced with this unshakeable passion to know Jesus. It wasn’t a conscious decision but my love for the game just wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t know what to do. I had no backup plans and I didn’t want to stay in the small city I grew up in. Shout out to Havelock, NC. So I did what most people in that city did; I joined the military.
Fast forward six years, I’m in Afghanistan on my third deployment and during the long days I began reading because that’s just what I do; I read a lot. And I came across this guest post on Kurt Willems blog site about an Army soldier being confront by the peaceable Messiah. This vet came to believe that something about following Jesus and serving in the military was incompatible. Something about this post shook me to the core. Up into that time, I had never considered if what I was doing was ok. Our country does a good job training us to believe that being in the military is honorable, period. No questions asked. As I sat at my desk reflecting on my training, on the briefs that prepared me for this tour. I had to realize that my job is ultimately to bring support in order to kill “the enemy”. Of course they were the enemy and we were the good guys, as far as the story that was told to us.
After reading that blog post I couldn’t let go at how cavalier some of my comrades were on the number of bombs we dropped. I’ll just say it wasn’t a few.. The cognitive dissonance was real. Should followers of Jesus participate in killing people in the military? Taken a step further, should followers of Jesus seek to kill anyone? As most people do when confronted with paradigm shifting news, I rolled out the “what abouts”.
What about the genocide and violence and wars of the OT? God seems to be totally ok with all of that. What about the commendation Jesus gives the Roman Centurion on his faith? He didn’t tell him to leave. What if a really big white man breaks into your home to kill your wife and kids? What if someone slaps your cheek? What if someone takes your jacket?
I needed answers. I came back home conflicted. For a time, just being home brought relief for my disorientation but those conflicting thoughts came back. I began to notice violence everywhere in new ways. As a nation we’re addicted to it, we use violence to solve conflicts and to entertain. I read from a number of scholars and teachers, both ancient and alive on non-violence, war, and self defense. I eventually stumbled upon a book by Preston Sprinkle called “Fight: A Christian Case For Nonviolence”. It was clear, accessible, and powerful. This book was literally a game changer for me. I wasn’t experiencing cognitive dissonance now. I felt guilty because I helped kill a lot of people. Everything about my job is geared toward that telos and I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt no honor in my job, only shame.
It wasn’t even a question of if I should leave now but when? Whether I had a job lined up when I came out wasn’t the question. The question wasn’t am I prepared to get out. In fact, there were no questions. It was simple, in my conscious, I could not continue to follow Jesus and remain in the Air Force. Today, I am convinced that Jesus calls followers of Himself to a live of non-violent enemy love. And so on Veteran’s Day I am typically quiet. When people thank me for my service I wince internally but I still say thank you. I’ve been out of the military for almost three years and I still don’t know how I should feel about being a Veteran. I’m still conflicted.