Kenneth Copeland and David Barton’s Detrimental Guidance for Veterans

A member of a nearby congregation enlisted in the army several years ago and was sent to Iraq. When he returned home others in church joyfully welcomed him back, pouring attention on him and proclaiming him a hero. He didn’t respond well. His minister said to me, “This young man hates the attention and praise. He knows they mean well but he doesn’t feel heroic. He is broken and guilt-ridden.”

Two religious right leaders, the televangelist Kenneth Copeland and the well-known undependable amateur historian David Barton have a message for him: GET OVER IT!

Don’t feel remorse. Don’t confess your sins. Don’t repent. Don’t get therapy. Push aside post-traumatic you fight in the U.S. military, “You are guiltless…you are esteemed.”

Apparently, these two stars of the religious right think there is no need for soldiers to determine whether a war to which they are called to fight is just. Soldiers are just to assume that it is just. And there is also no need for ministers to do what they can to discern whether a war is just by knowing anything substantial about the just war tradition. It seems Copeland and Barton think it unnecessary for ministers to offer caution and guidance to soldiers lest they engage in an unjust war, much less for ministers to call people to follow the nonviolent way of Jesus. Ministers are simply to assume that all American wars are just and join the war pep-squad. In fact the silence of ministers has been part of the problem. Their indiscriminant affirmation of all things military and their lack of guidance have made Christian young people who enter the armed forces more vulnerable to moral injury.

There are plenty of veterans who are troubled by those who indiscriminately extol soldiers as heroes or say to them, “Thank you for your service.” Most people who speak in such ways have no idea what they’re talking about and those who have seen combat know it. As one Marine veteran wrote: “If you truly want to demonstrate your good character, patriotism, and support for the troops and veterans, rather than merely mouth meaningless expressions of gratitude for something you don’t truly understand or care much about, do something meaningful and real. Do what is truly in the interest of this nation and of those victimized by war.”

The suicide rate among combat veterans is distressingly high. In a note left behind by Daniel Somers, a veteran who shot himself a few months ago, he wrote, “The simple truth is this. During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity.” The right response is not to quote misappropriated scriptures at troubled veterans and tell them to get over it.

Their inner pain, their regret, their sense of guilt needs to be taken seriously, not dismissed. They need loving support and a place where they can confess their brokenness to the extent they are able. They need to receive grace without either additional condemnation or over-eager whitewashing by those determined to bestow high esteem without ever hearing the painful stories of veterans of war. They don’t need religious cheer-leaders of war and warriors like Barton and Copeland.

Fortunately, there are people such as those at the Soul Repair Center in Fort Worth, Texas who are dedicated to working with morally injured veterans. We need to do all we can to “bear the burdens” and “restore with patience” (Galatians 6:1-2) those veterans who may doubt they can ever be restored. Our need for heroes must not over-ride their need for honest and compassionate support.

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