Resources help communities offer support and encourage healing
by Sarah Henken and Ryan White | Special to Presbyterian News Service
The PC(USA)’s Militarism Working Group has assembled resources that can aid congregations and individuals in reflecting on the costs of war this Veterans Day.
Militarism is one of the intersectional priorities of the Matthew 25 movement, and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program curates a resource page on confronting militarism. Here you can find policy papers, reports and webinar series related to the issue of militarism. These provide context and background information that may be helpful in understanding the breadth of the issues that may have touched the lives of veterans in local churches and communities.
Understanding the challenges that veterans in the local church and wider community face is a meaningful effort the church can make toward healing for veterans, according to the Rev. Matt Fricker, a former enlisted soldier deployed to Iraq from 2003–05 who now serves as pastor of Mt. Vernon Community Presbyterian Church in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Fricker advocated for the overture Regarding Depleted Uranium in Iraq approved by the 225th General Assembly (2022), and in a recent conversation cautioned that there is no single identity of veterans. The experiences of peacetime veterans are different from wartime veterans, as are the experiences of veterans from World War II, Vietnam, Korea, the Iraq wars or Afghanistan. However, in conversations with veterans for research on forgiveness and reconciliation, Fricker says that veterans are universally seeking community and purpose.
“When you are in the military, there is a close community, and you have a mission,” he said, adding that to support veterans, “you have to help them find a purpose. Every veteran needs community and purpose. This is why the church is so important — it should be community and it has a purpose.”
In recognition of Veterans Day 2022, the Militarism Working Group sponsored a webinar on Militarism and Moral Injury with panelists of tremendous expertise on the subject, including active and retired military personnel, chaplains, theologians and a conscientious objector. The recording is available in English and with Korean interpretation as part of the ongoing Connecting the Dots webinar series.
The webinar on moral injury touched on various angles, first educating about what moral injury is, then hearing some personal reflections on the experience of ministering to those suffering from moral injury, and finally focusing on what faith communities and leaders can do to offer support and encourage healing.
The Rev. Brian Powers, a PC(USA) minister serving as executive director of the International Centre for Moral Injury at Durham University in England, stated plainly that “moral injury is a sign of a properly functioning moral system. It’s the normal response of a person with a solid moral orientation to value life, to value humanity, amidst the really dehumanizing demands of war.”
PC(USA) minister and retired Air Force chaplain David Terrinoni quoted from the retirement speech of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who said, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
Fricker shared that his experience and those of many other recent veterans is challenging when they return. Many ask what is next. Do they stay enlisted or try to find a job? But many enlisted service members have not yet attended university nor received training that is transferable to civilian employment. After returning from a tour of duty, they may think, “I just gave two years of my life to fight for the country. … I had friends get injured and die and now I get a free cheeseburger on Nov. 11,” Fricker said. “You start getting bitter; you start getting resentful. The process to get compensation or other benefits can be grueling. It starts to feel that nobody really cares. And this can lead to dark places.”
Bill Galvin, a PC(USA) ruling elder who serves as a counselor with the Center on Conscience and War, brought the perspective of conscientious objectors to the moral injury webinar. “Almost everybody in the military that calls us says they were raised in the Christian church,” he said, “and when I ask them if there was ever any conversation about conscience and war and the teachings of the church in light of military service and what they were going to be getting into if they joined, almost no one says they ever had that conversation in their church.”
One of the main goals of the Connecting the Dots webinar series is to offer education and resources to encourage these conversations in PC(USA) churches. Members of the Militarism Working Group are available for conversation and to offer workshops for churches, schools, presbyteries and other interested bodies.
The Moral Injury webinar also included some practical concerns. “In what ways do our religious and spiritual liturgies help and harm?” asked the Rev. Dr. Carrie Doehring, a PC(USA) minister and professor of pastoral care at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. “I know when I’ve coped with trauma myself, it’s very hard for me to sit through an hourlong worship service in this meditative space where if I’m carrying a lot of stress, I’m going to experience that more intensely. So, how can spiritual and religious practices help rather than harm?”
The Rev. Dennis Hysom, executive director of Presbyterian Federal Chaplaincies, recalled, “As I was leaving the army after almost 39 years, we were seeing a rise of those coming in who had zero contact with the church. None. So, my language as a chaplain was having zero impact because I was speaking church language. But the same trauma is going to be there, so I encourage, whatever community you come from, what is in your door is probably a very small portion of the need that is really outside your door. And so, for me, this is a community or corporate issue.”
Fricker is currently involved with research and study with veterans hoping to help provide opportunities for forgiveness and reconciliation. If you or someone you know is interested in speaking with Fricker, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who may be interested in deeper engagement and ministry with those suffering from moral injury might explore some of the following resources recommended by participants in the Militarism and Moral Injury webinar.
Organizations focused on moral injury:
- Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School.
- International Centre for Moral Injury at Durham University.
- Shay Moral Injury Center at Volunteers of America, which has a 10-week certificate program.
- Brock, Rita Nakashima and Gabriella Lettini, “Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury After War.” Boston, Beacon Press, 2012.
- Grossman, Dave, “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.” Boston, Little, Brown, 1995.
- Morris, Joshua, “Moral Injury among Returning Veterans: From Thank You for Your Service to a Liberative Solidarity.” Lanham, Lexington Books, 2021.
- Powers, Brian S., “Full Darkness: Original Sin, Moral Injury, and Wartime Violence.” Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2019.
- Ramsay, Nancy J., & Doehring, Carrie (Eds.), “Military Moral Injury and Spiritual Care: A Resource for Religious Leaders and Professional Caregivers.” Saint Louis, Chalice Press, 2019.
- Terrinoni, Victoria, “Where You Go, I Will Go: Lessons from a Military Spouse.” Victoria Terrinoni, 2021.
- Soldiers of Conscience
In addition, the 225th General Assembly (2022) directed the Office of Theology & Worship to compile resources for worship and rituals that might be useful in ministering to veterans. These will be available in 2024.
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.