Religion as Inter-Military Relations

Posted: August 7, 2008 in Uncategorized

Tonight I stumbled across a strange AP story about U.S. soldiers joining a procession in Poland to visit the Black Madonna painting. Here’s why the soldiers took part:

Though the 300-year-old pilgrimage has deep religious and patriotic resonance in mainly Catholic Poland, the main purpose of the U.S. contingent, a tradition that has started in recent years, is to show solidarity with Poland _ an ally in Iraq and Afghanistan _ and other nations.

It’s a chance “to come together and share a little bit, and hopefully develop closer bonds with foreign militaries in a non-combat type setting,” said Master Sgt. Roman Waldron, 37, from Springfield, Illinois.

Now, granted, this is as much a patriotic exercise as a religious observance.

Many miracles have been attributed to the painting, including a 1655 siege during which 70 monks and 180 supporters held off nearly 4,000 soldiers from the Protestant Swedish army and inspired Poles to rise up and throw out the invaders.

So, it’s understandable that, as a patriotic exercise, U.S. soldiers’ participation is meant to built military ties. But the faith basis for this event contains at least two layers worth commenting on.

First, this is a good example of the way violent militarism reduces faith in Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to a means to an end, with the end being a morale boost for a military coalition. Would this be happening if the priest who blessed them at the outset, rather than instructing them to refrain from drinking and smoking during the pilgrimage, had sternly preached against violence in all circumstances? Probably not the best venue for building inter-military relations. This is similar to the way that some military chaplains use the Eucharist as a tool to steel soldiers for combat.

Second, note the Church-sanctioned miracle: a painting of Mary bringing military victory. This is a repeat of Constantine’s original lie, that painting the monogram of Christ on the shields of his soldiers at the Milvian Bridge brought a miraculous victory to his troops – military victory being the ultimate sign of God’s favor. This is not a Christian frame for viewing the world. This is the pagan, the Babylonian, way of viewing violence. (See Walter Wink’s work re: the myth of redemptive violence.)

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the instant annihilation of more than 140,000 people in Hiroshima, plus tens of thousands of others who died from causes other than instant incineration. Today, in light of the above story, we should take a moment to reflect on the words of Fr. George Zabelka, who blessed the crews of the Boxcar and the Enola Gay:

Today the world is on the brink of ruin because the Church refuses to be the Church, because we Christians have been deceiving ourselves and the non-Christian world about the truth of Christ. There is no way to follow Christ, to love as Christ loved, and simultaneously to kill other people. It is a lie to say that the spirit that moves the trigger of a flamethrower is the Holy Spirit. It is a lie to say that learning to kill is learning to be Christ-like. It is a lie to say that learning to drive a bayonet into the heart of another is motivated from having put on the mind of Christ. Militarized Christianity is a lie.


  1. Michael Westmoreland-White says:

    I like the new look. Are you going to put a section up where people can find out something about you?

  2. dcrowe says:

    Hi Michael, and welcome! I do plan to put up an “about me” section. Stay tuned.

  3. Joshua Ng says:

    You deny the concept of a ‘just war’ – but what of the larger context of the Allies vs. the Axis? Was that a just war? My country was subjugated by the Japanese and would still be under their brutal rule today if not for the military action of the US and its allies. Aren’t rulers and a terror unto the unjust, from Romans? Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.

    Let’s shift the frame a little bit. An armed stranger is charging at your family. Will you stop him with whatever maximum force (fists, knife, firearm) at your possession? (Running away – he can outrun your wife/kids)

    In other words, is there such a thing as legitimate self-defense (which can mean committing acts of ‘aggression?’

  4. dcrowe says:


    Thanks for stopping by!

    A few points about my perspective:

    1) A blanket “was that war justified” question and the more stringient question of whether the actions of a party to a conflict conform to “Christian” just war criteria are two very different inquiries. Our actions at Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki all violated just war criteria, leading me to believe that just war ethics were not a serious guiding force in the conflict for the U.S. I don’t agree with the use to which you put Romans 13 because it sets up a contradiction: should the Germans have been subject to the Nazis and shot Jews when instructed? To be “subject” is a different thing from being a “participant in the government’s slaughter.” Quakers and Mennonites in the U.S. are “subject” to the U.S. but reject the U.S.’s militarism, for example. You can’t get to Romans 13 without reading Romans 12.

    2) Re: shifting the frame – what do you think Jesus would do in that situation? For example, as a smart guy (not to mention God incarnate), he would have had to have known where Jewish nationalism under Roman oppression would lead – the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. He was in the situation you describe, magnified immensely: a very large attacking force would soon swoop down and destroy his nation, his kin, and his loved ones. As the hymn puts it, “he could have called 10,000 angels.” Instead he rejected the way of violent nationalism and taught his followers a new way to resist evil: nonviolent, self-sacrificing love. For a better discussion of your question, I’d suggest going to this page: and scrolling down to “Questions and Answers on Gospel Nonviolence,” and clicking “What if Someone is Going to Kill Your Wife and Family.”

    My main point of contention with the way of approaching the question in your comment, though, is that it replaces a historical question with a hypothetical one; Instead of asking, “What did Jesus teach and exemplify regarding violence?” you’re asking “What makes sense in X situation?” The problem is that Jesus said and did certain things, whether they make sense or not, and even a successful, logical argument is powerless to change the actual history.

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