Courage and the Conscientious Objection of Pfc. Michael Barnes

Posted: September 24, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Good for you, Pfc. Michael Barnes:

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Army to grant conscientious objector status and an honorable discharge to Pfc. Michael Barnes, a Fort Richardson-based paratrooper who said he experienced a religious awakening in Iraq two years ago that left him opposed to war in any form.

The decision by U.S. District Judge John Sedwick supersedes the Army’s decision last year to deny Barnes’ request.

…In a statement released Monday by his lawyer, however, Barnes said he was thankful to the federal courts in Anchorage for finding that his request was based on “my sincere belief as a Christian…I have been trying to justify being a soldier and finding a way to do so while still being a Christian, because that is what I wanted to do since I was a kid,” Barnes wrote in his request for conscientious objector status in December 2006.

“But I can no longer justify spending my short time in this world participating in or supporting war. … I must try to save souls, not help take them. I fear not for my life, but for my soul.”

…While training in Anchorage and listening to the stories of soldiers returning from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Barnes said, he first began to question his beliefs and “whether or not I was living my life to serve the Lord.”

I am so proud of this man I have a hard time saying anything else about him. Well done, brother.

What I would like to discuss a bit further, though, is the reaction to this story in the comment section of the news organization’s website.  Here’s just a sample of the reaction:

  • …He joined for a free education and paycheck and when he realized he just might have to work for it…he ran away hiding behind religion like a lost puppy. What a waste. Good riddens…ps…Michael you owe the US Military two years of pay you collected while hiding behind a rock while your fellow soldiers were getting shot at and dying YOU PIECE OF S*$T. Be sure to tell your children your a coward.
  • This man made a choice. His fellow soldiers deserve better. He is using religion as an excuse to hide behind his own cowardice.
  • i am shocked. …If he earned his jump wings then they should be ripped from his blouse, his rank, and his buttons. Let the weakling go away and be something else, maybe an Obama supporter.
  • I mena come on he only has two years left. Let him push some papers in the AG office. To use words of General George S. Patton if I may, this can be all summed up in a couple words. “He is a guttless coward.” He is not sincere. He jsut does not want to man up and give the real reason.
  • I wonder where he will be in 5 years and will he still be as “christian” as he is today?
  • “conscientious objector status” Synonyms: [EDIT: the commentor uses the word for female genitalia as a pejorative…trying to keep it family friendly. –DC] status, cry baby, mommies boy/girl, whimp, wuss, Non Team Player. This is a slippery slope we have entered. Just watch ALL THE OTHERS who are suddenly going to use religion as an excuse to run away from their military responsibilities.
  • Isn’t it wonderful. This guy gets to reap the rewards given to him by all the men who died to give him this right. He just doesn’t have to contribute. How chicken is that?

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the courage that it takes to face this kind of venom. This is just the comments section of one news story; I cannot imagine the bile spewed in Michael’s direction within the service or what he’ll face in his home community (or church!). I imagine he probably fears for his safety (or should). Conscientious objectors are not taking the easy way out. The easy way out is to continue to kill people for your paycheck while the bulk of your nation cheers you on and welcomes you home with medals and ribbons.  This cuts right against the flow of society and “what is easy.”

Which is easier: killing Osama bin Laden for what he did to your fellow Americans if you were able to, or finding him and telling him that God loves him so much, and so do you, so you’d rather die than harm him?  Which is easier? Which is more brave?

The comments sampled above fail to take Jesus seriously. They fail to take matters of faith with proper weight. If you honestly believe that God cannot countenance violence and killing, you have an immediate and superseding obligation to cease violent action, regardless of whether you have to go to jail, give up your material assets, etc. Taking up the cross literally means being willing to die. That’s how serious Jesus calls us to be about self-sacrificing love of every person, friend or enemy.

The comments above reflect precisely what Jesus meant when he said:

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

This is the strife and division and the hostility that one can expect to find from the world when one embraces Christ’s gospel.  Thank God for the courage of people like Maximilianus and Michael Barnes, who would rather face the fangs of the Empire rather than serve as their sword-bearers.

If you are in the military and are convinced that your work conflicts with the teachings and life and call of Jesus, there are people who can help you get out:

  1. Matth says:

    I heard about this earlier today. My first thought was, “Wow, yes.” Hopefully, some more of the Christian COs can get recognition of their status.

    But, even if they don’t get that recognition, they will still have Jesus. That’s all that really matters.

  2. dcrowe says:

    Absolutely. On one hand, it really doesn’t matter if the court or the military recognize your CO status…they can’t make you kill anyone if you refuse to pick up the weapon. On the other hand, it’s worth celebrating when people have to face fewer hardships than they might have had in the circumstance where their CO status wasn’t recognized.

  3. lifemorelucid says:

    I love it when people do what’s right, just because they KNOW it’s right. Thanks for posting his story.

  4. stuperb says:

    Excellent post. The hatred he faces – really that anyone who opposes the war faces – astounds and saddens me.

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