How Chaplains, Soldiers Keep Faith During War

An article of the same title by Eve Conant in Newsweek describes how war tests the faith of chaplains and regular soldiers in Iraq. A few excerpts:

Countless soldiers—not just chaplains—have struggled with how to reconcile a God of love with a God who allows the terror of conflict. For centuries theologians and philosophers have grappled with ideas of "just war": thou shalt not kill, but under certain conditions—to prevent wider bloodshed and suffering—slaughter by armies is acceptable.

Many American soldiers in Iraq wear crosses; some carry a pocket-size, camouflage New Testament with an index that lists topics such as Fear, Loneliness and Duty. U.S. troops have conducted baptisms in the Tigris. They often huddle in prayer before they go on patrol. Not everyone is comfortable with this. About 80 percent of soldiers polled in a 2006 Military Times survey said they felt free to practice their religion within the military. But the same poll found that 36 percent of troops found themselves at official gatherings at least once a month that were supposed to be secular but started with a prayer.

Many chaplains think that war strengthens their belief and the spirituality of the troops they serve. "It is the trials of life that ultimately help us to grow in our faith," says Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Trent Davis, who was deployed to Iraq in 2005. He recalls one soldier who wasn't much of a believer at home but decided to read a Psalm each day while deployed. The day the soldier started in his vehicle across the Iraqi sands was the day he read from Psalm 23: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. "After that his faith grew much deeper," says Davis.

Many soldiers suffer spiritual doubts in war, but the stresses can be especially acute for chaplains. By ministering to men and women who are struggling to keep faith, many are forced to confront their own doubt again and again.

Chaplains are unarmed, but they go where the troops go. They help in any way they can.

The article focuses on a particular chaplain, Roger Benimoff, and how his experience took him to the brink of unbelief. I can't imagine what war is like, how damagiig it is to the psyche. If you've got some time, read through the discussion about Christians and non-violence on Scott Freeman's blog. I'd like to have the same conversation sometime with folks at my church. A large fraction of the men, particularly from the older generation, spent time in the military. I think it would be really interesting to discuss just war theory and the principle of non-violence and military service with them.