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Story and Community--Vital Keys for a Christian Approach to Military Ethics in the 21st Century - Indwelling a 'Story'
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Article Index
Story and Community--Vital Keys for a Christian Approach to Military Ethics in the 21st Century
Symptoms of Moral Deterioration in Situations of Conflict
Root Causes Relating to the Fragmentation of Moral Authority
The Importance of Story and Community--The Christian Community
The Importance of Story and Community--The Military Community
Indwelling a 'Story'
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Indwelling a 'Story'

Lesslie Newbigin, in a number of his books, talks about indwelling a story. This is more than knowing or telling a story. One may study the main aspects of the Christian Faith, including Church history, to a level that qualifies the person to teach others what the Christian faith is about, its beliefs and practices, whilst at the same time being an atheist. Such a person does not indwell the story as does a Christian. It is simply impossible for them to do so. They study the Christian story from outside, looking at it from within the framework of another story.

Newbigin writes, "To be human is to be part of a story, and to understand oneself is to understand the story."

My life, like that of any other Christian, becomes part of a much larger ongoing story of God's people, His Church. It is not only the story of an individual but that of the community of Christ's followers. It is within this community that one worships God and learns about His love for the World. It is also a story from within which we can draw help and insight to be better people than if we had been trying to cope on our own. It is a story within which traditions and customs have been developed, and from which both the community and individuals can seek insights into the ethical aspects of important and serious issues.

However, much as I appreciate being part of the ongoing Christian story, I am conscious that from within it there are serious disagreements relating to such issues as Church Government and Confessional Creeds as well as to some social issues including War and military service.

If we understand "vocation" to be one's calling in life then for the Christian, the primary calling is to love God and one's neighbour. However, the Christian must also ask how his or her chosen career or vocation is consistent with Christian discipleship.

If a Christian serves in the Armed Forces, he can expect people to ask, "Why did you join the military? Was it part of the family tradition? Was it because it offered a spirit of adventure including excitement and danger? Was it because you felt that by doing so you were helping to make the world a safer place? Or was it simply the best job offer at the time?" The most important question one must ask oneself is, "Can I be a Christian and consider the Armed Forces as a career? Can my vocation be to serve as a sailor, soldier or airman?" Had a Christian posed that question to his fellow disciples in the early days of the Christian Church he would have been told that it was not appropriate for a follower of Jesus to serve as a soldier. But, with time, the situation changed and today it has become more and more acceptable for Christians to serve in the military. Nevertheless, the question whether a Christian can serve in the military has never really gone away and we find that in the Sixteenth Century, Martin Luther, the great reformer, wrote a paper entitled, "Whether Soldiers too can be Saved?"

Luther, like Augustine before him, as well as many other eminent Christian scholars who lived before and after the Reformation have concluded that a Christian is justified in undertaking military service. Why? "Because he is performing an essential service for the good of the society. Properly used, the military protects a sphere of civil life within which a relatively peaceful existence is possible."

The subjects of war and military service for the Christian have been part of the story of the Christian community for centuries. How much easier it would have been if Jesus had given his followers clear directives on these issues! Without those directives, Christians can only reflect theologically on the story of which they are a part and make a balanced judgement for themselves. My own feeling is that, until the end of time when Christ returns, this dilemma will remain and all Christians, pacifist and non-pacifist alike, must pray, "God be merciful to me a sinner."

By indwelling their respective stories, be that the Christian community, the Armed Forces or any other organisation, individuals acquire the desired values that are beneficial to the life of their organisation, an organisation shaped by an ongoing story.

The dangers of teaching core values from another framework are obvious. Loyalty, discipline and courage, three of the Army's core values are also values shared with terrorist groups or criminal gangs. The terrorist certainly believes in discipline. He will not get drunk on a Saturday night and tell those around him in the pub what his terrorist cell plans to do the following week. He also believes in loyalty and knows that to achieve his objectives of destruction and suffering he will need courage.

Naturally, the Army has adopted Core Values for very different reasons from those of the terrorist. It aims to be a good and moral community, but there are obvious pitfalls that need to be avoided. The instructor, presenting his lesson on the core value of loyalty, may leave the class room convinced that all the soldiers in attendance understand the importance of loyalty. The soldiers may indeed understand but, sometime in the future, they may limit its application to a small four-man section. If the section, during an operation, behaves in an immoral way by beating up innocent civilians, a soldier may show loyalty to the other section members rather than to his Regiment or the Army. How can this and similar difficulties be addressed? Or, in other words, how do you keep good communities good?

This very question was raised by Professor Iain Torrance in his lectures on, "Ethics and the Military Community." His response was, "Not being self–referring and self justifying, but having a transcendent reference is the surest guarantor of the moral health of a community." For the Christian living within the community of the Church, that reference point is God, who is the author of the story of which he or she is a part. It may be more difficult for the Army to articulate within its doctrine what its transcendent reference point is, but to recognise the importance of seeking such a point is vital. In a sense the section members need to refer to a point outside their immediate formation, the Company or the Regiment. Even the Regiment must look to the Division or the Army as a whole and the Army to the Government.

My life, like that of the reader, is the product of a number of stories. For not only am I part of the Christian story, but I have also been part of a number of other stories all of which have impacted on and contributed to the type of person I am. How I see the world around me and understand what is happening within it, whether it is regarding political matters, economic, social or domestic matters, depends on the framework of belief I adopt. If I look at the world from within the Christian story, I see that God, and not powerful nations, rules the world and that nothing is exempt from the Lordship of Christ. I see a story that has a beginning, a purpose and an end. If one adopts a different story framework, the same issues will probably be understood differently.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 March 2010 10:38