Disciples News Service

Moral injury and "American Sniper"

This article originally appeared in an issue of the Pacific Southwest Region’s newsletter Feb. 4, 2015.

Mile Marker #62: Moral Injury

by Rev. Susan Gonzales-Dewey, Co-regional Minister, Pacific Southwest

Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children! – Mathew 5:9

Last week the PSWR supported a conference on Moral Injury/Soul Repair. This was a gathering of pastors, VA Chaplains, leaders of non-profits who work with veterans, Navy Chaplains and other interested parties to talk about how we address the needs of our veterans, those who have been back home for many years and those who are just returning.

As the speakers talked about the reality of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and described Moral Injury and how these things affect veterans and their families, I knew they were describing my father and my family.

Moral injury has been defined as “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations” where the response is often sorrow, grief, regret, shame, and alienation.

In 1941 my father enlisted in the army to fly planes during WW2. He was shot down over Germany in 1944 and spent a year in a German prisoner of war camp. He always lifted up General McArthur because the general liberated his war camp.

One morning, after he came home, my mother woke up with his hands on her neck and he was choking her in his sleep. He spent the next year in a hospital to recover for what was then called “shell shock”. After that, he tried for a year to make his way in the home place, but finally went back into the military service.

People who are struggling with Moral Injury are struggling with profound moral questions, concerns on how to reclaim a moral compass, and asking, “Do I have any ability to tell right from wrong?” Like those suffering with PTSD symptoms, they often have anger, depression, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, and self-medicate with drugs/alcohol. Is this someone you know?

Don asked me why I would write this for a Mile Marker; is this just a review of a good conference? I thought, yes and no. Yes, it was a wonderful conference and no, I am writing about this today because I think this is an area of ministry that is in our midst and surrounding us in our communities and I think that this is a place where we as congregations in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) can make a huge difference with a hurting and broken segment of the population in our communities as we give witness to the love and grace of God. We are after all “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world”.

Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award-nominated movie “American Sniper” raised a lot of interest and questions around the heroics and effects of soldiers in war. Jeffery Fleishman, writer for the LA Times, in a recent review of the movie raises the question, “does ‘Sniper’ miss the mark?” He says, “Hollywood is often more partial to myth than discomforting truths and the lasting effects war has on the nation and its soldiers.”

At the close of his article Fleishman writes, “To concentrate on his heroics (Chris Kyle’s) while not exploring more deeply the darker elements of his civilian life and death is like leaving a photograph partly exposed.”

How do we, as people of God, help bring hope and healing to those who suffer from the effects of war while at the same time honor their service and seek peaceful solutions for the future?

Let me share with you some resources that you can use to further explore individual or with your congregations:

  • The Soul Repair Center Website at www.brite.edu/soulrepair
  • Rita Nakashima Brock is a Disciple theologian who has written this foundational resource called Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War. Brock, Rita Nakashima and Gabriella Lettini. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.
  • Rev. Zachary Moon is also a Disciples Chaplain who has a book coming out in the next two months that will be a valuable resource for congregations called Coming Home: Military Service, Reintegration, and the role of the church, Chaplain (Lt.) Zachary Moon, Chalice Press.

One thing we can all do is pray for all those who serve or have served in our military as well as their families and all those who, foreign or domestic suffer from the effects of war. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be peacemakers, may we continue in this call.