Rendering Too Much to Ceasar

Aaron B. O’Connell is an assistant professor of history at the United States Naval Academy and a Marine reserve officer.  His op-ed in the November 5, 2012 New York Times, titled “The Permanent Militarization of America,” warns that America has not heeded the warnings of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his famous speech regarding the “military industrial complex.”  We have become a nation of perpetual warfare, and unquestioned support of the military has become the “third rail” of politics.  He writes of his students:

Uncritical support of all things martial is quickly becoming the new normal for our youth. Hardly any of my students at the Naval Academy remember a time when their nation wasn’t at war. Almost all think it ordinary to hear of drone strikes in Yemen or Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. The recent revelation of counterterrorism bases in Africa elicits no surprise in them, nor do the military ceremonies that are now regular features at sporting events. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.

Regarding the spiritual impact of militarization, Mr. O’Connell writes:

But Eisenhower’s least heeded warning — concerning the spiritual effects of permanent preparations for war — is more important now than ever. Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland” and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas. Of course, veterans should be thanked for serving their country, as should police officers, emergency workers and teachers. But no institution — particularly one financed by the taxpayers — should be immune from thoughtful criticism.

I began including Lord’s Day prayers for loved ones in military service shortly after 9/11.  As a child of the Viet Nam era, I wanted to be sure that, in a time of national crisis, we did not demonize those who serve in uniform.  Then came the invasion of Iraq, which I felt was unjustified.  To me, it didn’t matter that I did not support that war.  I felt it was pastorally appropriate to pray for those in danger.

I have become increasingly uncomfortable with that long list of names of military personnel we print in the bulletin every Sunday.  What began as concern for those in harm’s way has become, I fear, an endorsement of perpetual war.  I still want to pray for those in danger, but I wonder if I have unwittingly undermined the Gospel’s message of peace.

I’m open to suggestions.  Is there a better way to pray for those we love without endorsing the increasing militarization of our nation?

About Brant Copeland

I was born in Brownsville, Texas, grew up in San Antonio and in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, Florida.
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5 Responses to Rendering Too Much to Ceasar

  1. Robyn Stevenson says:

    Dear Brant:
    I could not agree with you more. I think it is appropriate to pray for those in danger but to accompany that prayer with one asking for Peace so that our military is not needed for war. It is sad to see so many young folks looking to the military as a way to pay for their education or just as an occupation–many not truly realizing they may be called overseas to fight in a poorly thought out “war” with no real end in sight. What a different country we would have if instead of building a military-industrial-congressional complex we had built an educational complex.

  2. Barbara says:

    I think you are not giving the congregation enough credit if you think that printing the names of people who are, or have recently been, in harm’s way is some kind of endorsement of increased militarization. Perhaps their names should be there exactly because it causes discomfort; it should cause all of us discomfort that, while we sit in our cozy little lives, (mostly) young people are being sent to distant and dangerous places for reasons that are both noble and ambiguous. If you want to pray for peace, pray for peace. (Don’t we already?) Pray that everyone on that list will come home safely, and that we will all work toward the day when their services are no longer required. The day anyone says to a sister or brother “we’ll pray for your aunt with cancer by name, but not your sister the military policeman” will be a very sad and shameful day.

    • Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting that we stop praying for people in danger through military service. I’m just wondering if we can do a better job of conveying gospel values even as we pray for those in service. Barbara’s comments are helpful.

  3. Sue Safford says:

    I feel very strongly, and have ever since military personnel have been listed in the bulletin, that not only are they as worthy as anyone else on the prayer list but also that they should be acknowledged verbally, as are others for whom we pray. I do not think that praying for them silently AND aloud in any way supports the militarization of society. I also think that Barbara’s comments are helpful. If I had a child in the military and sat week after week without hearing their names along with everyone else’s, I would be deeply hurt and wonder what might separate him or her from the same consideration. But that is just my opinion.

  4. David Custis says:

    Brant, Reading the comments helps me understand the narrow line you walk on this issue. Joan and I have both felt the prayer list is too long. Many of the names listed are persons we don’t know, nor do we know what is wrong in their lives. I personally believe the value of the prayer list for me is the awareness of problems in the lives of members and their loved ones. For example, we were able to follow Rod Westall’s bypass surgery this way. I wish we could keep military personnel listed in the bulletin. I would guess some of them may be in harms way, and some are safety serving out their tour of duty, as was our grandson who was listed for a few weeks. Finally, I guess it is probably best to honor all requests, whether or not I believe the name belongs on the prayer list. Dave.

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