This post is written by Rev. Aaron Fuller. Pastor Fuller serves multi-vocationally as a chaplain in the Navy Reserve and Pastor at Our Father’s Lutheran Church, Rockford, MN. His views expressed here are his own and do not represent the Department of Defense, Navy or Navy Chaplain Corps in an official capacity.
On November 11th the nation will observe Veterans Day. It is a day set aside to recognize veterans’ service in the Armed Forces, past and present. In recent years the day has been marked by recognition in the news and social media, encouraging people to “thank a veteran” or “support the troops.” It has also been marked by businesses offering benefits such as discounts and free meals to veterans, in recognition for their service.
Similarly, congregations across the ELCA have chosen to recognize veterans in worship. Others have chosen not to. Both choices are faithful expressions of people’s deepest convictions. I want to offer why all congregations should consider acknowledging veterans in their worship services around Veterans Day this year.
This year, September 11th marked two important realities in our collective history. The first was the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that led to the tragic loss of life here in the United States, and subsequent twenty years of war in the Middle East. The second reality was the shocking withdrawal and evacuation of the United States from Afghanistan. Also shocking was the sudden rise of the Taliban taking back the country, creating a massive refugee crisis and wiping out two decades’ worth of progress made with the Afghan people on human rights.
For many veterans there has been a significant investment made in Afghanistan and the Middle East the past twenty years. That investment is shown in the toil it has taken on their bodies and minds. They also bear inner conflict between what they have experienced and their fundamental values, often rooted in their religious faith. That inner conflict leads to hard questions: “What was the point of what I experienced?” “Was it all worth it?” “Am I good?” Left unanswered, those questions can become a matter of life or death.
This response to traumatic events is known as moral injury. Moral injury is defined as “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”1 While moral injury shares some of the same signs of trauma as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, it is not the same. Moral injury is distinct; it is a violation of what is right. It is feelings of betrayal towards justice. It is an injury of the soul, where human goodness is diminished to where we no longer see God’s light in ourselves or others.
As I listen to God’s people in both contexts I serve in as Pastor and Navy Chaplain, it is apparent to me we are all suffering from a collective moral injury, a result of the past twenty years and made manifest through the nation’s withdrawal from Afghanistan this past summer. That injury has caused the division and disconnect we all are experiencing right now as we struggle to live in a world that feels less safe, less compassionate, and less just. We need healing – collectively reconnecting to what is right, what is true, and what is good.
That healing starts by acknowledging those who are struggling with that moral injury the most: veterans. I can think of no better way to begin that healing than in our regular worship. God heals through Word and Sacrament, confession and absolution, and gathering and sending. That is so necessary for veterans right now, and so necessary for us all.
Litz, B. T., Stein, N., Delaney, E., Lebowitz, L., Nash, W. P., Silva, C., & Maguen, S. (2009). Moral injury and moral repair in war Veterans: A preliminary model and intervention strategy. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(8), 695-706. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2009.07.003
A worship resource for Veterans Day includes prayers, hymn suggestions, and other ideas. Both PDF and Word versions are available at https://elca.org/Resources/Worship#Liturgy.