Blog #6

Jim 

Moral Injury and Just War Theory
The principles of just war theory are divided into principles governing the decision of whether or not to go to war, jus ad bellum and those governing the just conduct of war, jus in bello. It is important to note that the development of these principles in the history of Christian thought – a history that includes the advocacy of Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther — had the clear intention of preventing war by making it difficult to justify going to war. The assumption behind just war theory is that war is inherently evil but may be in extreme cases a necessary evil. The principles of just war therefore do not justify “war” but provide criteria for when waging war may be a tragic but unavoidable choice.
The “moral” in moral injury, suffered as a consequence of combat experience, underscores the evil of war as an experience that shatters the core moral values of the morally injured. Death and traumatic and physically debilitating injuries of all sorts that come with war remind us that the jus ad bellum principle of last resort cannot be overemphasized. We honor those who have died in military service, those who have been wounded, those who have permanent physical and mental injuries, and all who have served. Yet even as we rightly express our gratitude for their service and admiration for their bravery, we dare not confuse the nobility of their service and courage with notions of the nobility of war. The morally injured remind us, perhaps more than anyone else, that war is an expression of a fallen humanity in a broken world which forces terrible choices.

 
Confusing the nobility of those who serve with the nobility of war and the wars in which they serve seems to me a byproduct of the “shaeability gap”I spoke of in our last blog. At big sporting events we see the field covered by a giant American flag often held by a corps of active service members. Maybe there is a flyover of fighter jets. The national anthem reaches its crescendo with the words, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” As the crowd applauds and cheers, I am as stirred with feeling of patriotism as any American, but as I then go on to enjoy the game along with everyone else, I must remind myself that those we honor have had to kill and be killed while we were enjoying many other games and daily pursuits.

 
My duty then and the nations duty and the church’s duty is to care for those grieving the loss of loved ones in battle and the physically, mentally, and morally injured. This is the obligation of jus post bellum, justice after war. It goes along with efforts at peacemaking in our world, which we as Christians committed to the reconciling love of Christ, should urge upon our political leaders. A strong defense in a conflicted and often evil world is necessary but it is a sad necessity that should serve the paramount goal of just peace-making.

 
Wally

Jim has raised an issue of significance in the discussion of the Just War Tradition. The Shareability gap of which he speaks frequently crosses the lines from jus ad bellum to jus in bello to jus post bellum. We speaking of the Just War Tradition we speak mostly of the individuals who are directly engaged in the kinetic aspect of war, i.e. the warrior directly engaged in combat.

 

However, I would like to look at the Just War Tradition using the metaphor Jim uses above, the sporting event metaphor. Jim rightly identifies the distance between the owners and fans in their seats and the players on the field. Owners buy, sell, and trade players and coaches, employ officials, and manage the team from a distance. Fans buy tickets, take their seats in the stadium, park, or arena, buy a hotdog and a beer and take in the activities and festivities surrounding the sporting event. They stand, sit, or kneel for the presentation of the National Colors, sing along or chat with their friends during the National Anthem, are amazed, amused, or offended by the military presence. When the ball is kicked, tipped, or the puck is dropped and the game begins they engage in second guessing and criticizing the playing, coaching, and officiating. They cheer their team, jeer their opponents, consume their food and beverages all from the safety of their seats and never receive nor deliver the jarring blows of the players on the field, on the court, or on the ice. They are sparred the ice baths to ease the pain of sprains, bruises, or breaks, and they never suffer the invisible injuries of concussions and the lasting physical, mental, and emtional effects that result from “playing the game”. When the game is over they return to their daily routines and go on about their lives hardly remembering from one week to the next what took place the week before in the game that was played. When the season is over, win, lose, or draw their lives are essentially unaffected and they move on to the next sport, the next season with little more investment than complaining about the over-paid, under-performing players whom they often see as whiners. The sports metaphor is, unfortunately, too close to reality.
In our republican form of democracy, elected officials, Executive and Legislative branches, and citizens of the republic are analogous to the owners and fans of a sporting event. While owners view the event as part of the entertainment industry, politicians see the event as politics of war. Fans see the sporting event as a entertainment in which they can indulge their desires for victory, control, amusement, diversion, etc. Citizens, too, see war from a distance and are little effected personally while being immune to the deep injuries being inflicted upon the sons and daughters of others who, like the players in sports, bear the high and often invisible price of moral and physical injury.
The Just War Tradition demands that we, citizens all, whether in politics, military, or civilian life are all complicit when our efforts to live peacefully fail and we find ourselves engaged in war. Just war requires that we all accept our responsibility to live view all people as worthy of being reconciling love of Christ and the healing love of the Good Semaritan.

Blog #5

Blog Post #5

Bridging the Share-ability Gap

Jim:

Much has been said and written recently about the so-called civilian-military divide. In our long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan active duty military make up less than 1% of the population. Clearly, then very few American families are directly affected by the wars, by having one of their family engaged in military service or deployed in a combat zone. Furthermore, it is reported that 80% of those serving in the military come from families that have a parent or sibling who has also served or is still serving, so the experience and understanding of military service is limited to a small portion of our population.

While we lionize and celebrate veterans at sporting events, give them special boarding privileges at airports, and regularly thank them for their service, very few know what they have experienced in war and would find it difficult to hear about it. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of many who applaud military service and express their gratitude for the sacrifices warriors have made. However, the distance between the experiences of the comparatively small portion of the population that go to war and the limited understanding of those who remain in civilian life, makes it all the more difficult for veterans to return home and fit in. For the morally injured it may be particularly hard.

Nancy Sherman reports from her conversations with veterans that returning veterans often shut out civilians, even family members as unworthy of trust. If anyone has not served they do not know what war is like. There is a share-ability gap that somehow must be bridged between the world of the warriors and the world of the citizenry. Warriors returning with wounded spirits need a community in which they can feel truly at home, welcome, respected, and cared about. However, in a rather damming appraisal of our society, Sebastian Junger sees soldiers facing a drastically different form of community than their former community in combat:

Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they are ready to die for their country, they are not sure how to live for it. It is hard to know how to live for a country that regularly tears itself apart along every possible ethnic and demographic boundary. The income gap between rich and poor continues to widen, many people live in racially segregated communities, the elderly are mostly sequestered from public life, and rampage shootings happen so regularly that they only remain in the news cycle a day of two…In combat, soldiers all but ignore differences of race, religion, and politics within their platoon. It’s no wonder so many of them get depressed when they come home.

We have already discussed the importance of sacred safe space as the needed venue for sharing and healing. To the extent that churches can be involved in enabling that space and conversation, they help to bridge the gap. Beyond that churches have a call to public witness with regard to the divisions Junger describes and we all know. The veterans’ difficulties in coming home, teach us some hard lessons about ourselves. The churches for whom in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male and female; all are one. Not only does the church have a call to reach out to veterans and bridge the shareability gap between civilian and military; it also has a call to be a sign of peace and reconciliation among the other divisions in our society. It could well be that the churches would do well to enlist military veterans whose valuable experience in unity could prove to enrich their public voice for justice and true community.

Recommended Reading

Post-Traumatic God: How the Church Cares for People Who Have Been to Hell and Back by David W. Peters (Morehouse, 2016). Peters recounts his traumatic experiences as a chaplain deployed in Iraq and the consequences upon his return. The book tells the story of how he put his life and faith back together again and how we can help others. Paul Tillich’s theology became very helpful for him and he is in dialogue with the writings of great theologian in much of the book.

Wally:

Of course Jim is correct in his discussion of the Share-ability Gap with regard to combat veterans and their return home. Once a person has seen combat they cannot ever again unsee it. The sounds, sites, smells, and sensations along with the images, recollections, and feelings that attend to combat experience not only remain with a combat veteran but become personalized in a way that precludes easily sharing with others, especially others who have not experienced war as the combat veterans have. Share-ability or the inability to share is one way of describing the experience common to nearly all combat veterans. Certainly the low number of people in the United States, less than 1% of the population, who have had direct experience or experience connected to a loved one or relative, contribute to the expansion of the Share-ability Gap. But what, we may ask ourselves, is the Share-ability Gap?

I entered the U.S. Army in August of 1967 as a 19 year old draftee. I completed basic training at Fr. Lewis, Washington, was sent to Ft. Gordon, Georgia for advanced individual training and then received orders to report to the 25th Infantry Division then located at Cu Chi, Republic of South Vietnam. I arrived at Cu Chi in mid February, 1968 amidst the Tet Offensive. Upon my arrival I was assigned to the 125th Signal Battalion, a unit that provided field communications for the 25th Division. From the my arrival until mid-March we were under daily mortar and rocket attacks as well as small arms and other sniper attacks whether in the main base camp at Cu Chi or in the field in support of the infantry and artillery units. Initially I spent most of my time in the field with various infantry units of the division mostly in Tay Ninh Province in the area of Nui Ba Dinh, (“Black Virgin Mountain”), and the Michelin Rubber Plantation. Nui Ba Dinh and the surrounding area were scenes of heavy fighting as the Ho Chi Minh Trail ended in Cambodia just a few miles west of the mountain. How young we were to be soldiers engaged in the grotesque and demeaning business of combat. I didn’t celebrate but rather marked my 20th birthday in the field within plain view of Nui Ba Dinh. I had arrived at the fire support base the day before having flown to the fire support base aboard a CH-47 “Chinook” helicopter loaded with 105mm Howitzer ammunition for the artillery battery we were in support of. As we approached the landing zone the flight engineer, a seasoned door gunner, yelled at us to clear the aircraft as quickly as possible and to find cover as the landing zone was “hot”. No sooner had he shouted his instructions than I began to notice small openings in the aircraft that I had not noticed before and immediately recognized them as bullet holes coming from ground fire that we were receiving. It was difficult for me as for my buddies to wrap our heads around the reality that there was somebody out there whom we had never met who desperately and passionately wanted us dead!

It took me over forty years to be able to talk with my wife in a meaningful and honest fashion about my experiences in Vietnam after I returned home. Clearly there was a Shareability Gap that was exacerbated by the “Pro-War/Anti-War” movement that held the warriors, most of whom were draftees, accountable for the actions and decisions of the politicians, and electorate. The result of this polarization was, not surprisingly, a fracture of the bond of trust between the citizenry and their military forces. While I understand the concept of “Share-ability Gap” I think the term obscures the deeper issue which I believe to be the breaking of the bond of trust. Trust is a firmly held belief in the reliability, truth or strength of someone or something. Combat warriors are firmly committed to the virtue of trust for their very lives depend upon the trustworthiness of their fellow warriors. Returning home they typically discover that what was an essential virtue in combat is not as highly regarded nor practiced among the civilian population. Hence, the loss of trust in those who have called them into service on behalf of the country fractures their ability to trust anyone who has not experienced that bond in combat. This loss of the bond of trust forces combat veterans into a sense of separation and frequently isolation resulting in a feeling of “ethical loneliness” that is eloquently described by Jill Stauffer in her book, Ethical Loneliness; The Injustice of Not Being Heard in which she describes the experience of being abandoned combined with the sense of not being acknowledged. This sense of loneliness is a useful way of describing in part what a moral injury feels like.

Moral Injury is Not PTSD – Blog#4

Wally

Moral injury is not PTSD. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “moral injury in the context of war comes from participation in actions related to combat warfare, such as killing or harming others. Moral injury can also come indirectly from acts like witnessing a death or others dying, failing to prevent similar immoral acts, and granting or receiving orders that can be viewed as immoral or inhuman. “

These two conditions are commonly confused as interchangeable descriptions of a psychological, or emotional condition resulting when a human being witneses or participates in an emotionally injurious experience involving war. However, two distinctions are important to keep in mind. First, PTSD may be experienced by anyone involved in a traumatic life event. Car accidents, sexual or other physical assault, or witnessing the death of another person are examples of such an event. Second, PTSD is a mental disorder that can be diagnosed medically and treated by mental health professionals using medication, and/or psychotherapy.

Moral injury, originally described by Jonathan Shay, was described by Veterans Administration clinicians in 2009 in the following as:

Perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. This may entail participating in or witnessing inhumane or cruel actions, failing to prevent the immoral acts of others, as well as engaging in subtle acts or experiencing reactions that, upon reflection, transgress a moral code. … bearing witness to the aftermath of violence and human carnage [can] be potentially morally injurious. Moral injury requires an act of transgression that severely and abruptly contradicts an individual’s personal or shared expectation about the rules or the code of conduct, either during the event or at some point afterwards … The event can be an act of wrongdoing, failing to prevent serious unethical behavior, or witnessing or learning about such an event. The individual also must be (or become) aware of the discrepancy between his or her morals and the experience (i.e., moral violation), causing dissonance and inner conflict (Litz, 2009,700)

Although these two conditions are similar they are not the same. Moral injury is viewed as a dimensional problem with no definable threshold for diagnosis. It occurs when an individual’s moral compass and core values have been severely compromised resulting in a profound feeling of shame and a sense of having been defiled. There is a shift in the individual’s sense of self perception moving the individual away from seeing him or herself as a good person who has done something wrong (i.e. guilty) to having become a bad person (shame). The results are often that the individual feels alienated from loved ones, friends, self, and God and thereby loses hope since there is no one nor no place the individual can go to receive forgiveness, reconciliation, or restoration. The anger, resentment, and despair is directed multi-directional and raises the troubling question of theodicy. Stated simply, if God is good, whey does God permit evils such as war? Perhaps theodicy is the root question at the base of moral injury?

Jim

Wally’s account of the difference between PTSD and moral injury paves the way for emphasizing our conviction that moral injury is a decidedly spiritual matter. He reminds us that moral injury is characterized by deep feelings of both guilt and shame, conditions of the human spirit. These are feelings born of being somehow implicated in something one considers to be truly evil, whether one is truly culpable or not.
In light of these conditions of the wounded souls of the morally injured Wally raises the question of the age old problem of evil, “Why if God is good and all powerful, is there evil?” How can we “justify” God’s actions or inactions in the face of evil? That is the theodicy question that follows? How can we make sense of a world that doesn’t seem to make sense? I think he is right that the problem of evil and the theodicy question are at the root of moral injury. For theologians over the ages dealing with the problem of evil and theodicy has been a source of struggle and debate. However, for the morally injured, the problem of evil and theodicy is an existential reality. One is swallowed up by tangible experience of evil with no answer to question “Why?” and, therefore, no pathway out of despair.
Created as all people are in the image of God, all have a basic relatedness of God and to each other, created to love God and one another. Whether one believes that or not, it is our inescapable reality. To be immersed in an experience of inexplicable radical evil shatters one’s sense of relatedness to God and others, whether one names it in those terms or not. Thus, it shatters the self as created in the image of God. Moral injury involves feeling one has lost one’s self in a world become chaotic.
Turning to the Gospel
For Christians dealing with moral injury, trying to understand it , or trying to minister to those struggling with moral injury, we turn to the gospel as embodied in the person and work of Jesus, the Christ. Jesus knew the betrayal the morally injured have known. Jesus knew suffering, pain, and death, which the morally injured have known. Most importantly, in solidarity with all humanity, Jesus took upon himself the guilt of our broken world in the shame of the cross. Jesus, the Christ, one with humanity in the flesh and one with the Father and the Sprit in his divinity, brings his experience of suffering, betrayal, and death into the very heart of the divine life. The cross is God’s promise that God knows. Easter is God’s promise that God loves.
As Wally intimates, feelings of guilt and shame, anger and alienation can keep the morally injured from hearing that gospel truth of God with them in all ways because they feel unworthy or unwelcome in the churches. What a sad irony! A further reminder of what we said in our previous blog, it is essential to foster safe and sacred spaces.
We have been looking at the problem of moral injury and now the problem of evil in terms of the unique experiences of combat veterans. Others in their various spheres of activity have their own encounters with the problem of evil and the spiritual wounding that follows. We think of police, fire fighters, and nurses, to name a few. In future blogs we will turn attention to these essential servants.
Recommended Reading
A little book written by the late German theologian, Dorothee Soelle, entitled Suffering (Fortress Press, 1973), remains a useful resource though it was written long before the idea of “moral injury” entered our conversation on human suffering. Of particular interest is her discussion of what French philosopher and mystic, Simon Weil, has defined as “affliction.” It provides another point of contact for speaking about the experience of moral injury and for our view that it is a matter of the suffering of the whole person. For Weill affliction is threefold; it is suffering that at once affects the physical, psychological, and social dimensions. All three dimensions are at work in affliction, making it the suffering of the whole person. The presence of the social dimension is worth special mention as characteristic of moral in jury. “There is not really affliction unless there is social degradation or the fear of it in some form or another. The degradation shows itself in the isolation that accompanies affliction.” (pp.13-14)

Safe and Sacred Space – Blog #3

Wally
Safe and Sacred Space

Jim said in our last blog that I would talk a bit about safe and sacred space in this blog. I’ll begin by sharing an experience I had while serving as the Canon to the Episcopal Bishop for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries.

In 2014 I was privileged to be invited to participate in a “Blessing of the Bikes” for members of Rolling Thunder, an event co-hosted by the Dean of the Washington National Cathedral and the Episcopal Bishop for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries. This was to be the first service of this type as part of a newly initiated Veterans Initiative on the part of the Washington National Cathedral. The Episcopal Bishop for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries at the time was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. There were about 100 motorcycles and riders gathered before the steps at the West entrance to the Cathedral in a space known as The Walker Court, and there were 8 vested clergy who were going to use cut greens to sprinkle holy water (asperge) on the riders and bikes, offering conversation, prayers, and a blessing to all who desired to receive. Following a brief period of welcome and comments regarding the nature of the service, the clergy dispersed out among the bikers to begin the rite of blessing. I was the last to receive my greens and bowl of holy water and as I moved to walk down the steps to move among the riders, a priest with no military experience said to me, “I’m not going down among those people.” To say that I was angry is a gross understatement as a myriad of feelings re-emerged from deep inside of me as I recalled my own experience in church upon my return to my home congregation just days after I came home after serving a 13 month tour in Vietnam. Not only were “those” people veterans, family members, many were also active duty service members and nearly all had some combat experience; they were my people and I was one of them. I intended to “welcome” each and every one of them as though I were welcoming them “home”.

As we moved among the veterans and others of Rolling Thunder in the Walker Court at the West Entrance to Washington National Cathedral I found myself being invited into the personal and intimate space of those bikers. I stood shoulder to shoulder with them, put my hands upon their shoulders and entered into their intimate space speaking in a quiet voice and listening with intentionality to what they were saying to me in response. I like many other clergy participating heard and saw significant reactions from the veterans and their loved ones. Nearly all of the veterans had tears in their eyes as we spoke with, prayed for, and offered prayers of blessing and dedication for them and their bikes. Many said that this was the first time they felt welcomed by the church since they had returned from their combat experience. The blessings were met with hugs, “thank you’s” and in some cases requests for a second blessing. The scene and the experience was one of morally injured individuals entering into a safe and sacred space that left all of us feeling touched by something deep within us.

The experience with Rolling Thunder at the Washington National Cathedral is an example of the use of space in the healing of souls damaged by moral injury. The timing, Memorial Day Weekend; the venue, the Walker Court at the West entrance to Washington National Cathedral; the people, vested priests who were also veterans; the action, the rite of blessing; all contributed to the sense of welcome which allowed those who were morally injured to risk being vulnerable enough to both participate and to share their experiences with war and to accept the ritual actions and words of reconciliation and forgiveness that are the healing balm for injured souls. In short, this communicative event became a safe place for warriors to share their personal narratives without fear of judgement, voyeuristic curiosity, or repugnance upon hearing their stories.

Jim
The moving experience Wally has shared with us is very important for our discussion of moral injury. First of all, this event opens up for him and for us the definition of what a space is, a place where open and honest sharing is possible without judgement or fear. To the extent that leaders of faith communities are involved, they must be ready to listen without judgement or an aversion to terrible things they will hear. Absent that readiness, they will not be able to help. The space is made sacred I would suggest by the sacredness of sharing one’s deepest pain and shame. It has the sacredness of the confessional no matter where it takes place and no matter whether any clergy are present or not. The fact that Wally’s experience took place at an entrance to the cathedral, not inside, gives us a clue to the fact that safe and sacred space may possible anywhere where open and affirming mutual acceptance is present.
Wally’s story also illustrates the fact that any ministry with the morally injured requires a sense of solidarity, the solidarity of genuine empathy. This was on display among the priests (themselves veterans) and their relation to the men of Rolling Thunder. The importance of a community of solidarity as a context for healing the broken spirit entails the capacity of empathy. Empathy is the capacity to make the emotions of the other one’s own emotions; it is a deep sense of identity with the other. Empathy is not pity.

Finally, the presence and profound impact of prayer and blessing in this event, sets the stage for a discussion of our common belief that moral injury is at its heart a spiritual matter. This we will be taking up in a future blog. Retired Navy officer, William Nash, a psychiatrist who headed the Marine Corps combat stress program, has been quoted as saying, “Forgiveness, more than anything, is the key to helping troops who feel they have transgressed.” This coming from a clinician is suggestive! Stay tuned.
Recommended Reading
David Wood, What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars (New York: Little, Brown: 2016), Wood is a correspondent who spent time embedded with marines in combat. His reports of their experiences shows vividly how the sort of incidents they experience are a source of moral injury for those warriors. More broadly he observes war is “…an alternate moral universe where many of the rules and values we grew up with are revoked…The old signposts of morally acceptable behavior, the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions, the just war doctrine seem increasingly irrelevant in a world of drone killings, the beheading of hostages, and the deliberate massacre of schoolchildren by Islamic extremists.” (p.9)

Common Virtues – Blog#2

Welcome back to our Blog on Moral Injury.  Last month’s first blog provided a brief introduction to us, Jim & Wally, and to the topic of Moral Injury.  This month we are going to continue that conversation.

  Wally

Most of us were raised with a sense of morality and an ability to recognize and accept the “rules-of-the-road” for good behavior within society.  We were taught basic manners and civility regarding our personal conduct, politeness, respect for others and ourselves, honesty, kindness, compassion, selflessness, and so forth.  What we are talking about are the “common virtues” that span secular and religious traditions and make it possible for people to live together in communities.  The American military has adopted the essence of these common virtues and molded them into the “Code of Conduct”.  Courage, honor, commitment are three concepts that seem to capture these common virtues in a succinct and understandable manner.

Practicing and following the “rules-of-the-road” described by the “common virtues” helps each of us to feel good about ourselves and assists us in developing a positive self-image and a healthy outlook on life.  We have all heard the maxims such as: “Do not murder; Do not steal; Do not tell lies; Do not cheat; etc.  Adhering to these rules helps us to think of ourselves as good people; not perfect but good and decent folk.  When we make mistakes, as all of us do, it is not uncommon for us to feel a sense of guilt and perhaps even a tinge of embarrassment for our transgression.  None-the-less we continue to see ourselves as good people who have made a mistake.  Apology and atonement can restore the relationship with those whom we have offended and allow us to continue our self-perception as good people who have made a mistake.  All of us have been down this path as children, young-adults, and adults.  However, there is another path that fewer of us have trod.  It is a much darker and more difficult path and can result in moral injury.  It is this path and the resulting moral injury that Jim and I want to discuss with you.

Jim

Wally’s observations make an important point.  It is logical and ironic that moral injury cannot occur unless one has some measure of moral sensibility in one’s makeup.  As we observed in our first blog post, experiences that afflict persons with moral injury are experiences that violate one’s core values, giving rise to guilt or shame. Another way of saying it is that moral injury violates conscience. Conscience is the place where our core values live, the sorts of values Wally talks about. The violation of conscience in moral injury is serious business.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had some important things to say here. For him conscience and the values that inform it is what gives us a sense of who we are and what gives meaning to life.  Bonhoeffer, along with the bulk of Christian tradition asserts that it is wrong to act against one’s conscience. Given the nature of conscience as he has described it, acting against conscience is almost like suicide; it is to act against what holds our life together and gives it meaning.  The morally injured may feel as though they have acted against conscience even if they didn’t intend to; even if they had done nothing wrong by the “rules of engagement.” Listen to this recent combat veteran:

For me, moral injury describes my disillusionment, the erosion of my sense of place in the world. The spiritual and emotional foundations of the world disappeared and made it impossible for me to sleep the sleep of the just…I have a feeling of intense betrayal, and the betrayer and the betrayed are the same person: my very self…What I lost in the Iraq war was a world that makes moral sense.

For Those Who Would Minister

The troubled feelings of the wounded or crushed consciences of those struggling with moral injury cannot simply be dismissed by those seeking to help, even if one may judge that they are misguided in those feelings. Whether misguided or clearly understood, the feelings of loss and guilt and shame are authentic reactions of obedience to conscience. To simply invalidate those feelings as unnecessary or unwarranted guilt or shame is to disregard the integrity of their own response to conscience. The morally injured must participate in their own discovery of liberation. I know Wally will have more to say about this when he speaks about safe and sacred space in future posts.

Meet Jim and Wally – Blog #1

Jim Childs

The Rev. Dr. Jim Childs is Joseph A. Sittler Professor Emeritus of Theology and Ethics at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University, Columbus, Ohio.  Formerly Jim was a parish pastor, Dean of the Seminary and is a prolific author in the field of Theology and Ethics.  Jim is an ordained Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran in America and widely recognized in academic and ecclesiastical circles.

Wally Jensen

The Rev. Dr. Wally Jensen is a retired Captain, United States Navy Chaplain Corps, a Vietnam War veteran,  and an ordained Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  In addition to his service as a Navy Chaplain he has been a parish pastor, seminary administrator, and served as the Canon to the Bishop for Armed Forces of The Episcopal Church.  Wally is a published author and  frequent speaker on the topic of Moral Injury,

Welcome to our Blog

Do you know that according to the most recent information released by the Department of Veterans Affairs that includes more than 50 million veterans’ records from 1979 to 2014, including every state,  found that during the period from 2001 and 2014 suicides among civilian rose about 23.3 percent.  During that same period of time suicide among veterans leapt by more than 32 percent.  This problem is particularly worrisome when you consider female veterans whose suicide rate jumped by more than 85 percent compared to about a 40 percent increase for civilian women.  “Why this increase” we may well ask ourselves.

In our book, Moral Warriors, Moral Wounds, we wrote about moral injury as an experience of combat veterans.  There is a growing interest in this relatively new concept of moral injury that has only recently begun to be understood. With our blog we hope to promote the public conversation about moral injury, contribute to greater understanding, and offer resources for ministry.

Moral injury is a deeply spiritual wounding brought on by the experience of events that are radically contrary to one’s basic values of right and wrong.  Thus, for example, a soldier in combat may be forced to participate in or witness something, which though not wrong by the rules of engagement is nonetheless morally injurious.  The consequence is a lingering feeling of guilt or, more profoundly, shame. In shame one feels defiled.  It is more than a matter of feeling guilty of wrong doing; it is a matter of  feeling that one has become a bad person.

Here is a formal definition of Moral Injury provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Like psychological trauma, moral injury is a construct that describes extrememe and unprecedented life experiences including the harmful aftermath of exposure to such events.  Events are considered morally injurious if they “transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”  Thus, the key precondition for moral injury is an act of transgression, which shatters moral and ethical expectations that are rooted in religious or spiritual beliefs, or culture-based, organizational, and group-based rules about fairness, the value of life, and so forth.

Another helpful description of Moral Injury further helps us to grasp both the meaning of and the impact upon individuals who have experienced Moral Injury.  Retired Army National Guard Chaplain, LTC John Sippola provides us with a poignant description of both.

John Sippola and his colleagues refer to moral injury as “soul wounds,” a spiritual malady of war.  Their spirits, battered by war can easily slip into nihilism.  Soul wounds, many veterans resport “…erode the capacity for connection, trust, gratitude, appreciation, creativity, playfulness, compassion, forgiveness, peace, hope, love, and zest for life itself.”  Using religious language, for the ravages of war: “The war stole my soul,” “I died spiritually,” “I saw evil first hand – the monster in myself and others.”1.

In the Months to Follow We Will:

1. welcome and respond to your comments, questions, and suggestions

2. expand our understanding of Moral Injury

3. explore Moral Injury and the Cure of Souls

4. introduce the concept of Safe and Sacres Space for healing

5. delve more deeply into the “Moral” in moral injury

6. suggest resources for further reading

7. discuss moral injury in others not combat or military related

Notes:

1. John Sippola, Amy Blumenshine,Donald Tubesing, and Valerie Yancy, Welcome Them Home – Help Them Heal: Pastoral Care and Minsitry with Service Members Returning from War (2015), 44-45.  Published by the authors with help from a grant from The Wheatridge Foundation.