By Mary Jo Dailey
About my father, my mother once told me that “the man who went to Germany never came home.” When she died, she left for me the letters my father had written her before he was deployed to Germany in 1944 and while he was there. I had never met the man who wrote those letters. All I knew was the verbally and physically abusive alcoholic from whom I hid as much as I could.
In his workshop titled “Wounds of War: How churches and communities can care for Veterans and their families,” during the 2016 CBF General Assembly, Chaplain Steve Sullivan, Director of the Veterans’ Administration Clergy Partnership for Rural Veterans, shared with us some of the hard facts related to our nation’s veterans. Our nation has deployed 2.5 million men and women since 9/11. Of that number, 1 in 5 are experiencing severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression six months after returning home. On average, 22 veterans per day take their own lives – a number that exceeds combat deaths in the Middle East and Vietnam combined.
In addition to PTSD and depression, many of our veterans experience moral injury during their deployment. Moral injury is defined as: “Perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations” (Clinical Psychology Review 29  695-706). My father, doing what he was trained to do, performed interrogations in order to find Nazi war criminals who had assimilated into the civilian population in preparation for the trials at Nuremburg. In breaking them, he was broken.
What can we as individual Christians, and as churches, do to help veterans? Sullivan has several suggestions.
- Listen to their story.
- While sometimes difficult to hear, just listening can heal.
- Suspend judgment and be willing to sit with moral ambiguity.
- Don’t ask questions like, “Did you kill anyone?”
- Avoid platitudes and advice.
- Offer them grace and forgiveness judiciously.
- You don’t have to fix them.
- Accept them where they are, not where they used to be or where they “should” be.
- It can take forever.
As the church:
- Be a safe place for veterans.
- Host Veterans’ Day Activities.
- Do projects for and with veterans’ families.
- Adopt a military family before.
- Provide a community of believers for reintegration.
- Create a history with the soldier.
- Be an inter-generational family of faith for the family.
Veterans need to be reconciled – to God, to their families, to their communities and to themselves. God has given us this “ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5)
Mary Jo Dailey is a former high school teacher and a third year student at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. She is a CBF Leadership Scholar and feels a call to evangelism within the Fellowship.