As I write this in January 2020, tensions between the United States and Iran are escalating rapidly, and millions are praying America can avoid a new chapter in the unending war in the Middle East. America’s military has been fighting in the region for nearly 30 years: Operation Desert Storm, the skirmishes in the 1990s, the Global War on Terror in Afghanistan, the Iraq War and its fallout, and now the latest crisis.
These wars have produced a lot of veterans, and that has produced a lot of pain, pain many of us don’t see. As a society we are finally recognizing the post-traumatic stress veterans may bring home. We’re also beginning to learn how to respond to another important consequence that may arise from combat and military service—military moral injury.
A new term for a problem as old as war itself, military moral injury describes wounds of conscience afflicting military personnel who make life-and-death choices under duress, witness actions that later haunt them, and feel betrayed by those in authority. With the suicide rate for veterans reaching 22 deaths per day, religious leaders, faith communities, and professional caregivers need resources and strategies for understanding and responding to the challenging ways military moral injury plagues veterans and their families.
America hasn’t had a draft since the Vietnam War, so our culture is losing the uniting concept of shared sacrifice that emerged following World War II and the Korean War. We live in a deeply fractured culture, and the specter of war—with Iran, North Korea, or ISIS—likely will not unite our country in this election year or beyond.
What can unite us, in a small way, is how we take care of those who protect us. Military moral injury often calls into question core beliefs and values. When military personnel must do or witness something they find morally, ethically, and spiritually reprehensible, they can become lost in the grief, guilt, and blame assigned to them, by others and by themselves. Military Moral Injury and Spiritual Care: A Resources for Religious Leaders and Professional Caregivers helps those who will be responding on the home front help our veterans find their footing and get back on the road to restoration. And this helps more than the youngest veterans of recent conflicts; this will help us attend more closely to the veterans of wars that are more chronologically distant but may still be waged in the memories and consciences of their combatants.
The Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School, a Disciples of Christ seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has taken the lead on developing a response to military moral injury. In 2019, Nancy Ramsay approached Chalice Press about publishing a series of essays originally published in the journal Pastoral Psychology as a book, reaching a broader, less academic, and scientific audience. Ramsay and Carrie Doehring, a professor at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, had edited the original essays and would shepherd the book through its new life. Springer Science and Business Media, the publisher of the journal Pastoral Psychology, graciously gave permission to reprint the material, and Dianne Shumaker provided a financial gift to bring the book to life. In November 2019, Chalice Press published Military Moral Injury and Spiritual Care.
While Chalice Press is a Christian publisher and Brite Divinity School is a Christian seminary, we recognize the diversity in our country and our armed forces. Contributors to this volume write from their personal and professional histories in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. Military Moral Injury and Spiritual Care covers a wide spectrum of practices, including spiritual disciplines, drawing from sacred texts and psychological education for the practitioners using the book. Several articles address strategies for helping civilians in faith communities become more reflective about how we may be implicated in moral injury when our countries wage war. We civilians would do well to consider our own moral struggles as citizens of the country whose government our troops represent. Regretfully, this book may be a timely read.
We are heartbroken that Military Moral Injury and Spiritual Care needed to be to be written. We are honored, though, that we are able to share this word of hope with the world. Let us pray this book is used faithfully and effectively—and that it goes out of print very, very soon. Amen.
President and Publisher