Welcome to another installment of LOVEboldly’s interview series. Previously Tripp York, Wesley Hill, and Jen Thweatt-Bates offered their perspectives on a number of issues related to faith and sexuality. Now we are privileged to share some wisdom from Logan Mehl-Laituri as he draws some parallels between the issues that veterans and LGBT folks face in the church.
Logan Mehl-Laituri is a six-year Army veteran with combat service in Iraq in 2004 and author of Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience. In 2008, he co-founded Centurion’s Guild, where soldiers and veterans wrestle between faith and service in fellowship with other current and former military members. Logan resides in Durham, NC, where he is a masters student in theological ethics and a Co-Coordinator of the Women’s Center at Duke Divinity School. You can reach him through his blog.
Tell us a bit about the work you do with Centurion’s Guild.
We try to create space for conversation around the issue of Christian faith and military service. There are only a few of us, and we are not incredibly organized, but we try to make ourselves available to individuals struggling with their allegiances to both God and country, usually by email or phone calls. Folks either find out about us on Facebook, Twitter, or personal referrals from friends and family who have heard about us and what we do.
What have you found is the biggest struggle for the military community in relating with churches?
It is getting churches to talk about these issues deliberately and compassionately. In the US, it is taboo to talk about politics and religion, but these are two of the most important things to speak with one another about because they both demand so much of us.
Think about it, we will die for what we believe in politically or religiously, but God forbid we talk openly about it around the dinner table or in the pews! Especially during war, like we have been for the last decade or more, we absolutely must be having conversations of consequence; young men and women need to think critically about what it means to be prepared to give your life for the values our communities (national or religious) instill in us from birth. Refusal to do so condemns individuals to this incredible moral task in isolation, we put them in a moral vacuum.
Few people can withstand the ambiguity, doubt, and feelings of guilt that often result from conducting (even justified) violence in defense of a common good. Silence is not an option, it is a betrayal – of one’s trust, and of Christian theology.
What similarities do you see between the ways some churches treat military folks (especially war vets) and the way they treat LGBT folks?
LGBT issues are also taboo in many churches, and it is tragic that so many parishes are now only confronting the issue because it dominates general conferences and dioceses, and a few national headlines. We are dealing with this subject in hasty response instead of thoughtful foresight and compassion. We have shoved conversations to the background and waited until we can no longer avoid the issue.
With issues of war, we spoke of it for awhile, but as the violence in Iraq and elsewhere escalated, the number of, and reasons for, distractions increased. We don’t want to talk about war, and we don’t particularly want to talk about non-heteronormative sexuality, so when we do, discourse is dominated by ad hominem attacks and sloganeering instead of healthy, mutually respectful dialogue. I see the same thing in the realm of war; “chicken hawks” throw platitudinous trivialities at soldiers from the safety of their living rooms and self-righteous progressives use language just short of “baby-killer” to describe recruits that more often than not enlist out of economic desperation. Polemics have overtaken the public square, actual dialogue has all but ground to a halt.
What do you think it will take for the church to become a safe place, a sanctuary, again?
The first act in conversation is usually to listen. Sometimes I notice that when I get self-righteous or defensive, I’ll already be planning in my head what I will say next, even before the person I’m addressing has finished their sentence. That’s not listening. The Church needs to put their pre-conceived notions and biases (which are not in themselves a bad thing, accountability requires a kind of judgmentalism) on hold long enough to hear from those who have been affected most directly and harmfully by the current situation. Our biases need to be revised, our pre-conceived notions might need to find a new center.
To do that, all of us in the Church need to loosen our grip just a bit so that we can really hear from the least of those among us. I don’t know exactly how many or few are LGBT congregants, but soldiers make up less then 1% of the American population. That’s about as close you can get to the language of “the least of these” from Mathew 25. I can’t speak as someone who is non-heteronormative, but as a veteran the church needs to stop telling me that I am only either a hero or a monster. The church needs to hear my story, and in it hear a fellow human being. I suspect some LGBT folks might feel similarly.
How can Christians do a better job at showing hospitality to both groups (even, and especially when we disagree)?
I think listening is hospitality, and it is at the heart of the Gospels (hospitality, that is). Hospitality has nothing to do with dogma or doctrine or uncompromising convictions, it has to do with responding to the image of God in our neighbor; gay or straight or trans, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, man or woman or… not. Listening is the first step, but responding must follow, and how churches respond will differ. I can’t begin to imagine the ways that God might work in various congregations, but if the Spirit is there, it will move in love, not condemnation, not in indifference, not in distancing ourselves from one another. Preachers will preach difficult, loving sermons, pastors will pray difficult, loving prayers, and educators will teach difficult, loving subjects. It won’t be easy, but it needs to be loving.
Any other projects in the works?
I always have projects in the works J Next year I’ll be publishing my next book, For God & Country (in that order); Faith & Service for Ordinary Radicals (Herald, 2013), which will profile a number of soldier saints and patriot pacifists throughout Church history as a way of diversifying the voices we hear on the subject of faith and service.
I am also trying to compile music, books, and other resources with Centurions Guild to help the military community and their families narrate their stories more coherently, with all the pain, suffering, hope, and joy they encounter. There are some amazing things being done in new fields called “moral injury” and “soul repair” for soldiers that give me hope of which I am privileged to be a part. Other than that, I want to finish my theology degree and continue following God around the gates of hell that we call war, pointing people back toward home. Someday those gates will fall and men and women can come all the way home from their multiple deployments and crippling depression, and the church will be there with open arms. That’s the world I see, for all ‘the least’ of us.