Treat them with respect

Submitted by Bruce Jeffries, pastor of the United Methodist churches in Rock Port and Watson

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see his banners go!”
We will celebrate Veteran’s Day on November 11, and I have been reflecting on the way military is portrayed in the Bible and the Christian tradition, to see how we might apply this to the ways we should and need to support our folks in the military (and their families).
Military battles dot the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). It seems that a lot of King Saul’s reign was in waging war against the Philistines, from which David emerges as the slayer of Goliath, the Philistine champion. Both Saul and his son, Jonathan, lost their lives in battle. During the preaching of John the Baptist he was a clarion voice for repentance. In Luke 3:14, we hear John responding to some soldiers who were asking about how they might act with repentance. We are pretty certain that Rome stationed garrisons of soldiers throughout Palestine at the time of Jesus, and the people had to encounter them on a regular basis. Except for the reference in Luke’s Gospel that I shared above, the general feeling about these soldiers was not good! Some took advantage of their perceived power to do horrendous things, which made the people respond to them out of fear, not respect!
There are a couple of places in the writings of the Apostle Paul that use illustrations from military imagery to get his point across. One is found in Ephesians 6:10ff, where the Ephesians are asked to “…put on the whole armor of God…” To his young protégé, Timothy, he tells him, “Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3)
In most of our hymnals there appears the old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”, which was composed towards the end of the American Civil War by Sabine Baring-Gould, who was an English clergyman of the Anglican Church. The text was based on the 2 Timothy reference made above.
From a Christian perspective, how are we to deal with folks in the military? To tell the truth, there is not an easy answer; there is no list of do’s and don’ts here. However, applying the Golden Rule and general customs of hospitality may be helpful here. Let me offer a few:
• Treat them with respect. I can remember how badly many of our military were treated after the War in Southeast Asia in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The atrocities that many of our military folks experienced then meant that many of them were wounded physically and emotionally. Many found themselves addicted to alcohol and drugs to help them deal with their internal pain. Part of the respect I am speaking of can be in the form of encouragement to seek help, when we notice radical changes in personality or behaviors. Suicides and addictions claim too many lives of our former military folks!
• As a nation, we need to do everything possible to bring healing to our military folks who serve military. With the numbers of veterans living from the many wars our country has engaged in just my lifetime, it’s no wonder that the VA can’t keep up! We’ve got to do better! It may be in volunteering at a VA facility; more often it’s making sure that our Congressional representatives don’t short-change these folks.
• We must keep the families of our military folks lifted up. Spouses, children, parents and other loved ones are vulnerable, especially when their loved one is on active duty. Most military bases have support for spouses and children, but these programs are often not taken advantage of. Encourage these folks to seek out these services. For parents, they may not have direct access to support systems. If you have a neighbor with a son or daughter in the military, keep them in your prayers. Periodically call them up or meet them for lunch or take a coffee break with them. Show that you care.
• Warfare needs to be considered as a last response—not the first! Of course, we are not going to be privileged to every bit of intelligence that may be available to our national and military leaders, but we need to be praying that they act with wisdom, that they attempt to use diplomacy and other means before military deployment. War is always costly! Every human life is to be valued and cherished. No one is expendable.
Since I’ve moved into the second page, I’d better stop for now. I know I don’t have all of the answers, but be assured—The things I have written here come from reflecting on Biblical principles, and out of a general compassion for every human being. If I have written anything that you find offensive, please feel free to get in touch. Happy Veterans Day!