Dear Pastors, Other Church Leaders, and All Fellow Christians in the U.S.,
It has been commonplace recently to hear requests for prayer and other forms of support for “our” troops. The problem is that “we” do not have any troops. By “we” I mean the Christian church. It is not my intent in this letter to convince anyone to become a pacifist. It is only my intent to make our speech appropriately Christian and accurate.
When we gather, we confess our faith in the one God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth: “We believe in one God….” When we gather, we confess that Christ came “for us and for our salvation,” which are not references to people of any particular nation, not even the nation in which we happen to live. When we gather, we confess our participation in a community that transcends space and time and nationality: “the communion of the saints….” When we gather, we do so, therefore, as one small, local part of a worldwide community called the church of Jesus Christ. We do not gather as Americans, even if we happen to be Americans. We gather as Christians.
Therefore, when we talk about “our” troops, we are being inaccurate. The troops do not belong to us, that is, to the Christian church, the communion of saints, the Christians gathered together in a particular church. The troops do not represent us; the troops do not fight for us; they are not on a mission from us; they are not our troops. They are someone else’s troops, even if some of them happen to come from our churches. They are, to be theologically correct and grammatically accurate, “their” troops. They go at someone else’s behest. They are someone else’s soldiers and missionaries. The church does not have troops except prayer warriors and mission workers and apologists and martyrs and common believers who bring every thought captive to Christ and who fight daily not against flesh and blood but against and principalities and powers. Those are our troops. Let’s pray for them, for us.
When we talk about “our” troops, we also make another mistake. Even if one believes that the church in the U.S. should pray for “the” troops, we should not use the word “our” because it is exclusive and therefore inaccurate in another way. How so? Many, if not most, churches in the U.S. have members or regular participants who are not Americans, but they are Christians. To pray for “our” troops, referring to U.S. troops, is impossible for these people. The invitation to prayer or support for “our” troops therefore creates a division in the church that ought not to exist.
The prayer of the church should always be a corporate prayer in which everyone can participate and to which everyone can say “Amen.” The mission of the church should always be a mission that all can support. Prayer for “our” troops and support for “our” troops do not fit this essential criterion of inclusion. We need to find something more appropriate that all in the church can support and pray for. Given all the needs in the world, that should not be too hard to do. The end of war, rather than support for it, would not be a bad place to start. (Even Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes” might agree [see his Nov. 8, 2009 comments].)
Speech about “our” troops is possible only for a church that has lost track of its fundamental and ultimate identity. It is the speech of civil religion, not of the international, transnational church of Jesus Christ. It is time to clean up our speech.
Your brother in Christ,