Theological Reflection on Counter-Recruitment

by Matt Guynn

These reflections were created and shared in the context of counter-recruitment networking calls organized by On Earth Peace, 2003-2007.  On Earth Peace is an agency rooted in the Church of the Brethren, committed to confronting violence with God's love.

The Paths that Lead to Life

"You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence."
Acts 2:28

My friend Bob gave me this metaphor: In the woods, in fields, in cities, there are often beaten paths that go to the usual places - which keep getting deeper and stronger with use. 

Right now, the paths that are more well-beaten in our society often lead toward separation from each other, toward isolation, toward self-satisfaction, toward "bigger-than" and "me" mentalities. They often lead at the social level toward resource to violence, an overweening obsession with national security as opposed to human security, toward dehumanizing each other and writing off segments of the society.

There aren't many who will be the first to try a new path -- willing to be the first to make that path.   But there are many more who will at least try a path that at least has been tried before.  We may also find that there are old paths that lead to life and we have to uncover.

What if counter-recruitment organizing were seen as a way to invite people off the beaten path, to incite people to another path - not just countering military recruiters and their work, but inviting people to another way of living?  Counter-recruitment at its best may responding to the deep yearnings in people's soul, for lives with meaning, that contribute to the betterment of society.

Affirmations and reflections:

God's presence is a creative force the flutters over the waters, who cries out that we are beloved, who is within each of our bodies, minds, and spirits.  This force, this God, this Divine is at the center of all that exists.   God had a dream of all creation - that kind of shalom community - where all life was valued and known intimately -- that kind of relationship between humans and creation, and humans and God - Eden is still God's dream.

God's intention for human life, according to Walter Wink, is to humanize us more, make us fully human.  But institutions have realities that often fall away from God's intentions - the whole set of practices, assumptions, missions, and the culture of an institution.  One name that scripture gives is to call them the "powers and principalities" - those institutions that have supreme importance in our lives and how they unfold - which often become an end in themselves, or fail to help us all thrive.  "Failure to thrive": This description given to some infants is applicable to many communities as well! 

The military industrial complex is a power and a principality.  Security itself is a good thing - we need safety, we need to be secure - all of humanity needs to be secure - but this basic need twists and goes awry in the service of the nation. We're in thrall to militarism, to the system, to the nation.  Our relationship to the military industrial complex becomes idolatry - being committed to, dependent upon, looking to for security, and worshipping that which is not God.

We can all draw on God's presence (ultimate creativity, lovingkindness, generativity, deep Spirit and possibility) to become equipped to contend with the powers and principalities.

God's dream for us includes human wholeness, worth, dignity.  But this dream is at odds with the stated goals of the government or the military-industrial complex, which always fall short of God's dream of shalom.  The church also falls short.  Church's role, and the role of the faithful - is prophetic witness as well as peacebuilding - a gradual nurturing of slow growth, a weaving and a knitting together.

Counter-recruitment is getting the way of military recruitment - but it's also recruiting for something else.   It's about recruiting for another way of living.  

Recruiting for the paths that lead to life - creating communities with deep soul and connection, places where you just want to rest and enjoy life.  For communities that engage in mutual uplift instead of a common downshift. 

© 2006

Revelation 7 - Building cross-class and cross-racial alliances
Matt Guynn
In early July, 2007, the Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren considered its response to the following scripture and questions:

"Christ gave to John a vision of the heavenly congregation at worship: a great multitude which no-one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9),
. . .
What action must we take, in our lives, in our congregations, in our districts, in our denomination, and globally, to bring us into conformity with the biblical vision of a church from every nation, tribe, people and language, united in worship before the throne of God?  How are we to become the church John saw in Revelation 7:9?"
While this query from the 2007 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren addresses its questions to the church, I would ask that we focus for a few moments on this vision for a community of "all nations, tribes, people, and languages" as it applies to our organizing on issues of military recruitment.

Many folks who I am meeting who are passionately involved in the counter-recruitment movement from a Christian faith-based perspective are good people who are passionately concerned about militarism issues, but they are often not those that are directly targeted by recruiters. 

Often individuals who I have met in the movement are white and middle-class folks (like me -- maybe that's why I meet them first!) who are concerned about other people in their communities, but from afar.  Many times, we haven't made common cause in terms of vibrant working relationships with people of color or working class people in order to advance a common agenda.  (I believe that privilege also includes education, facility with language, gender, orientation, and many other factors not just related to class or race.)
 
I suggest that one of the leadings (and one of the challenges?) that God might be giving the church, and individuals from more privileged backgrounds , in the form of the movement to resist military recruitment, is the challenge to be relevant, connected, and responsive to all people in our communities, not people we already know and work with.

This would require us to address not just the presence of recruiters in schools, but the absence of opportunity that creates a climate where they are welcome, will require the establishment of new kinds of relationships, new perspectives on what the task at hand really is, and even things as mundane as new meeting places.  

But Jesus goes before us -- for example, meeting the woman at the well, in the middle of Samaria -- not a place he was likely comfortable as a Jew -- Jesus ate and fellowshipped with all sorts of people that his own community declared unclean or off limits or against convention.

Perhaps your community doesn't explicitly ban relationship with those from different class and racial backgrounds, but you may sense that there are subtle pressures and silences which keep communities intact and within the status quo.

Can we, as Christian-based counter-recruiters, accept God's challenge to reach out and build relations with other groups and classes?  If so, I believe our work will be both more effective and more faithful.

What limits exist in your work, or what messages do you get from your community or activist group, in terms of working across race and class lines?  What leadings are being put in your heart by God on this theme?

Reflection Questions: Building cross-class and cross-racial / Cross-ethnic alliances

Does it matter to create strong cross-class and cross-racial alliances?  Why?
In what ways are working class, poor, and people of color hardest hit by military recruitment?
Who are the leaders in working class or poor people's organizations or communities in your area?
Who are the leaders in the people of color organizations or minority communities?
Who are the leaders in your movement or organization? 
How might your work be strengthened by further outreach and relationship-building?

The "spirit, logic, and practice of violence"
March 27, 2007
We are currently in the midst of the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence (2000-2010). It is a global movement that strives to strengthen existing efforts and networks for overcoming violence, as well as inspire the creation of new ones. This call is a part of the Decade to Overcome Violence!
Last week I had the opportunity to represent the Church of the Brethren at the meetings of the United States Decade to Overcome Violence Committee.  I sat with representatives from the ELCA (Lutherans), Presbyterian Church USA, Antiochian Orthodox, Mennonite Church USA, National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (representing the historically black churches), and the Religious Society of Friends.   We were to confer about the ministries to overcome violence that our various traditions are carrying out.   One of our activities was to review and reflect on the goals for the Decade to Overcome Violence. (For more on DOV, see www.overcomingviolence.org).

One of those five goals has stayed with me in the last week. 

  • Challenging the churches to overcome the spirit, logic, and practice of violence; to relinquish any theological justification of violence; and to affirm anew the spirituality of reconciliation and active nonviolence.

This phrase, "the spirit, logic, and practice of violence" won't let me go.  What is the spirit, logic and practice of violence connected to military recruitment in a local context?
Here in Richmond, IN, the logic, spirit and practice of violence says,

  • "There's no future here in Richmond, so if you want to be something, you've got to get out of town."  We are just Hoosiers, we are kind of dumb, not much can or could happen here.  Real life happens in other places.  That's versus a perspective that Right here, not only in the paradise of Eden at the beginning of time, but right here, there is the possibility for new life. As counter-recruiters we lift that new life up.  We become people of vision, motivated by a deep love for our communities.  "Jesus wept over the city, saying "Would that you knew the things that make for peace."  Paul wept over Syracuse.   Mary wept over El Paso.  Deb wept over Columbus.  Pam wept over Durham. 
  • Our young men and women are expendable in war (versus) Young people matter and must be invested in.  They are not expendable.  Period.   As counter-recuiters or truth-in-recruitment organizers, we hold fast to the value of all young peoples' lives and we are motivated by that love.
  • "They" (insert another social group in your community) don't want us to get involved in "their" issues, and "we" (for me, that means middle class, white) couldn't overcome the barriers between us in order to build a coalition that could actually change our community.
    • The black churches have their own thing going on.  It's so hard here, and so divided, that it's not possible to reach across the divide.
  • Manhood needs to be proven, and the military is the ultimate way to do that.
  • "There is us, and there is an enemy.  We must work against them."  This shows up for counter-recruiters when we fall into the trap of vilifying the recruiters.  We are all God's children, and we all struggle with evil and violence in our own ways. We are no more pure than anyone else.
  • The church asks in this new logic and practice, what needs does our community have?  How can we enact change processes, over time, so that young people do not feel isolated, expendable, and undersupported?  How can we create a sense of possibility in our communities?
  • Even while we are still working, still finding new ways to flow like water in the parched earth of communities needing moisture, we are already beloved, already worthy of love, already accepted in the utmost of our beings.  We, as organizers, aren't needing earn anything with our organizing.  We aren't doing this to get God's favor.  We, like all God's children, are beloved, cherished, and day by day we open to that message just a little bit more.

How do you see a different logic, faith, and practice being born in your yearnings or experiments with counter-recruitment?