Monday, February 05, 2007

Greetings everyone!

I was very excited to discover this blog - as far as I can tell I'm the only serviceman in my congregation so I really don't have anyone to discuss my experiences with. My wife and I have been members of our congregation for 14 months now and we are both very happy there. I've been sort of lost spiritually for several years after realizing that my agnosticism was not particularly fulfilling, and I've really found a home in UU. I was a bit apprehensive about how well I would fit in the congregation, knowing in advance that most UUs tend to be very liberal and have a strong anti-war stance. I don't consider myself a liberal in the modern understanding, but more of a classical liberal. I'm definitely a social libertarian, so many of the social justice activities of the UU dovetail nicely with my beliefs, but as a lifelong soldier (and infantryman too boot) I can hardly describe myself as a pacifist or anti-war. For the most part my congregation has been very welcoming, and usually the only response I get when I say I'm in the military is an expression of concern for my safety if I was deployed. What troubles me a bit is that I hear frequent denunciations of "militarism" and "warmongering" from both the pulpit and members of the congregation. Nothing seemingly directed towards me (and I get along quite famously with our minister) - but it still makes me a touch uncomfortable. Both the words militarism and warmongering are obviously pejorative, and I'm not 100% exactly what is meant by them - are they denunciations of an extreme, unnecessary use of military force - or the military and the use of force in general? I suppose I could simply ask my minister but frankly I feel a bit uncomfortable raising the issue directly - I certainly don't want to hurt anyones feelings of insult anyone by seeming to make accusations. Has anyone else felt this sort of tension? Am I overreacting (which I suspect I might be)?




Will said...

You are not over-reacting at all, Adrian. I am not a veteran myself but I was raised moving from one submarine base to the next every 2 or 3 years and more male members of my family are veterans than are not.

It's been upsetting to me to see and, hear as you have, "denunciations of 'militarism' and 'warmongering'" in UU publications on UU websites, and from UU pulpits and church members. In fact, it may be too much for me. I don't come to church on Sundays to hear that particular message. Numbers of folks in the UU pews and some in its pulpits seem to assume that everyone who is UU is against the war and "the administration" when that simply is not true. My experience, tho, is that such comments are made out of conviction rather than malice. People just see things differently than I do.

Should you or I have to defend ourselves to our denomination just because we disagree on issues of politics? I certainly hope not. But sometimes, in fact often--too often--I wonder.

Hang in there. I'm glad this blog has been created and glad you have found it.

All the best--


David Pyle said...


Welcome to the UU’s in the Military Forum! It is good to know that there really are UU’s in the Military. In fact, over the last three years I have visited or preached in over about twenty UU congregations, and in every single one I have met either serving military members, veterans, military spouses, or families of military members. Every single one.

There have traditionally been two schools of thought within both Unitarianism and Universalism when it comes to the subject of war. One I term “radical pacifism” and the other is commonly termed “Just War”. Our faith exists as a series of tensions, and the discussion/tension between these two ideologies about war and peace are essential to our liberal faith’s history.

Radical pacifism is the idea that no use of military force is ever justified, and that by forswearing the use of such military force, the world could finally discover peace. It is a wonderful vision, and I fully understand why it captures the thought, heart, and imagination of so many in our movement. To me, however, it is simply unrealistic, and it does not take into account that most of the people in the world do not adopt that position on war (or even the Just War position, for that matter) and that it leaves us in a very precarious position. I have heard proponents express the thought this way… “If we just would spend the whole military budget on blankets and medicine, then peace could finally be achieved”. The problem is that it assumes that others in other nations would also act in good faith, and I believe many of our recent humanitarian efforts (such as Somalia) have shown that not to be the case.

You can tell that I am not a proponent of radical pacifism as a way to achieve world peace. I would invite someone who is to speak more about it from their perspective, because I would not be able to give it a just hearing.

I originally found the Just War theory within our movement in the writings and life of one of our Unitarian Founders, William Ellery Channing. Channing had opposed the War of 1812, as he felt it was un-necessary, un-warranted, and un-just. He had preached against it, he had lobbied against it, and he had written in opposition to it. And yet, later in his life, he was one of the first preachers in New England to state publicly that war would be necessary and justified to end slavery. Far from opposing the use of War to end slavery, he called for it.

This gets at the key kernel of the Just War theory… and that is that war is one of the greatest evils that human beings can visit upon each other… but unfortunately it is not the worst evil. There are times that war is necessary to end an evil that is greater than war. In Channing’s time, that evil was Slavery. In our time, I would propose that such an evil that is greater than war would be genocide. This is why I find it a tragedy that we are unable, for innumerable reasons, to intervene militarily in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Rev. Bill Schulz, former President of the UUA and Executive Director of Amnesty International, has discussed this view of Just War as being necessary not just for the ending of Genocide, but for many different humanitarian concerns. Many people, for a myriad of reasons, have made the determination that the war in Iraq does not rise to the level of a Just War, and I can respect that decision. But I find it disturbing when the rhetoric about Iraq begins to sound as if the UUA is opposed to all use of military force… and throughout our history that has certainly not been the case. If we were to make such a blanket statement, I believe that we would be just as guilty of the kind of black/white, fundamentalist, with us or against us thinking that we so often critique in our more conservative religious colleagues. Simply put… even though I can wish that it was… the world is not that simple.

I would encourage you, Adrian, to do some research into the place of Just War Theory in our history and theology, and then to speak with others from this perspective if you find you hold with it. Because if those of us who are proponents of the concept of the Just War do not speak in our movement, then the voices that get heard will not be ours.

Yours in Faith,

David Pyle
2LT, USAR Chaplaincy Candidate

Will said...


As a student of the Just War Theory, where do you draw the line between oppression and genocide? I'm assuming oppression is not a good enough reasonable justification for war the way genocide is.

For example, one could argue that Saddam committed genocide against Kurds by gassing them and against Shiites in southern Iraq when he drained the swamps. At the same time, you could say that there was no genocide at the time we invaded bc. with the No Fly Zone, Saddam had been contained.

Another example, the Saudis and North Koreans among many others certainly oppress but they do not blatantly commit genocide. At what point would a Just War Theory advocate say that oppression has gone too far and war is justified?


Adrian Gunn said...


Thank you Will & David for your comments and welcome. I've started doing some research into Just War Theory (thanks for the heads up David!) and I've come across an interesting book - "The Morality of War" by Dr. Brian Orend. Dr. Orend is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo in Onatrio and apparently is considered a leading Just War Theorist. I'm going to order the book and a give it a try. Is anyone here familiar with the book?

Anonymous said...


I stopped attending the UU congregation where I live because of those same feelings. I have no problem with people being against the war or with people protesting against it in general, but when the children from the RE group were going to be sent to protest the war in a local park, I felt very out of place and lost. My husband ended up deploying a few months later to Iraq. I don't think I could ever go back to that congregation, but I'm still attracted to UUism and I'm not going to let this experience be a deterrent.

Adrian Gunn said...


You ask an interesting question - what exactly is the threshold that allows for (or even requires) a military intervention under Just War Theory? You mention Saddam's crimes against the Kurds and "Marsh Arab" Shiites as possible examples, and on the face of things seem like good reasons for action, but the problem with the current administration using them (after the fact) as justification for the Invasion of Iraq is the time dimension. I don't think you can wait until several years after the crimes occurred, and then decide to use them as justification for a military intervention. That would have been like the British and French waiting until say, 1949 to declare war on Germany for invading Poland. The train has already left the station. I think the administration's best case was the the threat posed by the alleged WMD and the possibility of Saddam handing them off to terrorists, but personally I feel once it became clear that the intel was wrong, we should have ended (at least militarily) our intervention. But, as they say, hindsight is 20-20.

As far as countries like Iran and North Korea go, I don't think that we have the right (nor is it a good idea) to intervene militarily to overturn a regime because it is tyrannical. It may seem like the "right" thing to do, but barring any "clear and present danger" to US or Allied security, I think we must limit ourselves to non-military means to apply pressures on such regimes. They may not work, and the regimes may not change, but making sure that everyone in the world plays nice all the time is not (and cannot) be solely our responsibility. Which brings me to Darfur. I find it very ironic that many of the members of my congregation who are such staunch opponents to the Iraq War (and I suspect war in general) are also the ones who loudly insist that we must do "Something" in Sudan - i.e. send "Peace Keepers" which in my book means soldiers who can be shot at but are not allowed to shoot back. I'm a bit amused (and disturbed) that people don't seem to realize that sending peace keepers to Darfur = military intervention in some-one else's civil war, which in many ways sounds suspiciously like what we are doing in Iraq. Or what we attempted to in Somalia. I guess some folks never learn.
I'm a strong believer in the Powell Doctrine and question 5 of the Doctrine "Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?" tells me the the US military should stay as far away from Darfur as humanly possible.


Will said...


I have to laugh an ironic and sad laugh. One man's "peace keeper" is another man's "occupier". (Just as one man's concept of a surge is another man's concept of a reinforcement.)

It is ironic, you are right, that folks who are so opposed to our presence in Iraq would be so eager to be involved in Darfur. You make an excellent point that "making sure that everyone in the world plays nice all the time is not (and cannot) be solely our responsibility."

But what's a superpower to do? It seems like the UN is toothless and my take is that, as a superpower, we have the most to lose. And we're the only ones with the power and will to do anything. Can't count on the French or the Russians, can we? It's a tough call.

In the case of Darfur, how can we make the UN do what it's supposed to be doing?


Marilyn said...

Just simply, not everyone in our churches lives up to our ideals of freedom, reason, and tolerance. We sometimes fail and must be reminded by the presence of those with opposing viewpoints.