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Losing Our Sense of Duty

May 10, 2010
S. Michael Craven
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If—and only if—you were really searching for news on the war in Afghanistan you might have read last week that “U.S. forces are massing on the outskirts [of Kandahar] for the biggest military offensive of the nearly nine-year-old war” (Reuters, April 30, 2010). General David Petraeus, the man charged with responsibility for the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq—a brilliant thinker and one of our very best military leaders—said in a press conference held on April 30 that “the enemy is going to take horrific actions to disrupt the progress that Afghan and coalition civilian and military elements are working so hard to achieve” (Reuters).

As an aside, a Google search revealed a mere 110 stories reporting the relatively noteworthy fact that “U.S. forces are massing on the outskirts” of Kandahar (there were more than 5300 news-related hits for “Dancing with the Stars!). Only nine news agencies reported on General Petraeus’ press conference that included his ominous warning. None of the major television networks and, with the exception of The Wall Street Journal and the Dallas Morning News, none of the major newspapers reported what the head of U.S. Central Command had to say about the largest planned military offensive of the war! (There is something seriously wrong in regard to either the media’s coverage, the public’s indifference, or both!)

Right now you’re probably thinking, “What does the war in Afghanistan have to do with the church and culture?” Off the top, it would appear not much, but I think I can make a relevant connection later that speaks to a concern within the church. However, my first concern is profoundly personal. You see, my wife and I learned this past week that our eighteen-year-old son’s battalion would be joining the U.S. Marine assault force in the battle for Kandahar.

To be sure, this news is never easily received. There are a multitude of thoughts that run through a parent’s mind when confronted with the reality that his child will be going to the front of what is expected to be among the fiercest fighting so far in the most dangerous place in the world today. As one Marine colonel rightly said, “The last three hundred yards of America’s foreign policy is faithfully carried out by 18-year-old kids who were playing high school baseball last year.” Our son will be one among these.

Suffice it to say I have thought a lot about the Christian’s role in warfare and the dreadful possibilities ever since my son announced that he was giving up a baseball scholarship to Ouachita Baptist University to join the Marine Corps. He explained his reasoning by simply saying, “I don’t think baseball will ever make me a better man.” How do you argue with that?

We are by no means perfect parents but we have tried to teach our kids to always do the right thing, even when it is the hardest thing to do. As to what is right, it is Jesus Christ—the Living Word—who serves as the source for determining how we are to live; for what purpose; to what end; and by what means. I believe being a Christian carries with it certain unavoidable responsibilities--duties or moral obligations--and that among these are an obligation to defend the weak, to enact justice, to oppose tyranny and evil—and to do these things is to love as Christ commands. I have tried to teach these virtues to my children and, perhaps more importantly, the idea that adherence to these virtues will require courage and sacrifice and that doing so is nothing less than obedience to Christ.

So in one sense, I should not be surprised that my son would choose the road he has taken—we taught him to do so. It is interesting to note the number of pastors I know and other prominent Christian leaders, such as Franklin Graham and D. A. Carson, whose sons are serving in the global war on terror. Neither am I being careless in the matter of my son’s life. To lose him would be the most devastating thing I can imagine; but I trust in the sovereignty of God and the grace to endure should the worst happen.

What concerns me most is that the idea of self-sacrificial duty—not just in military service but also in any meaningful way—is disappearing in our culture. Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University professor, and four other psychologists looked at the results of surveys, namely The Narcissistic Personality Inventory that were collected during a period of twenty-five years from more than 16,000 college students. In reporting the team’s findings, Ms. Twenge said: “Today’s college students are more likely to have a feeling of self-importance, to be entitled and, in general, to be more narcissistic. About two thirds of current college students score above-average on narcissism, and that’s 30 per cent more than in 1982.”

Today, we live in a culture in which men (in particular) are no longer encouraged to “do their duty,” to serve something greater than themselves and certainly never at risk to themselves. Instead, our culture encourages and even glorifies selfishness and narcissism on a herculean scale! So many today are so self-indulgent that to serve one’s country through military service is thought to be foolish—a task due only to the poor and uneducated among us, those poor souls who either can’t afford or lack the academic merits to go to college. This kind of elitism is alive and well in this country, especially among the more liberal who are all too happy to have someone else’s son or daughter defend their freedom. My wife and I have encountered it frequently, however I was shocked to encounter it from other Christians!

I have been surprised by the disapproving tone that often accompanies the question, “Are you okay with that?” in response to having learned of our son’s decision. The implication is “Why on earth would you let your son do that?” or “Don’t you want him to go to college?”—as if success and prosperity for our children is the goal of every good parent. Granted, these folks may not be entirely cognizant of what they’re saying. They would likely stand to applaud those in military service but the unspoken sense is “let someone else’s kid do that but not mine!” This seems a contradiction between the belief that Christians are called to oppose evil and serve others sacrificially and actually doing so.

Should not the Christian be among the first to serve, including military service, and is not military service one of the many means that God uses to fulfill his purposes (see Romans 13)? Shouldn’t Christians be among the most selfless and duty driven when it comes to protecting the weak or, in this case, liberating the oppressed? The Christian life defies fixation on personal fulfillment, selfish gain, or personal comfort or on the avoidance of risk in the face of one’s duty. Here again, the church must not allow itself to be seduced by the bankrupt values of the culture but must instead impart a higher set of values to the world around it.

If the church does not impart those values that have historically motivated young men to take up arms in defense of freedom and justice, then who will? It certainly won’t be the liberal institutions of “higher learning” to which we so eagerly send our kids! Who will defend future generations against the inevitable tyrants and potentates who prey on the weak when no one is bound by any sense of duty to stand against evil? Who will serve our communities as police officers, firemen, and every other emergency response worker whose motivation exists in their sense of selfless duty?

Church, may we all seek to raise a generation of selfless young men and women—people of good character first—committed to truth and justice who will not flinch in the face of their duties to Christ and others. If we don’t, such people may soon be found only on the pages of history.

© 2010 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Louie Rudin  

May 10, 2010 9:32 AM

Right on brother! I am engaged in campus ministry on an Ivy League campus and encounter the 'elite' on a daily basis. And like you said, it's the Christian community here that disappoints me the most. The Christian students here pick and choose what they engage in like a buffet line in one of their dining halls. 'I'll have a little of this and some of that but none of that, thank you'. Any suggestion of sacrifice or commitment is summarily dismissed and replaced by 'fun' activities that they may or may not choose to engage in, depending on their mood at the time. Rare is the student who signs up to volunteer at the convalescent home or local high school on a weekly basis. Time commitment is the most frequent excuse, yet there is ample time each day for multiple hours spent on Facebook or playing video games. As each year goes on, my mind is drawn ever closer to ministry work overseas in places where Christianity is illegal or persecuted and the followers of Jesus are completely sold out to his Kingdom. May God have mercy on us all here in the United States of Abundance!

Response from : Judy C.  

May 10, 2010 9:42 AM

First, I want to thank your son for his service to our country, and the heart with which he is doing it. I can understand and sympathize with you completely, as I have a son, daughter, and son-in-law who all served in Iraq. They have all come home, praise God!! May God's mighty arms of protection be around your son and all of our troops.

Secondly, your points are well taken in regard to selflessness, and the lack thereof in our society. I personally blame the pervasiveness of self-esteem teachings, our general prosperity as a nation, and the basic ease of life that many of us enjoy. We have had no war on our soil; no widespread famines or plagues. And there is no end to the means by which we entertain and numb ourselves.

Hardship borne by people with Bible-based faith in God tends to build character. Hardship faced by self-indulgent/self-centered people tends to build resentment and anger.

May we who claim to follow Christ do some serious reflection, humble ourselves, and get back to the basics of our faith.

Response from : Chip Burkitt  

May 10, 2010 10:45 AM

I don't think the situation is quite so bleak. While it may be true that self-sacrifice is (or has been) in decline, there are signs of a turnaround. See for example recent books such as Baby Jack: A Novel by Frank Schaeffer or Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris. The first book speaks specifically to the liberal elitism you mention (and also portrays God as a foul-mouthed Marine drill sergeant). The second is a Gen Y response to the narcissism expected of today's generation.

Response from : Preston Korn  

May 10, 2010 11:16 AM


Response from :  

May 10, 2010 6:33 PM

Great Article. After so many years, this article has given me insight on why I was, and somewhat continue to be, rejected by some in this particular church. I joined the military almost 30 years ago. While still in the service, I joined a church. While many of the young people were away to college, I was the only one at that time that was in the military. At once I was branded as either one who has flunked out or as one who was not very intelligent. Once you are branded as a flunk-out, no matter how untrue the branding may be, the branding is there to stay for a very long time. This was especially true in several Christian circles back 30 years ago, and it is true today. Believers, it seems, beat up on their own, and this should not be. When one is rejected by those in the church because of their service in the military, this rejection affects the service member for many years. The rejection has certainly affected me for years, and I believe I held this rejection against myself and the church for years. It is only through Christ that the offended service member can be redeemed from such branding. It is also through Christ that those in the church can be redeemed from such shameful and judgmental actions.

When one is told that he is not a worthy member of society, and especially a worthy member within the church, the individual, as in my case, begins to believe such a lie. I truly believe what I was being told. As a result, I believed I would not be an asset in society. The funny thing is I was known in high school, prior to attending this church, as a very successful student. I was the editor of the high school's yearbook and I held office in the Student Council. I was even a team member of "The Brain Game". I was awarded the second highest honor given to a student in my senior year. Even though I thrived in high school, I was not accepted in church. While I may not have seen this over 30 years ago, because of the article I see it clearly now.

In the military, I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal while attending that church. The meaning of such award was lost at this church when my wife tried to share with the congregation that I was awarded this honor. The attitude was that of how could I, being already branded a flunky, have been given the honor of such an award. Such rejection even hurts now. I still look back and wonder why I stayed with this church so long, but when you are told you are not an asset to society for so long, you begin to believe as much.

While it has taken years to overcome such rejection, it is with Christ's help and the grace given to me by the Lord that I am able to gain victory over such shame.

Last year I graduated with highest honors from Bible College. I still wonder had I not been branded as a failure at that church where I would be now. I am now catching up on the ministry that I have missed out on. While I am in no way blaming others for my failures, I still wonder where I would be in ministry and life today had I gone to college instead of the military. Please do not get me wrong, I am very proud that I served the country in the manner that I served. Your article has opened my understanding of why I was rejected at this church. While not the entire picture, your article is allowing me to put in place some of the missing pieces of a very large and hurtful puzzle.

Response from : marvin m. schroeter md  

May 10, 2010 7:07 PM

I am a WWII veteran of the U.S.Navy. I served in both the engineering corps and the medical corps for 7 yrs during and after the war. I served in non-combatant
services from 1942-49, refusing to kill any other human being except in self-defense. I believe Jesus Christ is a peace-maker and in the New Covenant expressed ,"blessed are the peacemakers". I do not see Christians' duty to go all over the world attacking people because in reports we see in the news of foreign corrupt
regimes mistreating their people for usually financial gain or political power. It seems to me better to fulfill Christ's Great Commission to declare
the gospel to all nations. I do think it is our duty to
defend our country when we are attacked and against terrorism on our land. Jesus Christ was the epitome of a peace maker. I am a first generation
American-born citizen from intensely patriotic parents, my father having escaped from 2 militaristic regimes in Germany and Russia. He
emigrated to the USA and immediately sought
citizenship and over the years was a strong force
in the town he lived in in participating in civic
affairs in his community and in his church. You could describe us both as "Intensely Patriotic
Pacifists". I am frankly surprised in your stance as
a militaristic one realizing your declaration as a
Baptist Christian. I too am of Baptist background
and find it confusing that you would send a son of
yours to such an unjust war as Iraq and now
Afganistan. I also have 5 sons 3 of whom served in
another unjust war in Vietnam. I also realize the very immature decisions young men of 18 yrs of
age make in evaluating military services. I urged all
of them to serve their country as patriots and declare their choice to be in a supportive non-
combatant role. While being a conservative Christian is my first priority, patriotoism and love of my family and my free country follow in that order.
I pray almost daily for members of our armed
services, especially those in imminent danger and do
wish your son well. I am now 90 yrs old and have
seen our country spend often 50% of our national
budget on military support through the Pentagon.
While I agree with the corruption that existed in
Iraq and also in Vietnam, I do not think these wars
were justified, since the premises on which we
engaged these nations were false and had nothing to do with our safety. Furthermore, they were not
justified in the light of the large numbers of our
American youths who lost their lives in these conflicts.
And we aren't through in the Middle East yet.
Pray for peace, and read your Bible for the prophecy
of the "Last Days" esp. in Daniel and Revelation.
God Bless Dr. Schroeter

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

May 10, 2010 8:58 PM

Dear Mr. Schroeter,

I certainly respect your commitment to pacifism, I really do. However, you are incorrect to suggest that being a pacifist is the only position consistent with being Christian. This is a personal choice but it is by no means a biblical mandate therefore you are simply wrong to condemn those who do not share your particular view. Jesus had a number of encounters with military men, he applauded their faith and never suggested they leave military service. In fact, he commended the Centurion's faith and affirmed his authority. Furthermore, Paul speaks of the authority given to the state including its authority to "bear the sword" in the pursuit of peace and justice. Those who serve in the military act as agents of the state thus they are serving an institution ordained by God for preservation of peace and justice. One cannot read the Old Testament and determine that God is in any way pacifistic in the face of evil. He frequently used the nation of Israel (through military force) to exact judgment upon wicked nations. We are called to "oppose evil" and sometimes this assumes the shape of national warfare. This was certainly the case in WWII. If every person assumed the pacifist cause, Germany and Japan would have done immeasurable destruction upon God's creation.

Again, I respect your choice to be a pacifist and I think that doing so is a matter of one's own conscience and should be respected.

Finally, I do pray for peace and I long for the day when Christ returns and puts an end to all war and violence. However, as long as war is a reality in this, the fallen world, good men--including Christians--must study the art of war and be ready to assume their place in defense of freedom, justice and peace.


Response from : Rhonda Calvert  

May 11, 2010 8:53 AM

Michael, Thank you for another eye-opening article! You have hit the nail on the head again. I am so concerned about the youth of today as well - if only we had more parents like you! Be sure we will be keeping your son in our prayers. I too have a young family member that's headed to Afghanistan (he's already been to Iraq and seen front line action). My husband and I are staunch supporters of our military-my husband is a Navy vet, our son is currently career Navy, my dad and my husband's dad both served in the Navy. Michael, please keep up the good work with your emails. They keep me (and my husband-he receives your emails too)spurred on to do good works. Thank you! In Christ, Rhonda

Response from : Linda Howard  

May 12, 2010 10:50 PM

As a mother of a Marine, I have often heard the same responses you have; in fact, many are incredulous when I say all boys should be required to spend 2 years in service to our country. But then, I'm old school. I believe in patriotism, God Bless America and shed His grace on thee. I will be in prayer for you family an son. Dr. Laura Schlessinger's son enlisted in the Army and she once said "why not my son? why should I ever think it should be someone else's son or daughter?" I agree but know military families don't make this statement lightly. It is a sacrifice for the entire family. I will keep your son and your family in prayer.

Response from : David Ingram Jr  

May 17, 2010 7:21 AM

I have not read the other responses, but as I scrolled down to write this response to the column, I saw the word pacifist several times, so I don't want to get into that right now. I just want to say "amen" to the need for a sense of self-sacrificial duty as a citizen wherever we live, and to say I will be praying for your son specifically as he goes into battle.

Response from : Marica  

May 23, 2010 11:39 AM

You may be interested in considering the ideas jotted down in response to the question "Why is our Church lacking this vitality necessary to promote vocations?" on The cloud of Fire blog article, "Day of Prayer to Consecrated Life - Crisis in Vocations" Also note the added comments.

Response from : Marica Maas  

May 23, 2010 12:01 PM

Considering Romans 1:25-27, it becomes clear that -- as explained in Charles D. Provan's book "The Bible and Birth Control" on p. 27 -- "God here says that cultures which reject the worship of God are punished by God "giving them over to degrading passions." The road to these degrading passions begins when men and women exchange "the natural function of women for that which is unnatural." This is stated in Romans 1:26-27. What is the ultimate result of rejecting the natural function of women? - homosexuality and other like perversions.

What is this "natural function" of women? Is it scrubbing the floor? Is it washing clothes? No, for men can do these things. The natural function of women is bearing children. All biological differences between men and women point to this conclusion."

Is it then not so that this is one of our duties which through means of birth control, we are severely neglecting -- with results most far-reaching -- namely acceptance of parenthood? Had this after-all not been the very first commandment in Genesis?


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