Moral Warriors, Moral Wounds

The Ministry of the Christian Ethic

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Wollom A. Jensen, James Childs
  • Collegeville, MN: 
    Cascade Books
    , May
     2016.
     158 pages.
     $21.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781498223515.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Moral Warriors, Moral Wounds weaves together Wollom Jensen’s personal experience as a Vietnam veteran and clergy person with James Childs’s expertise in the academic field of Christian ethics. The purpose of the authors’ collaboration is “to articulate the ministry of military chaplaincy, the nature of moral wounds, and a way of reflection on the nature of war that is firmly grounded in the moral theology of the Christian community” (3).

The work is divided into three main parts. Part I focuses on the vocation of the military chaplain and the challenges that come with being accountable to both an ecclesial community and a military culture. Jensen and Childs provide a remarkably clear and succinct description of the world of military chaplaincy that will be immensely helpful for anyone considering chaplaincy or in the role of teacher or instructor to military chaplains. The authors are explicit from the outset that they are writing from a distinctly Christian perspective, but they emphasize throughout that the chaplain is called to minister to all. Thus they continuously develop the theme of a universal “agape love”— a love of neighbor drawn from the Christian tradition that refuses to dehumanize the enemy, even in the midst of war (40-41). Part II is essentially a continuation of this theme, as the authors correlate “agape love” with the core military (Army, in this case) values of leadership, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

Part III gets at the heart of the unique demands placed on a military chaplain, which become most urgent given the phenomena of “moral injury.” Devoting a chapter to surveying the relevant literature on the topic, the authors arrive at a simple definition of moral injury: “moral injuries are wounds from having done something, or failed to stop something, that violates a person’s moral code” (96). The definition itself is unremarkable; the authors’ unique contribution is their perspective on what constitutes a service member’s “moral code” through their previous exposition of “agape love” and military values. A poignant personal account of Jensen’s experiences in Vietnam displays how the values and commitments outlined in Parts I and II are tested, betrayed, or shattered in war. Ultimately, Jensen and Childs reject a purely psychological or medical approach to addressing moral injury. They advocate for a military chaplaincy equipped with spiritual intelligence and critical thinking to minister to those who are morally injured.

The authors portray combat and military life as a world of “radical ambiguity” through ethical analyses of drone warfare, torture, whistle-blowing, and the increasing difficulty of applying just war criteria to 21st century warfare. The authors articulate well how this world of radical ambiguity is one in which service members suffer moral injury. They also show how military chaplains are uniquely situated to minister to persons suffering from moral injury, bridging the gap between the military and civilian world, and helping to create “safe and sacred spaces” for the telling of personal narratives.

Though emphasizing the military as a place of religious pluralism and rejecting any sort of religious exclusivism in the chaplaincy, the authors fall just short of showing how their Christian ethic addresses the needs of other religious communities within the military. Jensen and Childs argue for “a faith-based approach to military ethics that is shareable among chaplains of diverse backgrounds” (19). Though the authors certainly build a faith-based approach to military ethics through their use of “agape-love,” the book lacks specific examples of how that particular faith-based approach is shareable across religious diversity.

Moral Warriors, Moral Wounds is a very useful text for those seeking insight into the world of military chaplaincy, and to a lesser degree the world of the military in general. It also provides an up-to-date introduction to the relevant literature on moral injury, and through the personal accounts of Jensen offers unique perspectives on the topic. The book is a good starting point for those wanting to engage veterans and persons with moral injury, and offers a compelling case for why more of us in the United States should want to do just that.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Michael Yandell is a PhD student in theological studies at Emory University.

Date of Review: 
August 22, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Wollom A. Jensen, Vietnam War veteran and retired Navy chaplain, is an author, poet, preacher, pastor, and professor who currently serves as the Canon to the Bishop Suffragan for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries of the Episcopal Church.

James M. Childs Jr. is Joseph A. Sittler Professor Emeritus of Theology and Ethics at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. His many publications include Ethics in the Community of Promise: Faith, Formation, and Decision (Fortress) and The Way of Peace: Christian Life in the Face of Discord(Fortress).

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