Stanley Hauerwas, one of the most significant theological influences in my life, is a self-professed militant pacifist. He’s someone who believes passionately that nonviolent love is at the heart of the gospel and what it means to follow Jesus.
That said, Hauerwas expresses admiration for the military and for the skills the military possesses that the Church has lost. Namely, the military understands that virtues are learned and acquired through habit, practice and the mentoring of master to apprentice. The military understands that concepts such as honor, sacrifice, and commitment to others over commitment to self are not easily or automatically learned. They can’t simply be agreed to or believed rationally. They must be habituated through practices passed down from one with wisdom and authority. They must be habituated so that they become embodied, reflexive and at the core one’s identity.
In other words, the military, Hauerwas says, are often better at making disciples than the Church. Most churches act as though one can be a Christian without training, conversion, or apprenticeship. Just by believing in Jesus and leaving it at that. No one in the military has ever believed you can be a soldier just by wanting to be one, without the purgative and formative experience of basic training etc.
So on Veterans Day maybe that’s the appreciative nod the Church can offer our armed forces: they know how to form character and we in the Church could learn from their wisdom.