Coming Home: Ministry That Matters with Veterans and Military Families
Reviewed by Tracey Waite
If you want to gain insight into what it is like to fight in a war, or to try to readjust to the life you left behind afterward, there is plenty of literature available to help you. Humans have been writing on these topics since writing began. Coming Home: Ministry That Matters with Veterans and Military Families, by Navy chaplain Zachary Moon, offers an introduction to this weighty subject.
Colonel Robert Leivers, a retired chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, notes in the introduction that “Coming Home is THE book for people of faith who want to start a ministry to military personnel and their families.” The book does, indeed, seem geared toward congregations that have a military population to start with, or ambitions of ministering to the military. Moon urges us to examine our values and beliefs about war, nonviolence, and the military before attempting to engage with people who may have a different perspective. He cautions that such efforts should not “only see service members as wounded.” Each short chapter is followed by suggested questions for personal reflection and group discussion. A brief list of veteran resources is also provided. (In this list, Moon erroneously describes Vet Centers as “another recent initiative by the VA.” Actually, the program was started by Vietnam veterans in 1979, and is one of the older and most successful of the VA’s initiatives.)
Moon does not detail his current religious affiliation, though he does thank “the communities that raised him: the Religious Society of Friends, Faith Community Church, Camas Friends Church, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).” His father, Eric Moon, fought in Vietnam and also worked for American Friends Service Committee. The author’s career began as a chaplain in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he worked with veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. He mentions the challenge of being accepted by war veterans, which may have been part of his motivation for becoming a commissioned chaplain for the Navy.
Despite having been exposed to the Quaker peace testimony, Moon at times uses post-9/11 pro-war vocabulary. For example, he writes: “Killing is something that must be learned in order to accomplish the mission deemed necessary in defense of our country.” The language in this sentence is authoritative. It leaves no space in which to question whether a given mission is truly “necessary” for “defense of country.” It does not delve into the lack of consensus about what “defense of country” means.
Is such a workbook of value to Quaker meetings? In some regards, it is very much of value. Quaker activism in education, peace, and justice has led veterans to seek out the Religious Society of Friends. When veterans choose membership in the Religious Society of Friends, Moon’s book has the potential to lead to better mutual understanding and closer relationships. Coming Home seeks to create Christian communities out of individuals who have different cultural backgrounds and defining life experiences. The book can be useful as a tool for contemplating other types of intercultural contact as well. Moon’s questions can be rephrased, for example, from “What are my thoughts, values, and beliefs about war?” to “What are my thoughts, values, and beliefs about poverty, race, sexual orientation, etc.?”
On the other hand, I agree with Carrie Doehring, of the Iliff School of Theology, who writes that a goal of Coming Home is to create “church homes that can truly welcome and honor . . . service members, veterans, and their families” (emphasis added). Although Quaker meetings are likely to welcome service members, veterans, and their families, honoring military service seems in conflict with the Quaker peace testimony.
A Quaker ministry to the military is Quaker House in Fayetteville, N.C., home of the Army’s Fort Bragg. Quaker House provides important counseling and support to service members who are questioning their role in the military; educates them, their families, and the public about military issues; and advocates for a more peaceful world. Unfortunately, this seems not to be the type of ministry to which Moon is referring.
I am a civilian and a Quaker. I believe that war is not the answer, but that injustice cannot be ignored, and must be overcome using nonviolent methods. I believe that our nation has always had options that weren’t exhausted when it went to war. I concede that the reasons for going to war have been complex, but I believe most of the rationales given have been little but propaganda. I feel that the fighting has left us less free.
Moon refers to beliefs such as mine when he writes:
If we are oriented in certain political and religious ways, we might think all war, or certain wars, are not justifiable. This may distract us when we meet a service member who has fought in a war, and we may be occupied with whether war is justifiable instead of really meeting and engaging with the person standing before us. Likewise, if we are oriented in other political or religious ways in which we see war as necessary to our national defense and American way of life, we could be hung up if a veteran or his or her family member says something about war that doesn’t fit with our values and beliefs.
Beliefs about war in general or about certain wars need not preclude a genuine meeting between those who oppose war and those who have fought them. However, eventually these beliefs can and should become part of an open sharing. They are much more than distractions. Since September 11, it has become increasingly difficult to discuss openly the deepest questions about war, the military, and military service. Moon has made a laudable effort to help us navigate these waters.