How Can Pacifists Support Our Troops?

Season 2
Date:  8/27/2015
Views: 10,282

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Quaker and military chaplain Zac Moon has a unique perspective on the effects of war. He has some ideas for how Friends can help military service members to come home.

I’m trying to hold a space where somebody can open up and become and grow and struggle in the ways that they need to right in that moment, believing deeply that they have strengths and resources in them, and also believing that all around them is this powerful holiness that is holding them and lifting them up. It’s the part of me that feels so Quaker as I’m doing this work, even in a strange context like the United States Marine Corps.

How Can Pacifists Support Our Troops?

My name is Zachary Moon. I live in Denver, Colorado, and I work as a commissioned chaplain with the United States Navy.

One of the things that I’ve learned differently in this proximity to war, as a military chaplain, is that some of what needs healing after war—some of the expense that’s been paid in war, beyond all of the monetary resources—is the toll that it’s taken on thousands, really more than two million now, human bodies.

A New Paradigm for Relating to Veterans

I see us continuing to desire and seek after a programmatic solution to these costs, these traumas, these symptoms. The VA [Department of Veterans Affairs] is this magnificent example of that, right? So, “Oh, we need this kind of therapy and all of these medications, and we need these kinds of services.” And it’s all being done under this kind of hospital institution. What’s missing there (and where I see the kind of human struggle to come back from war that the VA will never be able to heal or even really address) is the cost that is really in the deeper recesses of our humanness, that can really only be processed and only be lovingly engaged through relationship.

And when I think about what could a Quaker meeting do? Or what could another religious community do? I think when we’re at our best, we’re doing relationship well—the kinds of relationships where we can listen deeply to each other, the kinds of relationships where we can listen across differences. So it’s not just having relationships with people who can all agree about the same things, but with folks that maybe in lots of ways I disagree with. All of that can be best engaged through relationship—the kinds of relationships that allow space for lots of compassion and lots of patience and lots of mercy to just be shared back and forth.

Open Ears, Open Hearts

For Quakers, I think about how powerful our meetings for memorials are. You know, the kind of deep way that we are able to hear both grief and celebration in that space. Could we hold that kind of space, that kind of depth and intentionality, for someone who is grieving all of what they’ve lost as a part of their military service, but who also wants an opportunity to say, “You know, I learned some things that were important that I want to find a way to carry forward, because that’s in me too.” Could we find a way to celebrate that stuff too and not just, because we’re pacifists, see it all as being evil and ugly and grotesque?

There’s some real goodness that can happen in relationship with folks who are different from who I am or who our community is, but we’ve got to be willing to do a little bit of work—take a little stock of our beliefs and our values—and really be knowledgeable about who we are: not in a way to say, “Hey, we’ve got it all figured out. Let’s take it to you and try to get you to fit into us.” But more than that: to say, “Okay, here’s the stuff that I’m dragging behind with me, and some of it’s good and some of it’s probably not that helpful, but I’ve got to be responsible for it in this relationship.” And if you are talking about your military service and I’m thinking about how there weren’t weapons of mass destruction in Iraq like they said, I’m already failing you in this relationship because I’m thinking about the wrong thing. What I need to be doing is turning both of my ears, and my heart as open as it can be, I need to turn that toward you and hear you.


In the course of my studies in theology in France, I have chosen to apply for a placement in military naval chaplaincy this year. I will be following two different Protestant chaplains around (one Baptist, one Presbyterian). As a Quaker and pacifist, I often wonder why I chose this option, but it was absolutely clear to me that this is what I should and wanted to do. I didn’t know whether Quaker chaplains for the military existed, and I’m pleased to find that at least one does!  Eric Callcut

Should a pacifist not remain neutral? Judging those who would go to war is wrong. Each individual must decide for himself where God leads. But in matters of war, is it in any way appropriate to participate even at the level of wearing the uniform, even as a chaplain? That is not to judge others who do, but are you not supporting those who make war rather than learn the way of peace?  Michael Seyfried (via YouTube)

For those of you who are troubled by this: perhaps you would not be so troubled to know that the words of this man’s testimony have touched the heart of a pagan who prides himself in being a warrior. Digischen2 (via YouTube)

I think the only way—or at least the best way—to create peace is to hold loving relationships across lines of belief. I am so sad to hear people saying he is a disgrace to Quakers—from my perspective, he is upholding the very best of our tradition.  Earthscorners (via YouTube)

So many early Friends were military. Go to Quaker cemeteries across the country, and there are veterans buried there. Indeed many former soldiers who came to the Religious Society of Friends or Friends Church subsequently laid down their arms and declared themselves against war. But so many of them became convinced while soldiers—and by Friends who ministered to them while in the military or militias themselves.  Kevin Douglas-Olive (via YouTube)


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1 thought on “How Can Pacifists Support Our Troops?

  1. I support honoring the legacy and heritage of Quakers who witnessed for Peace in their everyday lives. In researching the (paternal) Quaker branch of my family tree, I found a number of male ancestors and relatives who probably stood for the Peace Testimony while soldiers with the same name were fighting in the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, descendants confused the soldier and the pacifist when submitting applications to heredity societies dedicated to ancestors who were Revolutionary War Veterans. Some graves of life-long members of the Society of Friends were later decorated with emblems of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). Multiple documents are now available online that confirm Quaker residences in specific American Colonies and describe involvement in Monthly Meetings that disowned members who were involved in the Revolutionary and Indian Wars.

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