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Moral Injury

May 15, 2013

The evil of war sends people home changed. Some people leave war and flee from God. I recently met a young man who told me he had thrown away all of his Bibles after he got home from the war. He believed there could not be a God. He then reasoned if there was a God, would He forgive him for the things he did there. Others come home from war closer to God than they ever had been in their lives. Why these conflicting views? One possible reason is a thing called “Moral Trauma” or “Moral Injury.”

Moral injury can be summed up like this: “Moral injury results when soldiers violate their core moral beliefs, and in evaluating their behavior negatively, they feel they no longer live in a reliable, meaningful world and can no longer be regarded as decent human beings. They may feel this even if what they did was warranted and unavoidable.”[1] These soldiers, and I am using the term soldier generically for any service member, see unspeakable things in war. These are things which are unimaginable for people who have not been there.

Despite not having direct combat experience, there is a place for pastors and church members in the healing and recovery process. Sharing unconditional love with them is a wonderful start. Those suffering from moral injury have trouble loving themselves or finding self-worth. Church members can help with this. Simple love and support is a great start. Pastors must not be offended if soldiers do not want to share with them. Typically these individuals would rather share their experiences with another person with similar experiences.

Brite Divinity School is on the forefront of this issue. They will assist churches and pastors to understand the issue. Their website has a wealth of material for further research and development. It can be found at http://brite.edu/soulrepair/. There is a wonderful book titled, Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War, by Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini (Beacon Press, 2012) which should be on the shelf of any pastor or chaplain who may come into contact with military members or veterans. This book is an excellent resource. By no means will reading it qualify a pastor or chaplain to provide the mental health care these veterans need, but it will give them an insight into the spiritual and emotional distress moral injury. This book will also provide insight into the reasons these veterans come to this place of distress.

While this has been a rapid look at moral injury, it was only intended to make people aware of this issue. It is surfacing more often and pastors, chaplains, and church members should be aware of these issues to some extend so they are prepared to assist.


[1] Rita Nakashima Brock & Gabriella Lettini. Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2012. xv

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