Why are you protesting the offertory collection for AMS in November 2013?

1) Because a nationwide offertory collection for AMS sends a message to American Catholics that the Catholic Church condones America’s current military activity and post-9-11 wars.

Condonation (n): the overlooking or implied forgiving of an offense

It is far from a foregone conclusion that American military has been engaged only in what was necessary, just, and wise for the last 12 years.  Three Popes have spoken out against these wars. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expressed fear in 2002 that the Iraq war “would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching” on just war. In retrospect, it would be hard to argue that it did.

Going beyond the specifics of the War on Terror, then Cardinal Ratzinger said that the Just War theory, along with the Church’s stance on the death penalty, were the two most hotly contested issues when writing the new Catechism: “Given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war’.” Hundreds of thousands of innocent people abroad have died in the War on Terror.

It has been suggested that AMS not be allowed to take up a national collection until USCCB professes current American “wars” to be just and explains how these wars meet the criteria for Just War theory when strictly applied. That’s an idea. It has also been suggested that a national conversation be had about the kind and quality of pastoral counseling provided to young Catholic men and women in uniform by AMS when it comes to issues of war, killing, violence and conscientious objection. Another idea is that the Catholic community should fund the Catholic chaplaincy, rather than having Catholic chaplains on the government payroll, which inevitably means there are strings attached, compromises must be made. What do you think? Tell us your thoughts.

Those who want to support the military in Church should have to justify that, explicitly. We can no longer allow this support, condonation, and ultimately collaboration to be “slipped in” to our worship services. We can no longer allow certain assumptions to go unquestioned and unchallenged. Read our manifesto to learn more about what we believe are those false assumptions. Also see this article for which we were interviewed in the National Catholic Reporter.

2) Because AMS is the embodiment of militarism based on the following definition:

Militarism (.): 1) the tendency to subordinate all other interests to those of the military.

It is in the state’s best interest to recruit and retain young people who will fight its wars and destroy its enemies. That is the purpose of the military. It would be extremely rare to find a Catholic chaplain who urges a soldier to love his enemies. Let’s be honest: If Catholic Military Chaplains were unwilling to subordinate spiritual and moral teachings to the interests of the military, then they would quickly be relieved of their positions as Catholic Military Chaplains.

The very nature of their job requires compromise. As commissioned officers, military chaplains risk getting fired if they criticize foreign policy or advise soldiers to disobey orders. Chaplains rarely address moral questions surrounding participation in war; they often disseminate militaristic propaganda from the pulpit; and they avoid preaching to those in their pastoral care anything that might be deemed subversive.*

Catholic Military Chaplains actually provide a valuable service to the state by “blessing” the actions of the troops. Throughout history, the horrors of war and the dictates of conscience (not to mention the obviously dubious motives of politicians) have created the constant threat of dissent, desertion, and disillusionment within military ranks. One time-tested strategy for improving morale and troop retention is convincing soldiers that God is on their side. Military Chaplains subordinate other interests to the interests of the military, or make other interests seem perfectly compatible with the interests of the military, which is basically the same thing.

3) Because it glorifies the ideals of the professional military class which run contrary to many, if not all, Christian ideals.

Militarism (n): 2) the belief or desire that a country should maintain a strong military and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests

The United States has the most powerful military in the history of human civilization and is currently one of the most militaristic nations on Earth.

Strong military capability. The U.S. government runs the most powerful military in the history of the world. It stations roughly 2 million troops and civilians at about 900 bases and sites in over 125 countries. The U.S. spends nearly $1 trillion on defense and security every year (more than every other country in the world combined). Its nuclear arsenal could destroy all life on Earth ten times over, and its intelligence services have unparalleled ability to surveil communication around the globe.

Aggressive use of military force. The U.S. government is an aggressive, belligerent superpower whose leaders and controllers seek to impose their will on sovereign nations through force, intimidation, and bribery. Since 1788, the U.S. government has been involved in more than 100 armed conflicts in which tens of millions of people have been killed or injured. These conflicts take many forms—declared wars, undeclared wars, wars of expansion, wars of secession, proxy wars, pre-emptive wars, revolutions, civil wars, drug wars, tribal wars, pirate wars, colonial wars, police actions, occupations, nation-building, covert operations, propaganda campaigns, surgical strikes, and sanctions. The U.S. government is the world’s largest arms dealer and the biggest distributor of foreign aid. It trains insurgents to overthrow a dictator in one country, and then arms a dictator to suppress insurgents in another country. It gives security guarantees to 31 separate countries. Through espionage, destabilization, and “carrot-and-stick” diplomacy, the U.S. government meddles in the internal affairs of virtually every nation on Earth. For close to a century, the U.S. government has been fighting what one historian called perpetual war for perpetual peace. Not a day goes by when U.S. forces are not shooting, bombing, blockading, assassinating, abducting, torturing, arming, bribing, training, destabilizing, or sabotaging somebody somewhere.

4) Because it leads young people who attend Mass to believe that professional war-making is a perfectly acceptable, even desirable, and definitely noble, vocation for a Christian.

Enough said there.

“Don’t you think a site like this is disrespectful to those who are willing to sacrifice their lives for your freedom? You should support the troops, whether or not you agree with our foreign policy.”

We believe support for any group of human beings, whether moral or financial, should be conditional. We also believe that support comes in many forms.

We certainly don’t advocate maltreatment of soldiers. After the Vietnam War, the troops would be “welcomed” home by angry antiwar protesters who called them horrible things like “baby killers” and sometime taunted, provoked, and condemned them. It was a shameful display on the part of the antiwar crowd, and showed a lack of compassion, especially since many, if not most, of these soldiers did not believe in the war and did not want to fight it: They had been drafted, and they were faced with a moral conundrum as to whether to go, fight and possibly die, or find some way to get out of it (like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and many others who see no problem starting wars for other people to fight).

Upon their return home, like many soldiers today, many of them were laden with guilt and traumatized by the things they had done, and the things they had seen. The last thing they needed was this kind of malicious reproach. As a country, we seem to have learned our lesson, and that’s a good thing: We cannot take out our anger over foreign policy decisions that are made by politicians in Washington on the 19-year-old kid from Springfield who played no part in that decision, especially if he was forced to fight under threat of duress. Nobody wants to go back to that.

However, it must be pointed out that every single person who serves in the military now is there by choice. The military should not be exempt from criticism, nor should the soldiers who signed up out of their own free will to carry out its orders.  There still must be a recognition that the decisions made in Washington do not necessarily reflect the will of those with “boots on the ground,” and there are probably a lot of reasons why the “choice” that some young people make to join the military is less than an ideal one due to limited options, but at the end of the day, soldiers cannot be unconditionally “supported” under any circumstance, because every human was born with free will, and “I was following orders” is not an acceptable excuse according to Catholic teaching to commit evil deeds.

We have to be very careful that our calls to “support the troops” do not send a message to young Catholics who are in the military that “We’re behind you all the way no matter what.”

Since 9-11, war has been “normalized” in our society. The militaristic spirit has taken root in many minds and hearts over the last twelve years and is increasingly noticeable in church. With the offertory collection for AMS, we see this trend as reaching a new apex. We believe that continued silence on the part of conscientious Christians is a major contributing factor in the growth of the militaristic mentality in the greater society. In the first decade of the 21st century, American militarism was largely aimed abroad, but increasingly we are seeing more of it here at home.

Militarism (n): 3) the preponderance of armed forces in the administration or policy of the state

If we don’t act now, it will likely get worse. If we expel the militaristic spirit from our hearts, we can expel it from our Church, and then the country, and then the whole world.

*When we called AMS to inquire about the process a Catholic soldier must go through to become a conscientious objector, they told us they had “no information about that process” and advised us to go ask a military recruiter.