Moral injury is real; we must find a cure

Sunday, August 11, 2019
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Ministerial Association

As I write this, it is Sunday afternoon after a weekend of two terrorist attacks in our country by white supremists. There I’ve said it. Whenever there is evil, we first must name it. Otherwise, it becomes part of our daily conversation, or lost in other truly mundane things, and doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

We are injuring, hopefully not fatally, our moral compass. The term ‘moral injury’ is often used to describe damage done to service members who witness or perpetrate acts that are against their basic moral and ethical conscience in the legal conduct of their duties. In my 22-year Air Force career, there were two distinct occasions when I questioned the morality of my duties: lawfully and faithfully carried out. With prayer and the Holy Spirit, I got through these challenges.

Now I believe the term should apply to what’s happening in our country and in our places of worship. We have witnessed so much gun violence through mass murders and domestic terrorism, that we have damaged our moral compass. “Moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress one’s own moral beliefs, values, or ethical codes of conduct. ... Moral injury is increasingly a focus of discussion and study across disciplines and settings.” ( August 4, 2019) Moral injury: witnessed, perpetrated, failed to prevent.

We are failing to prevent! How do we protect ourselves from injury and harm? We vaccinate children against preventable diseases and take kids to the doctor when they’re ill. We practice fire drills in schools and then make sure fire extinguishers are in working order. We learn first aid in Girl Scouts and 4-H and then learn how to prevent injuries in the out of doors and at home. We educate ourselves about poisons that can hurt or kill. So, we lock them up so children and pets can’t play with them.

Yet, how do we protect ourselves from violence, experienced or witnessed, that is happening all too frequently in this country? First, we can keep unnecessary assault weapons off our streets and from reduce the problem of mentally ill persons gaining access to guns. Second, we can look hatred in the eye and say, “No, we won’t tolerate that here.” When we hear divisive and racially charged language, we can speak truth to power, as our beloved Savior did, and say, “You’re wrong.” Third, if you have children, you can monitor what they listen to on the internet and other social media and block it. And, don’t assume all your firewalls (vaccinations) work in this ever-evolving cloud space.

For those of us who call ourselves Christian, we must honor our Master’s rule to love our neighbors as ourselves. Not just the ones who look like us, but all God’s children. We can practice what we preach on Sundays and acknowledge that our Savior was a dark-skinned refugee who had to flee death threats and go into a strange land. We can work together rather than compete for pew sitters. And, we can love ALL our neighbors. On August 4, 2019, Diana Butler Bass, Christian author and thought leader, Tweeted, “If you are a preacher and fail to address the killings of the last 24 hours today, know that Christians like me will walk away from church heartbroken. This is the time for radical words and even more radical action. Love demands it.”

We can join with other like-minded persons on this issue. We don’t need to agree on every social justice issue: unity not uniformity on this problem. John Wesley said, “Even if we can not think alike, can we not love alike?” Even if we cannot think alike on anything else, can we not love alike to prevent the epidemic of mass gun violence? Our common humanity, a gift from God, is being torn and rendered under flags of nationalism, exceptionalism, faux patriotism and greed in all its forms. Moral injury is real and will continue to eat away at our souls until we, all of us, come together. And, not just apply a bandage, but find the cure. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17) May God have mercy on us and give us courage to do the moral, ethical, and yes, Christian thing.

Carol Rhan is the pastor at Glendive United Methodist Church. She can be reached at .