My Discomfort with Soldier Imagery

As I’ve alluded to in my prior two posts, I spent the weekend in Chicago attending the Christian Legal Society conference. At the conference, in addition to leading two mini-retreat sessions for law students, I attended some thought-provoking workshops, worthwhile small group discussions and inspirational prayer services.

I keep coming back to something that struck me during morning prayer one morning and again in a small group discussion. A couple of people when praying referred to us as soldiers going into battle and similar military imagery arose in the small group context. This was not the first time I have heard such imagery – I’ve heard sung Onward Christian Soldiers and St Ignatius draws heavily on battle imagery in his Spiritual Exercises.

But I felt more discomfort about the imagery over the last couple of days. The second time it was used by someone during the prayer, what came to my mind was Jesus’ statement to his disciples in Matthew, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.”

As Christians, we are sent out to proclaim the Gospel in situations that are challenging, where we will be met by people hostile to our message. The soldier and the sheep images, however convey two very different things about how we go out to do that.

The soldier imagery carries a notion of vanquishing those who stand against us; indeed, one of the persons who prayed with the soldier imagery prayed precisely for help in vanquishing those who stand against us. (And that is heightened by a sense many Christians have that the secular world is against them.) My fear is that I think it is harder to proclaim the Good News with love if we think we are out to vanquish those who stand against us.

I don’t dispute that there are forces of evil in the world. But Jesus did not send us out with a sword to slay the enemy. He sent us out to evangelize through our love. I think we’d do better at that if we carried in our hearts the image of the lamb rather than the image of the soldier.