A few weeks ago my wife, Genie, and I got the news that our Marine son, John, would shortly be deployed to the Middle East. He is gone to war now. We have been dreading this moment. We don't dare go for a walk. What if he should call? I wake with a sickening jolt each dawn. Genie is quieter than usual. I snap at her over small things. The ground feels brittle under my feet. My one comfort has been prayer and church. Now I'm feeling forlorn even about going to church.
I am a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. Some Orthodox Christians calling themselves "The Council for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America" have circulated an antiwar declaration harshly condemning the U.S. government's policies in Iraq. In this "peace statement" the authors call all soldiers who kill in battle murderers, no matter what the cause. They accuse our country of using "any means" to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
I don't agree with the authors, and I believe they have simplistically misrepresented the teachings of my church. But that is not the point. They are entitled to say or believe anything they want, as individuals and private citizens.
I am saddened because so many of my bishops and priests have signed this antiwar statement in the name of my church and my God. They have dragged not only my church but Jesus into their stand against our government and the war in Iraq.
It is cruel to try to hijack the authority of a church to advance political views for or against this war. I would never sign a letter for a "Council for the Orthodox Pro-War Fellowship" just because my son is serving his country in the military. I'd assume that it would be preposterous for me to speak for my fellow Orthodox Christians on such matters of individual conscience, over which honest and honorable people can disagree.
How excluded from spiritual comfort the Roman Catholic parents of our young service men and women must feel now that the pope and so many American Catholic bishops have condemned our government's policies in the name of their church. The same lonely sadness must be felt by the parents of soldiers from the mainline Protestant denominations, whose leaders have condemned the war in Iraq and our commander in chief in the name of their churches.
I don't see my son as a murderer. I don't see my country as evil. I see my country and my son's cause as just. But maybe I'm wrong. If I'm wrong I don't want to drag God down with me. I don't claim that Jesus is on my side. I'm hoping that God is on the side of my pacifist friends too. And I assume God is hearing the prayers of Iraqi parents worried about their sons who are serving their country.
How can a church comfort all its children when it plays political favorites? I believe that the Greek Orthodox whose sons and daughters are marching in peace rallies should find as much comfort in our beloved church as I do. I don't want them excluded or condemned in the name of God. Yet as the father of a Marine I feel excluded from my church at the very moment when I most desperately need to be included. Why have so many priests and bishops traded their call to pastoral care for a few fleeting moments of political "relevance"?
My son is gone to war. I am sad and frightened. I am also proud of my Marine for his selfless service. But I am being stripped of the comfort of my church in the name of "peace" by people who seem determined to make God as small as we are.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book, co-authored with his son, Cpl. John Schaeffer, is "Keeping Faith -- A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps."