As more psychologists and military leaders recognize that war hurts the soul as much as the mind, Warren Kinghorn and others say spiritual communities are a crucial resource. Beyond inviting veterans to receive healing in Christ, here are seven practical things churches can do. The following is based on our conversations with Kinghorn.
1. Connect veterans with each other. Veterans know veterans better than anyone else. Churches can build structures where these communities can happen. Methodist pastor Ralph Lepley, a Vietnam veteran, participates in a weekly gathering at a coffee shop in North Carolina that draws 150 veterans.
2. Know good therapists. Find clinicians who are highly experienced with trauma and sensitive to people of faith who can be called on when a veteran needs help.
3. Preach and study the hard parts of Scripture. Jeremiah asks, “How long must I see the battle flags and hear the trumpets of war?” (4:21, NLT). Many veterans share that question. We must not hide lament and the difficult sections of the Bible.
4. Connect veterans to the VA—and don’t stop there. The Veterans Administration is doing good work in supporting veterans and military families, but they can never be as rooted in communities, or as powerful as what can emerge at the local level.
5. Listen. The church can allow veterans to define their own role in the community, not forcing them into the role of either hero or wounded warrior. Leaders need to give veterans space to talk—or not to talk—about their experiences.
6. Send veterans to seminary. The seminary context can form and encourage people to go out and start new practices. We try to incubate people who will be church leaders, who will form the ways the church speaks about war, combat, and killing.
7. Help veterans to work and lead. They have a lot to offer, and we need to find ways they can put their gifts to use both in the workplace and in church. We can empower them to lead with the experiences and virtues that have been formed in them.