One Veterans Day not too long ago, I was messaging friends on Twitter about sharing the #TenSaintsTenDays blog series from Centurions Guild. In the ten days between All Saints and Veterans Day, I profiled a soldier-saint who blurs the categorization we sometimes overlay onto Christian soldiers; too often, their stories get co-opted to make a point for or against war, as though that sums up the meaning of their lives and service.

One friend, an activist whose work included issues of violence, told me privately that reading their lives was “challenging,” and that he was concerned about receiving “a LOT of pushback” for discussing the merits of just-war traditions.

I reminded him that a theologian he and I both admire attracted numerous ROTC cadets to his classes on pacifism and nonviolence. This theologian managed to communicate effectively across political divides to cultivate conversation despite entrenched disagreements. In response, my friend suggested that I had been disqualified from the pacifist community and that I needed to connect ROTC types with nonviolent activists like him.

Anyone who has read my book Reborn on the Fourth of July knows that I am about as pacifist as they come—but I have also tempered my pacifism with reasonability, with the reality of military service as I lived it for more than six years. This has led me to part ways with pacifists who insist on absolutizing their ethic, of imposing abstract ideas about war onto those who know from experience that military service looks like many different things.

From academics in the ivory tower to activists in the streets, there’s a growing sense that both pacifists and patriots are becoming more and more tribal. Rather thinking ...

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