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This is the Son of God. These are Men in Uniform. Don’t Confuse the Two

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 17, 2011

A slight acquaintance, into whose mass-email-forwarding address book I have had the misfortune to fall, regularly sends me … stuff. Political stuff. Religious stuff. Sometimes stuff that combines the two in ways I find ludicrous, or offensive, or awash in sentimentality.

Much of this stuff is military-related.

It started with the general theme of “We Support Our Troops.” Fine. I do, too. If we’re going to send them out there, regardless of whether we support the specific political agenda that sent them, we should make sure they have what they need, where and when they need it.

It progressed to “We Love Our Troops.” Okay. I do, too. When men and women put their lives on hold to answer the call of their country, and as long as they act legally and honorably and morally in their individual conduct, they deserve respect – love is an alternate term for that.

But now it has reached the point of “We Worship Our Troops.” No. This is where I draw the line.

The last email began with some xenophobic anti-immigrant bad taste. The kicker, though, was this:

“Remember, only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you:
Jesus Christ, and the American Soldier.”

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This is not true, for starters.

My mother offered to die for me when she went through the valley of the shadow of death to bring me into this world.

My father offered to die for me when he stepped between me and a snarling dog that threatened to attack.

If I were ever trapped in a burning building or under an earthquake-flattened one, or were caught in a flood, or fell over a ledge while hiking, I am 100% certain that there are men and women in my community who would offer to give their lives in the attempt to save mine. I worked for the Clark County [Nev.] Fire Department for a couple of years  — it’s the only job I’ve ever had where my starry-eyed admiration for heroes grew stronger instead of fading through familiarity. Those men (they were all men in the ’70s) would help a stranger with no questions asked, at the risk of their own lives. That’s what I think of whenever I hear a siren in the distance: Someone is in trouble, and someone else is rushing to help.

The epidemiologists who lock themselves into sealed rooms with deadly viruses and toxins in the quest to understand and conquer them are offering to die for me. The storm chasers and volcanologists who deliberately head into the most dangerous spots on earth in the pursuit of knowledge that will protect future generations are offering to die for me. The drug enforcement agents who investigate reports of marijuana fields in our national parks are offering to die for me. The highway patrolman who stands unprotected next to speeding traffic while he checks out a suspected drunk driver is offering to die for me.

And yes, the soldier is offering to die for me.

None of those people wants to die. They may be willing, they may have made the offer, they may eventually pay the price, but they don’t expect or hope to die in the line of their vocations. Every one of them would rather go home safely at the end of the day, to play with their kids or throw a football around or take that class in New Testament Greek or do whatever else is meaningful in their lives.

Jesus Christ, on the other hand, was born with the explicit anticipation that he would die, that he must die, for all and every soul on earth. He didn’t expect to avoid it; he didn’t hope to make it through his tour of duty and eventually retire to a villa on the Sea of Galilee. Whereas mere mortals, like law enforcers and firefighters and chemists – and soldiers – count it a success when they aren’t hurt on the job, the mission of Jesus Christ would have been a failure – indeed, all of Creation would have been a failure – had he not only been willing to die, but in fact died, in the way and at the time and for the purpose that was necessary to bring about the Atonement.

I am grateful to soldiers – and teachers and doctors and search-and-rescue teams – who are willing to put themselves at risk in the service of others. But I don’t worship them as I do my Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ. It bothers me that misplaced patriotic hyperbole confuses deity with unselfish mortal service. Stop it. Just stop.



24 Comments »

  1. Well said, Ardis.

    Comment by Paul — March 17, 2011 @ 7:06 am

  2. Thanks for this. Going to forward your post the next time I get one of these. (Or at least the text of it–don’t want to unleash a swarm of knee-jerk types on your site.)

    Comment by Bro. Jones — March 17, 2011 @ 7:07 am

  3. Love this, too.

    Comment by ESO — March 17, 2011 @ 7:07 am

  4. BRAVO!!!

    The cult of the soldier is offensive and dangerous. As a small-r republican (and, frankly, as a capital-r Republican as well) undermines democracy, as it creates a privileged class of citizens entitled to hiring preferences, special tax breaks, and other perks not afforded to citizens more generally.

    I come from a family who has lost members in military service, and we are proud of that sacrifice and have great appreciation for our men and women in uniform, but any good thing can go overboard — and I think this is a prime example.

    Comment by Tom O. — March 17, 2011 @ 7:14 am

  5. Thank you, Ardis. I support this post. ;)

    And, having grown up as a military brat, while I certainly respect those who fight for our country, I do not live under the illusion that most of them do it out of a sense of patriotism. Many of them do it for the nice paychecks or because it was either that or go to jail. They may develop patriotism in their job, but that is almost never the reason for going into the military in the first place.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 17, 2011 @ 7:14 am

  6. Ardis, as someone who served 20 years in the military, I appreciate this. No veteran would ever wish to be compared to Christ. We understand the risks we take, but it is nothing compared to the atonement of Jesus Christ.

    Gerald Smith (USAF, retired)

    Comment by Rameumptom — March 17, 2011 @ 8:27 am

  7. Brava! And amen.

    Comment by Kristine — March 17, 2011 @ 8:45 am

  8. Hooray! Now I have a link to send back to all those over-patrioted email fiends.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — March 17, 2011 @ 8:52 am

  9. Actually, to paraphrase Gen’l Patton, I suspect that most soldiers would in fact prefer to help some other poor dumb bastard die for his country.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 17, 2011 @ 8:56 am

  10. One other group I had intended to mention among those who are offering to give their lives is those almost certainly doomed workers in the crippled nuclear plants in Japan, who stayed behind in an attempt to prevent the kind of nuclear disaster that would kill or maim hundreds of thousands, or more. Successful or not, live or die, they are as selfless and honorable as any human beings who have ever lived.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 17, 2011 @ 9:22 am

  11. I think there is a lot more heroism in people in general than we realize sometimes. It’s easy to forget that.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 17, 2011 @ 10:23 am

  12. Thank you, Ardis.

    Comment by kew — March 17, 2011 @ 10:33 am

  13. Great post, Ardis. Thank you for bringing healthy perspective to such an emotional subject.

    Comment by Jami — March 17, 2011 @ 10:48 am

  14. Important thoughts, Ardis. Thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 17, 2011 @ 11:40 am

  15. I’ve supported Army families thru my hubby’s 2 deployments and now Mom of 2 soldiers, one currently deployed. I don’t think soldiers want to be lionized. Most of them feel they’re just doing the job they signed up for. They do appreciate support from home when they’re away. Even more though, they cherish the support given their families when they are in harm’s way. Life goes on during deployments — family members are subject to the ups and downs of mortality during that time — illness, accidents, crime, even death. We never forget the kindess we receive in such circumstances. Most memorable experiences as an FRG leader? The heartfelt thanks expressed by soldiers for the FRG doing what a good RS sister does — look after families going through tough times.

    Comment by Debra Young Liening — March 17, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

  16. The thing that gets me about these sorts of claims (and i haven’t gotten that particular forward, but i have gotten similar enough ones), is that even if you agreed with their political slant, to accept the claim made you’d have to believe that soldiers of allied nations aren’t also in the line of fire.

    The whole thing isn’t even just repugnant and wrong, it’s mindblowingly internally inconsistent.

    Such ignorance makes me sad.

    Comment by David B — March 17, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

  17. Thanks for writing this, Ardis, it’s a great argument to have on hand. To again make a point that has been made by others here, by grossly overstating support for “our side,” such a stance diminishes the humanity of everyone else.

    Comment by Mina — March 17, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

  18. s a veteran of the Korean War who served there in 1950-51, whose three brothers all served in the military, one in WW2, one in the cold war in Germany and one who was also in Korea,; and one grandson in the 3rd Division at Fort Stewart Ga., and another grandson who will get a B.S. in Ciivl Engineering and 2nd Lt’s bars this spring and be off to Fort Leonard Wood for engineer officer training, I believe today’s soldiers in general do their best to do their duty for duty’s sake and that goes double for LDS soldiers, of which there a large number.

    Comment by CurtA — March 17, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

  19. I’ve been blunt to the point of rudeness with some friends and family members who otherwise traffic in this kind of stuff. As a result, I usually don’t see much of it. It helps keep me from getting too riled up.

    Your response is a wise reminder to avoid hyperbole in all things, be it religious, political, or social. This is right up there with the “…bill that literally sacrifices 50,000 Utah children, who are the victims of identity theft, for the benefit of illegal aliens.”

    [ps - Feel free to delete the link if you don't want to connect to that particular thread. I'll understand.]

    Comment by kevinf — March 17, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

  20. The link didn’t come through, kevinf. I didn’t know if you intended to link to the Trib story or to the BCC thread — I added the Trib link.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 17, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

  21. Nailed it, Ardis.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — March 17, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

  22. amen!

    Comment by anita — March 17, 2011 @ 9:33 pm

  23. Thank you for posting. I’ve gotten that one as well.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 17, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

  24. Great thoughts, Ardis.

    Comment by David Y. — March 17, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

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