Soldier finds Jesus, goes back to the front lines, unarmed
On the phone, in between his duties at Schofield Army Barracks in Hawaii, Sergeant Logan Laituri tells me he wants to “live radically for Christ.” Usually I stumble over that sort of fervor – couched, as it is, in terms I would usually consider vague and cliche – but if following Jesus means telling your captain that 9/11 didn’t absolve you of the need to love your enemies, I’ll keep listening.
Laituri came to Jesus, as they say, at a dramatic time in his life. He was back from 14 months in Iraq as a front-liner in the US Army, and scheduled to return. It was spring, 2005.
His new girlfriend’s family welcomed him with a Christian love so genuine he couldn’t resist. He ended up in a New Testament history class at a local college. He was also faced with the incisive questions from his philosophical brother and roommate. Soon he found himself immersed in scripture, filled with the spirit and brimming with passion.
Son of an agnostic
The 25-year-old Laituri grew up the son of an agnostic Vietnam Vet in Orange County, California. In 2000, he joined the Army, hoping for education and travel. After a first term, he re-enlisted for an assignment in Hawaii, looking forward to some good surf. Throughout his six years in the military, Laituri had identified as Christian. “I had all the stickers and stuff,” he says of his earlier faith, but that was about the extent of it.
His conversion brought change. He started heeding his college instructor’s directive to let the Bible shape his opinions rather than let his opinions run wild. Normally I’d dismiss this as tired religio-garble, but he was also talking about his “place in geo-politics” at the same time.
“I realized I had to figure out what it meant to me to be a soldier,” he says. “How do I act in my particular job and still follow the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself? Ya know, how can I do that when I’m asked to basically lay waste to kinda large scale areas?”
For Laituri – who punctuates conversation with Bible verses (and concerned rants about the sins of nationalistic ego) – the good book is the source of “absolute truth.” So when it says love your enemies, he says he “can’t kill someone in love.”
As his infantry company started gearing up for a return to Iraq, Lairturi was busy asking people about faith, war and the decisions he faced. In response, he got a lot of Just War theory, and rationalization for the the necessity of violence. People told him it was morally wrong to do nothing about the nation’s enemies. A certain commander, who is also a Baptist preacher, assured Laituri that since he was a Christian, Jesus had died for all his sins, and therefore he was already forgiven for whatever he would do on the battlefield.
Question military morality
The people who had welcomed him to the faith, did not welcome his questioning of military morality. His then-girlfriend’s father told Laituri he was part of God’s hand in bringing judgement to Muslim extremists. The views he heard didn’t fit with the convictions he felt, and his company was set to leave for a training session in California before heading back to Iraq.
Logan Laituri sat in the bus. He and his colleagues were headed to Honolulu Airport for their flight to California. It was April 20, 9:40 in the morning. Headphones on, local Christian band Olivia playing a song called “Heaven,” his thoughts were swirling around what to do with his beliefs. Then, for a moment, heaven itself seemed to open.
“I felt like somebody was showing me something,” he says of the “short video clip” from above that followed.
“I saw myself in the Middle East, I’m pretty sure it was Iraq,” he says of the emotionally vivid experience. “What struck me were two things: number one, that I did not have a weapon.” The second thing was a feeling of “confidence;” the confidence that he was “doing what was right.”
It was his calling. He would go to Iraq, but without a weapon. At first he thought he might be able to do that as a non-combative member of his company. So after prayer and consideration, he applied for Conscientious Objector (CO) status. According to Army regulations, a soldier can request discharge for reasons of conscience, as long as military officials deem the applicant “sincere” at the end of the stipulated process. He was ready to go to prison if need be, which, in today’s for-us-or-against-us climate is a real possibility for CO applicants.
At that point Laituri was not actually trying to leave the Army, because he saw the human anguish within military ranks, and didn’t think it was Christ-like to just abandon people in need. He just wanted to have the right to refuse to bear arms.
But the military is not going to send someone to war without a weapon, and, as it turns out, it may not treat you very well if you make such a request. With re-deployment looming, Laituri’s superiors dragged their feet on the CO process, missing stipulated procedural deadlines without explanation.
Laituri talks of theological discussions with commanders, hostile rumors and bureaucratic tangles. One superior berated him, saying his actions benefitted the enemies of America – an insult Laituri took as affirmation, given Jesus’ invitation to love the enemy.
Military command seemed determined to stall his CO application, but they didn’t want him in the battlefield either. Eventually he was re-assigned to a detachment that would not deploy overseas. He surrendered the CO process in favor of simply letting his term of service expire.
As of October 19, 2006, Laituri became a private citizen.
Logan Laituri feels called to be a missionary to the Middle East. He’s planning on going to Israel/Palestine this November with Christian Peacemaker Teams, the violence-reduction organization now famous for the four of their members abducted in Baghdad a year ago.
Laituri sounds like a cross between Noam Chomsky and an evangelical youth pastor, so I don’t know what he means when he says he wants to be “missionary.” I asked what message he wants to bring to the Middle East.
“Jesus loves you. I love you,” he says, proclaiming his desire to ‘radiate love” even if he doesn’t convert a single person.
So off he goes, back to the front lines, disarmed and disarming, an “attitude of active compassion” at the ready. With the courage of a warrior and the love of God, he’s living radically for Christ.