Legion: For We Are Many

moral injury in sacred texts

Moral injury is one of the priorities of Quaker House, and I have also always had a fascination with sacred texts. So, when Exploring Moral Injury in Sacred Texts, edited by Joseph McDonald and forward written by Rita Nakashima Brock, was published, I was immediately drawn to it.

The book is a compilation of essays written from various perspectives – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and civil. Some of the essays resonated more with me than others, but that is generally to be expected in such a work.

Remember the man who lived among the tombs, who gave his name as Legion? Michael Yandell offers a unique but coherent treatment of this story. He correlates the plight of the man living among the tombs to moral injury that stemmed from military experiences and from shouldering the burden of the entire army by his own self-identity. When the man approaches Jesus, he is both seeking out a representative of his victims and also interacting with a benevolent religious figure. Finally, this man, now relieved of some of his inner anguish, is given work to do within his community to continue the process of healing and reintegration.

my name is Legion, for we are many

My reaction to the essay written from a civil perspective was interesting. I initially recoiled at the term civil religion, even though this is not a new term. If sacred texts are supposed to have some hint of the divine within them, perhaps imperfectly diffused and captured, then equating civil texts with the sacred can feel like an affront. But, Daniel C. Maguire makes a powerful case for the similarities. His essay explains the resulting power of national fervor and patriotism and also clarifies a troubling result: Our culture is so overwhelming patriotic that thoroughly questioning the morality of a specific (or all) military action (that will result in death and destruction) is immediately at odds with this national moral code of sacred patriotism and its portrayal of honor. He refers to this phenomenon as a shifting of the burden of proof.

Additional essays I found particularly interesting were:

  • “Division of Spoils after Battle” by Brad E. Kelle, mainly for highlighting the community’s responsibility in sending soldiers into battle.
  • An essay discussing our sacrificial language and imagery by Kelly Denton-Borhaug, including recent literary examples capturing its effect on returning soldiers and on the communities who remain at home.
  • “Peter and Judas: Moral Injury and Repair” [or failure of repair in the case of Judas] by Warren Carter. This is an excellent contrast of outcomes.
  • The story of Aṅgulimāla as told by John M. Thompson, mainly for contrasting the Buddhist focus on “how to respond?” with the Western question of “what is just?”.

“We might look at the parades and celebrations, the tributes and ceremonies, the media frenzies and political scandals surrounding the US military as shackles and chains*–strategies to avoid confronting the trauma of war as a collective community while placing the burden of guilt regarding war on a few individuals. Mercy, healing, and movement toward the divine occur when these strategies are abandoned, when the aggressor [can]** speak the truth of his or her experience and the community is compelled to listen.”

Michael Yandell, “‘Do Not Torment Me’: The Morally Injured Gerasene Demoniac,” in Exploring Injury in Sacred Texts, ed. Joseph McDonald (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers), 148.


* The community had attempted to bind the man who lived among the tombs, called Legion, with shackles and chains to keep him from hurting himself.

**I changed the wording here. The original says “. . . when the aggressor is compelled to speak . . .”

The GI Rights Hotline


First time in my life I have decided to actually put a bumper sticker on my car.

I met wonderful, inspiring people yesterday, two for the first time and two I had met once before. It was at a retreat about the GI Rights Hotline (1-877-447-4487) and Quaker House.

The windows at Charlotte Friends Meeting House, where we met for the retreat.
The windows at the Charlotte Friends Meeting House, where we met for the Piedmont Friends Fellowship retreat.

Steve Woolford and Lenore Yarger are two of the people who answer the phone when someone calls the GI Rights Hotline (it is run by a consortium of organizations, but Steve and Lenore are the two associated with Quaker House, and they take a lot of calls). They are there for people – to listen to them and answer their questions about navigating military regulations in tough situations. Sometimes, the caller has gone AWOL or UA (absent without leave or unauthorized absence) and wants guidance on returning and dealing with the consequences. Sometimes, the caller is facing a discharge that he or she feels should be at a different level than they are being told. Sometimes, the caller is having difficulty accessing medical or mental health services. And sometimes, a soldier realizes that he or she cannot be the instrument of any more death. Whatever the reason, the caller always needs someone to hear him or her.


That is Steve, on the left. Hopefully, the picture captures some of his ability to connect to others. (When I asked to take this picture, Steve was chatting with David, who also attended the presentation). Lenore was not able to be there yesterday. I would love to meet her someday, too.

Calls to the Hotline come in from all over the world. However, in Fayetteville, hometown of Fort Bragg and nearby Pope Field, Joanna Nunez is there to talk to people in person. After all, it is not just with figuring out military regulations that people sometimes need assistance. Sometimes, they need help with the consequences of combat. These consequences range from PTSD and moral injury (feelings of guilt and shame related to actions required of soldiers), and sometimes the spillover into private lives, such as domestic violence. She has also counseled people dealing with sexual assault. I wish I had gotten a photo of her before she left. She is amazing.

Joanna does her counseling at and through Quaker House, which brings me to the incredible directors of Quaker House, Lynn and Steve Newsom. They keep all the programs of Quaker House running smoothly and continually reach out to the military community, and Fayetteville itself, intertwined as they are. As you can imagine, Directors Lynn and Steve refer people to Lenore and Steve at the Hotline or to Joanna for counseling. Hotline Lenore and Steve also may refer people in Fayetteville to Joanna for counseling, and Joanna may refer people to the Hotline for help with regulatory issues. And Directors Lynn and Steve are there in the thick of it.



All these people do this work because they care. They care enough to do this day in and day out.