By Jennifer Johnson
No one returns from war unchanged, but some return so devastated that they kill themselves or linger in states of isolation, depression, addiction, or despair for years. Brite Divinity School (Fort Worth, Texas) launched its new Soul Repair Center in November 2012 out of concern for veterans of combat. Statistically, these veterans take their own lives at three times the civilian rate—6,000 a year, or more than one every 90 minutes.
The center will offer public education and congregational training about the relatively new Veterans Affairs term “moral injury.” Moral injury, which often occurs with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a consequence of having violated one’s core moral values or of experiencing morally ambiguous choices under extreme, life-threatening conditions, such as war. It can come from experiences, such as having to handle human remains; losing a close friend in battle; having to kill; feeling betrayed by commanders or other authorities; or violating rules for the moral conduct of war, including shooting civilians and torturing prisoners of war.
“A moral injury is the brain’s healthy response to the moral ambiguity of war,” said Rita Nakashima Brock, codirector of the center.
The Soul Repair Center is developing training programs about moral injury for chaplains, therapists, families of veterans, seminarians, congregations and their leaders, colleges and universities, community organizations, and medical caregivers. The first such training event was a consultation for churches interested in becoming certified teaching congregations in their local communities; the event was held in February, and additional training materials will be available later this year.
In addition to its educational programs, the center is organizing regional programs via partnerships with universities, theological schools, and veterans’ organizations. Current sites in process include Grand Rapids, Michigan; Indianapolis, Indiana; Madison, New Jersey; Boston, Massachusetts; Berkeley, California; and Durham, North Carolina. The center also plans to address aspects of civil society, such as law enforcement, medical caregivers, prisons, and international post-conflict situations.
The Soul Repair Center’s founding codirectors are Brock, who directed the Radcliffe Fellowship Program at Harvard University and was a fellow in the Center for Values in Public Life at Harvard Divinity School, and Herman Keizer Jr., a retired U.S. Army colonel who served for 34 years as a military chaplain and as a chaplain endorser for the Reformed Church of North America. The center’s program manager is Coleman Baker, who served as a Baptist pastor for 10 years and holds a PhD in biblical interpretation from Brite Divinity School.
To receive updates on the center’s projects and outreach, sign up for the newsletter at www.britesoulrepair.org.
Jennifer Johnson, one of CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s contributing editors, lives in Levittown, Pennsylvania.