On Killing Your Brother

By Ross Engel

One of the mortal sins of combat is known as Fratricide. It is the killing of one’s teammate; it is the killing of one’s brother. Perhaps you’ve heard it called “Friendly fire” or an instance of “blue on blue.” It is one of the most horrific parts of war, and as long as there has been combat, there have been accidental incidents of fratricide. The 1989 Tom Cruise movie, “Born on the 4th of July” depicts the confusion that takes place in the midst of battle, “the fog of war,” and the accidental killing of one’s own teammate. The psychological scars of this action would haunt Tom Cruise’s character, real life Vietnam War veteran, Ron Kovic, for the rest of his life.

Jocko Willink, in his book “Extreme Ownership” (yes, I’m referring to this book again, go buy it if you haven’t already), writes of an occasion during the Second Gulf War where he found himself in a firefight between what turned out to be friendly forces; men from his own SEAL team. In a recent TEDx Talk (YouTube link shared below) you can hear the pain in Jocko’s voice as he recounts this combat event. “We fought, wounded, and killed each other!”

In ministry, I have had more than a few conversations with people who have served in combat and who still carry with them, not only the scars of war, but the burden of losing their brothers. I have friends of my own that gave their lives in service to this nation and I am grateful for their service! But when the loss of a brother or the loss of a teammate is due to accidental fratricide or friendly fire, there is a profound grief and anger that accompanies such loss. One must do everything they can to avoid fighting, wounding, and killing their own.

But there is another type of fratricide that also has occurred in combat. It is shameful and cowardly. It is treasonous. This one is called: “Fragging.” If fratricide, “friendly fire,” and “blue on blue,” are the accidental killing of one’s teammate or brother, fragging, is the term used to describe the deliberate killing of one’s brother; one’s military colleagues. In the Vietnam War, there were several accounts of men rolling fragmentary grenades into the tents of their commanding officers, for the purpose of killing them. Though occasions for this type of fratricide are not the norm in today’s military, there certainly have been instances of this terrible and cowardly act taking place even still.

I wish the same could be said about the church and the brotherhood that is the Pastoral Office and Ministry.

On occasion, pastors -brothers in Christ, who have confessed the same faith, learned from the same professors, and been ordained into the same church body – will accidently hurt each other. It is one thing to be wounded by a congregation. Some years ago I read a book titled, “Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack their Shepherd,” and it highlighted the ways pastors are wounded by the very congregations they serve. It is a most grievous thing, no doubt, but it is even more painful, when the attack and the wounding are given by one who is supposed to be your brother. I have no doubt that I’ve accidently hurt a brother pastor or two of mine in the past!

Careless words or a poorly thought out statement of some sort can be made by one brother that destroys another. It may not have been done deliberately, but the result can indeed be a death blow to the brother’s ministry. He can become paralyzed with fear. He can undergo a sort of Pastoral PTSD because he feels like he’s crawling through a razor wire just to do what God has called him to do. There are more than a few pastors who faithfully serve congregations and bear the invisible wounds of an accidental attack from their brother pastor(s). In ministry, like combat, pastors are to avoid fratricide. We should avoid accidental “blue on blue.” It is a mortal sin of pastoral ministry too!

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! – Psalm 133:1

But there are some who relish the opportunity to murder and destroy their brothers. Like the cowards who threw grenades into the tents of sleeping officers, there are those who like to hide in safety, gathering their troops, so that they can lob grenades at those who are their brothers, all for the sake of destroying them.

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I know when I was young and fresh from the seminary, I had all the answers and I enjoyed going to war against my brothers. I was always on the lookout for someone who wasn’t as “Lutheran as I was,” and then when I found them, I would almost gleefully mount my attack. If someone played “the Matthew 18 card,” I would quickly rebuff their attempt to silence me. I fought, wounded, and killed brothers. It was cowardly. It was shameful. It was usually out of jealousy or the desire to use their rotting corpse as a step to move up the proverbial chain. But eventually, one looks around at the desolation around them. The wounded, the injured, the dead, and you realize that the ministry of the Gospel, is not a ministry of destruction. The goal isn’t to rack up the greatest body count of defeated and vanishing brothers stacked beneath your feet.

Franze Kafka, in his 1916 graphically violent short story titled, “A Fratricide” captures this reprehensible way of thinking quite well, “The bliss of murder! The relief, the soaring ecstasy from the shedding of another’s blood! Wese, old nightbird, friend, alehouse crony, you are oozing away into the dark earth below the street. Why aren’t you simply a bladder of blood so that I could stamp on you and make you vanish into nothingness?”

It grieves me to no end now, when I see brothers mounting their attacks against each other. It angers me when I watch deliberate and intentional fratricide-fragging- unfold before my eyes on social media. I won’t be taking part in such activities.

To those who are the walking wounded, if you have been the victim of fratricide, I offer to you my hand as a brother. I encourage you to go and pray Psalm 56. If you need a brother, a friend, a someone, I will gladly listen and offer words of healing, strength, and support, so that you might recover, be refreshed, and re-engage in the ministry that you have been called to serve in.

And above all, I will point you to our Lord Jesus, who declares to us, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28.

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One thought on “On Killing Your Brother

  1. Good things to keep in mind, Ross. I was in A Co, 3rd Platoon, 2nd Ranger Battalion. We were the QRF after Tillman was killed. They were A Co, 2nd Platoon. Those guys were pretty shaken up after that incident. When we got home, the atmosphere on the entire floor where 2nd Platoon lived was just heavy. When 3rd Platoon lost Sgt. Blessing on patrol, it was hard, but it wasn’t the same. The grief caused by a friendly fire incident takes it to a whole new level.

    To compare that to the careless and insensitive words that we speak in church, to those who aren’t as “authentically” Lutheran, or whatever… it’s pretty sobering. How terrible would it be to lose one of our brothers eternally to the schemes of the devil, in part because of our own irresponsible words?! Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord!

    Thanks for the sobering and provocative reminder.

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