A Post for Veterans Day: A Story out of Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan; and Evangelical Christians and Friendship

A post written for Veterans Day, November 11, 2015. The story of Operation Red Wings in the Afghanistan war. An unlikely friendship between a Navy SEAL and an Afghan villager. Some thoughts on shunning, evangelicals and friendship, with the problems that exist. There is a homework assignment for each reader since its Veterans Day.

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There is a discernment quiz here for you to look at and analyze. It is from the membership page of a local Evangelical Free Church in the D.C. area called Ambassador Bible Church. How would you analyze their membership requirements? By practicing your discernment, would you get involved in Ambassador? After giving people an opportunity to review then I will write a post and discuss Ambassador Bible Church’s membership requirements. That will happen next week.

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“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

Walter Winchell

“True friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils. Strive to have friends, for life without friends is like life on a desert island…to find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing.”

Baltasar Gracian

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Plato

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24 NIV

Ahmad Shah was an anti-coalition commander in Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan who was associated with the Taliban. He had connections to Gulbadin Hekmetyar who was a former Prime Minister of Afghanistan and designated as a “global terrorist” by the United States.  In the late spring and early summer of 2005 Ahmad Shah led militants against US forces and led to the death of a number of Marines. Four years into Operation Enduring Freedom, stabilization of Afghanistan was the goal and the Parliamentary elections were looming in September 2005. In response to Shah’s insurgent activity an operation was hatched with the intent to neutralize the threat that Shah posed. Late at night on June 27, 2005 Operation Red Wings commenced when a four-man Navy SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team were inserted into eastern Afghanistan. On that team included Lt. Michael Murphy, Petty Officer Second Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer Second Class Mathew Axelson and Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class Marcus Luttrell. While waiting for their person of interest a goat header who was sympathetic to the Taliban stumbled across their location and disrupted the mission. The Navy SEALs let him go because it is a violation of the Geneva Convention to kill unarmed civilians. The mission changed from finding Shah to becoming a defensive one, as their location was compromised. In the mountains of eastern Afghanistan the communications technology was not working and these four SEALs were on their own. The Taliban now alerted to their activity quickly found these elite members from the United States Navy. An intense firefight took place on the side of a mountain named Sawtalo Sar. These four Navy SEALs fought valiantly while they were overwhelmed and outmanned. If you want to read a good overview this New York Post article describes it in great detail. The only SEAL who survived was Marcus Luttrell. Michael Murphy exposed his position to make the call in trying to get help and was shot in the process a second time. U.S. forces were alerted to the ongoing ambush and they dispatched two MH-47 to the location to insert additional Navy SEALS. During the battle one of Shah’s men fired a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that shot down the MH-47. 16 special forces soldiers – 8 from the Navy SEALs and 8 from the Army Special Operations were killed. It was the largest loss of life of Special Forces since World War II. By the way I did some research and the greatest loss of life in Naval Special Warfare happened on D-Day, June 6, 1944 when 37 men from Naval Combat Demolition Unit were killed on the beaches of Normandy.

Marcus was found by an Afghan villager named Mohammed Gulab who took him into his village and cared for him. In Pashtun culture there is an honor code called Pashtonwali.  In Pashtunwali,  nanwatai emphasizes hospitality to keep someone safe and taken in for asylum. Mohammed Gulab put his family and the village at risk when he took in Marcus Luttrell. The Taliban wanted him to be handed over but Gulab refused. Marcus Luttrel got a message to Coalition forces and he was rescued. Now here is the amazing thing and I want to write more about it below. Mohammed and Marcus became friends because of the experience. Even though they have cultural differences and cannot speak English they still remain close.  Marcus has flown him to his ranch in Texas twice and last I heard Gulab is in the process of applying for asylum in the United States due to his life being in danger by the Taliban. Please watch the video below from CBS’s 60 Minutes as it explains much of this and of their friendship.

An Experience Near The Vietnam Wall

Several years ago I can’t remember when, I had a unique experience near the Vietnam Wall. I can’t recall if it happened on Veterans Day or Memorial Day, but the story deserves to be told and I tell it hear only to teach and to leave you , and hopefully evangelicalism with a take away. The Vietnam Wall is a powerful and touching memorial. It’s somber, moving and emotional. When you go there you can see a grown man cry when he sees a loved one’s name carved into stone for eternity. The atmosphere there is heavy and when I go there which I try and do fairly often I do so out of respect for those who gave their all to serve this country of ours.

When I went to the wall on one late night I spent some time at the wall staring at name upon name of people who gave their life for the United States. After I was done I was walking away and I looked at a nearby booth and I saw a letter that jarred my attention taped to the booth. It was a personal letter from one man to his deceased brother. As I recall the following was stated in that letter. The man who wrote the note recalled how he didn’t support the Vietnam conflict while his brother did. In his own personal handwriting how talked about how foolish it was to let the conflict tear them apart. These two brothers became estranged in the course of time and as life happened it was never dealt with properly.  Eventually one brother died. And when he died with many things unresolved it tore apart the other brother. The letter I read was his attempt to cleanse his soul and deal with what happened. In the letter the brother apologized and said that he was proud of his brother’s military service. He also said that he never would have let the conflict and disagreement of the war tear them apart. He wrote about how he wished he could express his love in person and take back the  mistakes he made in his life. He wanted to do so in person but it was too late and he also wrote of how hard it was to deal with the scars and pain of what happened. Reflecting on this now I think I read this when I was in my faith crisis. The letter haunted and weighed me down and gave me a lot to ponder. I viewed it as a lesson on what to avoid and how people should be treated.

Issues with Evangelicals and Friendship

When Karen Hinkley was a covenant member  in Matt Chandler’s The Village Church she was deeply involved and had many connections. She had numerous friends and people who were involved in her life. They loved her, were close, called her, and shared dinners with her. When everything erupted with Jordan Root, and she came back to the United States,  The Village Church attempted to discipline Karen for annulling her marriage to a pedophile who was addicted to child pornography. As a result Karen found herself shunned. People who were in her life, that called her friend, that called her up on her birthday, got to know Karen and express love for her turned around and largely treated her like she was dead.  They wanted nothing to do with Karen. This has caused her intense grief for how friends have treated her. In my dealings with different people I’ve heard of several situation’s with varying individuals who were  once  involved in Covenant Life Church, Sovereign Grace Fairfax, or other former SGM churches in Florida who when they left were shunned, cut off, and treated almost like they were deceased. People who were involved in a church for 10 or 15 years that opened up their homes to families and friends, and even opened up their refrigerators to others were cut off and shunned. I remember one time how I was curious about the former members who protest at Calvary Temple and how I attended and observed the situation. At the protest I met and got to know Ellen Kusar. While we both sat on the grass she pointed out across the way her once closest friend. For years they were quite close.  Ellen helped her considerably out of her love for the Lord. She  even helped out a few times with her bills when she needed financial assistance.  When she left Calvary Temple her closest friend turned around and shunned her and treated her as if she was dead and refused to acknowledge her. I could hear the pain in her voice as she spoke of the situation. Then in my case I had Andrew White. I met him in a faith crisis and he was involved and a Care Group Leader at another Sovereign Grace church at the time called Redeemer Arlington. He wanted to have lunches, dinners, and pleaded with me not to give up on God.  I had a major medical crisis with a bacterial infection in the summer of 2012 which resulted in Dee Parsons driving up from Raleigh to help. During this medical crisis Andrew even visited me in the hospital where he expressed his concern for me. Then came his false accusation,  betrayal and what almost feels like a shunning. Its left me to wonder at times…did he honestly care when he came to the hospital room a couple of times or in the end was all this just an act? An elaborate performance worth of an Oscar?

With the exception of Calvary Temple all the other churches were Neo-Calvinist with roots in the shepherding movement. But there are other issues in regards to friendship as well. I can’t tell you how often I have been struck by how many people will lose interest and want nothing to do with you when you leave a church. You are gone and out of the picture and apparently out of mind. This happens in many evangelical churches. I remember the anguish I felt when everything fell apart at Fairfax Community Church and how some people reacted there. Was it worth it in the end? Sometimes I ask myself…why did I walk away from agnosticism or atheism and get involved in a church like Fairfax Community that only went the way that it did? Why did my life need that? Its had enough pain and difficulty.

There are many reasons why these problems happen which I want to explore. These problems reveal how many evangelicals struggle with friendship and love. In many cases love is conditional and quite shallow. Its shallow because its built upon the context of the framework in which you know someone. That frame work only exists as long as you are involved and a part of something. What is sad is that much of these friendships lack depth and will not survive in the course of time. What is also sad is that it dishonors the Lord in how people are being treated. How can you express concern, and love  for someone and then kick them to the curb? How is that ever justified? People are people with skin and bones and emotions. Humans are very complex and emotional creatures. All of this is a gift from God and its designed to be honored, cared for and protected. When Christians are causing outright pain what does that show about “Christian” faith in the end?

Now here is where I want to tie in the situation with Marcus Luttrell and Mohammed Gulab. I hope this makes sense, if you think this is a stretch please comment below. Here you have two people who had an intense experience in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, that’s true. For the most part that is where the similarities end. They are from two different cultures, American and Pashtun. They are from two different countries, the United States and Afghanistan. They speak two different languages and can’t communicate to each other in the same language. By all accounts this is a friendship that should not be. Yet they are close friends who love, care and look out for each other. What does the situation with Marcus Luttrell and Gulab reveal about Ellen Kusar’s story, Andrew White, Karen Hinkley’s friends from The Village Church, and the others in Sovereign Grace Fairfax and Covenant Life Church who treated people in such a way? Why and how can a former Navy SEAL and an Afghan villager remain close and appreciate each other; and yet members from Sovereign Grace Fairfax, Redeemer Arlington, Calvary Temple or even Fairfax Community Church can not duplicate or show the same kind of love? What is wrong with this picture? It goes beyond this point when I consider the following which occurred to me when I was driving home from work. In reflecting on two different situations this bothered me deeply:

  • I was contemplating on all the previous jobs that I have had and the people I have come to know. Differing companies, employment situations, differing positions, and yet a number of people at one point have reached out and wanted to talk or get re-acquainted in mediums such as Facebook, email, or other aspects of social media. It amazes me to hear from people and find out how their life has gone. I am the kind of guy who gets excited and is thrilled to hear from people.
  • Then there is another aspect that I realized. I have a number of conversations going on behind the scenes here with a couple of atheists and humanists. BTW…before I forget if all goes well there will be a post on atheism up on Friday. Its on my pile next. 🙂 But here’s a situation where I have the joy of interacting with people who don’t even believe in God. We disagree on a number of things yet that disagreement does not prevent interaction or communication and even friendship. Why is that? What does it show when you have skeptics and atheists and some Christians (albeit more of a smaller crowd…) who can have those kinds of relationships.

So why can people in the secular world, and parts of the secular humanist/atheist communities  model friendship while the church is behind the curve? Why can’t the evangelical church react the same way? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t the church model love, compassion and grace? Shouldn’t the church model friendships especially with stories like David and Jonathan? Shouldn’t that give us pause and ask why? If I was in Karen Hinkley’s small group at The Village Church and I was told to shun Karen, I’d say “the hell with it” and come alongside her and help her out. I’d make myself available and I would love her during a difficult season of life. Isn’t that what Christians are called to do? To live and follow in love? It would go beyond that. If I was involved in Andrew’s small group at Redeemer Arlington and I heard of the situation and yet I  read posts like these I’d reach out and ask questions. I would challenge and ask the difficult questions out of love.

I am realizing that there are many evangelicals who do not know how to handle conflict or differing points of view. Part of this is reinforced by evangelical culture, and churches which structure church mainly around one frame of mind and age. Younger people like myself do not know how to deal with other points of view and feel threatened. Then you also have to deal with a re-emergence of fundamentalism which makes doctrine an idol. All of that complicates the problem and helps set up the problems that we are seeing. As I’ve contemplated on all this there is one thing that is stuck in my mind. Many evangelicals don’t know what friendship is and have a warped view of it. Friendship should not be centered to a particular church, theological system, celebrity pastor, or author. It should be tied to each other out of mutual love that comes from the Lord above. It should be driven in love and that should be the determining factor. It should be able to survive differing points of view, and differing points of view should make people and their faith healthier. For once wouldn’t it be beautiful if Christians were known for loving too much? Wouldn’t it be nice to go to SGM Survivors and read a post that said, “My friend from my former small group at Sovereign Grace won’t stop showing me love! He’s offered to help out during my illness, and cares for me. Yes I am no longer involved in the church but he still professes love for me. It’s beautiful and its amazing, and I wish others could feel this kind of love in a friendship.”

My Personal Hope in this Project

This project was born out of pain, I was at the end of my rope in facing a serious situation.  This has been a time consuming project with many late nights, and yet I undertake it to get something incredibly traumatic out of my system. Evangelicals often speak past each other and hardly get to know differing points of view. My life has been rich in this one sense…I’ve gotten to know several people as a result of this and telling my story at The Wartburg Watch. I have several friendships that I treasure. If you knew where they went to church you might be amazed. I am actually grateful and I’ve told them how much I appreciate the differing points of view and even the friendly challenges that are given. Likewise I also know it goes the other way as well. So I continue with my hope that this carries on and more people invade my life, more friendships are built, and more people challenge my thinking and train of thought.  I have to say that I feel sorry for those people who stick inside their own tribe. They have no idea what they are missing out on, and what is being lost. Their loss cannot be measured in words.

There’s a couple of things I am going to ask you to do. The first one is to reach out of your sphere of influence and get to know someone you wouldn’t do normally. I think you’d be amazed as to how your life would be blessed and your faith stretched.  Your faith, your belief in God, and your life would all grow considerably. November 11, is Veterans Day. Veterans Day is a misunderstood holiday. It was originally designed to honor the Veterans of the “war to end all wars” when a truce went into effect on November 11, 1918. After World War II it was re-worked to honor Veterans from WWII and Korea. You can read the history of Veterans Day here.  Because it is Veterans Day I am going to ask you to reach out to someone who has served or someone who currently serves in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard or Marines and say thank you. Express your gratitude to them for serving and thank them for the freedom you have.  Also since I started this post by talking about Operation Red Wings I decided to throw up the closing credits that show the brave men who served. May we always remember their sacrifice. Plus there is a movie which is based off a book called “We Were Soldiers Once and Young.” It was written by Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway and it was turned into a movie with Mel Gibson. The movie is about the first major conflict between North Vietnamese soldiers and American troops in what became known as The Battle of Ia Drang .  The movie gave birth to  a song used at military funerals, and veterans events called “Mansions of the Lord.” It was used at the state funeral of President Ronald Reagan. Since it is Veterans Day I am going to leave you with “Mansions of the Lord.” It is being sung by the Glee Club called Stand Ye Steady, at the United States Military Academy of West Point. Our country is lucky to have them serve.  Take care, and as always I love you guys!

13 thoughts on “A Post for Veterans Day: A Story out of Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan; and Evangelical Christians and Friendship

  1. By the way…for those who are interested. Ahmad Shah was killed in Pakistan in 2008. I didn’t put that in the post. Also one other thing I forgot to put in there…if I hear the phrase “doing life together” in the wake of shunning, horrific betrayals, etc… I am going to vomit. “Doing life together” is so overused, so abundantly claimed that people are left short or hurt. Lets be honest…many evangelical churches are over sold, over promised, and over inflated. In some cases people are set up for a let down.

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  2. In fairness, I’d say evangelicals are no worse or better then most when it comes to friendship. People can suck no matter what god(s) they worship or even if they’re godless heathens. Friendship is work at times and well, people can be lazy. We’re complex creatures, “… the falling angel meets the rising ape.”

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    • Much agreed Blue. The difficulty is with those that profess caring and later grind you under their boot. Hopefully you have a few that are in the category of real friends, for me they are one of life’s real blessings.

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      • Bill, I do not get the shunning. I just don’t. The shunning is exceptionally toxic and painful, and far from normal. I’ve gotten to know some of the former Calvary Temple members and what I have learned is that they want someone to listen to them. To hear them out, and believe them. When a person hears them out it validates and helps them in the long run. I have learned that from people like Ellen Kusar and on the flip side others are teaching that to me. As this blog grows I have had an uptick in traffic and contacts. I’ve had a couple of people who I have spoken to on the phone and recently met in person here in the DC area. They asked to hear my story and with that I re-told my faith crisis, and the false accusation I endured from an Air Force Captain. I have no problem sharing it because what I was accused of didn’t happen. Now to be fair I also emphasize the mistakes I made and my own personal failings. The point I am saying is that when you go through something traumatic and another person listens watching or observing the other person’s reaction validates what happens and is an inch closer to healing. You see the other person sympathize, be moved, or be stunned. Having that outside party helps you realize that you are ok…it’s not entirely you, its the system you dealt with, or the person from the system.

        But I do not get the shunning at all. Some of the people who I have met who have been shunned and cut off I find to be the nicest, most sincere people. Who could have problems with them? I don’t get it.

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      • I’m lucky enough to have a few long term good friends, one coming on 30 years (I’m 37). You’ll always have your blood family, but friends, they can be the family you choose or that choose you.

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      • That’s awesome bro! I have one friend who I am close to that I’ve know since Boy Scout camp. I used to give him crap at a camp in the Sierra Nevadas, and then we played football together in high school. He looked at me, and said, “Aren’t you the guy that loitered around the trading post at Camp _________?” Then I realized he was the same guy. I love this guy to death. I miss him, hopefully I will get to see him in December. Then there are others like Scott, Danny Risch, Dee Parsons, James Crestwood, etc… I am fortunate to know them.

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      • Eagle, you referred to shunning, of late that has only validated for me that leaving was a good decision. In my case the shunning started before I left as I was one of the few that openly disagreed, no doubt I was divisive or some such crap. So by now, while I still marvel at the childishness of shunning, the metaphorical closed door in my face only confirms how ludicrous their view of the church is. Unfortunately my wife has not had the time to process and is only now being subject to it and has been hurt by it. This is where I would use a good swear word as an adjective to describe them, they could then accuse me of using the Lord’s name in vain while they shun believers in Jesus name. If only they could see the irony.
        In my better days I will fall back and love and feel sorry for them, but when they bring pain to those I truly love I’m more inclined to hurl insults. It brings me to a much deeper understanding of what Jesus felt when he referred to the Pharisees as white washed tombs.

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      • You know who does a damn good job of shunning? The Mormons can shun in ways that make Sovereign Grace look like amateurs. I’ve heard stories and even read stuff that made my jaw drop. In the process of shunning former members, divorce is encouraged, people can lose their jobs, etc… Ex-Mormons often leave Utah, as its too hard to live their and have life. They are marked, and the LDS Church does not forget.

        I think shunning is childish, but its exceptionally painful. I don’t know why Andrew treats me like I am dead. I still don’t know what he is afraid of. I would shower him with grace if he just understood what he put me through emotionally. Shunning is inappropriate for the church. Its not a tool that should be used today at all.

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    • Blue…I agree. There are atheists that can be difficult and mean as well. Just this evening I was reading on what appears to be growing frustration among a lot of atheists for Richard Dawkins behavior.

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  3. I had a dear friend of mine shun me because I decided to take a different route in my walk with God. It still hurts to this day. If she wanted to reconcile I would but I do not know if I could ever trust her in that way again. I also have Christian friends who could care less if I went back to church; and they were friends I did not think would. Go figure……. I think a lot of the issue can be summed up in fear that God will punish them in some way for leaving the church or disobeying a pastor. Fear (not the only motivator of course) is a great motivator in keeping people frozen in places that are unhealthy and/or destructive.

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    • I’m still in pain over what Andrew did. Here’s another way to look at it as well. Mistakes, mess and moral failures are incredible opportunities. If Andrew approached me and wanted to maintain contact I would be nervous. That said I would go slow, and work with him as I also know that it could be the single greatest gift of grace he will receive in his life. Grace can be amazing, and I realized that the more painful the situation the more grace you can give, However, grace is not a “get out of jail” card. That said, it deserves to be dispensed liberally. The trouble is many Christians are addicted to cheap grace.

      Fear is a powerful psychological tool. Look at what has been done in history because of fear? We’ve locked up the Japanese in WWII, thought that the blood supply was going to be contaminated by HIV, thus treated gays horrifically, or assumed that a Muslim flying is a threat after 9-11. Fear is powerful drug that can move the masses of a nation state or a church.

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