Meet a Centurion – Joel Poindexter

A childhood interest in the military lead to my enlistment in the U.S. Army after high school. Raised in a Christian home, chapel services in basic training were more than just a break from the drill sergeants. Though I knew Christ, it would be years before His gospel of peace, forgiveness, and radical enemy-love would take hold in me.

As an infantryman I was trained for the specific purpose of taking human life in close-quarters combat. I received further instruction in the art and science of killing at the U.S. Army Sniper School. And yet I believed military service was wholly compatible with Christian teaching, and that American foreign policy served a redemptive purpose in the world.

In Baghdad in 2005 my mind was changed on war. Patrolling the city for a year with the 3rd Infantry Division, I saw the ineffectiveness of the war strategy, the vast waste of resources, and the enormous cost in American lives and money. This conclusion was based on a simple cost-benefit analysis, and limited strictly to the war in Iraq. Beyond a utilitarian calculation, the moral and theological implications of war in general never entered my conscience.

I returned home facing a second deployment before my enlistment was up. Though I knew a soldier who became a conscientious objector, I had not experienced my own “crystallization of conscience.” Looking back, I lacked the moral courage to object even if I had. Ten days before I was supposed to leave the army, in 2007, I left my wife at Fort Stewart, GA and boarded a plane to Iraq for a fifteen month deployment.

In Bābil Province, on patrol along the banks of the Euphrates, my heart was changed on war. I was no longer able to view the enemy as less-than-human. I could not ignore the deep injustice to the Iraqi people – the destruction of their homes, their families, and the social fabric of their country. My eyes were opened to the evil of all such conflicts. This conversion lead me in search of theological answers beyond the gospel of Mars or the doctrine of Just War.

I am still on that search, and will be until the very end. For now I have arrived at a strict adherence to Christian non-violence. What I have come to understand is that rather than putting on the armor of God, serving the church, and waging a spiritual war over human souls, I instead put on the armor of man, served the interests of the state, and fought an earthly war over human bodies. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I have decided to follow Jesus.