On April 9, the Divinity School will host a lunchtime discussion with Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law, “Military Suicide & Christian Witness: A Conversation and Call to Act.” The public event, led by student group Milites Christi, will take place in 0014 Westbrook at 12:30 p.m.
The event is intended to open a dialogue and spur action at the Divinity School, where discussion on the topic of suicide is too often missing, said Alexis Arzuaga-Morales, M.Div.’15, an army and marine veteran and former law enforcement officer who has experienced the suicide of friends and colleagues. “Our goal is to inspire us to action as Christians. We need to create space for these difficult conversations—and hold each other accountable for remaining in those conversations.” Arzuaga-Morales is one of the organizers of the event.
The event comes after the March release of a U.S. Army study on suicide. The study found that suicide rates for soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan more than doubled from 2004 to 2009 to more than 30 per 100,000, while suicides for soldiers who didn’t deploy nearly tripled to 25-30 per 100,000. In addition, the killings and suicide by an Iraq veteran at Fort Hood on April 2 highlight the urgency of the issue, said Arzuaga-Morales.
Arzuaga-Morales said that suicide hasn’t been addressed enough in his classes or in spiritual formation groups and talks, despite the fact that so many members of the Divinity School community have been affected by suicide or will be in their lives as clergy members. In addition, he noted that conversations about war and pacifism often don’t reflect an understanding of veterans’ perspectives and military culture.
At the April 9 event, attendees will also discuss leading a call to Christian witness on May 11, when Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Duke alumnus, will be on campus as a speaker for Duke University’s commencement ceremony. The call to witness will not be a protest or criticism, said Arzuaga-Morales, but an invitation to dialogue and to action that will visibly and responsibly address the issue.
“We’re calling on Duke University and the U.S. military to talk about these issues and walk alongside us,” he said. “The biggest responsibility is still ours, as Christians and members of the Divinity School community.”
"Fundamentally, this isn't just a military concern,” said Robert Densmore, M.Div.'16, a military veteran and co-leader with Arzuaga-Morales of Milites Christi. “This is a Christian concern. And, we fear if we don't give voice to it, no one will.”
Duke Veterans, Duke Center for Reconciliation, Sacred Worth, and Centurion's Guild are co-sponsoring the April 9 discussion with Hauerwas. Densmore and Arzuaga-Morales said they are hopeful that the discussion will lead to a larger event during National Suicide Prevention Week Sept. 8-14, 2014.