Sex and War: Thoughts on Memorial Day Weekend

For Sunday, May 27th, I titled the worship service at the Church of the Restoration, “Sex and War: Love and Hope.”  My title mostly came from a 2008 book by Malcolm Potts and Tom Hayden, Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World. It’s a very interesting book, but not what I am thinking about this afternoon. When I arrived at the church today, the lovely man who changes the lettering on our sign had put these words, “Sex and War or Love and Hope.”

The sign startled me. It just wasn’t at all how I thought about the relationships between these four things. Now, like many ministers, I am the kind of person who when surprised by something just starts thinking about it.  Some of my family members say (kindly, usually) I think too much about strange things!  One of my colleagues recently bemoaned the fact that anything can become a story for a sermon or a blog. We observe ourselves and we observe our own thinking.  My friend would like to just be in the experience, and there is certainly something to appreciate about being in the moment, in the flow. In fact, much of spiritual practice is designed to help us to be “in this very moment.”  Still, there is also much to appreciate about observing ourselves, especially observing ourselves without judgment but with curiosity.

When something startles us, when two unusual things come together in our minds, we can be opened to creativity, new ways of seeing things or new questions. So, when I saw the sign, I thought, “What was he thinking when he put the word “or” on the sign?”  Very briefly, I wondered if I should ask him to change it but thought, “No, it’s kind of provocative that way. What will passersby think that it means?”

I thought that the wording seemed to put a negative implication toward sex. Now, this might be true of some ministers and some churches, but is not at all true for this minister. I think sex is a vital, essential part of life and indeed can not only be deeply loving but also deeply spiritual.  Well that thought lead me to think about the relationship between war and love and hope.  It seems to me that it is complicated.

I have known loving warriors. I live in Carlisle, Pennsylvania which is the home of the Army War College; colonels come to Carlisle for a year of study.  The Carlisle Barracks also houses the Peace Operations Training Institute whose mission is to study peace and humanitarian relief any time, any place. Their mission is in part, “We are committed to bringing essential, practical knowledge to military personnel, police and civilians working toward peace worldwide.”


I learned by listening to the colonels. Those colonels who study peace and war are not usually leaders who want to go to war.  All of those who go to war often go with love in their hearts: love of family, friends and country.  Combat veterans tell us that their actions are motivated by love for their comrades, the “band of brothers, and now sisters,” who are right there beside them. We who stay behind love those who go. We all hope and pray for their safety. We all hope and pray for peace.

Now, my prayer is that there be no more war; my hope that we will all learn to live in peace.  My basic stance is that of non-violence and pacifism.  I never want people to go to war because they have been intentionally deceived or for corporate profits. But may we never forget the worth and dignity of all, the love and courage of those who go to war and of those who stay behind.

All these thoughts came  from seeing the word “or” on our sign, and as it happens, he used that word because we don’t have a colon.

May love, hope and wisdom guide and sustain you.

Rev. Kathy Ellis








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