After the horror of September 11 set in, professional football player, Pat Tillman, decided he wanted to make his life count for something. Apparently, playing football didn’t quite complete that equation. So he joined the United States Army and was sent as part of the force to Afghanistan. On April 22, 2004, he and his platoon were ordered to a town in the hills to secure one site. A few hours later, reports came back that Pat Tillman was killed as part of the operation. Over the next few weeks, his family heard several conflicting accounts of exactly what happened. In the midst of this, they held an emotionally charged funeral service where he posthumously received the Silver Star. A few weeks after that, they were hit with the stark reality of the events: Pat was killed by bullets from American guns. He was shot down by “friendly fire”.
His family, especially his mother and brother, got involved with what has now become a four-year ordeal to find out the complete truth. It still has not happened. Mary Tillman recounts all of this ordeal in a tribute book to Pat titled, “Boots on the Ground by Dusk”. I have not read it yet, but both interviews I heard with her make me believe it will be balanced and revealing.
What there is no mistake about is that the Army messed up big time on this one. Even Senator McCain, who helped to launch the investigation, says that this cover-up is inexcusable and involves many of the Army’s senior officers. That is the biggest tragedy of it all; that they would cover up the mistakes that were made and the real truth of what happened. He was killed by “friendly fire” – well, that happens. But what shouldn’t happen is a cover-up of this magnitude. It is not fair to his family and the other soldiers in the Army who need to learn from this.
In that spirit, I will begin today a series of articles on the subject of “Friendly Fire in the Church”. By “the church”, I don’t mean the church I help to lead or ones I have lead in the past or even churches with whom I have an ax to grind. I just mean all churches. I have counseled pastors, been one, and participated in so many grievance councils and reconciliation meetings that I could write entire books on this subject.
No one should be surprised that friendly fire happens. What we shouldn’t tolerate is the cover-up. And we have all done it; even me. Join me in the next few weeks, as we explore the types of friendly fire and gather together the ideas of myself and others (even you the readers) as to what we can do to cut down on some of these injuries.