Acton Institute Powerblog

Does Shane Claiborne Care about Military Humanitarian Aid?

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

One of the main points of the “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign is the pitting of defense spending against charitable social programs. The assumption is that Jesus would obviously endorse and campaign for the welfare state over the military. A common perception of the U.S. armed forces by many of the religious left is that they are the perfect embodiment of America as “corrupt empire.”

At Acton, all of our commentators on the budget have consistently said all spending measures must be on the table for addressing the federal deficit and debt, including defense. But entitlement promises and their mismanagement is by far the biggest obstacle towards a plan for fiscal responsibility.

Previously, in “Shane Claiborne’s Budget Babbling,” I pointed out the absurdity of Claiborne quoting Martin Luther King’s maxim: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Does Claiborne not see entitlements as social spending, which is by far the largest expenditure?


In his column, I think Claiborne is frankly disrespectful to our military, viewing them solely as bomb hurlers and keepers of arsenals of death. He says, “cutting $3 mosquito nets that can save lives while continuing to spend $200,000 a minute on the military should raise some flags of a different sort.”

In his disrespect for the military, Claiborne makes no mention of all the humanitarian aid and assistance provided by the U.S. armed forces. One could make an argument that the military does not need to be involved in humanitarian aid, but weighed against the things Claiborne says should not be cut, the military towers over those efforts when it comes to humanitarian assistance and aid. Often, the military is vital for not just logistically delivering all the aid but helping to secure a troubled nation so aid is delivered efficiently, humanely, and in a fair manner.


The United States military has recently led humanitarian missions in Haiti after the earthquake, the Republic of Georgia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and no doubt stand ready to deliver food and medical assistance to Libya. Those nations are only a few examples of some of the humanitarian benefits of our military might. The Navy has ships that serve as floating hospitals for people in need of evacuation for medical care. In fact, their secondary mission is supporting humanitarian relief, one such example is the USNS Comfort. The Comfort deployed to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.

My point here is I think the religious left has for too long stereotyped our armed forces and its mission. While they should be applauded at times for raising awareness of issues of peace and justice, it needs to be done responsibly and with greater respect to those who serve.


The military, after all, is under the authority of the civilian government. Shane Claiborne’s bumper sticker theology where he toasts “all who would rather see ice cream dropped from planes rather than bombs,” and proposes that the military hold bake sales so the men and women will be able to wear the uniform of our armed forces is demeaning. It cheapens the men and women who have not only shown courage in defense of our nation but compassion.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


  • Karen Weber

    Bravo, Ray! Our military deserve our respect and support. The mantra of the left shows ignorance of the many varied functions of our service men and women. The same is true with the demonizing of capitalism – without our resources and generous spirits, billions of dollars would not be spent assisting other people in far away places – strangers. Bottom line is, we have the most socially just system of government in the world. God bless America, land of the free and home of the brave – thanks in large part to our military!

  • Scott

    Thanks, Ray! The Religious Left is purporting yet another welfare state reform that would in fact harm the end they attempt to gain. By doing so they disrespect those that serve our nation in the most heroic of ways. Our Armed Services not only go to battle with guns against terrorists that seek only to steal, kill, and destroy, but also go to battle with U.S. aid against natural disasters, poverty, disease, and social unrest.

    The call for cuts here simply due to a ‘bullets vs. aid’ mantra couldn’t be more patently obvious for what it truly is: more central government control of more of our lives in more and more ways; i.e. the continuously expanding welfare state. This argument stems out of a greed for power, yet points the finger at errant spending. Why not instead cut the salaries of everyone in the Congress, White House, Federal Judges, etc.? No? Instead we should cut those areas that are helping? This sounds like an idea that’s been tried before.

    Semper Fidelis, brothers and sisters!

  • Jim

    Ray, your point is well made. The compassionate men and women of the US armed forces are often the first Americans many desperate people see.

  • Darrell

    The public perception of the military would be greatly aided had we not engaged in a war in Iraq based upon fear and ignorance instead of cold hard facts. When America saw us throw the vast weight of our armed forces into a country to take down Saddam Hussein and to search for ‘WMD’ led by President George W. Bush, we instantly became imperialists in the eyes of many, many people throughout America and the world regardless if it was justified in any way or not. We did something we had never done since Vietnam, another highly controversial war- we acted in an offensive manner vice a defensive one. To blame the “left” for this is discounting the blunder in Iraq by the Bush administration that has given creedence to those who oppose a strong defense. Conservatives should shoulder some of the blame and not automatically point the finger, for no one is blameless.

    War is something that should never, ever be taken lightly, and if we got ourselves involved in meaningful actions instead of Vietnam or Iraq, we would be a lot better off. The problem is that most people who clamor for war or oppose war are themselves far removed from what it takes to engage in it.

  • Karen

    Darrell, that is ridiculous! Hindsight is 20/20. To insinuate that Pres. Bush made the decision to go into Iraq lightly is beyond comprehension.

  • Darrell

    The decisions (both of course not made lightly) made by Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam are a valid comparison to the same ones made by G. W. Bush. Both decisions have set back the perception of our country as a positive force for good based upon faulty reasoning and motives that have been questioned time and time again by historians. The only difference between now and then is that our population doesn’t have to worry about being drafted, and can easily sit back and watch volunteers go and follow orders.

    This entire article is about perception and pointing a finger at the ‘left’, both I have addressed- perception based upon past mistakes, and a finger that points in way too much of a narrow direction. Life is never as simple as that…

  • Pingback: Japan Quake, Military Aid, and Shane Claiborne | Acton Institute PowerBlog()

  • Ted Seeber

    Yes, but this does raise the question:
    When every other military in the world gets by with only two naval carrier groups, do we really need 11 to provide humanitarian aid?

  • Darrell

    Ted, this is why I had to address some of the points made in this article and the responses to it- most do not have any idea as to the importance of our military, because they see images of Iraq a lot more than they see images of Haiti or Indonesia, or even other parts of the world like Somalia.

    Today, the Navy is torn between its force of the past and the force of its future, a battle between large strike groups and smaller, more flexible units. Our world is no longer one that pits large national forces versus large national forces, and we’ll have to make a decision in time. With the paltry amount of naval bases we have in key hotspots in the world, having the carriers gives us a lot of flexibility and saves lives that we would have to send in on the ground, especially in the Middle East and Africa. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans aren’t aware of the necessities of carriers and other vital military elements because of the volunteer nature of our armed forces. Who needs to know when many are out of touch, only seeing it vaguely on the news? Unfortunately what happened to Rome might very well happen to us.

  • Lover

    Attack the question he asking, not the person asking the question.

  • Yes, if we only had two to patrol the wolrd oceans with what happens when one or both needs matainence? Ocean going ships required a lot of maintainence. Also, do you expect the ships to constantly be crewed and never have down time? Ships crew members need time to come back and spend time with the spouses and children, let alone experience a little freedom.

  • David

    shaine clairboirne fails to realize that the welfare state is another form of constantianism that’s just as harmful as arbitary government funding of armies