Moral injury and the future of Canada

Published February 17, 2015

In recent years, it has been more widely recognized that there are a number of not immediately recognized costs to participation in war. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the most well-known and understood psychological war wound, but a new category of psychological war injury has emerged: moral injury. This refers to the negative consequences of observing and participating in the massive and systemic moral breakdown associated, especially, with war.

The wounds of moral injury are not always visible. Guilt and shame are a part of it, but a persistent incapacity for many of the aspects of moral life-commitment to life, compassion toward other creatures and hope reaching for a positive future-leaves the morally injured with something far short of the fullness of human life. We are reminded here that the quality of our life is entirely dependent upon moral thinking and behaviour-something that is often forgotten in the swirl of modern life and its hypnotic possessions and pursuits.

The treatment of moral injury, I understand, begins with understanding and forgiveness, offered and received by the morally wounded. Within this framework, a new, perhaps higher, morality emerges. Like me, you have most likely met the wounded in recovery; they are compassionate and whole in a way that inspires and motivates. It would be wrong to pass by this comment without noticing how well the disciplines of following Jesus seem suited for the task of restoring the morally wounded.

As important as these observations might be to those individuals who are wounded in war, its real significance may be found in a larger field of concern. Society, it would seem, can also be morally injured. The moral wound of slavery, for example, was not healed by making it illegal. The injuries persist at many levels, and are so painfully visible in our prisons and other elements of our criminal justice systems in North America. Participation in the numerous systemic moral failures associated with colonialism is another relevant example. The devaluation of human life that allowed abuses to occur in the past still wounds the moral capacity of Western societies. That the suffering of indigenous women and the inequalities that still plague indigenous communities is so hard for the Canadian public to see is an ever-present reminder of the deeper wounds that stunt our future.

Noticing, once again, that the way of Jesus seems uniquely suited to call the morally wounded to new life, our churches should stand at the forefront of a moral renewal in our nation. We have made some of the first steps in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It would seem though, that-acknowledged, understood and forgiven by Jesus-we must move deeper and farther into the life of recovered healing.

Bishop Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.


  • Mark MacDonald

    Mark MacDonald was national Indigenous Anglican bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada from 2007 to 2019, and national Indigenous Anglican archbishop from 2019 to 2022.

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