Advice for Serving in the 21st Century Military
For many years, service in the U. S. military has been looked favorably upon by the vast majority of Americans (the “hippie” movement of the 1960’s, notwithstanding). Yet, from a religious standpoint, there has been an ongoing controversy among members of the church as to whether a Christian can serve in the military and / or fight in war. Many who support a position opposing Christians serving in the military turn to passages such as 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)” Often, they will point to the fact Christianity allows no hatred, or physical retaliation (Galatians 5:14, Romans 12:17-21, 13:9) and that vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19).
First, we need to understand that in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 Paul is speaking of our spiritual warfare against the spiritual forces of evil: temptation, false religion, the lusts of the flesh, etc. In that war, our weapons are not carnal, because it is not a carnal war. Physical warfare will not defeat spiritual foes. This passage does not even address physical war among nations.
With regard to the second argument they are right about that fact that Christianity allows no hatred at all nor does it allow retaliation on an individual basis. That is what Romans 12 teaches. Romans 12:19 “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Vengeance belongs to the Lord – that is why we are not to seek personal vengeance.
The Lord executes vengeance and punishes evil doers. How does He do this? In many cases, He accomplishes it through the ministry of civil government. God allows civil government to rule over the nations, Romans 13:1 “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Romans 13:4 says, “For he…” (the ruler / agent of civil government) “…is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Civil government is authorized by, and used by, God to execute His wrath upon those who do evil. It executes this wrath both domestically with its police force and abroad with its military force.
If the civil government’s use of force is authorized by God, and it is, then Christians are authorized to participate in it. If non-Christians can serve as police or in the military without sinning and if non-Christians can use carnal weapons to fight in carnal warfare as authorized by civil government without sinning, then so can Christians. We are all under the same law of Christ! If it is sin for the non-Christian, then it is sin for the Christian. If it is not sin for the non-Christian, then it is not sin for the Christian. There is not one law for the Christian and a separate law for the non-Christian.
In the New Testament, we encounter several members of the Roman military who are spoken of from a favorable light such as the Centurion in Matthew 8:5-10 and still others that became Christians, such as Cornelius in Acts 10 and the Philippian jailor in Acts 16. Inspiration does not record where they continued in their military service; neither does it record where they were commanded to no longer serve. In 1 Corinthians 7:18-24, Paul states that circumcision or uncircumcision mean nothing: If one comes to Christ in uncircumcision, let him remain in uncircumcision (or vice-versa). He also stated that it did not matter if one were a slave or free: If one comes to Christ a slave, he was to remain in servitude to his master and even more so to God. In both cases, the Christian was to “abide in the same calling wherein he was called…” (1 Cor 7:20) If one were to remain a slave as a Christian, then wouldn’t the same thing apply to a soldier? Now of course if one were a prostitute or a barkeeper or something of that inherently sinful nature, then they would have to change professions, but we have already seen that civil government and the military are not inherently sinful, therefore no inherent need to change profession.
With that preface being made, I do not believe that it is inherently sinful for a Christian to serve in his nation’s armed forces as a general rule; however, I do not believe it is always a good idea for a Christian to serve in the military. Speaking from eight years of military experience, where I served in the U. S. Coast Guard as a non-Christian, I believe it would be exceedingly difficult for one who is not already a very strong and committed Christian to remain faithful while serving in the U. S. military. Paul warns about the Christian being “unequally yoked…” with unbelievers. (2 Cor 6:14) This means that we must not allow those who are outside of Christ to have any undue influence upon our lives.
In the military service one will be surrounded by those who are not Christians, often serving under the authority of those who are hostile to the Christian faith. While this may be true also of civilians in the workforce, but with the civilian there is always the option of resigning, or in some cases being fired for taking a stance. In the military, at least in the sea services, there is a sub-culture of those who are involved in innumerable sins such as heavy binge-drinking and visiting brothels in foreign ports. My first call to a foreign port in the Coast Guard was to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Before we got underway for that first Caribbean patrol, I noticed our captain take off his wedding ring and declare to one of the junior officers that he wanted to get rid of the “tan line” on his ring finger before our first foreign port visit. Why did he not want anyone to know he was married? The morning after the first night in port told the tale…I remember also, before that first port call the reminder over the PA system “What happens in Puerto Plata, stays in Puerto Plata…!” Where do you think Las Vegas got the idea for its slogan? From sailors in a foreign port, that’s where! Also on that first visit to a foreign port, my Chief Petty Officer, a man old enough to be my grandfather, informed me that he was going to make sure I left that port “a man” and then proceeded to try and pressure me into joining in with that culture of corruption. Also my other shipmates got involved in the attempt to pressure and ridicule me into going along with that sub-culture. Fortunately, the Executive Officer heard this Chief pressuring me and told him to back-off.
You may be familiar with the recent news stories about the behavior of the President’s Secret Service and Military Security teams in advance of his visits to Central America – how that they routinely were involved in hiring prostitutes and binge-drinking. In those reports, the statement was made that this behavior is “ingrained” in the “culture” of those advance teams. The same thing is “ingrained” – I speak from experience, I’m sorry to say -with many members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corps “culture.” I can’t speak for the Army and Air Force because I never worked with them, but the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard are often involved in joint-service operations and I was around and working with men and women from each of these branches frequently. I have little doubt that the same things are true with some members of the Army and Air Force.
Another, more insidious pressure on the Christian in the military, is that if a “lawful” order is given (as the UCMJ defines lawful) which would cause him to violate one of God’s laws, then he has little choice but to obey that order or face court martial and possible jail time or dishonorable discharge from the service. Also the Christian in the military, upon his or her enlistment, must give up some of their First Amendment rights – the right to free-expression when it comes to speaking out against the military or government policy outside of the Chain of Command. The Christian military member is placed in a situation where they are under the authority of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (U.C.M.J.), which would punish those who speak openly against military policies outside of the Chain of Command.
Also, the UCMJ at one time under Article 125, prohibited the practice of sodomy, punishing offenders with a prison sentence and / or a dishonorable discharge from the service. The military rule was changed in the 1990’s to a policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Under that policy, the military was not allowed to ask questions regarding “sexual preference” and service members were not allowed to serve if they were openly homosexual. Openly practicing homosexuals, at that time, were generally given an “administrative discharge.” But now that Article 125 has been modified to only ban “non-consensual” sodomy and “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been repealed, the U. S. Military is moving forward with a very liberal homosexual agenda. Not only is homosexuality not against the U.C.M.J., but discriminating against homosexuals is now a violation of the U.C.M.J.! Whether or not a Christian military member, by speaking what the Bible speaks about homosexuality, is discriminating against homosexuals is up to interpretation by the Judge Advocate General of the armed services. To my knowledge, this has yet to be challenged under the new military regulations. Already, though, the military is allowing its chaplains to perform gay marriages for service members in states where gay marriage is legal. For now they are not forcing chaplains who would object to gay marriage on religious grounds to perform gay weddings, but how long will that continue? According to several news sources, military chaplains have been told that by refusing to perform gay marriages for military members their careers are basically over – i.e. they will be “passed over” for promotions.
Since the 1950’s the U. S. Military has been at the fore-front of “social engineering” by liberal policy makers in the government. If the military pursues open acceptance of homosexuality by service members as aggressively it has pursued acceptance of racial integration since the 1950’s then Christians who object to homosexuality may be in for some trouble. In the 1970’s and 1980’s the military rightfully “cracked down” on racial discrimination, pursuing a policy of punishing military members for making racist remarks and such like. In the 1990’s it began to do the same with regard to the integration of women in the military service – any form of perceived sexual discrimination or harassment has been aggressively prosecuted by the military since that time.
It is unknown, at this time, what will be the wide-ranging effects of openly practicing homosexuals being allowed to serve. The upheaval of the military structure may settle down somewhat in time and all this may have no real impact on the military itself. I served in the Coast Guard with a fellow who was discharged for practicing homosexuality and never given any indication that he was a homosexual and his shipmates never had reason to complain on the way he fulfilled his duties. I seriously doubt that he was the only homosexual I served with. I did notice, however, that a double standard was in place. We had several female service members who were for all intents and purposes openly practicing homosexuals, yet without censure.
I am not writing this to say that a Christian cannot serve in the military without compromising his or her faith. But I am writing to encourage Christian young people who are considering serving in the military to be sure they are spiritually ready to face the trials and temptations that are endemic to service in the military. I know several current active duty military men and women who continue to be steadfast and uncompromising in their Christian faith and duty. I know of young Christians who have gone off into military services and been killed in the line of duty. But worse than that, I have known of young Christians who have gone off into military service and lost their soul on account of sin when they gave up their faith because of the sinfulness of their environment. I also know one Christian brother who still wakes up terrified by nightmares, 60 years later; about the men he killed while serving as a sniper during the Korean conflict. Service in the military can have grave consequences, as with the Christian brother who is still suffering 60 years after his service ended. As well, the military has one of the highest suicide rates of any group of people in the United States, due to the stress of military service in the midst of a now decade-long war or terrorism.
It takes a special kind of person to serve in the military. One who is willing to lay down their life for their country. One who is willing to sacrifice their own freedom to preserve ours. But it takes an even more special kind of person, to do so while not compromising his or her Christian faith and duty!