Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Christians and the Military

After a lot of consideration of the nature of the military and the Christian's responsibility to the government, I've become convinced that Christians should not serve in the military. This decision, although perhaps influence by, does not necessarily have anything to do with my pacifist sentiments, but rather has more to do with what the military demands of a person.

To serve in the armed forces, you must sign away rights and swear to follow orders. You must agree to do whatever you are told whenever you are told to do it. This seems a direct contradiction to what we as Christians are called to be and do. We are called to be in submission to the will of God, not man, and to sign away conscience and offer blind submission to the will of a man-made authority is utterly opposed to this. What does a Christian do if faced with the very possible scenario of being ordered to do something that would violate conscience, yet if not done, would cost lives of comrades? It's an impossible situation, one which could and probably has been faced before. What would a Christian do at Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo, if asked to torture a detainee? What if they are ordered to target civilians? The list of possible situations in which a Christian would be asked to violate conscience could continue endlessly.

It's true that we live in a country that, by the grace of God, follows military procedures that are far more humane and decent than many of the enemies they face, but that doesn't mean it's perfect, or even close to flawless, as this current war has exemplified. The examples of torture and other human rights violations that have been committed by U.S. troops serve as a warning to any Christian who would consider giving over their lives to this organization.

I don't want to dishonor the very godly men who have in the past served in the military, my grandfather included, and I certainly don't want to imply that they sinned in volunteering their lives in such a way. But part of me wonders why a person would feel more deeply called to serve their country in that way rather than to commit their lives with the same kind of dedication to the furthering of the gospel.

And I don't say that to imply that a person commited to service in the military has no thought to the gospel, and I am sure there are many stories of men and women who have served in the armed forces and gone on to commit their lives to missions. But it seems to me a tragic mistake to feel so called to defend man-made geographical boundaries and laws when one has been called to something far greater, when one is a citizen of a far better, eternal kingdom that we should be devoted to building. Why would you then submit your life and conscience to the violent defense of these borders and laws, when the gospel - of love, of peace, of justice - calls us to defend the poor and the widows among us? If only those Christians who feel so convicted of the need for their service in the military felt the same kind of conviction to devoting their lives to furthering the gospel.

Although I hate to call myself a pacifist, I'd have to say it's true - I think it's wrong to take lives. Any lives. I think it's not our place. And I can't pretend to have the application of that conviction figured out, because I don't know how a government would work out the principle of turning the other cheek, nor am I entirely sure it should. But I do have to wonder what would happen if it did - if a government were to stop trying to repay evil for evil, and instead turn to doing good. What would happen if instead of invading Iraq and Afghanistan, we tried building schools and hospitals and sending missionaries instead? There would have been a very different response to us, I guarantee. The problem would be to get people to see the sense in such a non-violent approach. But have we learned nothing from Gandhi, King, the early church? Non-violence and turning the other cheek works. Peace won't be spread through military might.