Friday, April 22, 2022

Should Christians join the military and go to war? part 1 of 2

Here's a subject I've been stewing over off and on for 30 years. In this post, I don't plan to prove any points. I just want to share a little bit about the development of my thoughts on the subject.

I joined the Navy in 1992 months apart from one of my best friends (Brian) who also joined. About a year or a year and a half in, he became one of Jehovah's Witnesses and got a conscientious objector discharge. I was a bit startled by his conversion because I thought it put his salvation in jeopardy, and I was also curious about the reasons for his oposition to being in the Navy. He gave me some literature to read from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTS)--the publishing company for the Jehovah's Witnesses that produces all of their literature.

Up until this point, I had been a Christian most of my life, and I had even read the Bible. But I had never studied the Bible, and I had never been part of a church long enough to be indoctrinated. I was pretty open to learning and just trying to figure stuff out. At the time, I could not have even explained the doctrine of the Trinity to you.

Through reading WTS literature I became a whole lot more interested in the Bible and in theology. I became interested in studying the Bible in depth. Although I was never persuaded to become one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I was persuaded to adopt their point of view about a few topics.

One topic I was persuaded by was their view that Christian should not join militaries or go to war for their governments. I was so persuaded that I applied for conscientious objector status and was discharged from the Navy after about four years. I was in the nuclear field which required a six year committment because the school was so long, so I got out about two years early.

After I got out of the Navy, I was so passionate in my belief that Christians shouldn't be in the military that I started the Conscientious Objector Help Page in order to discourage other Christians from joining the military and teach them how to apply for conscientious objector status if they were already in.

Not long after that, I went through my agnostic phase. That's another story. When it was over, I was still strongly opposed to Christians in the military.

Over time, as I delved into the Bible and theological literature, I abandoned most of the views I had adopted as a result of reading WTS literature (e.g. their denial of the Trinity). But I held on to the belief that Christians shouldn't join the military.

Around 1999 or so, I picked up Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Gregory Koukl and Francis Beckwith from a Christian book store, and that book was a turning point for me. That's another story, but I bring it up because it introduced me to Stand to Reason--the apologetics organization that Greg Koukl was the president of.

Greg has had an enormous impact on me over the years. When I first discovered him, he was a breath of fresh air, and I devoured every article, commentary, and radio show archived on their web site (that's before they had a blog). I remember agreeing with Greg about almost everything. But Greg was very pro-military. He especially seemed to love the Marines and seemed to wish he had been one. To me that was a bit of a scandal because he was so right about everything else but wrong about his pro-military views.

But there is one thing Greg said that put a stone in my shoe (to use one of his catch phrases). A big part of my case against Christians joining the military had to do with Jesus' command to love even our enemies, and Paul's statement that love does no harm to its neighbor, and various things along those lines. Greg pointed out that to stand by and do nothing while your family, neighbors, city, state, and country are being attacked is not at all loving toward your family, etc.

Now, I had heard this argument before. Lots of people engaged me in debate because I didn't exactly keep quiet about my beliefs. Usually the way other people would bring it up was to try to make it personal and ask me what I'd do if a loved one were being attacked. For a while, I answered this by saying I would do whatever I could to prevent it short of harming the attacker. In my heart, I knew I would gladly harm the attacker if I could, but morally I thought the nobel thing would be to avoid harming the attacker as far as possible, even if it meant that I and my family could be killed. I was supposed to just trust God the way Daniel trusted God when he disobeyed Nebuchadnezzer and was thrown to the lions.

But Greg didn't simply ask what I would personally do in a sticky situation. He made the argument that laying down my arms would actually be unloving toward those I was most responsible for--my immediate family and loved ones. Greg's argument, though simple, was far more persuasive.

In Relativism, Greg and Frank explained the whole notion of a moral dilemma in which one moral imperative can be overriden by another moral imperative when they come into conflict in the same situation. Before then, I had been kind of a moral absolutist, but as a result of reading their book, I became a moral objectivist (I explained the difference in "The difference between moral objectivism and moral absolutism.") So it seemed that while one might agree that in general people shouldn't harm even their enemies, there were circumstances under which it was appropriate to harm one's enemies. If you think you're supposed to love both your family and your enemies, then you shouldn't want to harm anybody. But if one person is attacking another person (especially an innocent one), and you can stop the attack only by causing injury, then you're in a moral dilemma since to stand by and do nothing may show love toward the enemy, but it does not show love toward the person being attacked. You can't actively love them both in that scenario.

It is because of the stone Greg put in my shoe that I have waivered over the years and have been uncertain about whether it's okay for Christians to join the military. After a while, I adopted the view that personal defense (including the defense of one's family) was okay, but it was still wrong for Christians to join the military for various reasons. I have since then waivered on whether it's wrong to join the military.

My position today is that I have enough doubt that I probably would not join the military if I had the decision to make again, but at the same time, I probably wouldn't discourage other Christians from joining the military, and I wouldn't blame them if they did. Right now, I put the whole subject in the Romans 14 category--follow your conscience. However, I would definitely encourage any Christian who is thinking about joining to carefully reflect on this subject.

In Part 2, I want to talk more specifically about some of my reasons for being a conscientious objector and what I think of those reasons today.

No comments: