Monday, July 15, 2002


I have really not wanted to weigh in on the pacifism discussion occurring all over the blogosphere (go to and scroll around for the last few weeks to see what it's all about), because so many people smarter than I have
been doing a good job with my position, but a couple of points do need some comment.

First, in response to Telford Work's reply to Kathy Shaidle, he quotes her saying, “I still say pacifism is a sin, because it is a privilege that only exists at the expense of another's life." He replies, "Hmmmm. What would the first three centuries of Christian martyrs have made of that claim?” I believe the martyrs would have: 1) acknowledged the impossibility of converting Rome by force (not that they would have advocated such a course); 2) recognized a positive duty to nevertheless live and preach the Gospel; 3) admitted the power of Rome (if not the right) to murder them; and, 4) declared a willingness to suffer their fate for the sake of Christ and their own immortal souls. If out of that they felt a need to construct a philosophy of pacifism as a means of asserting some control over the uncontrollable, well, I can hardly fault anyone for that. But that does not, by itself, have any claim on me, when the scriptural basis for it is weak and contradictory.

Second, Work makes a comment that is not, strictly speaking, true. “Since the American military does not allow recruits to participate conditionally in military actions or to be discharged when war takes an unjust turn, this pretty clearly precludes faithful Christians from American military service, unless they serve willing to face courts martial and dishonorable discharges when the time comes to withdraw.”

To start, a serving soldier in the volunteer military can even today apply for and receive conscientious objector status. (I tried to look up the relevant info in the UCMJ, but the Air Force has the only on-line version I could find, and it’s broken at the moment.) Separation from the service is the usual result, but in some circumstances a change of specialty has occurred—so an infantryman might become a medic, for instance. It’s not an easy thing to do, and not all true conscientious objectors get a change in status, but it is in fact possible.

In addition, there is by no means a perfect alignment between American civil or military law and God’s law (and I hope never to confuse the two) but many violations of God’s law also violate man’s. And the UCMJ not only allows, but in many cases positively requires, a soldier to disobey an unlawful order. This provision, codified from tradition into positive law after Nuremberg, greatly improves the lot of a faithful Christian in military service.

I therefore respectfully contend that service by a faithful Christian is not only not precluded, but in fact quite possible. I have not had the privilege of serving (thanks to a failed physical exam when I tried to join the Coast Guard) but many of my close friends have served over the years, and none have to my knowledge ever encountered a serious conflict between their duties to God and country. Indeed, I would argue that many civilian jobs (including my own) present more serious ethical problems for the Christian. The black-and-white, good-and-bad worldview of the military encourages the kind of ethical thinking that many corporations try to suppress.

This all supposes, of course, that one does not see pacifism as a positive obligation for the Christian (as I, obviously, do not). I cannot find in my conscience any such obligation, but can find many to the contrary. I do not suppose that the lot of a Christian soldier is necessarily always and everywhere an easy one, but that is true of Christians in every walk of life, and the burden seems rather less onerous for the Christian in the American military than in many others.


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