Monday, December 30, 2013

No Longer Could I Serve in the Military

I have never served in the military. However, I've always thought in a positive manner about being a part of the United States' armed forced. It seemed natural to want to support and defend our country. For much of my life it was something I never questioned. I had seen, and still see, many Christians in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, etc. Frankly, it wasn't an issue.

My thoughts have changed radically over the past few years. No longer could I serve in the military at any level or in any position. I realize this is somewhat theoretical in nature; it's not as if recruiters are knocking down my door to get to a 43-year-old. Regardless, I couldn't and wouldn't ever be part of the military. Even if the USA was invaded by another country as part of total war I would not join the military.

I've come to this conclusion after thinking long and hard about Jesus' teachings. Specifically, I've been pondering both what he said about and how he acted toward his enemies. Jesus teaches us much in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:9 Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Some Christians limit the meaning of this verse to only the helping of people reach spiritual peace with God through the gospel; however, in light of what Jesus says later in Matthew 5 this seems like too narrow of an interpretation.

In Matthew 5:38-47 Jesus expands on what he said in 5:9. Our Lord says, "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Jesus says a lot in those verses. Much of it can be summed up in the startling phrase, "Love your enemies." I believe this is one of Christ's most counter-cultural and counter-world statements. It gives us a view of how radically different the Kingdom of God is from the kingdoms of this world.

One of the primary things the military does is fight against enemies. In light of what Jesus says here, how could I take up arms against enemies of the USA? Can I love someone and shoot him at the same time? I don't see how the two can possibly fit together. Furthermore, I don't understand how I could be part of the support network behind the soldiers. If I'm assisting them in doing their job, which involves killing others, then I'm at least partially responsible for any deaths caused.

Did Jesus actually live out what he said? How did he treat his enemies? Did he even defend himself? The answer is a resounding "No!" Read any of the trial and crucifixion passages from the gospels to see this. For example, Matthew 27:27-31 says, "Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him."

Jesus was living out what was written of him many years before as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:7, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth."

In the end my conclusion regarding military service is quite simple. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. How could I possibly serve in the military when I might be ordered to kill someone in the name of the USA? Killing and loving do not mix. Therefore, I could no longer serve in the military in any capacity whatsoever.


Arthur Sido said...

Like you I have come 180 degrees on this topic. I was very close to joining the military after 9/11. The inherent incompatibility of simultaneously loving our enemies and killing them in the name of a nation is not talked about much in the church outside of some of the historic "peace churches" and the dying remnants of "mainstream denominations" but it need to be.

Two quick notes for thought. First, a person is not my enemy because he is the enemy of the United States. The church has bought into the idea of a "them" versus "us" conflict where the "us" often includes unbelievers and the "them" often includes brothers and sisters in Christ. Second, the theme of peacemaking and non-resistance goes well beyond serving in the military. That example is (or should be) pretty obvious but the other applications get a lot more difficult to work through.

Eric said...


I think your point about peacemaking and nonresistance is very important. It does go well beyond not serving in the military. I'm increasingly drawn toward the Anabaptist and Mennonite ideas related to this. Nonresistance really is a way of life. I haven't yet reached that point, but I certainly have as far as military service is concerned.

cavattack said...

You have worked for JCB during a period when it had a Defense contract with the U.S. Army for $7,383,147.00 to supply 29 high mobility engineering excavators to the Combat Engineers. This may happen again. What will you do?

Eric said...


You bring up an interesting issue and an important one. I've thought about it quite a bit.

The difficulty is that the economy now in this country is so interconnected. It's difficult to find a job that in some way is not tied in to military, government, etc.

Additionally, backhoes are not used to kill people. They act in a supportive effort. This may seem like some sort of loophole in my argument; so be it.

I would have a difficult time continuing to work for JCB if, for example, they began manufacturing tanks.

Also, I'll never be asked by JCB to kill an enemy combatant.

On top of that, the HMEE military contract is a small amount of the total we build here in Savannah.

What does "cavattack" mean?