By Jon Kauffman
Christians disagree strongly about whether or not Christians should join the United States military.
Many pacifists and just war advocates think Christians should not join the US military. Some feel it is OK to join the military if for example they are in a position that does not carry weapons. Other Christians feel any position in the military is OK if a person is obeying the commands of those in authority over them.
I think this post gives us good reasons why Christians should never join the US Military.
To Join the military Christians must disobey the Teachings of Jesus.
I am not aware of any teachings of Jesus or early church leaders up until Ambrose that would allow Christians to use violence.
Jesus taught and the early Church writers wrote many statements claiming that violence by Christians is wrong. They also demonstrated that they believed this by their actions.
If we are true followers of Jesus, living for Jesus will be our number one goal.
Does the Government have the Responsibility to Control Violence?
Some Christians claim that if the government asks us to participate in actions that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus we must obey because the government has the right to ask us to do so.
These Christians sometimes claim that the government has the responsibility to control violent people. Normally Romans 13 is used to back up this claim. However, Romans 13 does not say that we as Christians can participate in this violence. The passage actually asserts that since governments participate in violence, God will use those evil governments to control evil people. Romans 13 does not even claim that governments have the right to use violence. Only that God uses them as agents.
Using violence is wrong even for those who are not Christians. Jesus wants everyone to become his follower and live a life of nonviolence.
Perhaps Christians can find ways to control violence without using violence?
The early Christians refused to worship the emperor and they refused to participate in violence. Should we as Christians ignore the teaching of Jesus and the example of the early church only because the government or the military tells us we should.
How Do Government Officials Know they are Doing What is Right?
The next paragraph in Romans, verses 13:8-10 tells us.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10 NIV
If we are in the military or government when we become Christians, it seems obvious that Paul expects us to follow the teaching of Jesus and “Love your Neighbor as yourself.” While serving in a government or military position.
The United States military is concerned only with crushing and destroying the enemy as defined by US foreign policy.
The Jews considered people such as the Samaritan woman and the Roman Centurion to be enemies. Jesus taught and demonstrated that he considered them to be neighbors and he loved them. How can we do less?
Isis and Boko Haram soldiers are our neighbors. As Christians, our job is to love them into the Kingdom of God, not to kill them. Chinese, Iraq and Iranian Christians are our brothers and sisters. Our job as Christians is to protect them and lay down our lives for them, not to kill them. Jesus said, Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends.
We are like the Roman Soldier when we join the military, we kill people that Jesus loves. Our enemies are like the Jews and other conquered people in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus.
We live in the United States. The country with a crushing and violent military, like Rome. Like Rome, the US has a mighty empire and countries all over the world contribute to the wealth of the US empire.
Is it possible to join the United States military and love your neighbor?
And what is the responsibility of Christians concerning violence? Romans 13 says that Christians should not participate in violent rebellion.
Some Christians claim that the colonies were justified in fighting Great Britain for independence. Before a single shot was fired in the Revolutionary War, nine of the colonies had already won de facto independence by nonviolent means. Page 6, “Nonviolent Action,” by Ronald J. Sider.
If the 13 colonies could have been freed with patience and nonviolent negotiations, why did they fight and kill? Is that like Jesus?
Our military perpetrated great injustice against Native Americans when our government stole their land.
Great Britain ended slavery through nonviolence. If it had already been demonstrated that slavery could end by nonviolent action, why did Americans use war to end slavery?
How different would our nation be if it had been brought about through nonviolence?
We Must Not Steal
Paul had a big thing against stealing.
In Romans 13, Paul quotes the 10 commandments saying, “You shall not steal.”
In Ephesians 4 Paul gives us instructions for Christian living: 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Ephesians 4:28 NIV
The US has sent the Marines to Honduras and Guatemala to protect US banana companies and ensure cheap bananas for the US on the backs of the poor in these countries. There are many more examples where the US has used the military to steal.
How can a Christian join the US military without participating in stealing? Perhaps Paul expects those Christians who are in the military to leave and take up work with their own hands?
Did the Doctrine of Discovery Justify Stealing the Land from the Native Americans?
We had the Doctrine of Discovery. The military conquests of the United States are based on the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny.
“It started with the early explorers. They were accompanied by priests with the goal of bringing Christianity to the New World from Spain in 1492. The Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” issued by Pope Alexander VI a year later, played a central role in the Spanish conquest of this New World. The document supported Spain’s strategy to ensure its exclusive right to the lands “discovered” by Columbus. This philosophy has become the primary world view of colonization, domination, exploitation, and Christianization of the world by people of Western European origins for the past 500 years. At its core is the claim that all land not settled by European Christians is available for their development and settlement, and that those people currently living on and using the land have no claim of ownership or rights of use.
Even as late as 1823, this “Papal Bull,” called the Doctrine of Discovery, was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions. Chief Justice John Marshall justified the way in which colonial powers laid claim to lands belonging to foreign sovereign nations. The doctrine has been primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring indigenous and aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments into the present.” 1.
The Catholic Church affirmed the Doctrine of Discovery through a papal bull, the protestant churches affirmed the Doctrine of Discovery through their actions. Did this make it right?
Worshiping the Emperor
The early Christians refused to worship the Emperor. Today some Christians put the commands of the state above the teaching of Jesus. Are we worshiping the wealth, the security and the power the state gives when we without question follow orders? How are we different than Romans who worshiped the emperor?
Jesus is Above Every Power
Contrast the teaching of Jesus with the teaching of Moses.
Jesus taught us the way of nonviolence. Turn the other check.
Moses taught us a way of revenge. An eye for an eye.
Jesus demonstrated nonviolence. When he had the power to rescue himself, he died on the cross and when he has the power to rescue us, he tells us we must take up our cross and follow him.
Are we too weak and feeble to lose our wealth and comfort and suffer like Jesus by taking up our cross and following him?
Jesus has great power and rose from the dead. He does not need violence to rule the universe. Paul said:
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. Ephesians 1:18-22 NIV.
If Jesus told us not to participate in violence, should we obey him? Why should we join the US Military? Isn’t Jesus God? As God, doesn’t he have the right to change the law of Moses concerning the way his people interact with their enemies?
Do I Need to Check out my Potential Employer?
I wrote “My Ethical Dilemma: Letter to Pope Francis.” I asked the question, Should I pay Taxes? Professor Ardell Caneday of the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota, Professor of New Testament Studies and Greek replied with some excellent advice.
“You are not accountable for how governing officials use the tax dollars that you pay whether at a municipal level, a county level, a state level, or a federal level. Those who govern are accountable for their implementation of tax dollars.” Professor Ardell Caneday.
If Professor Caneday is correct when he says that those who govern are accountable. In the same way, I believe if we take a position that we know participates in injustice, we are acting contrary to the teaching of Jesus. We know that it is well documented that the military participates in injustice, murder and stealing. If we join the military with that knowledge, are we accountable for the injustice? Will Jesus be pleased?
If we take a position with a company that supplies military weapons, we know those weapons will very likely be used to perpetrate injustice. Are we accountable for that injustice? Will Jesus be pleased?
Protecting the Innocent.
Some positions in government protect the innocent. For example, EMTs, firemen and social workers are not required to kill people. Their job is to help people. It seems to me that these are positions that Christians can and should take as a line of work.
I am not sure how it is possible to follow the teaching of Jesus and join the US military.
1. Paula Killough, Returning to Our Roots, God at work in spite of the Doctrine of Discovery, 2016.
Find more information about the Doctrine of Discovery. Here.
Does Romans 13 Justify Christian Participation in Violence?
See reasons that others have given to support the use of violence by Christians: Reasons Christians Give to Say Violence by Christians is Legitimate
My Ethical Dilemma: Letter to Pope Francis.
Copyright © 2020 by Jon Kauffman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted when used to further the Kingdom of God. Permission is gladly given to re-blog this post.
4 thoughts on “Can Christians Join the US Military?”
(In case it’s not obvious: I have a desire for MORE and RICH conversation/discussion. )
I walk away from a blog/post like this and frequently spend hours or days (sometimes more) thinking and rethinking about the things said here. Processing…
As I alluded in my previous comment (I think) but since then I have been thinking more on it, we are not actually looking all that deeply into the Bible or into the church fathers/reformers (teachers) for our discipline. Certainly not for things like Christian nonviolence/peace-making.
I have a terrible time find it again even on Google, but I have seen (as have you, I bet) footage of the priest blessing the troops ON THE landing craft as they approach the beaches of Normandy. I find that to be such a deep irony (to put it nicely). It’s shocking! How did we get HERE??? And this image is now nearly 80 years old. How many of us have seen it? And did ANY of us see it critically OR JUST as one more coopting of patriotism?
I never heard anyone question it. Not in school, not in church, not even at home with family.
But there is more.
I was being hypothetical when I made mention of Uncle Ed and Uncle Jack. And I left a lot simply alluded to and not specified. But I have a young cousin we lost in Bagdad too. He was a baby of the family. My LITTLE cousin. Was a precious little boy. I have pictures of him as a baby in his high chair making a mess of his spaghetti-O’s.
There are no pictures of him after the IED.
A flag draped, CLOSED coffin.
And full honor guard and military honors.
Now… back up just a minute.
Both my little cousin AND I were raised as sons of Gospel preachers. We were raised in the same faith heritage. Part of the same family. Not to say we were in perfect lockstep on things pertaining to Jesus, but hey… pretty homogenous.
My little cousin had older brothers. Then there was me, the boy in my family. I don’t recall ANY of us growing up with overly patriotic asperations. Patriotism was there, but we were not one of those flag waving families. None of us in law enforcement. None of that. Patriotism, to my way of seeing it, was a small part of our lives, but Jesus was the main thing.
But then my little cousin, after 9/11 felt the urge to join the fire department. However, he wound up going off to Christian college where he could play football. But the pull remained. And then Nick Berg was beheaded by extremists and broadcast for the world to see. Suddenly my little cousin enlisted.
He stated that he needed to do something. He couldn’t just sit back and watch. The world needed saving, and his Christian faith called him to get his skin in the game.
I get it. I think I understand that.
However, for him somehow taking up a cross and following Jesus was eclipsed by taking up an M-16 (or whatever equivalent they issued him) and run out to save the world.
There are so many theological issues in the webwork of theology and worldview being tugged out of shape in that. It’s not JUST a matter of nonviolence. Where is the power of God vs. the works of the flesh in this? He didn’t stop to ask as he rushed headlong to Bagdad to save the world for Jesus.
But once he was sacrificed to the god of war, the military showed up at his mama’s house with a notification, and full military honors to help her mourn. AND all the 21 gun salutes, the rocket’s red glares, and shined shoes and white-gloved marching bands came together in a deeply emotional moment to legitimate this sacrifice.
… to LEGITIMATE this sacrifice…
ANY suggestion at all that somehow his death was vain is such a deep insult to the injury that my aunt will shut you out of her life and go grieve her loss with a military honor guard there to legitimate her loss.
And in the meantime, my uncle continues to preach for his church.
What Gospel do you think he preaches?
My whole family is but one cog in this systemic gear, but my story demonstrates a LOT I think.
I have no doubt my family was always politically conservative, but conservative politics has become a rabid dog in the last 30 years too. And my aunt has nothing to do with me, a fellow conservative, anymore. I don’t tow that line. I say things that would question that sacrifice and whether it serves Jesus. And in my view, she is now HARDENED.
All for the legitimation of her sacrifice.
Yes I agree. It seems to me that many have not even thought about their position and just assume because St. Augustine and Martin Luther thought violence is OK then there is really nothing to talk about. Perhaps some is out of fear that Jesus won’t protect us and we will die?
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Yes, but I think you give too many of us too much credit. We don’t think violence is okay because of Augustine or Luther. We think it’s okay because mom and dad, grandma and grandpa think its necessary, because Uncle Ed died Tet Offensive and Uncle Jack died at Normandy and they were fighting Nazis and Godless Communism because God blessed America and because… sadly… the pastor at our church NEVER ONCE even made token mention of the nonviolent tactics you described in a recent post which, though risky, often produce better results AND peace than do violent conflict. We have no imagination for it.
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I think you know (certainly hope you do) that even in the bits where I quibble with your presentations, you are basically preaching to the choir as far as I am concerned. I might not be in lockstep, but in general, I am in agreement with you.
It seems to me that your case doesn’t actually need to be argued tooth and nail. I think the prima facie case is very strong. The few bits of the Bible – of Jesus story esp – where there are nuggets to question, seem to be very easily overwhelmed with PEACE and nonviolence with very little argument. (Could just be me, but I really think IF you want to argue for violence as a Christian, you have your work cut out for you!)
At the very least, violence is tempered by Jesus – even in the prima face case – almost to the point that it has no oxygen. I note that the Bible, not the NT, not Jesus, not Paul… ever forbids slavery. I am mindful that in the not too distant past, slave owning Americans made a lot of that in support of their position on the one hand in in keeping their slaves obedient on the other. AND I believe that was a blatant abuse of Scripture to do that. But of course, it is not forbidden.
However, in the letter to Philemon, one of the places where this issue comes most into focus, slavery, though not prohibited (and possibly endorsed in a strange way) is nonetheless utterly and completely defanged. The only thing left of it is the right to submit yourself to OTHERs. A BOND SERVANT, as Paul and others describe themselves, is a slave set free who turns to his master and claims he will remain a slave for life. There is NOTHING left of the notion that you can subjugate others into service to you, but you CAN humble and submit yourself to slavery to others… in a sense.
That is NOT the way Americans have abused the institution or the Scriptures with regard to it in the past, but that is, in my view, all that is left of it to be had. AND, I think if you feel differently, you have an uphill fight to argue otherwise. The Prima facie case is this… and in fact is so thoroughly ingrained in American Christianity NOW that I think MOST of us believe the Bible prohibits slavery.
IN THIS WAY, I think the violence is very much like the slavery thing. Not the same thing at point for point, but in the big trends, the shape of each issue seems quite similar to me along these lines.
On the other hand, I think there are political pressures and heritage and fears which cloud popular Christian thinking about violence (and other things) to the point that there isn’t really a true “right to life” case left alive in America. There is anti – abortion, of course, but even that is so tempered and boxed in that it almost is silly now.
Soooooooooo many of the same people who oppose abortion (on what grounds?) get all hawkish about war. And in recent days have begun to marginalize pandemic precautions (and thus protection of life) to the point that LIFE isn’t even the issue on the surface of the matter. It’s about $$$ dollar signs. We think Mammon grants us life, not God. And this shows by looking at the lack of a rear guard on this topic. (I haven’t even mentioned the death penalty.)
Where is all the concern for a right to life when we aren’t specifically talking about abortion???
I have more thoughts too, but they may be muddy, and this is just a comment.
Anyway, I appreciate your blog! Keep it up.
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