Can Christians Join the US Military?

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.

An Easter Morning. Picture: Copyright © 2020 by Leon Kauffman

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?

See How Jesus Fights Wars.

Violent Rebellion

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?

Gros Ventre moving camp with travois. Public Domain

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.

All My Posts (Links)

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.

%d bloggers like this: