Thursday, April 9, 2009

Why Christians Make Bad Soldiers

Stanley Hauerwas' short article "Why Homosexuals (as a Group) are More Moral than Christians (as a Group)", written during debates surrounding admitting homosexuals into the military, made a great point - the real debate should be over whether to let Christians in. True ones make dismal soldiers. He could have gone much further.

First, the more Christian soldiers espouse just war theory, the more likely they may begin thinking through what they mean by it. Sooner or later protecting oil fields or killing Muslims is going to come up short. What are you going to do with a massive standing army who keeps asking, Should we be doing this?

Second, if a soldier obeys orders and kills civilians there's the nasty business of church discipline, handing them over to Satan. That's terrible for morale.

Third, Christians will (counter-intuitively) pray for their enemies. They will demonstrate mercy over justice. They will turn the other cheek. In fact, they may get confused and accidentally do corporately what they vigorously practice privately. Or they might just realize that's a stupid distinction anyway.

Fourth, they share a commission greater than capitalism. What happens when they begin to lose gospel credibility because they keep shooting everybody? They might be forced to choose baptizing over bombing, witnessing over water boarding.

Finally, Christian soldiers are ultimately under not the commander in chief but Christ. And worse, they are striving to become more and more like him. Which means they are becoming decidedly less and less what they are defending. Old wine skins can't hold the new wine.


P.D. said...


Jon Furst said...

Good thoughts.

The question that remains is, how do we begin to address this when so much of Christendom–– even my favorite parts of it; Augustine, Calvin, the Puritans–– have seemed to fall short here?

War is so much easier to justify when you don't bring Christ into it.

david gentino said...

There's your church history thesis for Regent - tracing cyclical, abominable blind spots in Christendom. How is it that whole swaths of godly, prayerful men and women blindly endorse slavery or systemic racism or extortionary colonialism or magisterial jurisdiction of the church or Max Lucado?

And what will our children condemn us for?

Jon Furst said...

Or that Kinkade paintings look suspiciously like Hitler's paintings. I'm just saying!

P.D. said...

I do like this post because I think it takes the just war rhetoric logically. I guess a response I would assume coming from someone out there would be that, Romans 13, its not your place to decide that... I do think that you have disarmed that argument (no pun intended) because the whole thrust is that everything in Scripture points to the fact that impulses to carry out war will be minimized by the increase of Grace of in the life of a believer.

Since you mentioned, what sins will our children condemn us for? Definitely Kinkade, and Kirk Cameron.

david gentino said...

I'm always confounded by references to Romans 13. Its whole context serves to beat any shred of violence out of the Christian and replace it with love: "Let love be patient in tribulation...Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse...Live in harmony...Repay no one evil for peaceably with all...never avenge yourselves...if your enemy is hungry, feed him...overcome evil with good...


Owe no on anything, except to love...Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law..."

I guess we find one word in the text we can relate to in the flesh and we're ready to send our kids to Charleston for a degree in bloodletting.

I really don't mean to be trite here for those really wrestling with a tough passage about government. But we read what God is about and then that the government is a minister of God with jurisdiction over its own populace and somehow that gets translated into license for international warfare in godless ways for godless ends. I'm still waiting on a good explanation of all this.

P.D. said...

I concur. I wouldn't ask those questions but some might. Calvin does some interesting things with that phrase in 13:1. He says that the government that adequately administers justice and peace is ordained by God...

Good comments

John Paulling said...

Two devil's advocate responses. One, I think the question of why in the few instances in the NT narratives where a protagonist interacts with a soldier the soldier's occupation is not called into question, is still a valid question. The response that that is an argument from silence will not do. Arguments from silence have far to bad a rap, since silence is one of the most explicative communicative devices humans employ (cf. one of our favorite paedobaptism arguments).
Secondly, justice is something that is thought of in violent, bloody terms in the OT. Sure, it is God that is judge, vengeance is his, but I think the OT shows that the people of Israel were often his arm of justice. It is true that Christians have regularly failed to execute these duties properly, and have in turn brought enormous shame on the name of Christ, but that doesn't rule out its correct use entirely. I actually do not think the Bible speaks to pacifism or just war.

david gentino said...

Those are interesting points people make John, at least the first of which I hear a lot.

1. You're right, silence can be the most powerful form of communication which is why the two sides of every argument try to employ it. But its also a tricky form because the 'listener' is called upon to import what words are being communicated (which really sums up the padeobaptism debate). So if you already believe in war those silences already confirm it.

I actually think there is less silence in the interaction with say John the Baptist in Luke 3:14 than there appears. The soldiers in John's day were not front line warriors conquering new territory. They were more police than army and had been in the region a hundred years. So when John is asked by them what they can do to bear fruit it has nothing to do with international warfare but regarding their role in maintaining order. Fittingly John told them to stop extorting money from those they were supposed to protect.

Is this fair or is this a false impression of who these soldiers were?

2. Justice in the OT is a can of worms. It is a violent affair which God judges violently with people He will in turn judge for their own violence.

How do you see Israel as an "arm of justice" as opposed to strictly judgment, i.e. wiping out the Canaanites?

I can't off the top of my head think of an instance in which God uses war to achieve justice the way we might be conceiving of it in terms of liberating an oppressed people. War seems to be God's arm of judgment in the OT?

John Paulling said...

1. I think you are essentially correct in your estimation of the roles of first century military-men. Yet, if that is true it means the lines were blurry between the police and the army, let's say. And, if that is the case it makes the distinction in Rom. 13 between national and international jurisdiction blurry as well (that is maybe a bit hasty for the sake of space). In other words, you could still potentially have (and probably did have) the Roman army filling both roles. They are still policing another state, so to speak. That doesn't make what we have seen recently right, but to me its at least structurally analogous.

2. I see judgment,and justice as two peas in a pod. Judgment brings justice in the OT. Obliterating the Caananites. Also, I was thinking of certain imprecatory psalms where violence and justice are linked. War being one of God's ways of judgment in the OT is demonstrated, I think, regularly in the OT. You see it a few times in the historical books, and explicitly in Isaiah through Cyrus.

david gentino said...

1. You're right, I'd be over-stepping interpretive bounds to say that these soldiers were "police only" and that's strictly how John conceived of Roman soldiers. We just don't have great analogies for that today. But I still think that all we have in Luke 3 is a one sentence question and one sentence answer to a group of soldiers and John is essentially saying, "Look, you guys are the policing force here in Judea and you are taking advantage of it by extorting money from those you are supposed to be protecting (or at least keeping in order)". Surely his silence about war - i.e. what other Roman soldiers were doing on the front lines - cannot be contrived into support for war anymore than his singular criticism of Herod's wife can be used to support everything else Herod did.

2. I see justice and judgment having the same relationship. That's why its hard to build any relationship between obliterating Canaanites and what we do with war today. Is Hiroshima our guide?

I'm also curious what you guys think about private/public distinctions pressed in this article - Can Christians who are being conformed to Christ fulfill public or military roles that seem to contradict that image?

P.D. said...

As far as the "Jesus never rebuked a solider" comments. I think you just have to say that the passage doesn't speak to either side, for or against. Obviously there are sins that people were committing that Jesus didn't address with everyone he dialoged with. AND In terms of hermeneutics, it is worth noting that these passages are not documentary transcriptions but are edited and structured by the author...

to complicate things I wanted to ask a question that relates to all this. I don't a have a solution or option to this but am still wrestling with this.

Can Christians make good Cops? Violence and suspicion can be the only way to (seemingly) keep the peace. Would your reasoning apply to cops also?

What do we do as taxpayers who support the war with our taxes? Is there room for subversion? What could that look like?

What about Christians in politics? I don't know if there have been any pacifist senators. I think they live just outside of Lancaster, PA and drive buggies.

John Paulling said...

I think whether they are documentary transcriptions or not is irrelevant. What we have is what we submit to, whether it comes directly from JTB or from Luke, and that's, of course, all I know from the situation. The point is John the Baptist could've killed three birds with one stone by saying, "you shouldn't be a soldier at all", that would've taken care of the extortion problem, their discontentment with their wages, and the greater issue of war and violence. So, when the soldier's say to JTB, "what shall we do", and all he says is stop extorting people, and be content with your wages, that in my mind, implies that he was okay with what they did for a living. Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 is the other interaction with a soldier I was speaking to, but that is a more inconclusive text. As I was saying, though, I think silence can be a very loud thing in human communication. I actually don't think it can always be used by either side of the argument. At least not any more than what is actually written can.

I don't think it is okay to be a cop in any city, or a soldier in any military. Certainly the SS is not off the hook because of Rom. 13. Yet, I also am not sure its time to rule those occupations out completely.

david gentino said...

I think we're just going to have to disagree on this one John. John the Baptist could have killed a whole flock with one stone by answering "become vocationally missionaries". But we have three questions and three answers that interestingly enough deal exclusively with money and I just don't see a strong (any) case for war here any more than I see a case for the other social ills of the crowds or tax collectors who got similar answers.

PD, your question relates to what I'm still wondering - Can Christians who are being conformed to Christ fulfill public or military roles that seem to contradict that image? How do we distinguish private and civil Christianity?