The recent court-martial of Sgt. Kevin Benderman that resulted in a prison sentence, a reduction in rank, and a dishonorable discharge — all because he refused to continue killing for the state — is an example to all Christians in the military. It doesn’t matter whether Sgt. Benderman is Protestant or Catholic, evangelical or liturgical, conservative or liberal, dedicated or backslidden, or even whether he is a Christian at all. He is a rebuke to all Christians in the military.
Christians in the military who have no trouble killing for the state in Iraq because they think they are in a modern-day crusade against Islam are sadly mistaken. The Lord never sanctioned any crusade of Christians against any religion. Likewise, Christians in the military who have no trouble killing for the state in Iraq because they think they are doing their patriotic duty in a just cause are sorely deceived. Patriotism has nothing to do with killing foreigners on command in what is one of the most unjust wars in history. It is generally these types of Christians who wrongly consider Sgt. Benderman to be a coward and a traitor. They are both without hope since they would probably make apologies for any of the state’s foreign interventions and fight for the state in any war, especially if it was started by a Republican president and approved by a Republican Congress.
But there is another group of Christians in the military that there is hope for. This group recognizes that the Iraq war is not a good idea. Some of them would go further and say that it is unconstitutional. Others would even say that the war is unjust. But still, they choose to fight. Why? There are, of course, a variety of reasons for this behavior.
To some, it is their job. After all, they are in the military, and isn’t the military supposed to kill people? They would never kill anyone in civilian life unless it was in self-defense, but since they “joined up,” they feel obligated to continue participating in the state’s wars.
To some, the reason is fear. Fear of being court-martialed or going to prison like Sgt. Benderman. Fear of being called a coward or a traitor. Fear of a dishonorable discharge. Fear of being ridiculed back home. Fear of reprisals from others in the military. Fear of being labeled as un-American or anti-American. Fear of being called an anti-war weenie by some washed-up, has-been, pompous ass.
To some, it is because they have a superstitious reverence for the military. Even though they have doubts about the wisdom of the military being in Iraq, even though the military does very little to actually defend the country, and even though it has committed grave injustices, still they fight on because they think the military “defends our freedoms” or “keeps us free.”
To some, it is because they have heard the “obey the powers that be” mantra from their pastor so many times that they think it is a sin not to kill people if ordered to do so by the state.
To some, the attitude is: it will all be over soon. They know that they will shortly be out of the military or that their tour in Iraq will soon come to an end. They are just enduring to the end and hoping that they will not be killed or have to kill. But if they have to kill, they will do so because of one of the above reasons.
In order for any of these excuses to soothe the conscience of the Christian soldier, he must subscribe to what I have expressed elsewhere as state-sanctified murder. This is the ghastly belief that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) does not apply to killing anyone in any war as long as the U.S. government says that he should be killed. With his conscience thus assuaged, the Christian soldier thinks that he will not have to answer to God at the judgment as to why he killed some nameless raghead who did not want him occupying his country.
The Christian soldier is in effect modifying the Sixth Commandment. There is a parallel to this editing of the commandments in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
After the animals rebelled against Mr. Jones and changed the name of his Manor Farm to Animal Farm, they reduced the principles of Animalism to seven commandments:
- Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
- What ever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
- No animal shall wear clothes.
- No animal shall sleep in a bed.
- No animal shall drink alcohol.
- No animal shall kill any other animal.
- All animals are equal.
These were inscribed on the wall of the barn “in great white letters that could be read thirty yards away.” After the commandments were read aloud, Orwell says that “all the animals nodded in complete agreement, and the cleverer ones at once began to learn the Commandments by heart.”
After the pigs moved into Mr. Jones’ farmhouse and began sleeping in the beds, Clover (“a stout motherly mare”) “thought she remembered a definite ruling against beds.” Unable to read the Seven Commandments inscribed on the barn, she summoned Muriel (“the white goat”), who claimed she was able to read them: “u2018No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets,’ she announced finally.” Orwell then says: “Curiously enough, Clover had not remembered that the Fourth Commandment mentioned sheets; but as it was there on the wall, it must have done so.”
Later, after the pigs had found some whiskey in the farmhouse cellar and began to drink alcohol, “there occurred a strange incident which hardly anyone was able to understand.” Squealer (“a small fat pig”) was found one night sprawled beside a broken ladder underneath the place on the barn where the Seven Commandments were written. Nearby were a paint brush and an overturned container of white paint. Squealer was helped back to the farmhouse but “none of the animals could form any idea as to what this meant, except old Benjamin” (“the donkey”), until a few days later when Muriel read the Seven Commandments written on the barn. As Orwell says: “They had thought the Fifth Commandment was u2018No animal shall drink alcohol,’ but there were two words that they had forgotten. Actually the Commandment read: u2018No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.'”
In between these two events, there was another incident when one of the Seven Commandments was edited — the one commandment that is the same in the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments — an incident that relates specifically to the Christian soldier killing for the state. Four pigs, three hens, a goose, and three sheep were executed on order of Napoleon (“a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar”). But, as Orwell says:
A few days later, when the terror caused by the executions had died down, some of the animals remembered — or thought they remembered — that the Sixth Commandment decreed “No animal shall kill another animal.” And though no one cared to mention it in the hearing of the pigs or the dogs, it was felt that the killings which had taken place did not square with this. Clover asked Benjamin to read her the Sixth Commandment, and when Benjamin, as usual, said that he refused to meddle in such matters, she fetched Muriel. Muriel read the Commandment for her. It ran: “No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.” Somehow or other, the last two words had slipped out of the animals’ memory. But they saw now that the Commandment had not been violated; for clearly there was good reason for killing the traitors who had leagued themselves with Snowball.
Christian soldiers who kill for the state are, consciously or unconsciously, likewise editing the sixth commandment:
- Thou shalt not kill unless it is a Muslim infidel.
- Thou shalt not kill unless you are invading another country.
- Thou shalt not kill unless you are occupying another country.
- Thou shalt not kill unless you are in the military.
- Thou shalt not kill unless the state says it is okay to kill.
- Thou shalt not kill unless a Republican president starts a war.
- Thou shalt not kill unless it is a conservative-supported war.
- Thou shalt not kill unless you are protecting Halliburton employees.
In addition to the Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1:15—21), Christians have another example in the Bible to guide them in this matter of killing for the state: Saul’s footmen.
After David killed Goliath, it was said of him: “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). Naturally, this did not please King Saul. In fact, “Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom? And Saul eyed David from that day and forward” (1 Samuel 18:8—9). Three times in 1 Samuel 18 it is said that Saul feared David (1 Samuel 18:12, 15, 29) “because the LORD was with him, and was departed from Saul” (1 Samuel 18:12). Left unchecked, envy can turn into hatred, and hatred into harm. Thus, it is said of Saul: “And Saul spake to Jonathan his son, and to all his servants, that they should kill David” (1 Samuel 19:1). After Saul himself tried to kill David, he fled, eventually ending up in Nob, the home of Ahimelech the priest (1 Samuel 21:1). Unfortunately, one of Saul’s servants, Doeg the Edomite, was there (1 Samuel 21:7). When Saul later questioned his servants about David, Doeg spoke up and revealed that David had not only gone to Ahimelech in Nob, but that Ahimelech had helped David, even giving him the sword of the dead Goliath (1 Samuel 22:9—10). Ahimelech was summoned to King Saul, who said to him: “Why have ye conspired against me, thou and the son of Jesse, in that thou hast given him bread, and a sword, and hast enquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?” (1 Samuel 22:13). Saul would not listen to Ahimelech’s pleadings and said: “Thou shalt surely die, Ahimelech, thou, and all thy father’s house” (1 Samuel 22:16).
But then something went wrong. Saul, as the head of state, gave the execution order — but it was refused:
And the king said unto the footmen that stood about him, Turn, and slay the priests of the LORD; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled, and did not shew it to me. But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the LORD (1 Samuel 22:17).
It is true that Ahimelech and the priests died anyway at the hand of Doeg the Edomite (1 Samuel 22:18—19), but Saul’s footmen, because they refused to kill for the state, are an example for, and a rebuke to, all Christians in the military.
I appeal now to all Christians in the military: Just say “no” when it comes to killing for the state. To all parents: Just say “no” when it comes to encouraging your children to join the military. To all pastors: Just say “no” to glorifying the military in your sermon illustrations. To all church youth directors: Just say “no” when your young people seek guidance regarding joining the military. To all school counselors: Just say “no” when it comes to the military option. To all young people: Just say “no” to the recruiters who entice you with cash bonuses. To all veterans: Just say “no” when it comes to recommending a career in the military. And to all voters: Just say “no” to politicians who start wars.
Just say “no”!