What's a Christian Soldier To Do?

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As the war in Iraq drags on into almost its fourth year with no end in sight, still American soldiers continue to fight and bleed, not for the American people, but for the president, the U.S. government, and the military-industrial complex. No one is fighting and bleeding and dying to “defend our freedoms” or anyone else’s freedoms. What makes this even more disturbing is that the majority of American soldiers would claim to be Christians or at least identify with Christianity.

American Christian soldiers should know better. Unless they have had their head in the sand for the past three years, and have watched nothing but Fox News, listened to no one besides Sean Hannity, and read nothing but the Weekly Standard, they can’t help but see anywhere they look that this war is not just unconstitutional, unnecessary, immoral, unjust, and senseless, but is also unscriptural.

It is unconstitutional because only Congress has the authority to declare war. It is unnecessary because Iraq was no threat to the United States. It is immoral because it was based on lies. It is unjust because it is not defensive. It is senseless because over 2,200 Americans have died in vain. But this war is also unscriptural because it is in opposition to the practice of the early church, it is against Christian “just war” principles, it perverts the Old Testament, and it is contrary to the whole spirit of the New Testament. Participants in the war violate the express teaching of the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Supporters of the war violate the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

So what’s a Christian soldier to do?

The great Reformer Martin Luther (1483—1546), who certainly could never be accused of being a pacifist, had some words of wisdom for the Christian soldier of his day that are just as applicable to the American Christian soldier today:

“Suppose my lord were wrong in going to war.” I reply: If you know for sure that he is wrong, then you should fear God rather than men, Acts 4 [5:29], and you should neither fight nor serve, for you cannot have a good conscience before God. “Oh, no,” you say, “my lord would force me to do it; he would take away my fief and would not give me my money, pay, and wages. Besides, I would be despised and put to shame as a coward, even worse, as a man who did not keep his word and deserted his lord in need.” I answer: You must take that risk and, with God’s help, let whatever happens, happen. He can restore it to you a hundredfold, as he promises in the gospel, “Whoever leaves house, farm, wife, and property, will receive a hundredfold,” etc. [Matt. 19:29]. (War and Christian Ethics, p. 159)

To this could be added the words of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828—1910):

The opinion expressed in your estimable letter, that the easiest and surest way to universal disarmament is by individuals refusing to take part in military service, is most just. I am even of opinion that this is the only way to escape from the terrible and ever increasing miseries of militarism.

Armies will first diminish, and then disappear, only when public opinion brands with contempt those who, whether from fear, or for advantage, sell their liberty and enter the ranks of those murderers, called soldiers; and when the men now ignored and even blamed — who, in despite of all the persecution and suffering they have borne — have refused to yield the control of their actions into the hands of others, and become the tools of murder — are recognized by public opinion, to be the foremost champions and benefactors of mankind. Only then will armies first diminish and then quite disappear, and a new era in the life of mankind will commence.

Every American soldier that names the name of Christ should immediately declare himself a conscientious objector and get out of the military as soon as possible. Every Christian young person who ever thought about joining the military should banish the thought forever. The unholy alliance between evangelical Christians and the military must be broken. These things should be done, not because the war did not go as planned, but because it was a grave injustice from the very beginning.

Why, then, will many Christian soldiers continue to fight for the state no matter how unjust the war or military action? I have previously given a number of reasons, but I think the main reason is fear: fear of being court-martialed, fear of being associated with certain opponents of the war, fear of going to prison, fear of being called a coward, fear of life after the military, fear of being branded as anti-American, fear of veterans in the family, fear of being termed a quitter, fear of retaliation by others in the military, fear of being labeled as “anti-war,” fear of public opinion, fear of being ostracized, fear of ridicule — everyone of them a fear of man.

“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25).

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