On this Good Friday, Christians are focused on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a propitiation for the sins of the world. But on every other day of the year (expect perhaps Christmas), many Christians are focused on some other people in the Bible.
The Bible on several occasions likens a Christian to a soldier (Philippians 2:25, 2 Timothy 2:3, Philemon 2). As soldiers, Christians are admonished to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). The Apostle Paul, who himself said: “I have fought a good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7), told a young minister to “war a good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18).
But it does not follow, as some Christians think, that because Christians are likened to soldiers in the New Testament that it is okay for a Christian to join the U.S. military and bomb, maim, kill, and destroy for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Because aggression, violence, and bloodshed are contrary to the very nature of Christianity, it is sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil that the Christian soldier fights against. The weapons of his warfare are not carnal (1 Corinthians 10:4). He wears “the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14), not a military uniform. His loins are girt about with truth (Ephesians 6:14), not an ammunition belt. His feet are shod with “the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15), not army boots. His shield is “the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16), not an armored personnel carrier. He wears “the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17), not a flight helmet. His sword is “the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17), not an M-16.
The New Testament admonishes Christians to not avenge themselves (Romans 12:19), to do good to all men (Galatians 6:10), to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18), and to not render evil for evil (Romans 12:17). There is nothing in the New Testament from which to draw the conclusion that maiming, killing, destroying property, and making widows and orphans is somehow sanctified if it is done in a military uniform or in the name of the state.
Yet, some people—mainly Christian armchair warriors, Christian Coalition moralists, evangelical warvangelicals, Catholic just war theorists, reich-wing Christian nationalists, theocon Values Voters, imperial Christians, religious American exceptionalists, religious military exceptionalists, Red-State Christian fascists, pro-lifers for mass murder, bloodthirsty Christian conservatives, God and country Christian bumpkins, Religious Rightists, and Christians who wear American flag lapel pins in the shape of a cross—still try to justify the actions of Christian U.S. soldiers because, after all, soldiers aren’t condemned in the New Testament. Yes, just like slave owners aren’t.
After reading and hearing scores of Christian apologists for the military over the past ten years defend the role of Christians in the military who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have come to the conclusion that they have all drunk from the same corrupt spring. And one of their favorite drinks is the insidious cocktail of “soldiers aren’t condemned in the New Testament.”
Their flawed, illogical reasoning is as follows:
Cornelius the centurion was a just man that feared God—so it is okay for a Christian to join the U.S. military and bomb, maim, kill, and destroy for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A soldier of Cornelius is said to be devout—so it is okay for a Christian to join the U.S. military and bomb, maim, kill, and destroy for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Apostle Paul never instructed Christians to not join the military—so it is okay for a Christian to join the U.S. military and bomb, maim, kill, and destroy for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan.
John the Baptist didn’t tell the soldiers that came to him to leave the military—so it is okay for a Christian to join the U.S. military and bomb, maim, kill, and destroy for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jesus Christ marveled at the faith of a centurion—so it is okay for a Christian to join the U.S. military and bomb, maim, kill, and destroy for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Why would any Christian, unless he had some agenda, unless he subscribed to military exceptionalism, unless he was an apologist for the military, use the fact that soldiers aren’t condemned in the New Testament to justify the actions of Christians in today’s U.S. military?
There are some other soldiers in the New Testament that aren’t condemned either. Yet, no Christian ever appeals to them to justify anything. These soldiers are strippers, smiters, mockers, spitters, gamblers, thieves, liars, scourgers, bribe takers, assaulters, mutilators, and crucifiers.
Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.
And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.
And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. (Matthew 27:26-35)
And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,
Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.
And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.
So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. (Matthew 28:12-15)
The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. (John 19:31-34)
Although Christ forgave the soldiers who crucified him, no one would ever reason from this that it is okay for a Christian to join the U.S. military and bomb, maim, kill, and destroy for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the lesson here is just the opposite. Because you never know what you might be told to do in the military, because you never know which country you might have to invade, because you never know which country you might have to bomb, because you never know which country you might have to occupy, because you never know who the enemy might be next week, because you never know whom you might have to kill—the best thing for a Christian to do is to stay out of the military in the first place.