Friday, September 4, 2009

Where/when can Christians serve in the armed forces? Part 1

I know that many (most?) of the readers of this blog share at least some of my qualms with Christians serving in the military (for those who haven't yet explored my blog, click on the "War and Peace" subject in the index at the top of this page). I have a question aimed primarily at those who do NOT fall in the no-Christians-in-military camp. I hope to get a few of my "Just War" friends to weigh in; if you know of anyone who ought to be invited to this dialog, and who can commit to keeping it civil, please recruit them.

This is not intended to be a "gotcha" or an attack on those with whom I disagree. Rather it's a conundrum I genuinely do not understand and would like to learn more.

My question is this:

We know that there are, and have been for centuries, Christian citizens of the nation of Iraq. Do you believe it was (a) morally acceptable, or (b) morally requisite, for those Christians to serve in the army of Saddam Hussein's Iraq when:
  1. Iraq invaded Kuwait?
  2. The U.S. invaded Iraq in response to the Kuwait invasion in 1991 ("Operation Desert Storm")?
  3. The U.S. invaded Iraq again in 2003 ("Operation Iraqi Freedom")?
If you answer in the affirmative in either (2) or (3), how do you reconcile the notion that Christians, citizens of the Kingdom of God, would have found themselves on opposing sides of a conflict where they very well might have tried to kill each other?

If you answer in the negative, please help me to understand, in the Biblical framework of Romans 13 or your choice of other passages, how you see the differing duty or freedom between citizens of Iraq and the United States in the context of the above conflicts.

And above all, please keep the ensuing discussion civil.


John Hobbins said...

Hi Dan,

Very interesting questions.

I'm pretty sure Christian Iraqis had no choice but to serve in the army of Saddam Hussein. Either they did, or they went to jail or worse. I don't know of any cases of Christian Iraqis refusing to serve.

For the rest, I'm not happy with the apparent implication that killing a non-Christian in war is less of a sin than killing a Christian. I'm sure that isn't what you meant, but it seems to be the underlying premise.

I think it must be granted that
killing is always a sin. It's just that not killing is, in some circumstances, a worse sin.

On the same principle, police officers will kill a suspect if not doing so poses a sufficient risk to the their lives or the lives of others. That doesn't make the killing of the suspect less of a disaster. It is still one of God's children that died.

jaigner said...

Great questions. The answer is: I don't know. All I know is that these topics make me increasingly uneasy. I was raised very much a part of the "religious right" mindset, which I now reject as toxic, false gospel.

I feel that sometimes war may be justified, at least a defensive war. I...really wish I had some answers on this one.

I identify with John Hobbins' thought that killing is sometimes the only way to prevent catastrophic loss of life. Then again, any loss of life, Christian or non-Christian, American or non-American, is a very grave thing.

Suffice to say, I expect to wrestle with this one for a long time.

robbie said...

Actually under Sharia Law, Christians and other people of the book (Jews) are the only people that do not have mandatory military service. I believe under strict Sharia Law all Muslim males must sign up for military service at 18 unless exempted for some reason.

That being said, I don't know how strictly Iraq has adhered to Sharia law over the past couple decades.

I think the question you ask Dan is vital because I think it exposes that sometimes the "just" in "just war" is dependent on where your vantage point is.

For an Iraqi, the U.S. invading their country to remove a corrupt politician would probably look similar to us if Canada invaded Illinois because of Rod Blagojevich (this is giving the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt assuming that it was not about Oil, cuz it was obviously not about WMD's).

More later, I got to go.

robbie said...

P.S. I am not saying that the atrocities that Saddam Hussein committed are anything near what Sen. Rod Blagojevich did, but to an Iraqi citizen corrupt politicians are nothing new and many might prefer that to the invasion of their country. Similarly I would prefer even another 100 Blagojevich's to a foreign forcible invasion.

Josh said...

These are interesting questions, Dan.

John, your comment reminded me of something I had come across in Bohoeffer's work. In 1930 he preached, "It must never more happen that a Christian people fights against a Christian people, brother against brother, since both have one Father." While I think Bonhoeffer believed killing anyone was a sin, it also seems that he thought Christians killing Christians was especially tragic.

Dan Martin said...

Sorry for my silence, folks, I just started a new job that has me going from early to late so I haven't had as much time as I'd like to write & think. Some quick responses:

John, I don't know if there is such a thing as an Iraqi conscientious objector, or if there was during Saddam's time. However the church has certainly held up the example of the martyrs to teach us that some sins are heinous enough that we should be willing to die rather than commit them (e.g. denying Jesus as Lord). So this does not necessarily preclude the moral examination of the questions I posed. . .it just makes them more serious.

To your statement:

I think it must be granted that
killing is always a sin. It's just that not killing is, in some circumstances, a worse sin.

This is a helpful framing of the issue. John, how do you explain, even in a fallen world, that God would allow us to be in a position where any action we take is sinful? Does not 1 Cor. 10:13 (which, I admit, is about "testing" as much as "temptation") suggest that we always have a non-sinful choice we COULD (I did not say WILL) choose? Put a different way, isn't the choice between "the lesser of two evils" a human construct that results from our lack of divine imagination?

Robbie, thanks for the points about Sharia. If you could give us a citation I'd appreciate it, as I'd actually like to read more about that subject.

Josh, it is interesting you quote Bonhoeffer, as we all know he was part of the plot to kill Hitler and was executed for it. This does not negate what he said, in my view, but I think it is an excellent illustration of the tension that John and I have been trying to tease out. With all his convictions for peace and nonviolence, Bonhoeffer in the end felt compelled to join in a violent act. Of course, as Shane Claiborne points out, not only did the plot fail, but in its failure Hitler saw a divine (or fated, or something) blessing on his behavior and redoubled his efforts. This, too, needs to be contemplated as perhaps Bonhoeffer's decision shows a human failing leading to anti-godly behavior.

As I've quoted Tolkein before, "even the very wise cannot see all ends."