By Joel McDurmon
How can we restore the freedoms we once had, long ago, in the areas of war and the military? It starts with changing our personal views from the celebration of aggression, destruction, death, hell, to the celebration of freedom and life—and not just life, but as Jesus put it, “have it more abundantly.” It proceeds to personal commitments, actions, spreading the word, and then a larger agenda. Let’s discuss these steps.
First, we need a radical change of mind. Hopefully, the foregoing lessons on the biblical principles and the innumerable infractions of them in American history will help begin that change. It will be quite easy for some: the Bible says it; that settles it. Many such people may have never even read the relevant passages or considered their modern applications, but upon at once understanding them, faithful Christians will simply embrace Scriptural truth. For others, however, different types of impediments will hinder this mental and spiritual process. For some, loyalty to a particular political tradition that is imperial—whether “strong Hamiltonian Federalism,” or Unionism, or Republican Progressivism, Expansionism, or Wilsonian, Leftist Progressivism—will create a barrier to embracing freedom in the military. People accustomed to spreading their values by the use of force, theft, destruction, and murder will find it difficult to adjust to a peaceful mission.
Christian Missions Secularized
Mission is a real spiritual issue at the heart of the modern war problem: what form shall missions take? All of the coercive measures mentioned above are simply secularized versions of the Christian great commission. Whether under the guise of spreading civilization, education, protecting citizens from themselves, serving the expansion of transportation and commerce, purging the land of dangerous savages, saving the Union, modernizing the world, making the world safe for democracy, or fighting “treachery” or “terror”—in all cases, the use of government force to spread peace is a false version of the Christian mission. And in many cases, these “solutions” were resorted to by people operating explicitly out of traditions that had secularized the Christian message—Unitarians, humanists, social Darwinists, etc.
The classic expression of such secularization was the American abolitionist and terrorist John Brown, who put into action the belief of some Unitarian activists that it is acceptable to employ violence to bring about social change. Sure enough, Brown’s intellectual and financial backing came from a group of six Unitarian clergymen called the “Secret Six.” But this was only one radical expression. The principle of threatening or forcing people into righteous behavior is the same whether it’s John Brown murdering political rivals, Woodrow Wilson waging a war to make the world safe for democracy and to institute a League of Nations, or Horace Mann prescribing a compulsory State education mandate upon threat of fines or kidnapping. Each constitutes a mission to improve society, but each case replaces the Spirit-persuasion of the Gospel mission and the protections of liberty found in God’s law with the “persuasion” of intimidation and physical coercion. The basis of the Great Commission—the influence of the Gospel, the move of the Spirit, the change of hearts, and discipleship—is completely blown out of the picture and replaced by the barrel of a gun.
This, of course, is the mode of secularistic and atheistic regimes historically. Most people have heard Mao Tse-Tung’s famous saying, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Most have not heard the thoughts which followed:
[H]aving guns, we can control Party organizations. . . . We can also create cadres, create schools, create culture, create mass movements. . . . All things grow out of the barrel of a gun. . . . Whoever wants to seize and retain state power must have a strong army. Some people ridicule us as advocates of the “omnipotence of war.” Yes, we are advocates of the omnipotence of revolutionary war; that is good, not bad, it is Marxist. . . . [O]nly with guns can the whole world be transformed.
Just as Wilson and his contemporaries like H. G. Wells believed they were fighting the “war to end all war,” Mao concluded, “We are advocates of the abolition of war, we do not want war; but war can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.”
Likewise, Friedrich Engels was quite blunt in his essay “On Authority”:
A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon—authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire.
But we must not make the mistake of thinking this principle only applies to radical leftists, revolutionaries, and communists; again, these are only the explicit and extreme expressions of the principle of social change by violence—the logical conclusion of it, if you will. But the exact same principle underlies every attempt by man to transform man and society—even to advance the “common good”—through coercive means: compulsory state schooling, “sin” taxes, welfare schemes, drug wars, substance control laws, wealth redistribution, corporate welfare, public-private partnerships, government contracts, and thousands more. It’s the same principle applied many ways, and it has been applied in many ways from very early on in our history.
American Christians, especially fundamentalists and evangelicals, if serious about the Bible and biblical freedom, have got to end the love affair with America’s standing army. It is unbiblical, it is outrageously, unbiblically expensive, and it is invasive, destructive, and deadly, often not in pure defense. We have to stop the mentality of—as a popular country singer put it—“we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way,” stop applauding everything the military does as if it were automatically the gleam of national greatness, quit praising all soldiers all the time as sacrosanct individuals, and quit forbidding any criticism of the military as if it were the holy of holies. It is simple: for many people, the use of force, deadly force, and the military that embodies that power are idols. And like David taking a census of the people for battle against God’s will, we too often trust more in our nation’s military capacities than in God. This has got to end if we are ever to see freedom once again.
While for some the mental hurdle will be such political devotions, others cling to military might out of their view of Israel and the end times. I am not going to go into a full discussion of eschatology and foreign policy here except to say that this view is false. It takes a very special, recent, and convoluted view of Bible prophecy to derive the position that Christians today should specially favor the modern nation called “Israel” with foreign aid and military support, and help her against her Islamic neighbors. This view is most often supported by referring to the promise to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3). The most definitive work expressing this view is also the clearest: “Politically speaking, this statement is God’s foreign policy to the Gentiles in their relationship with the Jewish people.”
This view is easily debunked by simply considering the biblical context: this promise was given to Abraham before he had any children. If we are to take just this verse at this point in Scripture—as so often is done—as the basis of blessing nations in relation to “Abraham,” then we must apply it equally to all of Abraham’s children. This includes Ishmael, the father of the Arab nations. This would mean of course that we should give just as much foreign and military aid to all of modern Israel’s Arab neighbors! But this is absurd from a biblical view point, and the definitive author above would agree. On what basis is it absurd? It is so because later Scripture qualifies and narrows the definition of Abraham’s seed for us. Agreed.
But here’s the rub: the means of qualifying who actually inherits the promise becomes the very means of disqualifying modern-day Israel as well. The argument is that later Scripture qualifies the promise as not to Ishmael, but to Isaac, and then not to Esau, but to Jacob, who is later renamed “Israel.” True enough. But this sets a precedent of qualification that does not—as the proponents of this view would like you to believe—stop with Jacob. Paul himself uses this very method of argument in Romans 9 to prove that Israel also shall be redefined in light of Christ, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (9:6). He concludes,
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:30–33).
In other words, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the seed of Abraham, is made up of the faithful, not the physical Jews per se. It is based on faith and not on bloodlines. Indeed, in the apostolic era, most Jews were not going to make it into the kingdom, and yet the resulting entity would still be called “Israel”—that is, the Church. Now it is clear why Jesus could tell the Jewish leadership of the day that they were not the seed of Abraham nor even children of God, but “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). For this very reason He would put them on the cursed end of “God’s foreign policy.” Quoting the same prophecy of the stumbling stone as Paul did (Rom. 9:32–33; cf. Isa. 8:14–15; 1 Pet. 2:8), Jesus said to the Jews of His day,
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him (Matt. 21:43–44).
American Christians have simply got to get past the view that there is something special about the ethno-political entity established in the land of Israel in 1948. This is a huge mental hurdle for many Christians, but it is also an enormous theological delusion that leads so many to continue promoting an unbiblical view of war and the military, especially in regard to having a strong threatening presence in the Middle East.
A Pro-Life Issue
Christians must also realize that biblical military and war are pro-life issues. It doesn’t make much sense to cry out against abortion while at the same time demanding our sons and daughters—and other people’s children—be sent into unnecessary wars at the risk of their lives. This does not discount fighting in just wars when necessary, for these are wars to protect life against aggression. But the war-missions mentality is almost always contrary to this principle. The sad fact is, too many Christians who decry the government-protected slaughter of children in the womb are way too tolerant of government-mandated slaughter of kids at nineteen or twenty, not to mention the slaughter of thousands of civilian bystanders. A consistent pro-life view will avoid this terrible oversight.
Unnecessary war, along with abortion, is a modern form of human sacrifice, akin to the moloch worship forbidden in Scripture (Lev. 18:21, 20:1–5; Deut. 12:29–32, 18:9–10; 2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; 17:17; Jer. 7:31–32). As I write in God versus Socialism,
it should be obvious that if any war is waged unjustly, and troops are killed in that battle for an ungodly cause, then the perpetrators of that war have offered human blood as an agent of social change, rather than relying on godly principles. This is human sacrifice pure and simple. Christians should not be afraid to oppose war, to oppose it vigorously, and to oppose hasty wars especially.
In fact, Christians ought to be leading the opposition to such wars by overwhelming numbers and with deafening cries.
What practical steps can individuals take toward the goal? Simple. Don’t join the current armed forces. Don’t join unless there is an invasion of our land or a biblical defensive cause which you deem worthy of fighting for. Thankfully, the one redeeming quality of our massive standing army is that enlistment is currently voluntary, at least at the point of joining. Once you join, of course, it becomes a binding contract, and that is important to remember. Once you report to basic training for the first time, you are obligated to be enlisted for eight years, probably half of which will be active duty, and it is difficult to get out. While there is no current obligation to join, the vestiges of the old draft system remain in place just in case. Every male 18 to 25 years old must register with the “Selective Service System” so that the government has you on a list in case it needs to reinstate the draft. In its own words, the SSS exists to “provide our Nation with . . . the most prompt, efficient, and equitable draft possible, if the country should need it.” Failure to register (your duty by law) remains punishable as a felony including up to five years in prison and up to a quarter-million dollar fine. In short, you cannot legally avoid military conscription in this country if the government demands that you fight, and in the mean time, the government continues like David to number its people for war. But at least for now, actual enlistment is voluntary. (And by the way, recruiters have been known to lie about benefits and much else to get young men to enlist.)
If you do decide to join a military force in the event of a just cause, you should consider your local State guards first, rather than immediately joining the national forces. State defense forces are separate from the National Guard units that often bore the names of their States—these latter were completely nationalized in 2007 so that Governors no longer have any control over them. Nevertheless, many States have their own defense forces which serve various purposes. Extreme caution is needed here, however. Only some of these forces are armed; some even go so far as to prohibit carrying weapons while in uniform! This ironic twist on a “defense force” should ward off anyone who thinks, like the Second Amendment, that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed. The regulations and goals differ from State to State, so research your own State and make informed decisions.
Further, don’t support political candidates who have militaristic or imperial agendas. Don’t support those who provoke unnecessary wars, call for huge defense spending, and military interventionism. This greatly narrows the field of viable candidates today, but it is the necessary view if biblical freedom is ever to prevail in this land again. Political choices arise to meet overwhelming demand. If we don’t change our demands along with our attitudes, our political choices won’t change; and if our political choices don’t change, the tyranny will continue.
The first chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, is often quoted by Christians in regard to the U. S. being a Christian nation and the need for statesmen to be Christians. He is famously cited: “it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” This is all good and true, but rarely is this quotation given in its context. Jay was not speaking merely in general, but in the particular context of foreign policy, peace, and war. Here’s the context of his letter:
It appears to me that the gospel not only recognizes the whole moral law, and extends and perfects our knowledge of it, but also enjoins on all mankind the observance of it. . . .
It certainly is very desirable that a pacific disposition should prevail among all nations. The most effectual way of producing it is by extending the prevalence and influence of the gospel. Real Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others, and therefore will not provoke war.
Almost all nations have peace or war at the will and pleasure of rulers whom they do not elect, and who are not always wise or virtuous. Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.
We cannot, of course, fully endorse Jay’s politics, for he was squarely on the side of the Nationalists, joining the causes and political theory we have so often criticized in this study. But at least at this one point he had the doctrine correct. And ironically for its “pacific” tone, the letter was a reply to the issue of pacifism, which Jay adequately rebuked. In other words, even while promoting a doctrine of justifiable war, Jay nevertheless upholds the principles of individual rights, international peace, non-aggression, that missions should be based on the spread of the gospel, and that Christians should choose candidates who do not desire to provoke further wars. Christians should commit to these aspects of political theory.
This commitment must extend beyond our view of government: it should also apply to the entire military-industrial complex to a large degree. If you own a business, don’t contract with the military unless you are absolutely sure the military is not using the technology, products, or services you provide for the purposes of wars of aggression. Perhaps there is room here in some instances for pleas of ignorance, but certainly if you know for a fact that you are supplying unnecessary aggression, then there is moral culpability for the bloodshed and destruction on your part. It’s a difficult decision, of course, when livelihood and lifestyles are at stake, but you at least have to ask the question of yourself. You should be more than willing to do so if you’re a Christian. For consumers, try as much as possible to avoid patronizing companies that do contribute to such wars.
Consider just for a moment the vast industry that has grown up around military aggression. If a company exists which manufactures, for example, guided missiles, that company only makes profits when it contract with the government to sell those missiles. But what happens if the military stockpile reaches its capacity of missiles? No more orders come in. The company has no income, no future. Several people—maybe hundreds or thousands—who work for that company will face job loss and hardship. These are people with families, children in school, mortgages, and bills. Unless that company gets more orders for its bombs, it does not move forward and these people stand to lose everything. But unless the military actually uses its missiles, it does not need to order any new ones. Thus the company has a vital—perhaps desperate—economic incentive for the military to indeed fire missiles, and fire them continually, in order to maintain cash flow and the employment and lifestyles of its employees. This can only mean one thing: there are many economic incentives and motives driving America to go to war. And those profiting from the military-industrial complex are a significant example.
Now, consider that there are literally hundreds of such companies across this country. The Department of Defense writes new contracts daily, publishing only those larger than five million dollars. In 2010 alone, the Department contracted out over 300 billion dollars worth of contracts to private businesses. This means literally thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of people are dependent upon revenue from the military.
The same moral culpability argument applies equally to those massive constructions firms that share in rebuilding contracts after war has wreaked its havoc and a new city and State must be built from the rubble. If the war was unjust to begin with, being paid by the perpetrator to clean it up—while slightly more redeeming than aiding the destruction itself—is still wrong.
No doubt, it’s important to have a strong defense system in place, but this can be accomplished effectively through biblical means without resorting to a standing army, drafts, or wars of aggression. If this were not the case, God would not have written His law the way He did. Our challenge today is 1) to look beyond the massively powerful army with which were are enamored and see it for the unbiblical system that it is, 2) have the conviction and courage to call it unbiblical even while it’s unpopular to do so, 3) begin to make personal commitments that align with biblical values, and 4) begin to call and work for greater political change. With this we must simultaneously develop a decentralized system for recruiting and training voluntary, biblical militias for genuine defense. We should do so at the local level.
Churches could greatly strengthen both the convictions and efforts of individuals in this regard by simply teaching and preaching on the relevant passages and their implications as discussed in the first part of this chapter. Then, they should lead their people vehemently in prayer against all our enemies, including the ones in our own nation who would involve us in unnecessary wars. “Pray for peace.” While it sounds like lame advice taken from the old hippie Jesus movement, it is actually a necessary and effective part of the advance of God’s kingdom and the protection of freedom in the military. I recommend the following prayers, adapted from the Book of Common Prayer of the Reformed Episcopal Church:
For Our Country
Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage, let us always be mindful of your favor. Bless us with industry, prosperity, learning, and purity of life. Save us from discord and violence, and from pride and arrogance. Preserve us from public calamities, pestilence, and famine; from war, conspiracy, and rebellion; and especially from national sins and corruption. Defend our liberties, and give wisdom to those in authority so justice and peace may prevail. Make us strong and great in the fear of God, and in the love of righteousness, so that with your blessing we may be a blessing to all people. In prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in trouble do not let our trust in you fail. We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
For the Armed Forces of Our Country
Almighty God, the refuge and fortress of your people, we ask that you bless and protect all those who serve in the defense of our country, upon land, and on the water, and in the air. Ever spare them from being ordered into a war of aggression or oppression. Use them, if need be, as your instruments, in the defense of our life and liberty. But restrain the greed and wrath of man that wars may cease in all the earth. Deepen in the hearts of our defenders the spirit of peace; and, for his sake, may they ever love and serve the Prince of Peace, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For the Coming of Christ’s Kingdom and Universal Peace
Almighty Father, we pray that you would hasten the coming upon earth of the kingdom of your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and draw the whole world of mankind into willing obedience to his blessed reign. Overcome all his enemies, and bring low every power that is exalted against him. Cast out all the evil things which cause wars and strife among us, and let your Spirit rule the hearts of men in righteousness and love. Repair the desolations of former days; rejoice the wilderness with beauty; and make glad the city with your law. Establish every work that is founded on truth and equity, and fulfill all the good hopes and desires of your people. Manifest your will in the brotherhood of man, and bring in universal peace; through the victory of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- See Otto Scott, The Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionist Movement (New York: New York Times Books, 1979). [↩]
- “Problems of War and Strategy,” Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Volume II (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1967), 224–5. [↩]
- Friedrich Engels, “On Authority,” Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, ed. by Lewis S. Feuer (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1959), 485. [↩]
- Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 838. [↩]
- though not thoroughly debunked, which would take too much space here [↩]
- Joel McDurmon, God versus Socialism: A Biblical Critique of the New Social Gospel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2009), 24. [↩]
- http://www.sss.gov/what.htm (accessed January 3, 2012). [↩]
- http://www.sss.gov/FSinternet.htm (accessed January 3, 2012). [↩]
- John Jay to John Murray, October 12, 1816, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay: vol. IV, 1794–1826, ed. Henry P. Johnston (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893), 391, 392–3. [↩]
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