According to a recent Gallup poll, the US military is highly respected. The poll measures seventeen areas of American life, the environment, the economy, education, etc., and the military finished at the top of the list with 74% of Americans having a positive feeling about it. In another poll, when presented with a list of sixteen institutions, 75% placed the military at the top of the list with small business at 63%, police at 56%, and organized religion at 44%. Congress came in last at 13%.
What does it say about our country that fewer than half respect churches but three-fourths like the military? More importantly, what would Jesus say?
A Gallup poll taken in first century Rome would have given similar results. Even in those regions conquered by Rome, the army was respected because it was an easy way to gain status and security for many of the newly conquered. Most of the soldiers Jesus would have met were from Greece and Persia. Only a few officers were actually Roman.
Jesus never spoke against Rome or its military. But neither did he say anything about Roman or Greek religions, schools, medical care, or dozens of other details of life. He criticized one group, the leaders of the Jewish religion. He stayed on target, on task, sought one goal.
Jesus was a prophet and like all prophets before him, he brought a message from God. The message was simple, is simple, live close to God, turn to God, face God, be true to God, accept God. Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming that he brought Good News, or as John put it, he brought the Light of God, the Word of God. The Good News is that God loves every one of us and wants us to stay close to him.
Where does that message fit with the military? In God’s Kingdom where God protects us, it doesn’t fit at all. But we live in a world where the military is necessary. Countries attack one another and defense is obligatory. People commit crimes and police powers are necessary. The Roman Legions preformed both duties. We have to live in a world of evil and Jesus apparently agreed, or did not disagree, that someone needs to crack heads occasionally.
But I’m not sure he would be happy with the 75% approval rating. I can only guess based on his overall message. I think he would see Americans trusting the sword more than God. That is the great danger for us in this context. If we, most of us, live close to God, trusting Him in all things, the military would hardly be considered one way or the other. It’s there when we need it, otherwise why think about it?
I personally respect the military and always have, even in the dark times surrounding Vietnam. I believe Congress made a big mistake when they eliminated the draft. That was a perfect time to institute universal public service. Everyone at some time from 18 to 25 should serve for two years in the military, peace corps, education corps, medical corps, etc. Each could choose the area of service full time for two years.
I doubt that it will ever happen here, though many countries do it. It would give us more exposure to service and service is at the root of the message of Jesus.
So, what about Christians serving in the military? Nothing can be proven from reading the words of Jesus on this question. All we can do is understand his whole message and then apply it as best we can to a subject on which he never spoke. He spoke of love and peace, but he also spoke of justice. Most importantly, he said his Kingdom was not of this world.
In this world, we have to settle for a sliding scale of values. Love on one end of the scale and hate on the other, for example. Or justice v. no justice. As Christians we try to stay close to the love side and the justice side, but we are never completely there. God is Love, absolutely and always. He, always, without exception, provides perfect justice. We work at it, strive for it, but never achieve it. The best we can do in this world is to love more than we hate, hopefully much more.
A Christian soldier would go to Guadalcanal in 1942 and kill as many Japanese soldiers as possible. While doing that, he would probably hate them. But he would also hate having to do it. He would live the rest of his life with blood on his hands, crying, “Out, out, damned spot.” Recruiters never tell anyone that their lives will never be the same after killing other humans. Only in heaven will the spots be washed away.
Bottom line: war is ugly and un-Godly, but Christians have to do it sometimes because the alternative is even worse. We should nonetheless work hard to avoid it.
Keep your eyes on the True Kingdom.