Science in Christian Perspective



Christianity and the Military Establishment*
Department of History 
William Jewell College Liberty, Missouri

From: JASA 22 (March 1970): 18-21.

Opposition to Militarism

he threats posed to the individual Christian and to American society by the gains of militarism suggest the outlines of a rationale on which opposition to that system might be based. An interesting sidelight is the condemnation of war as policy by the British House of Commons in 1936; ". . . this House affirms its profound belief in the futility of war, {and] views with grave concern the world-wide preparations for war."1 Much of American activity during the Cold War may very well he adjudged as having been useless by men in the future, for in spite of prodigious spending and the massive power of American military forces, communism has not been prevented from extending its influence or control over great areas of Europe and Asia. The opponents of militarism need not follow along with the Tolstoyites who have renounced every use for force by man on man. Instead, the Western humanist may plead, as did his Greek predecessors, for rational action. He may question whether war waged under modern conditions is reasonable at all. The ordinary citizen of the United States may take a pragmatic approach and insist that militarism will not bring him the satisfaction of his desires as a free individual in the free society. The ancient aspiration for justice under moral law can hardly be realized through militarism. Have not warring nations often destroyed as much as they have preserved? As one observer has noted: "Even if the end of the adventure were peace and freedom for all, the story would have been long and bloody enough to make of this final meaning a rather belated consolation."2 The Christian, dedicated to compassion and love for all men, will question a system organized for the task of slaughter.

Militarism vs. Humanism

The course of action of the military-industrial complex in the United States seems to be leading almost inevitably toward thermonuclear war. The humanist will oppose this trend for humanity's sake. The early humanists re-emphasized in Western society the intrinsic value of every man. Each individual was of immeasurable worth for each person shared in humanity, a sovereignty not to be assaulted by the
state, nor by the church, nor by another man. The consistent humanist cannot admit any ultimate demand by the state on man. Militarism and humanism are essential opposites for the martial ideology dehumanizes man. Militarism treats man as an object, the state's property, and places the enemy on the level of animals to be exterminated. The Christian humanist, in his most lucid moments, has always understood the universality of his religion and that his vocation must not be limited by national boundaries nor false calls to patriotic duty. The Christian is bound to suspect the national Military Establishment which asks him to obliterate one who is divinely loved without being morally certain that this action toward his human counterpart is unavoidable. The basic dilemma of the Christian at war will always be how to love one's enemy and kill him too.

In an interview with Mike Wallace of CBS News, Meadlo said he and other American soldiers killed scores of South Vietnamese civilians-old men, women, children and even babies-by shooting them during an Army raid on a village at Song My in March, 1968. "They didn't put up any fight or anything," Meadlo recalled. "The women huddled against their children and took it. They brought their kids real close to their stomachs and hugged them and put their bodies over them trying to save them."

"Why did you do such a thing?" Wallace asked. "Why did I do it?" Mendlo replied. "Because
I felt like I was ordered to do it. And it seemed like I realized . . . at the time, 1 felt like 1 was doing the right thing."

Portion of an interview with Paul Meadlo conducted by Mike Wallace, and reported by Loafs Cossels, United Press International Religion Writer.

The military-industrial complex in this country apparently has used and plans to use the ordinary citizen as a tool to create a monument to national self-glorification, the triumph of "democracy" and "capitalism" over other economic and political systems. The military speaks of the "duty" of American boys to die for the nation's ideals-to die before they have had a chance to distinguish between the verbalization of ideals and those actually practiced by the military-industrial complex. The military has sought for constant renewals of the draft and periodically called for universal military training. "Duty" becomes not an inner compulsion but the bowing to the superior force of the state. American boys become objects to be honed for warfare. They are taught to kill an enemy they may never see, a foe visualized only as a stereotype implanted by the propaganda of the military-industrial complex and not a fellow creature with warm blood, human loves, and simple hopes and fears. No action could be more uncharacteristic of the divine Son of God whom Christians claim to imitate than this depersonalization of one's relation to his fellow man.

Next War the Last

All of this suggests that militarism poses a threat to civilization and that the long-continued jostling for the high seats of power by nations armed with thermonuclear weapons assures more than ever that the next conflict will most likely be the last war. Almost any modern war, even without the use of those terrible weapons, would be worse than the evils it was designed to ward off, but a nuclear contest will only destroy what man has labored so mightily to create, his civilization. The unthinking mouth the slogan, "Better dead than Red," not realizing that war and militarism may be more destructive of their goals than communism. There is a fate worse than deathlife without meaning. As Professor Hoffman so ably sums it up in his study of war;

The social scientist can hardly fail to see history as a graveyard of men, buried after having killed and been killed for an incredible number of causes. Retrospectively, it is hard to find a meaning here-and easy to lament with so many poets the absurdity of the whole story.3

Thermonuclear war is not likely to usher in a period of utopian peace for the victor, but it may very well preclude the possibility of history having any further meaning.

Threat to Democracy

The Christian citizen will discover that the garrison state destroys his ability to function as a free individual in a free society. He has already found that as militarism has grown in America there has been a reciprocal reduction in his ability to take a meaningful part in the government. Basic decisions come not as a result of consensus, but are imposed from above by a power elite. When the militarists are finished, only a hollow mockery of democracy will remain. Civil rights will be unprotected by tradition or a yellowing scrap of paper and raw power will prevail. The free citizen ought to oppose militarism in order that he may retain his freedom to act-to go here or there without an official pass, to enter whatever vocation he wishes without permission, to assume or refuse employment without a government penalty. Americans have generally enjoyed the freedom to act but certainly will lose this liberty in a militaristic, totalitarian society.

The individual of sensitive mind eagerly longs for freedom of expression and the right to become his best possible self without restrictions or encumbrances except those to which he has freely assented. Perhaps no man living with other men can attain this ideal but it can be more nearly achieved in a free society than in a militarized state. Basic to the free individual is the right to freedom of thought, but how can he think if his mind is constantly barraged with propaganda? If the press is prohibited from functioning freely, if sources of information are distorted, if access to some types of information is prohibited, if free experimentation and the exchange of ideas is forbidden, there is no freedom of thought. The militaristic state restricts a man in these ways and many more as well. The free individual finds himself compelled to stand against any person or system which would treat his mind as a magnetic tape to he programmed at will.

For Conscience Sake

The evangelical Christian finds a rationale for opposing militarism in his faith-he opposes it for conscience's sake. Contrary to the assertion of Ernst Troeltsch that the state and all questions relating to it were ignored by Jesus, the state was a part of the mundane scene and was so affirmed in the Messiah's teachings. Followers of the Way were not urged to ignore the present age but to redeem it. There is no loophole here whereby the citizen may escape the obligations of the Christian ethic by positing a separate civil ethic. A dual standard of morality with one code to guide the Christian's action in the religious area and another code for the secular realm has been proposed, but the evangelical Christian must insist on one consistent ethical norm for all men in all conditions. Scholars have uniformily agreed that the Jews did not compartmentalize life into secular and sacred divisions. Men were to live their whole lives before Cod according to his will revealed in commandments and instructions. This characteristic of Jewish thought was basic to the thinking of Jesus also. The Christian citizen, thus, must resolve any apparent conflicts between the demands of the state and his duty toward Cod within the bounds of one ethical system-that of Jesus of Nazareth.

Medina . . spoke deliberately and emphatically in the . . news conference...I moved to that location with my command element.

As I approached the VC with weapon, the helicopter that had been marking the location began to move back . . . . as I approached I seen that it was a woman. She had already been wounded. I did not see any weapon. I turned around and started to walk away. As I turned around I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. My first thought was, 'boy, you've had it, you're dead,' if she did have a weapon or did have a hand grenade.
1 instinctively, from Army training, turned around and fired two shots and I assume that I did kill her...

Report of Fred S. Hoffman, AP Military Writer, on the testimony of Capt. Ernest Medina on the My Lai offair, December 5, 1969.

Romans 13

Those who believe that war may be justified have often quoted the verses in Romans 13 which begin "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities." This Pauline statement in no way endorses the unbridled use of force by the state. Indeed, it comes immediately after a passage in which the apostle exhorts his readers to live a life of non-violence, blessing their persecutors, seeking no vengeance, feeding their enemies, and overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12: 14-21) The statement of Jesus that one ought to "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" is quoted also to imply the heavy obligation of the Christian citizen to the state. This single, rather oracular statement is less convincing than the fact that Jesus refused to concern himself with the national aspirations of the Jews. His energies were devoted to the Kingdom of Cod, a spiritual realm. He chose for himself the role of a spiritual leader and refused resolutely to become a military messiah, even though there were Old Testament precedents. If the "Caesar" statement does indicate an obligation to the state, that debt should not be thronght to have the same absolute character as the debt to Cod. The Christian sees his first and highest duty to Cod, as did Jesus. Therefore, one may never in the name of serving Caesar act contrary to the ethical principles of Christ. One might add concerning the passage in Romans that Paul admittedly put more stress than did Jesus on obeying the civil authorities, perhaps because he feared that unnecessary violations of the law might stir up persecutions worse than the local ones already being experienced by Christians. Never did the apostle imply that one's allegiance to the state justified an immoral act.


The American Christian, living in a country moving toward militarism and engaged in periodic wars abroad, is faced with a pressing question: "Is the Christian ever justified in using force, and may he with a clear conscience become a participant?" Here is not the place for an extended discussion of pacifism, a subject upon which so many words have already been penned. This writer has found the most thorough and concise discussion of the relevant Biblical passages to be that of the English theologian C. H. C. Macgregor in his volume The New Testament Basis of Pacifism. This lucid little book makes the point that a Christian does not need to, and perhaps cannot, stand on an absolute prohibition of the use of force between men or groups of men. Professor Macgregor maintains, instead, that the Christian's choice is "between moral and nonmoral use of force" in many situations. There is an absolute ban on war because it transgresses the New Testament ethic.4 After a thorough examination of the Scriptures, Macgregor concludes that the Gospels, with two doubtful exceptions, show Jesus consistently living by the principle of non-resistance. If Christ's life is one that is well-pleasing to the Heavenly Father, must the Christian not seriously consider the possibility that lie himself is to forego the use of force and also shun war?

The Christian Perspective

The history of the early church indicates that it understood the life of the Way to be one of peace. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall he called sons of God." (Mt. 5:9). For nearly two centuries the church was almost wholly pacifist. Scholars can find no examples of Christians becoming soldiers after baptism until about 170 A.D. The early church fathersJustin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Ongen-insisted that Christians were pacifists. Origen, writing perhaps as late as 230 .n., declared: "We Christians no longer take up sword against nation nor do we learn to make war any more, having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus who is our leader. "

Yet, in spite of the consistent witness of the early church, the question still remains: may a war be justified on certain occasions and under certain circumstances? Perhaps so, if war, as a means, and the end which it seeks do not transgress the ethics of Christ. Another relevant question, however, is: "Does not war always contradict the goals of the Kingdom, and the redemption of man, and does not modern total war inevitably involve every participant in immoral means?" One noted scholar recently concluded: "In modern total war, where murder without risks, slaughter in anonymity, and the denial of the humanity of the foe prevail, the sacrifices of conscience which national loyalty demands have reached a new high."' It is perhaps too high.

The evangelical Christian, however far he may wish to walk with the humanists, knows that there is a higher reason for him to question the whole idea of modern war toward which the militarists are leading him. The heart of the New Testament ethic is the injunction to love. Christians are instructed to love God, one another, their neighbor, and their enemy. Loving one's enemy is not an optional matter: "But I say to you, love your enemies so that you may he sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 5:44-45). There is a lengthy passage in Matthew (5:38-48) which sets forth the Christian way of meeting evil. It is the way of non-violence and love for the adversary. One is to overcome evil not by greater evil but by good. Perhaps such actions in the face of an armed foe are foolishness. It led the Galilean to the cross, but it was the redemptive way. If force is to be used, surely it must not be for punitive measures or merely to save our own lives. Rather, it must have redemption as its end. Given the ambiguities of the international situation and the awful efficiency of modern devices for killing, and faced with the threat that man may end his history with a final and fiery act of sin, it seems crystal-clear that the Christian ought to expend every possible effort to resist those pressures which militate for the use of force in international affairs. If a thermonuclear debacle is avoided, we may have time to go about our Father's business.


l Great Britain, Parliamentary Debates (Commons), CCC-VITI (1936), 208. 
2Hotfmann, The State of War, p. 261. 
3Loc. cit. 
4C. H. C. Macgregor, The New Testament Basis of Pacifism (New York: Fellowship of Reconciliation, 1947) p. 11. 
5Contra Cetsuaz, V. p. 33.
5Hoffmann, The State of War, pp. 262-263.

*Reprinted from Protest and Politics: Christianity and Contem
porary Affairs, R. C. Clouse, it. D. Linder and R. V.
Pierand, Editors, Attic Press, Greenwood S. C. (1968).