Prepared to Die, but Not to Kill
I recently received a reply or two on my last blog post, regarding Sgt. Travis Bishop and his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan based on his Christian conscience. One of the central questions such a story raises (among many) is how one may justify defying one's sworn duty in practicing a faith that seems concurrent with the foundations of our very country. How does being a passionate Christian pre-empt fulfilling one's service to our nation? Furthermore, if one claims that their Christian convictions contradict their obligation to armed service, is that person exporting the debt for that freedom to object onto those he or she "left behind" in the military?
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For that to be true, such an indictment would naturally extend to the 99% of YOU (sorry to polarize) who have not and do not serve in the Armed Forces. After all, an objector is effectively in the same position of those who care not to submit to armed service, of asking someone else do the dying while you sit back and enjoy the liberty such service is thought to secure. One problem with that presupposition is that it reduces the virtue of service (at least in the military) to nothing more than human sacrifice; the wages of sin (or complacency) is indeed death, just so long as it's someone else's funeral, right?
But I don't really believe that. From personal experience, I know that men and women who enlist or seek a commission do so by and large for incredibly honorable motives. I also have seen the same honor and integrity in those who cannot find it in themselves or their consciences to kill others in order to (it is thought) secure that same liberty. In personal correspondences, several other service members have described interests similar to those I pursued, to somehow serve our nation while remaining true to our faith, even in the face of imminent danger.
The implication should not be that Christians who refuse to participate in war also refuse to be prepared to die for our freedoms or our values. That is not what Sgt. Bishop, or any other Christian soldier I have encountered, expressed or implied. In fact, in that regard, many Christian soldiers ask for nothing less than is demanded of American service members: the opportunity, the sacred rite, to offer one's life in defense of others. Does there exist a greater love than this?
It is an unfortunate fact that conscientious Christians face an uphill battle in hoping to join the good fight (which is to stand ready to face violence, not to use it against others). The harsh reality we face is that our nation is reluctant to allow us the opportunity to defend our nation unless we accept the heretical presupposition that violence is our redeemer, that ultimately it is lethal force that saves, not the saving work of Christ's nonviolent submission to Rome's capital punishment. For millennia, centurions have refused to burn that pinch of incense, thanks be to God.
In light of that understanding, I find it hard to sympathize with those who would dismiss fellow peacemakers on the grounds that Christian love has no tangible redemptive value in our world today. Furthermore, if our military restricts membership to only those who are prepared to kill our enemies instead of love them, it would seem that we are not truly extended the opportunity to defend such liberties and therefore can hardly be criticized for our perceived refusal.