Daniel Patterson: Welcome back to the Questions and Ethics program with Russell Moore. I’m Daniel Patterson, and this week we had a question come in from a listener who asked us, “We had a presidential candidate suggest that Christians shouldn’t join the military until President Obama is out of office. What would you say to that, Dr. Moore?”
Russell Moore: Well, I would not agree with that at all. President Obama is doing many things that I don’t agree with, and President Obama is our commander in chief of our military forces right now, but I’m not sure what the candidate means in terms of the larger context as to why he would suggest that Christians should wait until after President Obama is out of office before joining the military.
Here’s the issue: We have some pressing religious liberty questions in the United States Military right now—questions that are pressing upon chaplains and others in terms of free exercise of religion. But those questions predated President Obama and will postdate President Obama in terms of how we are going to fight for religious liberty there. So, I don’t think that waiting or holding out until the end of President Obama’s term is going to make those religious liberty questions take care of themselves. We’ve got to advocate and to work and to set precedents there.
And then in terms of saying well, I can’t with a clear conscience serve under President Obama, I find that to not be an appropriate Christian perspective because you have military people in the New Testament—centurions and others—who are in the Roman military who are coming to Jesus, coming to John the Baptist—in the case of John the Baptist, they are explicitly asking what they ought to do in order to repent, and John does not tell them to leave the military service. Jesus has no problem calling people to repentance continuously, and yet when it comes to centurions and other military people that we see in the encounters with Jesus he never says that repentance means leaving the military. Now this is a military that was headed by someone who was completely hostile not only to the things of God but completely hostile to the very existence of the people of God as a free people—someone who is standing in the way of the covenant promises of God, and a system that Jesus says was entirely opposed to the way of the kingdom so that when Jesus talked about what the kingdom looked like in terms of leadership, he says it’s not like the way of the gentiles where authority is lorded over them. But nonetheless people of God were able to both follow Christ and be in the military.
I think if we ever were to get into a situation where military service were itself putting Christians into a place where they had to choose between the Lordship of Christ and military service—so you think of conscientious objection to the sort of—if we had a military that was routinely carrying out war crimes or pressing consciences to do that, or a military that said to people that they could not practice their faith or to confess Jesus as Lord, then of course Christians would not be able to serve in the military. But we are not at that point. Instead, what we need are godly Christian people in the military who are living out lives of integrity and who are also working to correct those religious liberty violations and pressures that are coming upon chaplains and others in the military. I think that’s a better way to handle it than some sort of boycott of the military.
Patterson: Thanks for joining the Questions and Ethics program. If you have a question you would like Dr. Moore to answer, email it to [email protected]. Join us next time when we’ll be back to help you apply the gospel to the pressing issues of the day.