Can a person of faith be a soldier?

Chaplain’s Cornerwhitman padre

Padre Andrew Whitman, CD

This is a question often asked. It is a question I have had to answer for myself: before serving as chaplain, I was a gunner, and did a tour in Kandahar. Could I be there and support that mission knowing that people would be killed as a result of my actions? Could I reconcile my faith with my profession as a soldier?

If the answer to this question is “No”, then I have three choices: 1) I can stay true to my faith and leave the military; 2) I can renounce my faith and stay true to my military calling; or 3) I can be a soldier during the week and a Christian on Sunday and pretend there is no contradiction. But what if the answer is “Yes”, I CAN genuinely reconcile my faith with my work? Then, I can be a Christian seven days a week, and strive to be the best soldier I can be. My answer has been “Yes”.

But how? My tradition teaches me to love my enemies, and to turn the other cheek. It teaches me not to repay evil with evil, to forgive rather than take vengeance, and “if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval” (1 Peter 2:20). It teaches me that “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). It tells me “You shall not murder”. Don’t these prevent me from using violent and even lethal force?

No, it does not prevent me from using violence. My faith teaches me not only that I should passively avoid murdering people, but that I must also actively protect others from being murdered. Why? Because all people have inherent worth – we are created in the image of Eternal God, of whom it is said “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed.”

People deserve our protection, the oppressed deserve to be defended. Because we have value, and God loves and values us. Therefore, when I defend my country, I defend those who my God loves. When I fight for freedom of the oppressed in other countries, I do the work of my God, who is the defender of the oppressed. So you see that my faith is perfectly in tune with my profession as a soldier.

The apostle Paul said “Beloved, never avenge yourselves… To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” But what is the reason for this? Interestingly, it is not because it is wrong to want justice; instead Paul says that I should trust God to bring justice: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” How does God bring about justice? In part, he makes things right through the laws of government, “For [the governing authority] is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

No, it does not prevent me from using violence, but it does instruct me in how to use it and when. I believe that being a soldier is an honorable and godly calling.