Military Cases of Conscience

There is almost nothing worse than contending with someone who is so lenient that it seems as though he or she has no personal convictions about anything in life except the conviction about not having strong convictions--unless you are contending with someone so rigid that he or she seems to draw a line in the sand on each and every issue. Those belonging to the latter group seem to have convinced themselves that they have the right answer about exactly what to do in each and every situation. Such individuals find no cases of conscience to be perplexing. Neither do they readily acknowledge that they might be persuaded of a different approach than that which they currently seek to advance. On the contrary, I believe that the Lord often places us in difficult situations so that we will learn to wrestle, pray and proceed cautiously in how we respond to and counsel others regarding the difficult situations of life in this fallen world.

As a pastor in a military town, I have had quite a number of military officers and chaplains come to me for counsel about difficult situations they face on a regular basis. I have had Army officers ask me how to define a just war. I have had officers and chaplains ask for counsel about how to respond to unjust commanding officers. I have had several ask what they should do if the Army requires them to sit through transgender training. This latter question is one fraught with great difficulty. One could easily say, "You need to go to your commanding officer and let them know that you cannot, in good conscience, sit through such training on account of the fact that you believe that it violates your religious beliefs." This is something that I might recommend to an officer coming to me for counsel about that particular situation. However, it gets far more difficult when one has taken that step but is told by his or her commanding officer that he or she must comply. What is a Christian to do in such a case?

Unpacking this particular situation takes a great deal of care and consideration. In the first place, nowhere in Scripture are we told that it is sinful for us to read or listen to opinions that cut across the clear teaching of Scripture. It is not necessarily sinful for me to read the Koran, for instance, in order to understand what Muslims believe. In fact, I would argue that it may actually be beneficial to a believer seeking to be an effective witness to know what other religions teach. After all, ignorance is never held up in Scripture as a virtue.

Furthermore, there is biblical support for a believer having to learn things with which they disagree. When Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (i.e. Belteshazzar, Shadrach; Meshach and Abed-Nego) were carried into captivity, they were chosen by the King to learn "the language and literature of the Chaldeans" (Dan. 1:4). These same men would ultimately resist bowing down to the idol of the King (at the costly risk of losing their lives)--out of a desire to be faithful to the Lord--but they did not resist learning the language and literature of that pagan land. 

In the second place, if a Christian is simply being told that he or she has to sit through transgender training--he or she does not have to do anything that would violate his or her conscience. If those enlisted in the armed services are not being forced to sign a statement that they support transgenderism, we cannot draw the faulty conclusion that they are de facto supporting it by listening to the reading of a procedure. If one were forced to sign a statement that said that he or she supported transgenderism, they would, of course, have to refuse. There is an enormous difference between listening to an ideology and willingly supporting it. Therein lies the rub.

The question posed above is quite different from asking what a chaplain should do if his commanding officers told him that he had to officiate a transgender wedding. That, it seems to me, is a much more cut and dried question. If the chaplain's sponsoring body has a set of constitutionally binding beliefs (for instance, the doctrinal standards of the PCA or the SBC), he should be excluded from having to perform such a wedding. The branch of the service with which he is serving may seek to force him to do so; but, he would have to take a stand regardless of the consequences with which he is threatened.

In all of this, I recognize that I do not have all of the answers for every situation. I am open to being corrected on my take about the example above. I am also cognizant of the unique and difficult challenges that our brothers and sisters who serve in the military face on a daily and weekly basis. I love and respect our service men and women. I pray for them regularly. The New Testament makes it clear that believers are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land. This means that our brethren in the military will have to subject themselves, at times, to listening to procedures with which they do not agree. In all of life, there will be things with which we disagree and situations in which we wish we did not have to be. To be a faithful witness does not mean always and in every situation opposing that with which we disagree. We need great wisdom to know how to respond as we enter into each of these situations. God has promised to give us that wisdom in His word and by His Spirit.