Friday, March 16, 2007

Gays and Christians in the Military: I'm Asking, Who's Telling?

Blogger and United Methodist Pastor Keith McIlwain has a very thought provoking post about service in the military. Click here.

In the post, he asks, "If we believe that murder is a sin, then shouldn't Gen. Pace want an army of gay people, who in his mind are already immoral? Why shouldn't gay people be permitted to kill for their country?"

This question is wonderfully complex. You have the whole "military killing is morally different than murder" discussion. You have the whole "war is sinful, but necessary" discussion. And those discussions are interwoven in this case with all the standard rhetoric about sexual orientation. Wow! My brain is working overtime, just thinking about all the implications.

(By the way, Keith and John engage in a very respectful and enlightening back-and-forth in the comments of Keith's post, and I hope you read that, too.)

In his post, Keith quotes Stanley Hauerwas, who ponders why the military considers homosexual people morally unfit for military service, but not Christian people. Hauerwas believes Christians ought to be conisdered morally unfit to serve in the military, since they believe human life to be sacred, created in the image of God, and therefore would be unwilling to kill.

I served as an associate pastor in Warrensburg, Missouri for four years. Several members of our congregation were B2 bomber pilots and their families, support personnel, and other staff of Whiteman Air Force Base, just a few miles away. The enormous, black, no-way-that-contraption-should-be-able-to-fly B2 soaring overhead was a common sight. I have had conversations with military people about this issue for years and years. I was on one pilot's file to be one of the people present at the notification of his wife, should "anything happen" to him while flying a mission. I have prayed over men and women being deployed, and cared for their families while they were gone. I have embraced returning soldiers with tears of joy.

I write all that just to say that I cannot think of Christians serving in the military as any more sinful than anyone else. I know that, through their interpretation of scripture and their personal convictions, they are striving to live a faithful life and become the person God wants them to be, just like I am. I personally hold the belief that non-violent resistance is the most authentic Christian response to evil, but that's me. My friends in the military, who do not believe as I do, are no less faithful because they have come to a different conclusion that I have. All I can do is witness.

What I have a tough time understanding is the perspective that says a gay person who genuinely wants to serve in the military is somehow less morally fit to do so than a straight person of a similar mindset. Or, as Keith McIlwain writes it, "What is it about a person's sexual behavior that makes it easier or more difficult to kill?" I'm asking; who's telling?


Vinny said...

Until 2000, The UMC Social Principles stated that war was to be rejected as "incompatible with the gospel and spirit of Christ." That language was softened up to say that war was "incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ."

Then in 2000 and 2004 General Conference added a bunch of "just war" hokum as a sop to the Confessing Movement, and acknowledged the ability for Christians to differ on whether the use of force was ever necessary. Apparently, under the Social Principles, Christians can't differ when it comes to homosexuality.

What a load of crap. Christians shouldn't be hired killers. Ugh.
Makes me want to sing a bar of "Alice's Restaurant Massacre."

John Wesley said...

I should not dare to interrupt your more weighty affairs with a letter of mine, did I not hold you to be a disciple of Him who would not have the smoking flax quenched nor the bruised reed broken. But since I am entirely convinced of this, I beg of you that in your prayers and the prayers of the Church that sojourns with you, I may be commended to God, to be instructed in true poverty of spirit, in gentleness, in faith, and love of God and my neighbor. And, whenever you have a little leisure, do not disdain to offer to God this short prayer, which I have heard frequently offered by your brethren at Savannah (would they were mine also!):

Then the dauntless mind
Which, to Jesus joined,
Neither life nor treasure prizes,
And all fleshly lusts despises,
Grant him, Highest Good,
Through Thy precious blood.

God's most humble servant, I remain,
John Wesley

Anonymous said...


Gee whiz! How does one follow John Wesley?

The difficulty I had with Rev. McIlwain's post and subsequent thread are the following:
1. General Pace at no time stated that he did not want gay people to serve. (I took the time to register and read the cited interview in the Chicago Tribune). David Limbaugh at offers a different perspective regarding the Pace controversy.
2. I'm troubled that Rev. McIlwain reduces/distorts military service to just killing people. A disturbing premise that perhaps reveals his personal biases regarding the military and those who serve and have served in the past.
Just my .02cents.


Anonymous said...

It is easy to make the claim of pacifism while living in a country that is safe and powerful, where no enemy directly threatens us or our loved ones.

I wonder how much of a pacifist any of us would be if the terrorists and thugs in the world were going house to house in our town or neigborhood, killing, plundering and raping. I don't think quoting Hauerwas will do much good. Unfortunatley, there are times when good people have to oppose evil with force. I know I would and I am glad that Andy does not consider me a false believer.

As far as gays serving their country in the military, why not?
They are Americans and if they want to serve, they should.

Kansas Bob said...

I think that it is easy to be a pacifist during this war ... not so sure that it would be so easy in 1776, 1861, 1917 or on December 7, 1941.

Schowie said...

I'm still puzzled by the whole War thing-- gay, straight, or whatever. I agree with Vinny-- Christians shouldn't be hired killers. This war is not just, it's the continuation of a preemptive strike, and you know that. I ajust can't believe the general public is so slow to object-- and being "shocked" by the homophobic opinions of a military leader is really a red herring in this entire mess.