When I was a kid growing up in the church, we used to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” And Christian soldiers were in the news this week with stories about whether the military would court-martial them if they share their faith. For reasons I’ll explain, as a Christian, I hope the military does.
When the stories about possible court-martials came out, at first I thought the policy was absurd. Surely the military brass had lost its collective mind. I mean, just look at our military’s history. The military general to whom we owe our liberation from England, George Washington, penned the following directive to all military personnel:
“While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”1
However perhaps the policy wasn’t absurd but was a brilliant maneuver, brilliant because it was never intended to be used to actually court-martial someone.
Think about it. This policy was not enacted or announced with a recitation of problems arising from an alarming increase in Christian military personnel zealously pursuing the conversion of their colleagues. For goodness’ sake, there isn’t much “zealous” evangelizing taking place in the Christian community in general. I doubt the military has become a hotbed for barrack and mess hall preachers.
Then when the stories about the policy finally got some traction, the military quickly backtracked a bit. The Pentagon released the following statement: “Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization),”
I draw from the quick release of the statement that the neither the military brass nor our President, as “Supreme Commander,” want to face the political backlash that would come from actually court-martialing someone who benignly or innocently shares their faith.
I think what the military is doing is nothing less than what its counterparts in the IRS found successful. The IRS uses the Internal Revenue Code and its labyrinth of regulations to intimidate churches into silence about political and governmental issues by threatening to revoke their coveted tax-exempt status. But who have they actually come after?
Since 2008, Alliance Defending Freedom has designated a Sunday on which ministers are encouraged to preach a sermon that violates the IRS’s rules. Last October, over 1,600 pastors did so, and the IRS was so informed. No action has ever been taken. In fact, the IRS’s silence during this five-year period has been so infuriating that last November the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the IRS for not enforcing its rules!
The IRS knows that the government cannot infringe on the free exercise of religion. It is not interested in having a court determine the constitutionality of its rule because the mere existence of the rule provides the threat needed to silence churches. So long as the number of churches scared into silence exceeds the number willing to risk revocation of their tax-exempt status, the rule serves its purpose.
And I think the same is true of the military. Godless military leaders think that Christian soldiers are no different than the majority of those who lead our churches, and the threat of being court-martialed is plenty sufficient to make sure Christians don’t join the military in the first place or, if they do, they don’t ever get too “Christian-y.”
So I say that now is the time for every “Christian soldier” in the military to “march onward” and lead into battle. Challenge the policy; share your faith every chance you get; and make the military court-martial all of you.
If Christians in the military are court-martialed, it just may fire up enough Christians that we all finally stand up to the politicians and military personnel who would silence us. And if none of them are court-martialed, then the policy will become a meaningless joke.
If the church at large will not lead into battle for the truth of the gospel, then maybe the church in the military will.
1 An excerpt from the General Orders issued by George Washington on the 2nd of May 1778, after his Continental Army barely survived the brutal winter at Valley Forge.