Yes, but the messages can be contradictory, self-serving
Robert Minor, professor emeritus, Kansas University religious studies department, 1300 Oread Ave.:
As any world scripture, people throughout history have interpreted the Bible to justify military service or to require conscientious objection. And each interpreter has been so adamant that theirs is the only true understanding — even what “God says” — that they’ve dismissed, even persecuted, believers who disagree.
In the Bible one encounters calls to fight for the nation of Israel, being sure to kill every man, woman, child and servant of their enemies. One finds the Gospels’ Jesus warning that those “who live by the sword, die by the sword.”
One can read the Apostle Paul calling followers to submit to government authorities, and one can see Jesus defying those same authorities. One can read of the Christ of the book of Revelation leading armies in battle, and one can hear the Jesus of the Gospels demanding that his followers “turn the other cheek.”
When both battling sides believe that their fight is divinely sanctioned, such as in the past conflict in Northern Ireland, there are preachers within both communities calling their followers to either join the battle or to refuse to participate. The desire to have the Divine bolster one’s own position is so strong that each needs to be convinced the Bible is on their side.
Heavy tomes have been written justifying military service for one’s country or discerning when a war is “just” enough to serve. Others have been written calling for rejecting anything that involves killing, not only by thinkers of traditional peace churches but also Jews, Muslims, Roman Catholics, Evangelicals and mainstream Protestants.
But when nationalism indoctrinates a trust “my nation, right or wrong,” it becomes the lens through which someone interprets the intentions of the Bible. Then the verses used to interpret verses against one’s position will sanctify military service of one’s country.
— Send email to Robert Minor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yes, but we must strive for peace before resorting to war
The Rev. Shannah M. McAleer, senior minister, Unity Church of Lawrence, 900 Madeline Lane:
Growing up in a military family and traveling throughout the world is a significant part of who I am today. My family was clear that religious training and participating in church, no matter where we were in the world, was of great importance. With such a background it has been relatively easy for me to combine military service and religious expression.
Biblically there are many references to military service as early as in Gen: 14. The story tells us that Lot was kidnapped by the king, and his uncle, Abraham, sent an army to rescue him. This military endeavor was seen as an important rescue as well as protecting the innocent. These stories of military service are found throughout both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Christian Bible (New Testament). We also see military imagery in our traditional hymns such as “Onward Christian soldiers — marching off to war.”
Examples of military service are found in other faith traditions as well, such as Hinduism and Islam. We also know the power of the nonviolent movements in history and their great achievements such as the success of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent movement in liberating India, and the Civil Rights Movement in America. Jesus is often called the “Prince of Peace.” I imagine his teaching that we “turn the other cheek” means avoiding warfare and violence at all costs. Faiths such as the Amish and Quakers teach the deep importance of nonviolence.
Unfortunately, it appears that war continues to be a part of our human condition. Therefore, my personal opinion is that we must strive for peace, but when that is not achievable through nonviolent efforts, we honor our military and their sacrifice of service. The men and women of our armed forces serving with dignity, compassion and honor should receive our respect, support and gratitude. May our world one day find true peace.
— Send email to Shannah McAleer at email@example.com.