Onward Christian Soldiers?
(originally posted 05/06/2009)
Consider this report from Reuters:
Bibles in Afghan languages sent to a U.S. soldier at a base in Afghanistan were confiscated and destroyed to ensure that troops did not breach regulations which forbid proselytising, a military spokeswoman said.My initial reaction was one of shock. The chaplains were the ones responsible for confiscating these Bibles? How could they do something like that in good conscience?
The U.S. military has denied its soldiers tried to convert Afghans to Christianity, after Qatar-based Al Jazeera television showed soldiers at a bible class on a base with a stack of bibles translated into the local Pashto and Dari languages.
U.S. Central Command's General Order Number 1 forbids troops on active duty -- including all those based in Iraq and Afghanistan -- from trying to convert people to another religion.
"I can now confirm that the Bibles shown on Al Jazeera's clip were, in fact, collected by the chaplains and later destroyed. They were never distributed," spokeswoman Major Jennifer Willis said at Bagram air base, north of Kabul.
Despite the official denial of the military, it's obvious the Bibles were intended to be distributed among the local population. Regardless, some may argue that the chaplains should have ignored the order. As the Apostle Peter said, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
But as I reflected further on this incident I found it increasingly difficult to sympathize with those involved. While we are called to evangelize other nations, I'm not sure it's the place of an active duty member of the U.S. military to assume that responsibility, even if all that is entailed is simply handing out Bibles.
I have two concerns. First of all, evangelizing isn't in any soldier's job description. Just as we don't expect to see anyone else in secular employment evangelizing on "company time," we shouldn't expect it from our soldiers.
Secondly, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan on a military mission. Killing people and destroying property was the very nature of that mission, and I don't think the spreading of the gospel should ever be associated with the use of military force.
The war we are called to fight is a spiritual one (Ephesians 6:12-13), and the weapon we have been given is the "sword of the spirit" (Ephesians 6:17). Going out into the world to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19) should be done with the willingness to give our own lives for the sake of the gospel (Matthew 16:25, John 12:24-25), not in the process of taking the lives of others. The military, after all, is a tool of the state, not a ministry arm of the church.