Thursday, November 12, 2009
Should A Mormon Join The Military?
With the arrival of Veteran’s Day yesterday, I was again bombarded with the usual claptrap about how deserving of honor our military personnel are for their “service”.
And yes, I did say claptrap.
Now, I realize I’m usually preaching non-judgment here, yet at the moment I confess I'm unable to suppress no small frustration with many of my fellow saints. It's clear I have a ways to go if I’m truly going to be filled with unconditional love for all mankind.
Yes, brothers and sisters, I too have sinned and come short. I have a raging blind spot when I see the strange way some of you have of worshiping those who do the will of Leviathan without question.
What gets my goat every time Memorial Day or Veteran’s day comes around, is seeing so many who should know better -namely my fellow Mormons- jump on the bandwagon with the rest of the country in cheering those who do evil works. You would think that the children of light would have better sense than to conflate service to the state with service to God, but there they were in force yesterday paying cloying tribute to those who have sold themselves to The Whore of Babylon. And many of these misguided souls are among my closest friends.
Well, I should be more understanding, because if truth be told, what annoys me most about this celebration of national slavery is the recognition that only a few years ago, I myself was deep into the habit of calling evil good, and good, evil.
An Insidious Doctrine
Ask most latter-day saints about reconciling war with the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, and you’ll nearly always hear that war is an exception to that rule. They'll tell you that God doesn’t hold the soldier accountable for any killing done in battle. When a Mormon kills during wartime it doesn’t count against him. He gets a pass. Responsibility for any killing transfers to the politicians who sent him into war.
The problem with this widely held “doctrine” is that it’s a false one. It is not supported anywhere in the scriptures. In fact, the reverse holds true.
As legions of those returning soldiers unable to live with themselves will tell you, God will hold you personally accountable for every last person you killed regardless of whether or not you were wearing a government issued uniform at the time.
We latter-day saints are expected to have read D&C 98:33, which prohibits us from ever placing ourselves in a position where we may be “forced” to kill, and the Book of Mormon repeatedly demonstrates that even the good-guy Nephites could not escape the destruction to their souls once they determined to go after their enemies on the enemy's home soil.
To believe that God will allow our political leaders to atone for our sins while we walk away with our souls intact is foolish idolatry. An act so egregious as the taking of a human life cannot be transferred onto another person and simply wished away.
Attempts by some members to justify the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fly in the face of official church pronouncements:
“The church is and must be against war, for war is of Satan and this church is the church of Christ...” (Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol 6, pg 170.)
Nowhere can one find support for the claim that God takes less seriously a killing committed in battle than at some more idyllic time and place. Does the massive scale of bloodshed on the battlefield make it less heinous than a premeditated murder back home? The church’s position is clear that God makes no qualifying distinction that killing in wartime is somehow excusable.
“The divine law on the taking of human life... embraces war.” (Statements of the LDS First Presidency, pg 481.)
Nowhere is the LDS soldier excused for defying God’s law. The Latter-day Saint may in fact be held to a higher expectation for he is in possession of further light and knowledge. According to the First Presidency,
“God will hold subject to the eternal punishments of His will those who wage [war] unrighteously.” (Ibid, pg 481.)
Perhaps the erroneous belief that individuals are not accountable for the murders they commit in battle stems from a misreading of a statement the First Presidency endorsed in 1976:
“Wars should be avoided whenever possible; however, men have the right to protect themselves from those who unjustly try to take away their freedom and property. (Principles of the Gospel, 1976.)
“Since those who battle for a righteous cause will not be held responsible for bloodshed, the responsibility rests upon those leaders who create contention and cause wars.” (Statements of the LDS First Presidency, pg 480.)
Politicians who start wars will of course be held responsible for their part, but this does not absolve the soldier who actually pulls the trigger or drops the bombs. As confirmed in the statement above, the only righteous cause in war is held by the side defending its own freedom and property. When a defender is forced to kill, the accountability rests with the aggressor for having created the situation that forced the defender to kill him.
Since colonial times, it’s been the rare American soldier who has found himself in such a position of innocence. Most young men -Mormons included- who enlisted after 9/11 admit to having done so out of an eagerness to retaliate. They are no more blameless than the vindictive Nephites who, through their desire to get even with the Lamanites, unwittingly set in motion the final destruction of their entire nation.
Any idealistic Latter-day Saint contemplating joining the United States military as it is presently constituted would do well to heed the warnings of Dr. Laurence Vance, author of Christianity And War. It goes without saying that his warning applies no matter what party is in office:
“You are responsible for the ‘enemy’ soldiers you kill as they defend their homeland against U.S. aggression. It may soothe your conscience if you attempt to justify your actions by maintaining it is self-defense, but it is hardly self-defense when you travel thousands of miles away to engage in an unnecessary and unjust war.”
“ You are responsible for the civilians you kill. Dismissing them as collateral damage doesn’t change the fact that you killed someone who was no threat to you or your country. You are responsible for every soldier and civilian you kill: not Bush, not Cheney, not Rumsfeld, not Gates, not your commanding officers, and not Wolfowitz, Feith, Hadley, Perle, Abrams, Tenet, Powell, Rice, and the other architects of the war.”
“Bush and company will not be firing a single shot. You will be expected to do their dirty work and live with it the rest of your life.”