Saturday, November 14, 2009

Latter-Day Saints And Military Service

This post was triggered by a post on the Pure Mormonism blog by Alan Rock Waterman on this subject. I found his post to be highly offensive and an egregious insult to the majority of our military personnel who serve honorably and were not involved in misadventures such as the abuse of prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.

In his post, Waterman doesn't merely condemn the employment of U.S. military forces outside of the United States. If that's all he did, I would not be writing this post; I also favor reducing our worldwide military involvement to more reasonable levels. But Waterman also condemns those who join the military, particularly Latter-day Saints. He characterizes them as those who do "evil works". He also supplies a few hacked-up Church statements taken out of context to justify his position.

Waterman also writes, "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".

If it is so evil for Mormons to serve in the military, then why does the LDS Church encourage Mormons to become chaplains? Why does the LDS Church have a Military Relations outreach? Why does the LDS Church offer Pre-Military Service Church Orientations to those about to embark upon military service?

The answer is published on Light Planet. Here's an excerpt from an essay by Robert C. Oaks:

Although the Church is opposed to war and recognizes that going to war is a very poor alternative in resolving conflicts, tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints have served their countries' armed forces, sometimes even fighting in opposing forces, especially in World War II. The Church considers being loyal citizens to be a duty of its members, irrespective of nationality. Responding to a call for military service is one appropriate manner of fulfilling this duty of citizenship. Latter-day Saints who choose military careers have no restrictions on either their fellowship or their callings in the Church. While any member is free to object to military service because of conscience, Church membership in and of itself is not a justification, and Church leaders have discouraged conscientious objection in every conflict of the twentieth century.

The moral question for Church members is much more one of the spirit than of the uniform. It echoes John the Baptist's counsel to soldiers to avoid violence and extortion, and to be content with their wages (Luke 3:14). The Book of Mormon repeatedly counsels soldiers to abhor the shedding of blood (Alma 44:1-7; 48:14-16, 23; Morm. 4:11-12). However, it also contains principles as to when war may be justified. Concerning the action of the Nephites when they were attacked by the Lamanites, the record states:

-- Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.

-- And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.

-- And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion [Alma 43:45-47].

The Lord obviously prefers we wage wars only for defensive purposes. But to believe that the Lord will hold individual soldiers responsible for a nation's decision to go to war is ridiculous. The Lord will only hold the nation's leaders responsible for such a decision. The Lord will merely hold individual soldiers responsible for their conduct while waging war. Do they obey only lawful orders? Do they observe international conventions such as the Law of Armed Conflict and the Geneva Convention?

There's also a couple of fringe benefits with Mormons joining the military: It provides them an opportunity to exemplify Gospel living and to share the fulness of the Gospel with other military members in an environment which can be quite susceptible to Satan's wiles. In addition, LDS military members serving abroad have been able to bring the Gospel to indigenous peoples. Had Mormons not been part of the forces waging war against Japan during World War II, it would have taken longer to open up Japan to the Gospel. The Lord sometimes uses war as a means to open up nations to missionary work.

Alan Rock Waterman speaks for himself. Thomas S. Monson speaks for the Church. Thus I think I will continue to look to President Monson for guidance before looking to another ordinary member.

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