On Wednesday outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta fired a parting shot at the United States generally, and its women in particular. He removed a ban on women serving in the front lines of combat. The front lines of combat are not a place for women, job promotions and certainly not for experimenting.
Christians in previous ages and most nations historically have held that combat is a responsibility for its men.* Evangelical historian Harold O. J. Brown wrote, “Within both Judaism and Christianity, indeed almost universally in all human culture, the military profession has been reserved for males.”The very idea of sending sisters, mothers, daughters and granddaughters would have been shameful thought. Not so in enlightened 21st century America.
Being a soldier is not a constitutional right. Questions of physical strength and the thrusting of men & women together in close combat situations are concerns that have been raised, and rightly so. But what about from a biblical standpoint? Is it a violation of scriptural principle for us to send our women into combat, or are we merely succumbing to our emotions and traditions?
Whether or how much Christians should engage in military service is a valid question that deserves serious answers. But I will not deal with that here. For now I wish to engage the coming issue -- American women will be serving on the front lines of the battlefield.
My views arise from within the general context of Christian complementarianism -- the biblical idea that men and women have "different but complementary roles and responsibilities," whether it be in marriage, family or religion.
One biblical case can be shown where an Israelite woman led men into battle, recorded in Judges chapter 4 (It cannot be shown that Deborah physically engaged in the battle.) Nevertheless, this was clearly outside the norm of Jewish life and predicated on men being reluctant to rise to the occasion. Under the law given by God to Moses able men above 20 years of age filled the normal and expected role of soldier (Numbers 1:2-3 ...every male by their polls; From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies. Cf. verses 20, 22, et al.). Deuteronomy 20:1-9 gives God’s rules for exemptions and exclusions of certain men as well. Certain family considerations had priority over the military (Deut. 24:5), and the fearful were considered incapable of serving. Verses 13-14 of that same chapter indicate that even among enemies, it was the men who were considered combatants. In Joshua 1:14 we read that the men of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were continue with the other tribes over the west side of the Jordan. The army did not include their wives or their little ones. The women and children stayed at home while the men fought. (Cf. also Deut. 3:18-19; Josh. 23:10; 1 Sam. 4:9; 1 Chron. 11:10-47; Neh. 4:13-14.)
The New Testament emphasis is not on a physical seed of Abraham which might at times wage war on its physical enemies. It emphasizes rather a spiritual seed of Abraham in a spiritual battle whose weapons are not carnal, but wielded through the gospel, the word of God and the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless principles within its pages would certainly frown on men sacrificing their women on the altar of emotions, experiment and expediency. Rather, the sacrificial love of Christ is our example: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it...” (Ephesians 5:25).
As a whole even Christians in the United States seem to have lost the sense that men are to protect and provide for women, and that women own a special place of love and respect as wives and mothers -- a place far from the front lines of combat.
* Some believe no Christians, whether male or female, should engage in combat.