For years now in the United States we have allowed women to serve in the military. As warfare has evolved many of these women found themselves in combat situations. However, the official policy of the military was that women would not be allowed to serve in direct combat. This policy changed today. Some view this as a great victory for equality. Women are now no longer limited in how they will serve their country. Others claim this will result in the military lacking effectiveness.
I want to share with you today my thoughts on this issue. These are the thoughts of a Christian trying to think through the issues of our day.
There is not much said in the New Testament concerning war. Since the church is not a nation that has to defend our borders with warfare, nor are we given an earthly promise land that we have to occupy through warfare, direct teaching on the subject of war is sparse. There are principles that Christians wrestle with regarding going to war and killing, but no instructions regarding a standing army.
However, the Hebrew Bible (Genesis-Malachi) does speak to warfare. It is from these Scriptures that I want to turn as I share my thoughts on women in combat.
Numbers 1:2, 3 provides the pattern for those who would fight in Israel’s wars. We are told in those verses:
2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. 3 From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company.
This pattern is that men, who were 20 and older, would participate in the wars that were in Israel’s future. Beginning in verse 20 of chapter 1 we see the census taken and we are told how many “men twenty years old or more” were available to serve in the army. This pattern, of men fighting in combat, holds true in the battles conducted by Israel (cf. Joshua 1:14).*
If we were to summarize the teaching of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) on this subject, it would be fair to say that men fought the wars. This was not simply a matter of choice by Israel, but the pattern God gave to His people.
The question is whether this pattern is something that is merely descriptive for the time it was written, or if there is something deeper. Or to frame it another way: Do we lose anything by allowing women to fight our wars?
My thoughts come from the standpoint of someone who believes that men and women are both image bearers of God, but who have been created by God to complement one another. Thus, men and women have unique roles in God’s plan. It appears obvious, and some studies have proven this true, that men are more readily equipped for front-line and direct combat situations. I believe it is from this truth that God wanted the men of Israel to be involved in war, while women stayed back to care for the families.
Another danger comes to my mind. This danger concerns what we lose with co-ed combat. I’m convinced we lose a certain respect for women. Women and children are to be protected. Most of us are angered if we see a man standby and do nothing whenever a woman or child is being harmed. We think the man is a coward for not protecting them. Ephesians 5:25-29 commands me as a husband to love my wife the way Christ loved the church. This role seems to be reversed when husbands are at home, while wives are on the front-lines.
I do not want to live in a world were men and women are treated equally, if by equally we mean men will no longer give deference to the “weaker vessel.” This new decision appears to be another blurring of the gender lines, and in the end, as this trend continues, it only further moves us away from God’s design in creation.
*Some attempt to point to the Deborah narrative in Judges 4, 5 as an exception to this truth. However, the text does not seem to indicate that Deborah actually went into combat and the killing of Sisera by a woman was to shame the man, Barak, who should have killed him.