When Mamma Wears Combat Boots
The terrified face of Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson broadcast over Iraqi television and the news that at least two other women soldiers had been captured in Gulf II immediately re-ignited the debate over the role of women in the military. Pundits pulled out the familiar statistics about the numbers of women enlisted, the studies done on integrated boot camps, and the pros and cons of women in “at risk” positions during a war. Editorials from writers on both sides of the issue quickly filled the papers. Feminist writers insisted that Pfc. Jessica Lynch’s action in the face of capture “rebuts the notion that women cannot bear the burdens of combat.” i On the conservative side, stalwarts like Phyllis Schlafly, Mona Charen, and Jane Chastain responded that sending women into harm’s way is “a humiliation for America and a step backward for civilization.” ii But in the midst of a debate over a question with crucial cultural implications, the Church at large has remained strangely silent. I believe this is because we have already sold our birthright and no longer have the foundations upon which to build an argument against placing women in combat.
Women have served in support positions during wartime throughout history. They have provided food, clothing, and nursing care for soldiers, have worked hard to conserve resources on the home front, and have inspired men to defend what is more precious and vital for our survival than anything else: the next generation. It is only in the last half century that the numbers of women serving directly in combat support units has increased. Yes, there are the stories in history of the few women who have disguised themselves as men in order to serve in actual combat. The feminists love to trot these out as proof that a woman can fight like a man and take a bullet like a man, but instead of serving as evidence that women should be placed on the front lines, they reveal a fatal flaw in the thinking of those who believe that women and men should be treated the same in all situations. When it comes down to it, the question is not and never has been “Can * some women fight like men and go into battle?” Obviously, there are historical examples of women who have stood the test of the battlefield. But exceptions do not make the rules. The question we ought to be asking is not “Can women stand in the line of fire?” but “Should* we place women in harm’s way?”
When the conservative commentators bring out all the studies and statistics that show women lack the upper body strength that is a given for 95% of the male population and that women tend to panic under fire, they have already given away the premise. All it takes to destroy their argument is to have some scientist come forward and demonstrate that placing women on steroids and training them just like men will toughen them for battle and give us buff lines of female fighting machines. Again, the question isn’t “Can we” but “Should we?” And, ultimately, who is to say whether we should or not? If the Christian’s answer is based upon anything (statistics, studies, stories from history) other than the infallible Word of God, that answer will not withstand the relentless pressure of the opposition.
All of our actions and decisions must be led and determined by Scripture, which is “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness...” (II Tim. 3:16). Principles for living in every possible area of life are contained in God’s perfect Word. We cannot rely upon our own hearts, which are “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). Our hearts can lead us into great error. When we have questions about an issue, we should look first to the Scriptures, seeking God’s principles so that we can apply them carefully to the situations and issues we face in our society.
Sadly, most Christians seem to feel that God is silent about “modern-day” issues like women in combat. We feel that if God’s Word doesn’t spell something out word-for-word (e.g. “Thou shalt not put women in combat”), then He doesn’t have anything to say about it. It is truly tragic if we need such a direct proclamation to prove to us that women are to be protected, cherished, and defended, and that men are to do the work of guarding them. From cover to cover, the Bible is packed with stories, laws, commands, and examples of men laying down their lives to protect the innocent and the weak. Christ is, of course, our primary example, and He calls men to follow Him by sacrificing in order to cherish, nourish, and protect the ones under their charge. The Groom of Scripture does not hide behind the skirts of His bride. In fact, men in Scripture who hide behind women are roundly condemned for their cowardice (see the account of Deborah the prophetess in Judges 4).
The Bible is clear. God never asks women to carry the sword in time of war. It is historical fact that the pagan Canaanites glorified the goddess Astarte (Venus, goddess of war). Their idolatrous worship involved cross-dressing. God’s Word forbids cross-dressing for any purpose. In his commentary on Deuteronomy 22:5, Matthew Henry notes, “[I]n the worship of Venus, women appeared in armour, and men in women’s clothes; this, as other such superstitious usages, is here said to be an abomination to the Lord” (emphasis in the original iii). The word kaeliy, used in the passage as “that which pertaineth to a man,” is also interpreted as “armor” in a large number of other Bible passages. Women are not called to put on men’s clothing (of any kind, including armor), and the pagan practice of cross-dressing for idolatrous worship God called an “abomination,” the strongest term that could be used.
It is a sign of judgment upon a nation when women go into battle situations (see Judges 4 and Isaiah 3:12). So whom does God call to enter the army? Deuteronomy 24:5 says, “When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” Men go off to war; not women. Numbers 26:2 says, “Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel from twenty years old and above, by their fathers’ houses, all who are able to go to war in Israel.” The following chapters show that when a census was taken, only men were counted — heads of households (“by their fathers’ houses”). So only men over the age of twenty were considered “able to go to war.” There are no examples in Scripture of women fighting in the army of Israel. Yes, we have examples of women who put evil men to death (like Jael putting a tent peg through Sisera’s temple), but they didn’t do this as soldiers. Jael lured Sisera into her tent for a bowl of milk and waited until he fell asleep to seize the opportunity to destroy the enemy of Israel.
But perhaps the most compelling evidence that women do not belong in the military is found in God’s directions for warfare contained in Deuteronomy 20. God clearly shows that women and children are not to be harmed:
And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee. (Deut. 20:13-14 KJV)
In normal cases of warfare, God commands that women and children be protected from abuse (even, as in this case, the women and children of the enemy). If the women of the enemy were to be protected from harm, we could not infer that Israelite women were free to head to the front lines and take an arrow. It is clear from Scripture that women are not to be treated as combatants.
It should come as no surprise that the increased role of women in the military has corresponded with the steady advance of feminism in American society. And the radical feminist movement of the last half century has only built upon the foundations prepared by those in the century prior who wanted to change the role of women from that which God ordained to one which fit their own agenda. But we cannot conveniently point fingers here and blame the feminists for the problems we face today. We must first point to ourselves, for it is the Church that has failed to hold up God’s blueprints for women, the family, and society and has handed over so much ground to the enemy of our souls.
We lost the argument against women in the military when we turned a blind eye to the numbers of women flooding the workforce during WWI, in the 1920s, and the 1940s. We rationalized that this was all for a good end — that women serving on factory lines to produce munitions, jeeps, airplanes, and other wartime material would “help the boys over there” and “keep America first.” And certainly God can bring good out of all kinds of bad decisions — but that does not justify the decisions. Following hard upon the heels of the idea that women could serve in male-dominated professions was the novel idea that someone else could raise the children while mamma was serving her country. Scientifically designed day care centers would feed, train, and entertain the little ones. The WPA (Works Progress Administration) of the Depression era provided funding for childcare centers so mamma could drop the kiddies off somewhere and go to her workplace without worry. ivThis only increased during WWII, and because of the situation (a nation at war), no one seemed compelled to question the decision to shuffle childcare into the hands of the government or non-family members. No matter how well intentioned, this decision has produced terrible repercussions for children, for women, and for the family as a whole.
What is it we Americans are fighting for anyway? Just warfare isn’t centered upon misguided nationalism (“the American way all the way”) or upon defending our materialistic gains. If we are sending men and women off to fight for McDonald’s and apple pie, we have missed the point. A just war is fought to defend something more personal — the innocent, the weak, and most importantly, the young who will inherit the nation we leave behind. A society that does not protect its young (and the ones who bear the young) is a society that has forgotten why it exists. We are not placed here to live lives of middle class complacency, content with our Big Macs and our technological gadgets. We are here to pass along the wisdom of generations to the ones who will grow up behind us and take over for us when we are gone. We are here to disciple our children and to infuse them with a long-term vision for their children’s children.
Allan Carlson writes, “The strong and normal human instinct is to protect infants, toddlers, and their mothers. Indeed, their well-being and security form the central purposes of every healthy nation. From the smallest tribe to the greatest empire, the human rule has been that all others must sacrifice, and even die, to protect the mothers of the young, for they are a people’s future.” vYet as mothers march off to war, we Christians seem able only to look the other way or to bluster and stammer incoherently. We have no answer, because we have already given away the question.
When Christians send their women to work and put their children in daycare, they have announced to the world that mamma is replaceable. If just anyone can train up a child, why bother having mamma at home? Indeed, if daycare centers can feed and clothe our children and teach them what they need to know, who needs families at all? We may as well all go off in our own separate directions and make money so we can buy all the stuff that the “American dream” is made of. And if mothers do not have a special, God-given role in the lives of their children, then why should it matter if mamma wears combat boots or takes a bullet?
Unfortunately, we have slowly bought into the lie that mothers can be replaced by just about anyone else. The feminists have worked hard to convince us that being a mother is just another menial job — one that anyone with half a brain can do well — and that only a paying career can validate a woman in the eyes of the world. Brian Robertson writes, “Because it is uncompensated, the work of the mother and homemaker is too often taken for granted in the economic theory, and a materialistic analysis that sees man in purely economic terms is bound to undervalue domestic work.” vi Because we do not treasure the work of the mother and cherish the role of women in the family, the world sees no reason to do so, either. Now, I am not downplaying the vital role of fathers in the health of the family. Fathers and mothers are equally important in the life of a child. However, God has given the unique role of childbearing and nurturing to women, and He has given the work of providing for and defending the family to men. This is not a popular position in our “enlightened” times, but it is the truth. We cannot get away from the fact that women were designed to bear children. Men will never be able to have babies. God has given that precious privilege to women only. And because of this unique role, women must be protected and defended at all costs if a society is to survive.
If mothers go into the front lines in the same proportion that fathers do, we will be in serious trouble. Like it or not, the truth is that mamma isn’t replaceable. Daycare cannot do the job of the mother. We have the studies that show us the detrimental effects of daycare upon children, but we really do not need them. Deep down, we know that mothers are the best providers of care for their own offspring (with only extremely rare exceptions). No hired caretaker can love a child as much as his own mother does. No one else has that particular child’s best interests at heart — no matter how well intentioned that person might be. Mother love isn’t a commodity that can be bought or traded on the open market. And it is absolutely not dispensable.
Again, Brian Robertson says, “When not directed toward providing security and stability for family life, particularly the rearing of children in the home, work outside the home loses much of its traditional meaning.” vii Change the wording just a bit, and this statement applies just as much to women serving in the military: “When not directed toward providing security and stability for family life, particularly the rearing of children in the home, going to war loses much of its traditional meaning.” Throughout history, the average man (no matter what “cause” his leaders may have embraced) has fought to protect his home, his wife, and his children. A woman’s role in war was that of the supporter on the home front — the one who prayed, wrote letters, made clothing, sent medicine, and nursed the wounded back to health. When we send women into harm’s way, we only complete the circle of violence to the family that we started when we declared that mothers didn’t need to stay at home or nurture their own children.
The voices from the other side will naturally respond, “You can’t tell women what to do. Some women want to go into the armed services and be in combat. Who are you to dictate that all women stay at home and nurture children?” Here is where we must not fall back upon man-made arguments, statistics, and studies. We do not have the right to dictate what roles women will fill in this world, but the God Who created us does. Why can’t we put women at risk? The answer comes directly from Scripture:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself... (Eph. 5:25-33a NKJV)
In the Christian faith, the Groom dies for the Bride. The strong lays down his life for the weak. Women and children are of vast importance in God’s economy, because children nurtured and diligently trained are the future of the Church, the community, and the world. For a culture to put mamma on the front lines and say, “Take it like a man,” that culture first has to have lost its focus upon the importance of the ones who will inherit what we leave behind.
The traditional blessing given during an Anglican marriage ceremony in the Church of England comes from Genesis 24:60: “Our sister, may you become the mother of thousands of ten thousands; and may your descendants possess the gates of those who hate them” (NKJV). Our vision must be a long-term one that thinks of children’s children and plans for their care, their education, and their safety. From beginning to end, God’s Word is filled with beautiful images of mothers caring for their children: nursing them (Ps. 22:9), comforting them (Ps. 131:2), instructing them in wisdom (Pr. 6:20 & 31:1; Song of Solomon 8:2; II Tim. 1:5), and praying for them (I Sam. 1:27). Nowhere in Scripture do we find men commended for sending women into battle and thus doing violence to the mothers of the next generation. To do so is cultural and societal suicide. Why don’t women belong in combat? Because God says women deserve a special status among humankind: the status of the cherished, the nourished, the protected, and the honored. Does this make men expendable? Hardly. War is a terrible thing and exacts a horrific price. We should avoid it at all costs. But when the enemy comes to kill our children and hurt their mothers, God appoints men to stand up and shield those entrusted to their care. Without such protection, the next generation cannot survive. And without dedicated mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters, the young cannot thrive and grow strong.
Theodore Roosevelt said it best when he addressed the nation in 1905 on the importance of motherhood:
No piled-up wealth, no splendor of material growth, no brilliance of artistic development, will permanently avail any people unless its home life is healthy, unless the average man possesses honesty, courage, common sense, and decency, unless he works hard and is willing at need to fight hard; and unless the average woman is a good wife, a good mother, able and willing to perform the first and greatest duty of womanhood, able and willing to bear, and to bring up as they should be brought up, healthy children, sound in body, mind, and character, and numerous enough so that the race shall increase and not decrease. There are certain old truths which will be true as long as this world endures, and which no amount of progress can alter. One of these is the truth that the primary duty of the husband is to be the home-maker, the breadwinner for his wife and children, and that the primary duty of the woman is to be the helpmate, the housewife, and mother... No wrong-doing is so abhorrent as wrong-doing by a man toward the wife and the children who should arouse every tender feeling in his nature. Selfishness toward them, lack of tenderness toward them, lack of consideration for them, above all, brutality in any form toward them, should arouse the heartiest scorn and indignation in every upright soul... Into the woman’s keeping is committed the destiny of the generations to come after us... The woman’s task is not easy — no task worth doing is easy — but in doing it, and when she has done it, there shall come to her the highest and holiest joy known to mankind; and having done it, she shall have the reward prophesied in Scripture; for her husband and her children, yes, and all people who realize that her work lies at the foundation of all national happiness and greatness, shall viii rise up and call her blessed.
If we want to call a halt to women’s participation in the military, we must first acknowledge our own faults in denying God’s Word. Instead of blaming the feminists or faulting the legislators we’ve elected, we need to take a searching look into our own hearts and ask if we have bought into the lie that women are no different from men. We need to take a hard look at the way the Church instructs its daughters. Are we preparing a generation of capable, intelligent, and wise mothers and sisters, or are we lining our girls up to march in lockstep with a culture that does not cherish women or their unique role? The issue is not women in the military — the issue is our lack of faithfulness to God’s decrees for men, women, and children. Until we return to the “old paths” of Scripture in the way we honor our husbands, bring up our children, and protect our families, we do not have a leg to stand upon when it comes to rebutting the feminists on this issue. We’ve already sold our birthright for a mess of pottage. And the deepest grief of all is that, unlike Esau, we do not have the sense to weep over what we have lost.
i “Women Fit for Front Lines? Ask Jessica Lynch” by Mary Schulken
ii “The Unwitting Victims of Feminist Ideology” by Phyllis Schlafly
iii Henry, Matthew. “Commentary on Deuteronomy 22” Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible. Blue Letter Bible. 01 Mar 1996. 18 May 2005.
iv For just a few examples of this, see the historical data on federal funding for daycare centers: “A brief History of Federal Financing for Child Care In the United States.” There is also an example of a day care started with WPA funds at lib.virginia.edu
v Carlson, Allan. “Mothers at War: The American Way?”
vi Robertson, Brian. Forced Labor: What’s Wrong with Balancing Work and Family. Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, 2002, p. 91.
vii Ibid, p. 87.
viii Roosevelt, Theodore. “On American Motherhood,” a speech given in Washington on March 13, 1905, before the National Congress of Mothers.