There sometimes can be conflict in the minds of Christians serving in the military. When is it right to fight? How shall I treat my enemies? How can I maintain a testimony for Christ while serving in the military?
One Christian of distinction, who fought in five wars, was U.S. Army Brigadier General Gustavus Loomis. In Loomis is the ideal balance of Christian faith, devotion to family, and excellence in military service.
Born in Vermont in 1789, and an 1811 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Loomis was regarded as a tactically and administratively skilled officer, and a sincerely religious man of faith and prayer.
When the War of 1812 began, Lieutenant Loomis was transferred to a northern New York combat zone, fought in two battles, and was briefly held as a British prisoner of war. After the war, Loomis became part of the United States Coastal Survey, making maps and maritime charts around New York City and southern New England. In 1817, he married Julia Mix. They had three children, only one of which survived infancy.
In the early 1820s, Captain Loomis and his family were stationed throughout southern regions of the United States. He was first exposed to slavery on these assignments, an experience that solidified his antislavery upbringing in Vermont.
He played a major role in the 1831-1833 Black Hawk War, making significant strategic decisions that defeated Black Hawk, ending the war and saving lives on both sides, which earned him national recognition.
He then served at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, for several years of peacekeeping duties between Indians and white settlers. When no chaplain was around, Loomis conducted church services and prayer meetings, and was an instrument for revival.
From 1837-1842, he served in the Second Seminole War in Florida, living through five years of humidity, insects, inadequate supplies, and elusive Seminoles.
Known for his Christian compassion for blacks and Indians, he taught them to read the Bible and had religious services for them. Many southern officers hated him for this, while northern officers considered him benevolent but perhaps a bit eccentric.
From 1842-1848, Major Loomis was stationed in what is now the state of Oklahoma to keep peace between Indians, pioneers, settlers, and missionaries. During the Mexican War he led training and deployment of troops into combat.
How Can Christians Serve in the Military?
The life story of Brigadier General Gustavus Loomis provides six timeless principles for maintaining a testimony for Christ in the military: excellence in your career, strong faith in God, dedication to family, service and outreach, personal and professional integrity, and humility.
About General Loomis
- Excelled as an officer tactically, technically
- Uncompromising faith, even when ridiculed
- Nurtured spiritual life by daily Bible study, worship
- Never sacrificed his faith, family, or career
- Sought ways to minister to others
- Known as a man of integrity, honesty
- Respected by both subordinates and enemies
By the end of the Mexican War, Loomis had served thirty-seven years in the Army and could easily have retired into civilian life as a lieutenant colonel. But he would wear his uniform for another twenty years.
His next stations included Fort Snelling, Minnesota; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Here he skirmished with Indians, assisted Christian missionaries, conducted religious services, and buried his wife, Julia, in 1849. Records show they prayed together and ministered to blacks and Indians as lay missionaries.
The Third Seminole War in 1857 found Colonel Loomis making tactical decisions that forced the Seminoles to either surrender or starve. President James Buchanan and others publically praised Loomis for his excellent handling of the Seminoles and closing of the war.
Placed on paid leave from the Army at the end of the war because he had not taken military leave in many years, Loomis hung up his uniform and moved to southern Connecticut with his second wife, Annie. They were very active in supporting their local church and assisting the underground railroad.
Loomis was seventy-two years old when the Civil War began in 1861. Called out from extended paid military leave, he was appointed the senior recruiter for the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln.
He also became commandant of a Confederate prison camp, where the prisoners viewed Loomis as an elderly man who showed Christian compassion, leading prayer meetings and Bible studies with his chaplain.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, seventy-six-year-old Brigadier General Loomis was the oldest soldier on either side of the war. Two years later, he hung up his uniform for the last time.
He and his wife settled into civilian life and active church ministries in southern Connecticut. He died in 1872 at age eighty-two, a veteran of nearly six decades of military service.
Brigadier General Gustavus Loomis was both a fierce combatant and devout Christian commander. Whether coming from him in his tent, on the field, or in his home, sounds of psalm singing and Scripture reading were common. God was first in his life, then family, and finally career. In all these areas, he was blessed of the Lord.
Ken first joined the Army as a private in 1979, later becoming an NCO and finally an officer. Now a colonel, he is the garrison chaplain at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and has served both on active duty and in the Army Reserve. A 2007 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Air War College, Ken earned doctorate degrees in Sacred Theology and United States History. Blessed with four children, he and his wife, Vera, just celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.