When I graduated from college, I joined an elite organization that takes pride in its high moral standards and code of ethics--claiming immunity to the changing winds of society.
The military's motto was appealing because moral truth transcends time. It does not change with the philosophies of human teaching or "the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). However, after my first week as a second lieutenant, I was greatly disillusioned.
Some would argue that there was a time when the principles of the U.S. and the military were grounded in biblical truth and wisdom. The laws and codes are still in place--but without the same faithful workforce. The result is an organization where the employees are some of the hardest working and most professional leaders during the day but lead indulgent lifestyles after hours.
The military's moral and ethical codes are honorable. But mirroring our society, there is a moral decline within the military. The military prides itself as an elite fighting force above the stature of its civilian counterparts, in and out of uniform. Yet, little by little, the coveted distinction has become clouded.
One example of this double-minded teaching is the refusal to use a constant moral compass though voicing a desire for moral standards. During my first week of active duty all recent college graduates and second lieutenants attended presentations on customs and courtesies, military relations, mutual respect--and especially rape awareness.
I heard one speaker address the men: "No means no!" Examples were given to explain how to draw the line between moral and immoral behavior. Each example began with a man and a woman drinking heavily at a local night joint and ended with one giving the other a ride home. The speaker continues, "The man helps his stumbling companion into her house and is then faced with a crucial decision."
Wait a minute! Is it only here that he is faced with a crucial moral decision?
They were both drinking excessively, followed by one of them driving drunk. Is it only now that someone is faced with possibly making a poor decision? No, the moral decision was faced hours earlier.
Various posters found throughout the base portrayed serious faces with a title that read, "We Are Empowered to End Sexual Assault." Below that decisive statement was the feeble answer: "Get Consent."
The failure to obtain consent is not the root of sexual assault! Perhaps, according to the code of law it is. But, I would hope that in the military our moral convictions would cut much deeper than abiding by the letter of the law. We may be able to prevent a young man or woman from losing a rape trial in court with these sexual assault campaigns and posters, but I would much rather see a military that cares not only for our physical well being, but also for our mental and spiritual well being.
Taking a firm stance on moral issues can bring some very unpopular sentiments. But there is a standard far more noble and true that demands the minds and consciences of those willing to satisfy that void in our hurting military. You can mock a man for his noble character, and scorn the morals that bind him to his cause, but no shame can ever come to Christ-driven motives (1 Peter 3:16). The solid foundation of unmoving ethics and standards will protect our young men and women--not laws.
As Christians in a secular work force, we can't isolate our military principles from God's truth. George Washington said, "Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion."[i] He also explains that even our nation's political force should not seek to rule by its own standard. "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars."[ii]
We need to teach our young minds to be responsible to the law and to unchanging ethical values. We must strike at the source of the problem: deadly compromise to faltering world values. Thomas Jefferson studied Jesus' teachings and realized that Jesus "pushed His scrutinies into the heart of man, erected His tribunal in the region of the thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountainhead."[iii]
Jesus struck at the source of the problem. He said prevent murder by doing away with hate. Avoid sexual immorality by fleeing any lustful temptation. Jesus Himself presented the perfect answer to the deep struggle with sin when He offered Himself on a cross to break a bondage that we cannot escape by ourselves. If America would come back to this truth, then we would be dealing with the very fountainhead of our moral dilemma.
I pray that over time my heart does not harden, accepting the sin that surrounds me. Even in the face of scorn I will not be ashamed to live a life of upright character without moral compromise--to the glory of my God. May our military recognize the history of this nation's foundation, the decline of today's moral standards, and the influence it has on young service men and women.
May we boldly encourage the lifestyle our mottos, creeds, and principles promote--in order that we may not be put to shame.
[i] David Barton, "America's Godly Heritage," Video, WallBuilder Press 1993, Fourth Printing. Quote taken from George Washington's "Address of George Washington, President of the United States, and late Commander in Chief of the American Army. To the People of the United States, Preparatory to His Declination" (Baltimore: George and Henry S. Keating, 1796), 22-23.
[ii] David Barton, "America's Godly Heritage," Video, WallBuilder Press 1993, Fourth Printing, 22-24.
[iii] David Barton, "America's Godly Heritage," Video, WallBuilder Press 1993, Fourth Printing. William Linn, "The Life of Thomas Jefferson" (Ithaca, New York: Mack & Andrus, 1834), 265.