Opening Story: It was the ultimate juxtaposing of moral values. Young James Oliver was hunkered down in a rice paddy in Vietnam, bullets whizzing by, mortars exploding, dead bodies everywhere. He was a Specialist Five—a medic, and a conscientious objector in the Adventist faith. He had embraced the noncombatant position common in our church. He loved America; he wanted to serve; he was willing to defend U.S. values. But with the carnage and agony that comes with every war, he believed it was preferable to carry bandages instead of a gun, to restore life instead of taking it.
He was pinned down by VC fire. Rescue choppers were slow in coming. Up in a tree, in plain sight, was a young Vietcong sniper—easily picking off American soldiers. One bleeding soldier waiting to be airlifted out was a sitting duck. Oliver watched in horror as the sniper took aim and finished him off.
The dilemma: because of conflicting levels of loyalty—God, country, church, friendship, self-survival—human lives were weighed in the balance. Oliver didn’t have a gun; all he had was bandages and vials of morphine. But there in the oozing-red mud outside the village of Kontum were the plentiful weapons of the dead. A fully loaded M16 was literally at his feet. He could either pick it up . . . or watch as several of his comrades perished needlessly. Was this a time to “turn the other cheek”?
This young Seventh-day Adventist picked up the gun, took aim the best he could, and knocked the sniper out of the tree with one shot. “There wasn’t anything else I could do,” he later told an Army reporter. “I hope I don’t have to do it again, but if I must, I will.”
How can the person of God simultaneously survive in these “two worlds”? How can we obey the Bible and still defend our nation, if need be?
Adventist Review report: In 2002, editor Bill Knott wrote an article entitled “All the Names Written There.” It dealt with the difficult issue of young Adventists going to war. At least 148 Adventists gave their lives during the Vietnam conflict. Seventeen of them had earned Bronze Stars. A quarter of them were new bridegrooms, barely married. One 33-year-old sergeant was killed the very first day he arrived in Vietnam. Fifty-two were medics who did not carry weapons. One who was decorated after the war said with a smile, “One thing I’ve found is you never have to worry about Jesus ‘jamming’ on you like an M16.”
Fact: Other Adventists, after prayer and reflection and seeking God’s guidance, did choose to use weapons to defend America. At least 43 Adventists in the infantry and 17 Marines all died in battle after concluding that to carry and use the provided weapons was right for them.
Non-Negotiable: From the Sermon on the Mount, every soldier reads this: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Bless those who curse you; do good to those who hate you. (Matthew 5:44)
Even the hardened soldier in combat—if he or she is a Christian—is under heavenly orders to love the enemy. It’s a terrible dilemma: your friend—whom you love—is bleeding in the killing field, and your enemy—whom you also love (agape)—is a sniper in a tree. In this sad, wretched world of warfare and fallen values, you may actually have to get that enemy you love in your sights and shoot him dead . . . for the greater good. It falls to the Christian soldier to pray and then make a decision. It falls to the rest of us to stand back and respect and support him.
Romans 12:17: Do not repay anyone evil for good. This is the “Bill of Rights” for all Christians. No taking revenge. No delighting in the fall of even your enemy. No rejoicing in the misfortunes of others, even when they deserve it. Citizens of America can do that; citizens of heaven cannot.
Can a war be “just”? Dr. Richard Land, president of his Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote to President Bush in 2003 to support the Iraq war. “We believe that your stated policies concerning Saddam Hussein are prudent and fall well within the time-honored criteria of just war theory.” But at least 60 other spiritual believers wrote to America’s Commander in Chief, asking him not to invade Hussein’s kingdom, despotic as it surely was, fearing that the cost to Iraq in innocent life and sorrow was simply too great.
Counterpoint: Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi writes via the Internet: “The fact is that all wars are intrinsically evil, because they stem from selfishness and pride. They reflect our fallen, rebellious human nature, which affects international as well as interpersonal relationships.” Where do these wars and battles within yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting within yourselves? You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition you can’t satisfy, so you fight to get your way by force. James 4:1, 2.
However, Bacchiocchi then takes readers through an extended tour of Bible verses which do lend support to the idea that citizens of heaven could conceivably be a Christian and a warrior at the same time. That there are times when God calls on nations to restrain evil by using force. We allow our policemen to carry guns for a good reasons; sometimes the same principle applies to needing to use a few MK-84 Bunker Buster bombs and the 101st Airborne Division.
Conclusion: for most of us, the tug of dual citizenship is less dramatic. But in our own lives, friendships and human desires may pull us in a different direction from our own Bibles. A 1040 tax form may feel like an unnecessary burden when we’ve already “paid tax” in church the previous Sabbath. We live, as Chuck Colson puts it, in “kingdoms in conflict.” It is an ongoing struggle to seek God’s divine will and guidance as we serve Him as well as our earthly obligations as citizens of heaven.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelines.