Recently, in “Onward Christian Soldiers,” I posted some reflections on the role of Christians in the armed forces. Here are a few more reflections.
Can a senior military officer truly follow Jesus and still be an efficient and effective soldier? An emphatic “yes” is the answer from Major General Tim Cross of the British Army, addressing a conference of the Association of Military Christian Fellowships in Warsaw some years ago.
He lays down five guiding principles for the officer seeking to follow Jesus. And he gives an answer to the question: in war, whose side is God on?
It’s a fascinating address. At this time of conflict and confrontation it deserves a wider audience (though, sadly, no longer appears to be online).
1. God didn’t send a committee. He sent a human leader, who had a team of twelve, one of whom was a failure. So it’s crucial that someone be in charge, with authority and responsibility. “You can’t lead by committee – the buck stops with you, the leader.”
2. Jesus was a leader who served:
Don’t cling to positions of authority, title, status or shoulder power; rather live with and live through the lives of your people. In doing so, you will stand shoulder to shoulder with the British officers in the Falklands who arrived in Port Stanley cold, dirty and tired, having fought alongside their men, and not with the Argentinean officers who set themselves apart, and surrendered clean, well fed and rested: and you will stand alongside those British officers and non-commissioned officers who, without any orders, appeared at all times of the day and night to help the refugees in Blace and Brazde in Northern Macedonia, giving their time, food and energy unselfishly.
3. Jesus was a leader who developed the gifts of others. He built up self-belief in all He came into contact with.
4. Don’t stand aloof from your people. Communicate with them. Listen and consult. Jesus didn’t operate from an office.
5. Confront evil and sin, and do so head on. Evil is ever-present. So condemn the sin, but not the sinner:
This fifth principle, best summed up perhaps in the word “love,” applies to our enemies too. “Love your enemies” is not a pacifist message, but it does lie at the very heart of the Geneva Convention.
If you can do this, then you will stand alongside those who achieved such great things in the Falklands but also then made the decisions not to shell the retreating Argentineans around Port Stanley; with those who achieved so much in the Gulf War, but then ensured that British vehicles, food and water were made available to the captured Iraqi prisoners of war; with those who today ensure equality of treatment in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, and East Timor.
And you will stand separate from those who were in My Lai in Vietnam, or slaughtered women and children and wounded soldiers in the Far East and Europe in World War II, or ethnically cleansed the villages and towns throughout Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. This is what separates out the true Christian leader. Difficult? Yes, of course it is, but in following the example of Jesus Christ you can be inspired to stand firm against evil and achieve great things.
We should applaud the fact that we have such leaders in our military, and praise God that we have such a Servant King who inspires them.
Finally, in warfare, whose side is God on?
In the words of Major General Cross:
Too often we expect God to be on our side. But that is not the real issue. It is not a matter of whose side God is on in warfare, or any other aspect of life. The real question is not, “Whose side is God on?” but, “Are we on God’s side?”