About Registration for Military Service

Recent news reports have informed us that President Carter, because of the international crisis, wants to reinstitute registration for compulsory military service, or, simply, the draft. This, you will recall, was given up soon after the Vietnam War. These same reports tell us that the intention at present is only registration in the interests of preparedness, not an actual draft. It seems, further, according to these reports, that the president already has the power to inaugurate such registration by executive order as far as young men are concerned. However, the president also wants to include in this registration young women; and to institute a registration of both young men and young women apparently requires congressional action. There is at present no legal provision for a registration and draft which would include young women. Furthermore, it has been reported that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to persuade the Congress to approve such registration and possible draft of American young women. In fact, some legislative experts have stated flatly that President Carter’s proposal will meet with such opposition in the Congress that the result will be that there will be neither a male nor a female registration. 

Now it is not our intention to discuss in these columns the pros and eons of registration for military service as such. There certainly have been occasions in our history when military conscription was necessary; and at such times, we believe, it is the duty of the Christian young man to obey the government’s call and to render military service when necessary. For the rest, however, whether it is the part of wisdom to get along at present with a volunteer army, or whether there should be an actual military conscription, or whether there should be registration so that we would be ready for a draft if the international situation worsens and war threatens — these are questions beyond the competence and the purview of this department. I would only caution that pacifism and talk of peace in a world that is an armed camp and that is at war with God and with itself is folly. 

In this connection, be it also said, we share the position and the attitude of neither the liberal churches and churchmen nor of a certain type of conservative and evangelical churches and churchmen. The former have their agencies and agents who are pacifist and revolutionary. According to reports, they have already begun to promote and to urge the same kind of rebellion and anti-war movements and demonstrations and anti-draft activities as were promoted during the 1960s. No Christian may make common cause with such movements and attitudes. But the latter seem to identify a certain kind of Americanism with Christianity and even to use the pulpit and the Scriptures to promote military preparedness and to warn how poorly America is prepared militarily in comparison with Russia. An example of this is a recent sermon by the rather well-known Rev. D. James Kennedy, of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, which was printed in the Presbyterian Journal. This alleged sermon was more in the nature of a speech which pleaded for military preparedness and which might better have been delivered in the halls of Congress or on the political campaign trail. We say: a plague on both their houses. Let the church preach the Word, and not prostitute the pulpit in the interests of one or another political position. 

But we are concerned especially about two matters in connection with the proposal for registration and a possible draft. And we are concerned about them because they ought to be matters of deep concern to our churches and to us as people of God’s covenant. 

The first matter of concern is the proposal to include young women in this registration and thus in eventual military service. Reports have differed as to whether this eventual military service would entail combat duty or not. But this is not really the issue. Besides, experience has shown that one thing usually leads to another, and that we may expect that ultimately everything expected of a male soldier would also be expected of a female soldier. 

Now there could be a difference of opinion as to the question whether under any circumstances whatsoever some kind of military service on the part of women might be necessary and proper. One might conceive of a situation in which a nation would find itself in the direst of circumstances, a situation in which a nation is called to wage a war of self-defense on its own soil against such overwhelming forces that its very existence as a nation is at stake and that every possible man power resource — young and old, male and females — must be rallied in the attempt to fight off the enemy. One might conceive, perhaps, of a life-and-death struggle in which it becomes necessary to fight for one’s homeland foot by foot in the effort to force that enemy back into the Atlantic or the Pacific. But such is not the picture now. Our country has never yet been forced to fight an invader on our own soil. Nor are we at present facing a threat that is at all of the proportions, let us say, of World War II. Our government is not thinking in terms of putting the nation on a war-time footing. It is not even thinking of military preparedness in such serious terms. After all, only registration has been called for, not a draft. By its own admission this registration is only for the purpose of saving about three months time IF a draft should become necessary. 

In other words, even those who are proposing registration of women with a view to military service are not proposing it on the basis of dire necessity. Not at all! Then they would be crying that there simply is not enough man power available to defend our country. Then they would take steps to press every possible male between the ages of 18 and 45, as in World War II, into military service first, in order then, if necessary, also to draft women. But everyone recognizes immediately that we do not at present face a situation of this kind. 

What, then, is the reasoning and the strategy behind this call for including women in registration for a possible draft? 

One can only conclude that it is a blatant and perverse attempt to promote the so-called equal-rights- for-women movement and to curry favor (for political reasons?) with the raucously vocal promoters of this movement. I am not referring to any attempt to obtain a legitimate equality as far as so-called civil rights are concerned. I am referring to the whole movement which began with a cry for the emancipation of woman and which strives at eliminating all differences and distinctions between the sexes, which simply aims to put male and female on a completely equal footing. It is the same movement which has clamored for the so-called Equal Rights Amendment. 

And right there lies the first reason why we are opposed to this proposal. It is godless! It is utterly contrary to our Christian morals. And it would make our covenant young women, our daughters and granddaughters, its victims. 

A second, more practical reason for opposition to this proposal is the fact that we do not want our covenant daughters exposed to the spiritual trauma connected with military service, not to say military combat. There are many among our readers who know by experience whereof I am speaking — men who have been through World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnamese War, or who have merely undergone military training at one of our nation’s camps. They know what it means to be absent from covenant homes and from the church and from the fellowship of God’s people for two and more years. They know by experience the moral filth, the drunkenness, the fornication and sexual degradation, the drug addiction and all the other temptations which characterize life in the military. Furthermore, according to all reports which have filtered down concerning our present volunteer military, the situation has certainly not been improving. Do you want your covenant daughters forced into such a situation? And think what would happen if unisex prevailed in our military! It has become proverbial in this world that wherever the military are, there the women are also. But if the military becomes unisex, the women will be in the camps, not outside the gates. Can you imagine the moral corruption? Again, do you want your daughters in a situation like that? To ask the question is to answer it. 

In the third place, the very idea of a woman soldier is something of a monstrosity; inherently offensive to our Christian sensibilities. One even senses something of this when, in Old Testament days, Barak insisted that Deborah go along with him to the battle. It was a shame to him! There is something altogether unnatural about the very idea of a woman solider; I mean unnatural in the sense of contrary to nature. And how, pray tell, are our young women to conform to the picture which Scripture draws of them when they are compelled to serve in the military at the very stage in the lives when they become ready and eligible to be married and to become covenant mothers? How, for example, will they conform to the picture of them in Titus 2:4-5, as sober, loving their husbands, loving their children, discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed? 

We must, therefore, oppose this proposal. I mean that we should take every step possible to kill this idea of female conscription. It is a known fact that there is much opposition to the proposal in Congress. Some have flatly predicted that it will never get through the Congress at present. As Christian citizens — not for political reasons, but for spiritual, moral reasons — we should voice our opposition to our elected representatives and should also tell them of our reasons for this opposition. Thus we can attempt, at least, to foil this proposal. 

Our second concern with respect to the reinstitution of registration and eventual conscription is the ominous report that it is being proposed that there be no more student exemptions or deferments. 

Let me explain. 

In the past, even in wartime, our government granted student deferments in order to allow young men to finish their education. This was done for a long time even in cases where the education did not involve anything essential to the war effort. And in fields of education deemed essential to the war effort (for example, in the area of medicine or some of the sciences) young men were for a long time deferred or exempted from military service so that they might at least complete their education to the point that they would be useful in their specialty. It seems to me that the wisdom of such a practice, provided abuses are guarded against, is obvious. But we are particularly concerned about the question of exemption for military service for students for the ministry. 

During World War II, I recall, the rule was that those students who had completed two years of pre-seminary training and who had been accepted as students for the ministry by a bonafide seminary were exempted from the draft. If this had not been the law in those years, our small seminary would soon have been empty, with the result that our denomination would soon have suffered a severe shortage of ministers. 

Down through the years, even to the time of the draft during the Vietnamese War, this practice, generally speaking, was maintained. Our seminary students, as a result, were usually able to get a deferred classification. 

Then, several years ago — I do not now recall the exact date, but it was while ex-president Ford was still a congressman from Michigan’s fifth district – there was talk of changes in the Selective Service Act which would deprive seminary and pre-seminary students of deferred status. I recall this because our seminary at that time let its voice be heard when the House Armed Services Committee was conducting hearings on the subject; and Mr. Ford saw to it, on our behalf, that our viewpoint on the matter was made a part of the record on this matter with the Armed Services Committee. At the time no change was made with respect to the exemption of students for the ministry. 

Now, as I stated, there is again talk of eliminating student deferments. And while I have neither seen nor heard any specific reference thus far to the matter of deferments for students for the ministry, it is not at all impossible that the slate will be wiped clean and that divinity students will be deprived of deferments along with all others. I make this statement on the basis of the fact that there has been an increasing tendency on the part of government to ignore the status and the needs of the churches, as well as an increasing tendency on the part of some churches — out of some kind of perverted. sense of fairness, but certainly not out of a sense of self-preservation nor out of respect for the separation of church and state — to give up this privilege and right of having divinity students deferred. Perhaps this has also been due, in part, to the fact that large numbers of divinity students have not gone into the pulpit ministry upon graduation. 

However, one does not have to be able to count to ten to figure out that our small seminary and small denomination could be radically affected if our students could no longer be deferred and exempted from military service. In peacetime, should the draft be reactivated, this would entail a minimum of two years out of a potential student’s life; and in wartime it would more likely mean that a student might never become a student for the ministry. Meanwhile, our seminary could soon be empty of students, with the result that our churches would be deprived of new ministers. 

But there is a deeper issue. 

In bygone years our government has been careful to keep hands off the church. The principle of separation of church and state has been jealously guarded. This has traditionally been behind the policy of exempting divinity students as well as ministers from military service. The power to draft was seen as the power to close down the churches’ seminaries and to deprive their pulpits of ministers. This was viewed as a power over the churches which the state might not employ. 

This principle must be jealously guarded. 

I say again: I do not know at this point whether there is any intention to include the seminaries of the land in this move to eliminate student deferments. But I do consider it possible, and even likely in our times. When once such a regulation gets on the books, it will be virtually impossible to rescind it. Hence, the time to act is now. We must take preventive action and use our influence through contacting our legislators, in order to preserve the exempt status of our seminary students and future ministers. 

Write to your representatives and senators about both of these matters, and let your Christian testimony be heard!