Should Women Fight?
Should women serve in military combat? Does the church have Scriptural warrant to claim that women should not? The Orthodox Presbyterian Church officially thinks so, but delegates to the OPC’s 68th General Assembly in Grand Rapids in June were hardly unanimous in their decision.
Instead, a study committee commissioned to examine the issue split evenly over how best to respond to a request for advice from the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel, and a group of dissenting delegates submitted a written protest when the assembly finally agreed to offer its advice.
Reporting to the General Assembly on June 4, the four-man Committee on Women in the Military and Combat offered competing reports, each signed by two of the committee members. The first report suggested the OPC register its opposition to future drafting of women into combat service under any circumstance, as well as to the inclusion of women in combatant military units or units which have a high degree of potential involvement in combat, thereby raising the risk of capture or rape. ‘Such inclusion is contrary to the Word of God,’ the report stated.
That report also recommended that OPC chaplains should not be required ‘to advocate, support or agree with any philosophy and effort to include women in military combat units, nor can he be required by any superior line or staff officer to teach or advocate such a philosophy and effort, nor shall he be forbidden to provide the biblical counsel contained in this report.’
The second report took a hands-off approach, stating, ‘The OPC ought not to speak (as the) church to the issue of women in combat. It is inadmissible given the (Westminster) Confession’s teaching on the expired civil law, and it is inappropriate given the church’s spiritual nature and ministerial task.’
Following two hours of debate, delegates agreed to declare ‘that the use of women in military combat is both contrary to nature and inconsistent with the Word of God,’ noting specifically 1 Cor. 11:14. The statement stopped short of recommending how chaplains should address the matter, noting that the subject is not yet an ‘extraordinary case’ that would require the church to prescribe such action.
The final vote prompted 41 of the 140 delegates to register negative votes, said the Rev. Donald J. Duff, the OPC’s stated clerk. A written protest signed by most of those dissenters was later entered into the General Assembly minutes, complaining that the position approved by the Assembly ‘has not been adequately demonstrated from Scripture and therefore cannot be declared as the teaching of God’s Word.’ The protest added that declaring counsel from only one report, when a dissenting report also had been written, was injurious to the peace of the church.
Three delegates were commissioned to write an answer to the protest, which was entered into the minutes on Wednesday. Noting that the majority of the assembly felt the Scriptures warranted the counsel given, the answer defended the declaration’s Scriptural and confessional basis.
Duff later noted that the counsel is just that–counsel, or non-binding advice–and was not intended as a means by which to directly meddle with affairs of the state.
The Presbyterian Church in America was slated to address the same issue at its General Assembly, which was scheduled to start on June 19 in Dallas, Texas. With a committee of nine teaching and ruling elders having investigated the issue, delegates to the assembly will be faced with a consensus report that argues from Scripture that the church should not support women serving in military combat positions.
However, the PCA committee–much like the OPC committee–split 5-4 over the role their report should fulfill. Five members, in a supplementary report, argued that the opinion should serve as a binding word of the church.
“We… are convinced that the creation order of sexuality places on man the duty to lay down his life for his wife. Women and men alike must be led to understand and obey this aspect of the biblical doctrine of sexuality, believing that such will lead to the unity and purity of the Church, and to the glory of God. Those who deny this duty, whether in word or action, oppose the Word of God,’ the majority group wrote.
Later in their supplement, they added, ‘There is no glory to God in a view of the Old Testament that relegates its clear teaching on the relations of the sexes merely to “wise counsel.”‘
Four members of their committee disagreed. In their supplement, the four dissenting members wrote that they do not see a clear Scriptural mandate for establishing the report as a moral duty.
‘We maintain that Scripture neither forbids nor permits women in modern military conflict. Nor is there Biblical instruction that by way of “good and necessary consequence” would come to us with the thrust of a Scriptural command, “Thus saith the Lord.” In this matter we must insist that there is therefore freedom of conscience,’ the minority wrote.
Placing the subject in the realm of that which is not directly addressed by Scripture, the group of four said the church has no right to directly solve such unaddressed matters. ‘She must leave them to the Providence of God, and to human wisdom sanctified and guided by the spiritual influences which it is her glory to foster and cherish.’
Doug Barnes reporting in Christian Renewal, June 2 2001
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