WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Defense’s decision to open all military combat positions to women has rekindled a theological and practical debate on the role of women in battle.
“It is no shock that a secular society that has embraced feminism and transgender ideology is now confused about gender roles and war,” said Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. “Men have no idea who they are today. Their grandfathers bled out on the beaches of Normandy to save civilization, but most men have no functional concept of masculine self-sacrifice. We men ask women to provide for us, to do all the work around the house, to disciple the kids and even to die for us. These are shameful days.”
In a Dec. 3 announcement, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said “there will be no exceptions” to permitting women to enter elite combat forces “as long as they qualify and meet the standards,” according to The Washington Post. About 220,000 jobs, some 10 percent of the American military, have been closed to females but will open Jan. 2. Among the previously closed jobs are positions in the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces and Marine Corps infantry.
Carter’s decision capped a decades-long loosening of restrictions on women in the military, including a 2013 decision by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to lift the ban on women serving directly in ground combat units.
Gender roles debated
Strachan, who also serves as associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Scripture teaches men should protect women and children — a principle with obvious application to military service.
“Christian men read our Bibles,” Strachan said in written comments. “We see godly warriors raised up by God to defend His people and honor His name. We don’t skip over the parts about David’s mighty men, Joshua, Solomon and men of martial virtue. These stories are burned onto our hearts. We see them reflected in the Western tradition. Our pulse moves faster when we hear of Churchill, De Gaulle, MacArthur and the men they led into battle against evil adversaries.
“Christian men know that war is terrible,” Strachan continued. “We do not ask for it; we confess with Augustine that war must be just to be fought. But we also know this: there is one thing … worse than dying — being a coward.”
On the opposing side of the debate, Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, said Scripture and history both point to the qualification of women for combat service.
“Women’s military acumen dates back to biblical women like Jael who singlehandedly rescued Israel by skillfully subduing Sisera and pounding a tent peg into his head, Judges 4:21,” Haddad told BP in written comments. “While history is scant on details, women served in the Special Forces and even on the front lines in WWI and WWII, though they rarely received equal benefits or recognition for making the same sacrifices as their male peers.
“Like women missionaries who flooded the world’s most dangerous corners, often outnumbering men two to one, women have never shied away from danger when a higher goal might be attained,” she said. “The question should be: is the person qualified to serve, not what is their sex.”
Countries that allow females in combat roles, Haddad said, “have discovered that women not only attain the same qualifications as men. They also have distinct advantages” like the ability at times to “collaborate successfully with local women to identify and disarm hazards such as mines.”
‘Less combat effective’?
A Marine Corps study released in September found that in 93 of 134 military tasks, all-male units outperformed mixed-gender units that included one or two women, NPR reported. All-male units moved to targets faster, shot targets more accurately and evacuated wounded Marines faster than their mixed-gender counterparts.
In a 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed, former Marine Ryan Smith suggested allowing women in combat roles could make military units “less combat effective.”
While a woman “is as capable as a man of pulling a trigger,” Smith wrote, it could be “distracting and potentially traumatizing” for troops to endure “the absolutely dreadful conditions” of war in front of members of the opposite sex. In Smith’s experience fighting in Iraq, Marines were forced to sit in each other’s laps for hours on end and remove their clothing alongside one another, he said.
Douglas Carver, a former U.S. Army chief of chaplains, told BP active military members are unlikely to speak publicly against the decision to open combat roles to women because their Oath of Enlistment requires adherence to the lawful decisions made by their commanders regardless of their personal views.
Carver, a retired Major General, commended the military service of women.
“From a professional point of view as a retired Army officer and chaplain, it’s hard to argue or disagree with Secretary Carter’s decision,” said Carver, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of chaplaincy. “Women in the Armed Services have proven their professional competence and physical endurance in combat over the last 14 years of war, with over 150 women killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan who have paid the full measure of devotion to duty.”
Still, Carver raised questions about the new policy.
“My personal concern is that the Department of Defense may have made this decision more concerned about political correctness instead of combat readiness. With that in mind, I’m left with more questions than answers from last week’s decision that will now allow women to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead small infantry units, Army Rangers or Navy SEALs into war,” Carver said in written comments.
Each branch of the Armed Services was given 30 days to draft plans for implementing the change, according to The Washington Post.
— by David Roach | BP