Liberty In Non-Essentials: Women of the EPC and the Military Draft

It seems likely that women in the U.S. will soon be required to register for military conscription. Leaving aside the question of whether the draft is a just instrument altogether, the larger issue is how the American church will respond to this.

When the winds of this change began blowing in 2016, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod passed a resolution supporting those members who have “a religious and moral objection to women participating in the selective service system and being subject to a possible draft”. The LCMS followed up this resolution two years later with a theological report on women and military service that is excellent. It concluded that the, “cumulative weight of the Bible passages and principles discussed above can legitimately be read by Christians to the effect that it is not in keeping with God’s created design, intention and will for women to be employed in military combat or to be compelled to serve in the military in any capacity.” The report also includes sections on the conscience and practical considerations, and suggests that women registering for selective service as conscientious objectors, as currently allowed by U.S. law, is the wisest option for LCMS congregations.

The LCMS rooted their judgment “in biblical convictions, historic understandings of natural law, and reason-based common sense” on the negative impact of compulsory military service of women. The LCMS holds that men and women are created differently by God, and that difference means that women are not suited for combat or military service. Participation in such, especially under coercion, is inconsistent with God’s design. The LCMS does leave room for women who disagree and wish to serve on the basis of their conscience, however.

I don’t think it’s likely that my own EPC will be capable of marshaling a similar position, though I might be surprised. First, the EPC, unlike the LCMS, supports the ordination of women and would be unwilling to endorse an anthropological framework that taught God’s design for women excludes combat. Which means, secondly, that this issue would fall distinctly into the middle line of the EPC’s motto: liberty in non-essentials. Since this is a non-essential issue, the EPC is unlikely to stake out a position of defiance towards the government. We would tolerate people holding to the LCMS position (liberty!), but would not provide denominational support for any female conscientious objectors (liberty!) on anthropological grounds.

It is possible that the EPC could be spurred on by changes in the law, responding to the draft in general. In this case, it would lead to a report on military service and Christian conscience broadly considered, concluding with something like, “We support anyone who does not want their conscience violated by compulsion to practice a scriptural non-essential”. Which, of course, would simply mean no one would have to follow the government’s rules (zoning, speed limits, hunting seasons, driver’s licenses, etc.) if their conscience disallowed it. But this posture flies in the face of obeying the government when their law does not contradict God’s, especially since the EPC’s Westminster Standard already affirm just-war theory. The LCMS’ position on conscience and women in the military works because their position is that women’s conscience should be shaped by scripture, the teaching of which does not comport with female military service.

The conscription of women, I suspect, will just be the first of many coming, confronting issues forcing the EPC to choose: Maintain our ethos or respond to the challenge? Fence-straddling liberty in non-essentials, or solidarity with those whose scriptural conscience is resolved?