9 years ago today I took a vow. Now, every vow is taken before God and God definitely holds us accountable for our words (Matt 12:36). A vow has the power to direct our lives for good or bad and creates a strong spiritual push in a specific direction that limits our choices in that our words obligate us to fulfill them. I can think of a number of people I have ministered to who have been obligated to do something completely unhealthy because of a vow taken. I don’t think God wants us to live out of obligation, but out of desire. But, the vow stands until you either fulfill it,
A man who makes a vow to the LORD or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do.
… or our Father in heaven releases you from it. (Numbers 30:5)
Jesus Himself taught his followers not to make vows at all.
“You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’But I say, do not make any vows!… Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”
But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.
So, what was my vow? It was to the kingdom of the United States of America and state of Minnesota when I enlisted in the Air National Guard. It went something like this:
I, Nathan Banker, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of Minnesota against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the Governor of Minnesota and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me God.
Today is the first day after having completed two enlistment terms under that vow. I was obligated, before God, and under the power of my own words to fulfill this vow even to the point of death. Also, as a member of the US military, I am not allowed to serve in any other military. I had pledged my allegiance to the earthly kingdom of the United States and I was bound to it by oath before God.
At what point do I think it’s okay to swear an oath of service to an earthly kingdom and think that I can simultaneously swear allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven? The US certainly provides for dual citizenship, but does not provide for dual military service at the same time. It’s a direct conflict of interest.
Then again, is the Kingdom of God a real kingdom? Yes. I’m banking my life on it.
No one can serve to masters.
Was it a sin to serve in the military? Maybe, but in my case, I doubt it. I never had to kill anyone and I fulfilled my vow completely. But, I was divided. In a similar way to how Paul suggested a life of singleness because it could mean a life more singularly devoted to Christ, I had to serve two masters. I had to obey my commanding officers even if it conflicted with my Kingdom values of self-sacrificial love, and I did. I was a servant of the state.
Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name.
Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.
2 Timothy 2:4
I now serve one master in one army. I have one commander in chief. It isn’t the President. It isn’t democracy. It isn’t capitalism. It isn’t America. I pledge my allegiance to Jesus.
I am indivisible.
I’ve been in the military for almost 9 years now. My enlistment date is coming up really quick: December 1st 2012. That is when I have to decide to stay in or get out. It’s pretty much the half-way point to the 20 year minimum to retire. If I enlist for a third term, it will most likely be for another 4 years. I’ve served all those year in the 133rd MN Air National Guard as a Structures troop. That means that I’m a carpenter for the Air Force. That’s actually how I started my career as a carpenter, which today is allowing me remodel my home into a place of ministry. I don’t know where I would be without the Guard. I also don’t know what use it is to wonder. Hm…
I’ve deployed twice. Same place both times: Kuwait. After three years away I moved into a dorm room right across the hall from my former living space. The running joke for the first few week among those of us who had been there before was, “I think we were just dreaming and we never actually left this place!” Not much had changed except for the work tempo as all the troops moved out of Iraq and needed a place to stay or transition through. It was a lot of work! I spent 4 months of my life there in 2008 and 6 more months in 2012. On my most recent deployment I got promoted to Technical Sergeant (E-6).
In a lot of ways I feel like Joseph who was blessed at whatever he put his hand to. I know that I’ve served well up until this point. My commander likes me (last I heard anyway), my supervisor likes me, some of the troops under me like me. I’ve gotten numerous awards and recognition for my work ethic and leadership ability. I know I could do well there. Maybe even become Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) if I tried for it (which would be a really great retirement deal!). I am second in command in my flight/shop of 9. That leaves a lot of room for advancement in the future. A few people never even make it to TSgt in their entire 20 years, and I was already there by 8. My heavenly Father’s favor has been on me from the moment I swore in.
Therein lies the struggle. Swearing in? Pledging allegiance? Promising my life to defend a kingdom of this world? Unquestioningly spending myself one Sabbath a month on behalf of my country? Volunteering to be separated from my wife for months at a time? Being trained to kill? Declaring our president as lord (in the very real sense – ruler) of my life? Something isn’t resonating here.
Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Do not take revenge. Forgive. Love. Killing is okay sometimes?
One of my primary functional theologies is that I can trust God. I can trust him with my finances. I can trust him with my house. I can trust him with my family. And, one of the most helpful, I can trust him to stand for justice on my behalf when I am wronged. But as soon as I take matters into my own hands, I stop trusting His. You just can’t do both. How does that apply to a believer in the military who is going over seas to take revenge, or better yet, a preemptive strike on our enemies? I’m getting sick of all the back-door ways that we are making it seem okay to not live how Jesus lived.
What would it look like to lay myself down on the behalf of other people, even my enemies, and trust that this will somehow change the world and truly end all the violence and evil? Isn’t this what Christ did? He humbled himself and told us that in His kingdom, the greatest are those who submit themselves under others like a servant. His kingdom and the kingdom I am sworn to protect right now do not mix very well. Is it even possible to serve two masters?
If I am a disciple of Jesus, my life should look somewhat like his. He avoided violence and condemned hatred at every turn. I am made in His image. Here is my life.
- I am not applying this conviction to anyone other than me.
- The government does have a role to wield the sword to maintain good order according to Romans 13.
- Yeah, Hitler and all that… I don’t have the answers, but I’m aware of the argument.
- Non-violence doesn’t necessarily mean non-conflict or non-action. Jesus didn’t kill anyone when he drove the money-changers from the temple.
- I believe I earned my right to speak my thoughts publicly by serving America for 9 years in the Air Force.
- Please feel free to voice your opposition. I am fully aware that most people in America don’t agree with me on this, including many in my own family. I probably won’t respond unless it is obvious that it is meant to encourage the dialog, not just to tell me I hate America.
- Maybe this post was a bad idea. But, my primary objective in writing this blog is to tell you what God is doing and has done in my life. This is definitely something He is in the process of doing.
- I remember arguing against this position to a number of people from our old church in an open forum discussion about this topic, so I get it. I’ve been on both sides. As a side note, the forum was held at a local bar and discussed over some brews! I think that’s pretty awesome for a church meeting (even though I don’t drink much anymore).