Given Deborah, Jael, and Judith, Why Shouldn't Women Serve in Combat?
Yes, women should be allowed to serve in combat roles. Sacrificial love is a core principle of Christianity—as is compassionate protection for those who are not able to protect themselves.
These are principles that apply to all of us, regardless of gender or the times in which we live. They demand courage and often break with the mores of the culture for a greater good. Esther was willing to sacrifice herself by braving the wrath of the king even unto death, in order to save her people. Mary knew that becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit, not by her fiancé Joseph, could get her killed, yet she obeyed God's will for her.
In the Bible's patriarchal society, we read of heroines who engaged in combat in desperate times. Judith was not a warrior, yet she beheaded the Assyrian king's general. Deborah, a prophetess and a judge of Israel, guided her people during peace and war. When war and oppression came, she battled against the superior Canaanite army herself and led her male troops to victory. Sisera, the enemy general, then fled the battlefield towards Kedesh, where he was received by his ally Heber's wife, Jael. After he fell asleep, Jael killed him with a tent peg. She was hailed a heroine by the pursuing Israelite forces.
Before the modern state of Israel existed, Jewish women served in combat roles in what would become the Israel Defense Forces, because "every Jewish male or female" needed to be "prepared and trained to fulfill the obligation of national defense." In 2000 women were readmitted to combat roles; those trained as combat soldiers serve a longer mandatory term and stay in the reserves longer than their noncombat sisters (though most are exempted from reserve duty after marriage or having children). Both men and women can be exempted from military service for religious reasons.
In America, during World War II military women did not serve in combat roles. Like men, they returned to their civilian lives at war's end. With the draft's repeal, women entered noncombat service as a voluntary career. Increasingly, combat has become much less hand-to-hand. Today, despite prohibitions against women serving directly in combat roles, the Gulf wars have shown that the line between combat and noncombat has all but disappeared. Whether it is through terrorist attacks, guerrilla tactics, or aerial bombings, women are as exposed to combat injuries or being killed in action as men are, regardless of their job.
"Greater love has no one than this, that he [or she] lay down his life …" (John 15:13, NIV 1984). In all things, we are to respond to the Lord's call on our lives. No one should automatically be excluded on the basis of gender alone.
Gifts are what counts
Alan "Blues" Baker, Rear Admiral and Chaplain of the Marine Corps (retired), served on staff at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and is currently principal consultant at Strategic Foundations.
Christmas week of 2006, as I climbed into a helicopter on my way to a combat zone deep inside Iraq, I noticed two machine gun barrels protruding from the helo in anticipation of hostile fire.
One of the gunners with dark goggles took a finger off the trigger, turned to face me, and gave me a thumbs-up while handing me a note: "Chaplain Baker, my name is Sgt. Elizabeth Walker. I was stationed on the USS Harry S. Truman with you from 2001-2003. Glad to see you again." Knowing my fellow shipmate was defending our group gave me confidence to focus on my mission of encouraging the Marines whom we visited on the ground.