The recent news of the flyover of the PCG campus has stirred a lot of questions. One of the biggest questions has been “who paid for it?”. We’re not the only “anti-Armstrong” blog talking about it, either. Do any kind of Google search for Armstrong Auditorium Flyover and you’ll find a few. Many are asking “what’s Flurry’s angle?”. Others are decrying the event as a cheap publicity stunt designed to move the PCG out of “cult status”.
All valid points.
So, what will this bit of writing add to the collective conversation? A new angle; it was inspired by the many comments that ran something like this: how can this happen? Sure hope the taxpayers didn’t have to foot the bill for this since PCG preaches against being in the military!
Aha! So, I dug around until I found HWA’s Military Service and War, written back in ’67. After reading the 74pg book(let) I can confidently say that Armstrong would strongly disapprove. In short, the entire book is “there is no need for war, ever, if a nation would only obey and rely on God. God would fight their wars for them!”. Having a patriotic Independence Day military flyover is clearly glorifying war! It is a celebration of the strength of arms—the strength of human arms in opposition to God and his commands. Thus the church teaches, or claims to teach. So, either they’re blatantly disregarding their own doctrines just for the publicity (hypocrisy? Nooo, never!), or they’re taking a sharp Left Turn and liberalizing out of nowhere. Yeah, didn’t think so.
But reading through MSW (Military Service and War) brought up something interesting—the whole explanation behind why the PCG (and doubtless many other splinter groups) teaches that its members cannot serve in the military. Frankly it seems a little lame.
The gist of it is as follows: God brought the slave Israelites out of the land of Egypt and delivered them to the Promised Land. Just as God delivered Israel from the pursuing Egyptian army, so would he have done for Israel in all the Promised Land. God promised to drive the inhabitants out from before the Children of Israel. But no, even after miracle upon miracle, the Israelites wavered in their faith and doubted God’s protection. So, they chose to claim the Promised Land by the sword. In choosing war they sinned, for God commanded “thou shalt not kill”. But a little over 400yrs before all this, God had promised Abraham that his seed would become a great nation, God’s Chosen People, and that he (God) would lead them to a Promised Land, so…even though war was sin, God’s purpose would stand and so God helped them war and drive out the other “ites” (Canaanites, Jebusites, Hittites, etc).
So, yeah. Poor, poor Yahweh! His hands were tied and he was strong-armed into helping these belligerent Israelites kill all these people! I mean, sure, all these “ites” were trespassing on land meant for the Israelis (MSW p 33, 37 “illegally possessing the lands meant for Israel”), but God was more than happy to just “drive them out” with hornets (Ex. 23:27-33) (no doubt after giving fair notice of their status as trespassers…maybe raining legal notices, or booming forth an eviction notice from the clouds for the illiterate or something) while the Israelites simply went about destroying idols and pagan temples and all the other activities involved in peacefully occupying the land.
While most sects of Christianity take the “there’s apparently nothing wrong with Christians going to war because God himself commanded his Chosen People to do it in the Old Testament” route, Armstrong takes the “God promised to deliver the land peacefully to them, but they chose to war for it themselves, so he had to help them” path. So, I guess an analogous situation could be of a scripture that promises all the necessities of life to those who believe in and trust God. But those who thusly believe and trust decide to commit various burglaries and armed robberies to obtain their daily needs…I guess God would just have to help them be sneaky, pick locks, and run fast! I mean, it would be sin, but God promised them their daily needs, and if the people choose to go about it violently, then that’s their choice! “It was GOD’S responsibility to place these people in the Promised Land, driving out the inhabitants. It was Israel’s responsibility to decide HOW this would be done — whether to rely on God to do the fighting, driving out the illegal inhabitants, or to arm themselves, fight, and engage in war.” (MSW 33)
At any rate, we know God is all about Regulatin’, so since the Israelites were determined to sin anyway, God decided to make some laws about the right way to sin while warring. “Since Israel exercised their God-allowed prerogative of making the wrong decision for WAR, it is true that God gave them special laws relating to war. They are found in Deuteronomy 20” (MSW 34). But don’t get confused, “These laws still concerned God’s fighting for them — even though they had decided to go to war”. So, even though the Israelites had sinned by doubting God’s protection, and even though they had sinned further by warring against “land-poachers” (MSW 37) instead of letting God drive them out with painful flying insects, the Laws of War in Deut. 20 are still in reference to God fighting for them…through them cleaving their foes with the edge of the sword.
Now let’s look at some of these Godly Rules of War:
“When they approached the actual battle, it was NOT the army general or military commander-in-chief who was to give the orders, BUT THE PRIEST! The priest shall say: ‘Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them.’ And why? Not because Israel had a superior military force — for they were greatly outnumbered. Not because of superior military strategy, but ‘for the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, TO FIGHT FOR YOU against your enemies, TO SAVE YOU’ (verses 3-4)” (MSW 36).
Well, to be strictly accurate, the priests telling people to not be afraid because God is with them isn’t an actual Order, but rather more of a pep talk—the kind of pep talk any priest of any nation/religion would give their own army.
“Finally, when Israel’s army draws close to the enemy, they were to offer peace before fighting, and fight only if the enemy rejects peace. Quite different from the laws and rules of warfare used by any nation today!” Well, uhh, not exactly. Yes, there is a list of special exemptions to military service I haven’t included that are very different to anything any nation has today. But offering peace to the enemy when they meet on the battlefield? Ok, I guess that isn’t used now much, but mainly because the nation’s political leaders don’t go out on the field of battle as they once did. I know this custom was practiced at least until the early 1800s, so it isn’t that far out of date, nor is it terribly novel and used only by the Israelites.
But really, let’s look at the Deut. 20 rules for war. Priest pep talk. Then the Generals/Captains cry out to any who meet the Military Service Exemption requirements and the fearful to go home (why were they there in the first place?). Now then:
- When you come up to a city to siege it, start peace negotiations. If they agree, then the terms are that they are to be servants for you/become a vassal and pay tribute. But if they refuse, then siege it, and when you have taken it slay every male (presumably adult or older teen) and take the rest (women, children, animals, etc.) as spoils. But only do this to cities that are far from the Promised Land.
- But of the cities in this Promised Land, you shall save nothing alive that breaths. You shall utterly destroy them.
- Finally, if you’re sieging a city for an extended period, don’t make siege works or siege engines out of fruit trees—you can eat those! Only make siege works out of non-fruit trees, you putz.
Thus are the Lord’s rules concerning war.
Joking aside, Mr. Armstrong does bring up an important point:
“But one may ask this question: If war is wrong — if it is SIN — if it is contrary to God’s WAY for man, then WHY did God, on occasion, actually order the Israelites to go to war and kill?”
The points are that Israel had chosen to be a warring nation and refused to let God fight for them (even though God still somehow fights for them even when they’re the ones with sword and spear, shield and bow, as noted above), and secondly, God’s purpose shall stand, so “God used them to accomplish His PURPOSE of exterminating these land-poachers” (MSW 36-37).
Don’t fear, though: “But NOTICE! They are not laws of military strategy! They did not justify or glorify war. They did not teach Israelites to hate, want to kill, or become skilled in the arts and strategy of warfare or military tactics.” No, those laws didn’t teach the Israelites to hate or want to kill—I’m sure it is possible to “leave nothing alive that breathes” completely dispassionately! Certainly none of them had a twinge of conscience about going maybe a bit overboard with the whole “cleanse the land” bit and developed a hatred for the people they had to annihilate just as a psychological defense mechanism to help them justify such horrific actions! Surely nobody would have developed a hatred for, and a desire to kill all those damn Commies…uh, I mean…idolatrous land-poachers!
It is curious, though, that at first God was happy enough to just drive the inhabitants out without killing them, and then after Israel rebelled and said “we can haz war nao?” he changed his mind and said, “ah, screw it! Kill the lot of ’em!” Somehow the explanation being offered in this booklet doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny.
And speaking of scrutiny, let us look at, let us scrutinize, the passage that Armstrong says was the Turning Point between Israel letting God fight for them, and them deciding to do it on their own (with God blessing them, strengthening them, protecting them, etc). He calls it Ex. 17. The beginning of the chapter is about Israel complaining of dieing of thirst, so God tells Moses to hit a particular rock with his staff and God would make water gush forth from the dry rock. Done. Sweet. But then Amalek comes out of nowhere and attacks! So, Moses tells Joshua to choose out men for the battle tomorrow. On the day of Battle, Moses went to the top of a hill where he lifted up his hands (presumably in appeal to God) and as long as his hands were up Israel prevailed. When he had to rest his hands the battle went sour for Israel. So, Aaron and Hur came up the hill and held Moses’ hands aloft “until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword”.
HWA paints this episode as an instance of Israel being a load of Doubting Thomases who even after seeing water come from a solid, dry rock still had so little faith in their God that they figured they had to meet force with force. The people were determined to not trust God, so Moses gave in. “Although Moses weakened and gave the order for WAR, it was THE PEOPLE themselves who actually MADE THE DECISION for war, by their utter lack of reliance on God.” However, in reading through the chapter, I didn’t actually see God saying “stand back and see the salvation of the Eternal”. In fact, the only times I’ve found that Israel lost a battle was when they had displeased God, as the booklet points out in Deut. 1. They decided to go fight some people but God said “don’t do it, for I am not with you”, but they did anyway and lost badly. So, if God really didn’t want them doing any fighting he could have just allowed them to be defeated every time, then said “now, go face them again but don’t do anything for you will see me deliver you by MY strength and in MY fashion”.
Obviously, there isn’t necessarily space or time (or reader interest, I’ll wager) for me to go through the entire book. But I do want to bring up one last topic brought up in the book: King David.
“God called David a man after His own heart. David was a warrior. David killed many people. As king, he waged WAR. But that did not make war right. God held David accountable for his blood guiltiness.” Now, God may have held him accountable for his blood guiltiness somewhere else, but the example HWA used is, well, lame. He uses I Chron. 22:7-10, where David is telling his son Solomon that he had really wanted to build a Temple for God, but God said no because he had shed too much blood in his years. Ohhhh! Such a punishment! By contrast, II Sam 24 and I Chron. 21 mention David taking a census, and this (pride? Lack of faith?) angered God so much he killed 70,000 in a three day plague.
“What did endear David to God was, first of all, David’s willingness to admit it when he was wrong, and to REPENT. David loved and obeyed God’s Law (Psalm 119:97)” (MSW 39). Well, I can sing about how much I love God’s law all day and it don’t make it so. Apparently David loved God’s law except for the “thou shalt not kill” bit (which most modern Christian denominations think means “murder” more than anything, thus killing in war is OK). In fact, the only punishment David got for killing was murdering Bathsheeba’s husband by rigging it so he was put in a spot in the next battle that was sure to get him slain—so he wouldn’t discover that the King had bedded his wife while he was off risking his life to expand said King’s territory. The punishment? The child of the affair died after being sick with fever 7 days. So, after (what some counts put at) 85 wars, many of them offensive wars of conquest (not just defensive), King David is punished for one death. Because, well, “boo hoo he couldn’t build a lovely temple for God because of all his wars” is hardly an appropriate punishment if God didn’t want his Chosen People going to war in the first place.
So, there you have it: Military Service and War by Herbert W. Armstrong. This is far from the whole book, but certainly some of the most interesting bits. He goes on to bring up New Testament verses about if you even hate someone you’ve committed murder in your heart, so how much more does that expand the “thou shalt not kill” of the OT. He talks about having a spiritual citizenship in the Kingdom of God and we are merely ambassadors of Christ in our respective nations (and ambassadors don’t join armies). But, of course, since the OT is what most people would point to in saying “but God used to command people to go to war”, that is what he spent the most time on.
And what a waste of time it was, too. His main argument was “God would have done all the fighting for them, but they refused! They doubted his protection and took up arms themselves. And if they wanted to do it the sinful way then he’d just have to bless them in their efforts (to ensure that His Purpose was accomplished). Because, after all, he couldn’t force them or else they wouldn’t be free moral agents anymore!” And those were the only choices, after all—either God drives out the squatters his way or blesses the Israelites as they sin and take it by the sword.
Seriously, there are some much better explanations out there. There is what was mentioned earlier about “war must be ok because God commanded Israel to do it”. There’s the example where even the Father of the Faithful, Abraham, went to war to rescue his nephew Lot (Gen. 14:14-20). According to some interpretations, Jesus Christ himself, in the guise of Melchizedek, met Abraham after the battle and said “Blessed be Abram of the Most High God”. Or there is the “if God does it/orders it then it is moral and right”…which Armstrong does touch upon, but more in the “God had the right to kill the ‘ites’, but the Israelites didn’t” line of reasoning.
I mean, if you’re going to set about trying to explain why God ordered Israel to war even though war was sin, then there are much better ways of doing it than painting God as the victim of a horde of violent nomadic ex-slaves that he owed a favor to. But such is the Armstrong delusion.