The House Armed Services Committee’s recommendation that women be required to register for the draft has provoked reactions from an array of evangelicals, including Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary first lady Dorothy Patterson and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Though mandatory female registration for the Selective Service is still a long way from becoming law, the House committee’s 32-30 approval of the idea April 27 led Patterson to note military service for wives and mothers “has never been the norm.”
Women generally should not participate in “military maneuvers … not because a woman does not have the giftedness and intellectual prowess to do the job, but because her assignment in managing the home and helping her husband and nurturing her children is not only one of great magnitude but also one of overwhelming importance to the nation,” said Patterson, professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern.
Photo from archive.defense.gov by Sgt. Jeremy J. Fowler
“Contemporary efforts to eradicate the differences between the sexes and reverse divinely designed roles are causing havoc with the responsibilities women have to family and home,” Patterson said. “Women have been persuaded that they are needed more everywhere but in their own homes.”
Ironically, the proposal to include women in any future draft was offered by a congressman who opposes the idea, Rep. Duncan Hunter.
A California Republican and former Marine who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hunter proposed the measure “to prompt discussion about how the Pentagon’s decision in December to rescind gender restrictions on military service failed to consider whether the exclusion on drafting women also should be lifted,” The Associated Press reported.
Five Republicans joined Democrats in supporting Hunter’s proposal, which was attached as an amendment to the annual defense reauthorization bill. To become law, the amendment would have to gain approval from the full House and the Senate.
Patterson noted that some have appealed to the Old Testament judge Deborah to justify women in combat. But she rejected that argument as “twisting the scriptures.”
“Deborah has been called a warrior by some in the modern arena, but she described herself as ‘a mother in Israel,’ whether a descriptor of her national role or a reference to her own children,” Patterson said. “She also identified herself as ‘the wife of Lapidoth.’ She did deliver God’s words to Barak, the army commander, but she did not participate in the military operation or conduct the campaign. Without doubt she played a vital role in the deliverance of Israel from the Canaanites, but she did so within God-given boundaries.”
Mohler said the committee vote to approve female conscription illustrates the rapid pace of secularization in America.
“We are now in a secular society that seems to have lost not only its sanity, but also to have lost any ability to make a moral argument against women serving in combat,” Mohler said May 2 on his daily podcast The Briefing.
“Successive generations of feminist ideology and political correctness have rendered even Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, at least some of them in this case, … from recognizing or making or having the courage to stand by an argument that in some sense men and women are different, and that in any sense it is morally wrong to put women in combat positions,” Mohler said.
In just “a matter of weeks and months,” Mohler said, fighting on the front lines of a war has gone from being considered a prohibited activity for women, to a right for women, and now potentially a duty for all women.
Kathy Steele, professor of psychology and counseling at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said the issue of women in combat requires nuanced analysis. Because women possess a broad array of personality traits, it would be inappropriate to impose a blanket requirement that all of them serve in combat, she said.
“In our culture we sometimes think being feminine or masculine is an either-or, but actually the traits our culture assigns to masculinity or femininity have levels of intensity or variety,” Steele said in written comments. “In the same way God has given us unique physical traits, and personality traits, so we also have variation in the specific traits our culture assigns to gender.”
For example, Steele said, some in American culture may expect men to be more logical than women and women to be more nurturing than men. But women can be logical and men nurturing.
“God loves diversity and variety, and it is important that we recognize the richness of His diversity in how He has made each one us. While I would not feel comfortable myself in a combat role, there may be women who do,” Steele said.
In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution that “warn[ed] against and oppose[d] the training and assigning of females to military combat service.” For the full text of the resolution, visit sbc.net/resolutions/1089/resolution-on-women-in-combat.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)