Recalling the Report: “Man’s Duty to Protect Woman”

How are Christians to think of women in ground combat units, changing the names of combat specialties to eliminate man-specific terms, and the possibility of selective service including females?

In 2001, the PCA General Assembly committee sought to convey the whole counsel of God from both the older and newer testaments summarizing various areas of evidence concerning the issue of man’s duty toward woman, concluding on the basis of nearly one hundred citations that the Scripture provides a clear and compelling rationale “for declaring our church’s principled opposition to women serving in military combat positions

 

The 29th General Assembly (2001) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) adopted a majority report of an ad interim study committee on Women in the Military entitled, “Man’s Duty to Protect Woman.”[1] If the basic definition of political incorrectness is a truth once accepted which has come to earn cultural contempt if not legal action against those who promote it, then surely “Man’s Duty to Protect Woman” is among the nominees for ‘most politically incorrect title of the year.’ Regardless, the superb work of the committee of five PCA teaching and ruling elders in 2001 deserves to be dusted off and considered anew in 2016 as one reads headlines almost weekly touting the idea of women in ground combat units, changing the names of combat specialties to eliminate man-specific terms, and the possibility of selective service including females. How is the reformed Christian to think of such ideas in the midst of a rapidly changing culture that until recently simply would not have been taken seriously?

Recently, the two million-member Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod’s triennial convention responded to these concerns by adopting a resolution, which passed overwhelmingly, in support of those with “a religious and moral objection to women participating in the selective service system and being subject to a possible draft.”[2]

I’ll admit that in the summer of 1976 – the year the first female cadets entered the federal service academies – I entered the all-male cadet corps at the Virginia Military Institute enroute to thirty years in the regular and reserve components of the U.S. Air Force, starting as a helicopter pilot, finishing as a military historian. So for the last forty years, I’ve not been a disinterested bystander regarding the above issues which recently have become highly relevant topics. With that acknowledgment, here is an unabashedly biased (note: beware of those claiming no bias) attempt to summarize the work of an undoubtedly under-appreciated committee (one of whose members, now-retired Maj. Gen. Bentley B. Rayburn, was my commander for a time at the U.S. Air Force’s Air War College).[3]

In 2001, the PCA General Assembly committee sought to convey the whole counsel of God from both the older and newer testaments summarizing various areas of evidence concerning the issue of man’s duty toward woman, concluding on the basis of nearly one hundred citations that the Scripture provides a clear and compelling rationale “for declaring our church’s principled opposition to women serving in military combat positions [emphasis added].” The first area to be considered, beginning with God’s protection of His Bride, the Church, “taught the binding nature of man’s duty to guard and protect his home and wife.” Referencing the work of A. A. Hodge on the scriptural regulation of the relations between the sexes, the elders in 2001 wrote:

Failure to recognize that the laws of Scripture governing the relation of the sexes are “of universal binding obligation” has produced the confusion we suffer in the Church today, out of which has come this present debate [in 2001] over the propriety of women serving as military combatants. Furthermore, if we understood that “God, Who is the Author of nature, may in special instances waive the application of the law at His pleasure,” we would no longer use extraordinary cases in Scripture, such as Deborah, Jael, and Abigail, to deny the man’s duty to protect the woman. (In all cases, though, God provides the victory.)    

The elders were “convinced that the creation order of sexuality places on man the duty to lay down his life for his wife; and further, that those who, in a sustained way, deny this duty in word or action thereby oppose the Word of God.” While the committee was of one mind on the above, convictions differed on whether the Word of God “speaks with clarity concerning the meaning and purpose of sexuality as it bears on the normal practice of women serving in military combat roles [emphasis added].” For that reason the consensus report stated:

. . . while we also are unanimous in stating that the above doctrine of sexuality gives guidance to the Church concerning the inadvisability of women serving in offensive combat, some among us believe that such guidance should be limited to pastoral counsel that does not bind the conscience while others among us believe that this counsel rises to the level of duty.

Aside from that difference – pastoral counsel or duty – committee members were likeminded.

The second area of evidence dealt with the implications of woman as the weaker sex. The committee was convinced that “part of her weakness is the vulnerability attendant to her greatest privilege-that God has made her the ‘Mother of all the living.’ Men are to guard and protect her as she carries in her womb, gives birth to, and nurses her children.” The teaching and ruling elders wrote:

With all due respect, perhaps the simplest and most eloquent argument against woman serving in military combat roles is the fact that she has been endowed by her Creator with a womb and breasts. A woman constantly carries with her the demands and vulnerability of motherhood. . . . Our Lord issues a dire warning concerning these same aspects of womanhood: “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!”

The committee noted how striking in Scripture is the central theme of childbearing in connection with womanhood, “from the consequences of the Fall, to the blessings of the godly, to the necessary qualifications of women seeking to be enrolled as widows in the Church”:

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children. . . .” (Genesis 3:16).

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive plants around your table (Psalm 128:3).

A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work (1 Timothy 5:9-10).

Thirdly, the committee renounced “every thought and action which tends towards a diminishment of sexual differentiation since God made it and called it ‘good.’ [e.g., Scripture’s injunctions concerning women exercising authority over men (1 Timothy 2), women or men wearing clothing of the opposite sex (Deuteronomy 22:5), sodomy (Leviticus 20:15-16), etc.] Rather than a stingy attitude which minimizes sexuality’s implications, we ought to rejoice in this, His blessing.”

Expanding upon Deuteronomy 22:5, the elders asked rhetorically, “If men and women exchanging clothing is condemned because such actions explicitly deny one’s sexuality, is it any surprise that womanly armies are loathsome and pathetic?” At least four strongly worded passages by the prophets Isaiah, Nahum, and Jeremiah provided the basis for the above:

In that day the Egyptians will become like women, and they will tremble and be in dread because of the waving of the hand of the LORD of hosts, which He is going to wave over them (Isaiah 19:16).

Behold, your people [Assyrians] are women in your midst! The gates of your land are opened wide to your enemies; fire consumes your gate bars (Nahum 3:13).

A sword against their [Babylonian] horses and against their chariots and against all the foreigners who are in the midst of her, and they will become women! A sword against her treasures, and they will be plundered (Jeremiah 50:37).[4]

The committee drew from a wealth of scriptural, historical, and literary sources throughout the paper, including at this point the fourth-century preacher Chrysostom who wrote of Titus 2:

Woman was not made for this . . . to be prostituted as common. O ye subverters of all decency, who use men, as if they were women, and lead out women to war, as if they were men! This is the work of the devil, to subvert and confound all things, to overleap the boundaries that have been appointed from the beginning, and remove those which God has set to nature. . . . But you reduce the head to the feet, and raise the feet to the head. You suffer women to bear arms, and are not ashamed.

The five elders declared, “The contemporary push to normalize women serving in offensive combat positions is part of a larger ideological movement aggressively seeking to redefine the meaning and purpose of sexuality. Patriarchy is the enemy and any steps taken to vanquish that enemy, even to the point of turning men into women and women into men, is seen to be justified because of the justice of the larger cause. We oppose that movement, not because we are politically conservative, but because the movement is contrary to the express will of God revealed in His Word. This movement is diametrically opposed to the creation order God ordained, but those seeking this [deformity] will continue to pursue it with the greatest fervor, without blushing in the face of its consequences.”

They continued, “Vietnam veteran and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Walter A. McDougall, writes: ‘. . . one of the central goals of the feminist movement is to establish a fully sexually integrated military, trained, fit, and ready to engage in combat. . . . The United States today is the only serious military power in history to contemplate thorough sexual integration of its armed forces. And thanks to an adamant feminist lobby, a conspiracy of silence in the officer corps, and the anodyne state of debate over the issue, the brave new world of female infantry, bomber pilots, submariners, and drill sergeants may lie just around the corner.’”

Nearing the end of their report, the five acknowledged, “No doubt women can fulfill many duties traditionally carried out by men, and do it with great competence. But that is not the point. Women are capable of preaching, but may they preach–that is a different question. The Apostle Paul answered ‘no’ and gave the Holy Spirit’s reason, ‘For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.’ But our postmodern age hates, and seeks to obliterate distinctions, particularly those related to authority. Other ages have suffered a similar curse by God: ‘O My people! Their oppressors are children, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray and confuse the direction of your paths.’”

A short piece such as this fails to do justice to the valuable labors, fifteen years ago, of Teaching Elders Timothy Bayly and Stephen Leonard, and Ruling Elders Bentley Rayburn, Keith Stoeber, and Donald Weyburn. At the least, may it heighten awareness as to the report’s existence and encourage reformed Christians to read it for themselves that they may be better prepared to grasp, and perhaps respond in a biblically sound manner, to one strain of a nation’s raging against the LORD and a people’s imagining a vain thing.

Forrest L. Marion is an elder in Eastwood Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Montgomery, Ala.

 

[1] “Man’s Duty to Protect Woman.” Minutes of the PCA 29th General Assembly (2001), pp. 278-308.

[2] Koey Maas, “Lutherans Armor Up to Defend Women,” The Aquila Report, posted Jul. 24, 2016; see also, Michael Cochrane, “Top Generals: Women Should Register For the Draft,” The Aquila Report, posted Feb. 11, 2016.

[3] Although interested in the issue for many years, I was unaware of the 2001 committee report until this year. It is available under “Women in the Military, Report of the Ad Interim Study Committee” at PCA Position Papers.

[4] A fourth passage is Jeremiah 51:30.