Citizenship Confusion: Conscientious Objectors and the Sovereign State

Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.

In the last few years, one of the most popular political scare tactics has been to raise an alarm over the threat of “sneaking Shariah Law.” While there is some basis for the concern that some Muslims would like to submit America to Shariah Law (for example, the radical group Muslims Against Crusades in the UK), I have yet to see any reputable and compelling evidence that there is a genuine risk of this in our own country.

However, a recent Washington Times opinion column, by Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons, argues that the Army recognized Shariah Law and caved to political correctness by granting a Muslim soldier, Pfc. Naser Abdo, conscientious objector status. Pfc. Abdo came to believe that Islam forbid him from killing other Muslims and so he sought to be discharged as an objector.

According to Adm. Lyons, “By acceding to the dictates of Shariah, the Army has tacitly endorsed an absurd position that in effect sanctions Muslim service members to kill non-Muslims but forbids them to kill Muslims. Further, it is an unbelievable basis on which to classify them as conscientious objectors.”

He adds, “Shariah is a totalitarian legal-military-political system that is designed to control every aspect of an individual’s life and is antithetical to our concept of freedom and democracy. By its dictates, Shariah is seditious.”

Apparently, it is not absurd to command an entire military force to kill both Muslims and non-Muslims, but it is absurd to only sanction the killing of non-Muslims. One wonders what Adm. Lyons would think about Christians (like this Quaker) who become conscientious objectors when they come to believe that God’s law prohibits all human killing. Does this make the Bible seditious?

Adm. Lyons’s moral logic reveals the central objection he and many others have towards this conscientious objector: Abdo places his obligation to his God above his obligation to his country, and anyone who recognizes a law higher than the Nation State must be “seditious.”

This should sound familiar to Christians, since Christianity has been “seditious” since it’s beginning. We have always been bound to obey our governing authorities although we can never give them the total allegiance and supreme authority that they desire. In many ways, this is the central conflict for Christian citizens: how can we live peacefully and submit to governing authorities while recognizing God as our supreme and exclusive authority?

Here, I think we should be standing with Muslims, Christians, people of other religions, and even atheist soldiers who conclude that they cannot continue to serve in the military because of a superior obligation. Far from calling them seditious, we should be thankful for their integrity, that they were able to publicly and peacefully act on their conscience, rather than resorting to actual sedition and violence (Adm. Lyons wrongly compares Pfc. Abdo with  Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood murderer).

(For what appears to be a much more balanced report of Pfc. Abdo’s case, see this ABC report).

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  • Alan Noble

    While I don’t believe this invalidates my initial argument about the importance of supporting conscientious objectors, the reports that Abdo was arrested with guns and bomb making supplies dies reinforce the fact that radical Islam is still a great danger in the world.

  • Sadly it seems that Admiral Lyons might not be too far off the mark with his comparison.