The Biblical Case against Women in Combat?

As you probably know, the defense department has just moved to allow women in combat. This is a move that conservative evangelical leaders have been warning about for decades, and their reaction was predictable. Let’s take a look at what conservative evangelical author, pastor, and Christian Patriarchy leader Douglas Wilson had to say.

No one should be surprised at the announcement that women are now going to be serving in combat roles in the U.S. military. This has been heading toward us for a long time, and the only thing surprising about it is that so many people are surprised. Now the only thing that stands between your daughter and involuntary combat service is a determination by some president (or other) that we need to return to conscription, followed by one court decision.

Note how Wilson frames the issue in terms of what might happen to “your daughter.” Over and over again, women are spoken of in ways that depend on their position in their families, rather than as individuals who might have their own thoughts, desires, lives, and goals. Also, note that Wilson doesn’t seem to have a problem with conscription—i.e. the draft—in theory, but rather simply with its application to, well, his daughters.

Wilson starts about by making the Biblical case against women in combat.

First the Scripture:

“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Dt. 22:5).

This verse is a prohibition for cross-dressing when it comes to men. But the restriction placed on women here is not simply the reverse of that. When a man is getting kinky in the way described here, it is a straightforward transvesite problem. But going the other way, we should notice a different problem. Notice the odd construction — “that which pertains to a man.” The Hebrew underneath is keli geber, and should be read as the “gear of a warrior.” Whether we are talking about a man in fishnet stockings, or a woman decked out in full battle regalia, we need to recognize that God finds it loathsome. So should we.

Another scriptural argument that should be noted is this. “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” (Dt. 14:21b). Just as Paul noted that the law about not muzzling oxen was not simply about oxen, so this passage is not just about baby goats. The principle latent in this law is that we must not take that which was intended for the giving of life and transform it into an instrument of death. The milk was intended by God for sustenance, and so it should not be turned into death. Women were created and exquisitely fashioned by God to be life-imparters, and so they must not be transformed into death-dealers.

You know how Christians like Wilson claim that they’re just taking the Bible straight forwardly? Yeah…

I mean, is this really the best Wilson can do? Honestly, if these are his go-to verses with regard to women in combat, I think we can pretty safely conclude that the Bible nowhere comes right out and condemns women in combat. In fact, the Bible is apparently ambiguous on this issue to the extent that Wilson feels the need to take time to explain away Biblical examples of women in combat:

Having said this, we should remember that Scripture gives us the law, and Scripture gives us the parameters of any exceptions. It is not unlawful for a woman to take life under any and all circumstances. The woman on the tower was apparently a decent shot (Judg. 9:53), and Jael the wife of Heber knew she was supposed to do (Judg. 5:24). She didn’t cook a baby goat in milk, but she did serve it up to Sisera. But these blows to the head were given to us as a type, and pointed toward the fundamental way that the woman would have her revenge on the serpent and his seed. Her child would finally crush the serpent’s head, and would be bruised himself in the process.

You need some background to understand what Wilson is suggesting here. After Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, God gave them each a curse, and gave the serpent who had tempted them a curse as well. Part of the serpent’s curse went thusly: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Evangelicals like Wilson interpret this passage to be speaking of Jesus, who would be born through a woman, Mary, and would crush the serpent Satan.


So what Wilson is saying here is that when individual women in the Old Testament stepped into battle and dealt blows to the military enemies of Israel, they were not serving as examples that modern women should follow but rather simply foreshadowing of Mary’s role in striking at Satan by birthing Jesus. They were simply “types” (see the first definition listed here), and thus did not invalidate the (supposed) Biblical prohibition on women in combat.

In other words, the verses about women who actually were engaged in combat were just, I don’t know, symbolic. How Wilson can make claims like this while also inveighing against other Christians for “twisting scripture” and reading their own ideas into the text, I am at a loss to explain.

Secondly, in our memorial on terrorism, the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches has declared the following:

“It is not lawful for women to be mustered for combat service, for our Lord has declared it an abomination for women to don the martial attire of a man (Dt. 22:5). Christian fathers must protect their daughters from being seduced or coerced into such a circumstance, and the Church must support them as they do so.”

It is therefore the formal position of the CREC that this egalitarian move, putting women into combat roles as standard operating procedure, is an abomination. We believe further that Christian fathers have a moral and biblical obligation to prevent their daughters from being seduced, such that they sign up for such a thing voluntarily, or coerced, such that they have no option. Both her family and her communion must stand against this terrible thing.

This is what is so maddening about people like Wilson. They completely and entirely remove women’s humanity and free will. Women can only be seduced or coerced into the military. Actually having all the facts and making their own decision to join the military with their eyes open? Nope. It’s like women don’t have agency for Wilson. The idea that the only reasons my daughter Sally might grow up to join the military are seduction or coercion? Sorry, but no. I have a heck of a lot more respect for Sally than that.

And also, again with the fathers and daughters bit. Do Christian mothers have the obligation to keep their daughters from being “seduced” or “coerced”? No. Only Christian fathers. Because, patriarchy. The extent to which supporters of Christian patriarchy see daughters as possessions of their fathers is rage inducing, and it hits especially hard for me in particular, because I was one of those daughters, having to stand face to face with my father and having to insist that no, as an adult I was no longer under any obligation to obey him, regardless of my gender. So, yeah. Been there, done that.

And last, let me make one quick appeal to the light of nature. The egalitarians who are pushing for this are not true egalitarians — they want the same access to the same positions for men and women, but they don’t want the same qualifying requirements. A true egalitarian would insist that all positions should be open to both sexes, provided they both were able to meet the same standards. But this whole (very rigged) joke depends on running two entirely different sets of standards simultaneously, and shouting down anybody who notices. So then, o ye treat-everybody-the-samers! When do you think you will start doing that? It’s your religion. Why won’t you practice it? It’s your temple. Why won’t you go in? Is your god scary?

If we eliminated the double-standard here, we would still have the theoretical problem, but we sure wouldn’t have a practical problem at all.

I don’t even.

I don’t know what the government’s physical requirements for serving in a combat position are, and I don’t know whether the government is going to fashion separate standards for women than for men, but I do know that the idea that there are no women who meet the current male standards for serving in combat is complete bullshit. I mean, is Wilson aware that the top-ranked weightlifter in the country is female? Somehow I think not. I’m all for requiring that people who take combat positions be able to carry out all of the tasks those positions require, but unlike Wilson I am quite confident that there are plenty of women who are completely capable of doing just that.

So, in conclusion: First, it appears that the Biblical argument against women serving in combat is not very good; Second, Wilson reaffirms that he thinks women incapable of exercising agency; and third, if Wilson really thinks there aren’t any women physically capable of doing what is called for in a combat situation, he needs to get out more.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.