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Women in combat: A complementarian perspective

January 23, 2013

[NOTE: In light of today’s troubling decision to remove the restriction on women in combat in the U.S. armed forces, we offer the following complementarian perspective on the issue by CBMW’s executive director from Christianity Today’s blog. See Gender Blog for further biblical analysis of this development over the next few days.]

By Owen Strachan, CBMW Executive Director

Recently, the Marine Corps Gazette published a bold op-ed on a hot topic: women in combat. This essay was not written by a patriarchal jarhead, however. It was authored by Katie Petronio, Marine captain.

Petronio, a former college hockey player, shared that after five months on the frontlines in Afghanistan, “I had muscle atrophy in my thighs that was causing me to constantly trip and my legs to buckle with the slightest grade change.” Eventually, Petronio lost 17 pounds and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. She concluded, “There is no way I could endure the physical demands of the infantrymen whom I worked beside.”

This experience confirms the fears of evangelicals who have concerns about women in combat. Scripture teaches that woman was made from man, a truth that grounds her dependence on him (Gen. 2:21-22). It details how Adam failed to own this responsibility and protect his wife. For this reason, God addressed him first after the forbidden fruit was eaten: “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). Adam was a self-crippled man.

This tragic pattern continues in different places in biblical history, leaving courageous godly women like Deborah and Jael to lead in place of men. When Barak quails at the thought of battle against the Canaanites, Deborah promises that this abdication “will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9, ESV). We hear her scorn loud and clear, even as we hear the pounding of Jael’s tent peg into Sisera’s skull (4:21).

David, whose kingship begins with his stunning defeat of Goliath, is supported during his reign by his “mighty men,” something of an Israelite SEAL Team Six (1 Chron. 11:10-47). David’s sacrificial valor anticipates the warrior-savior, Jesus Christ, whose death on behalf of his people was an act of war against Satan (Isa. 53; Eph. 4:8). Jesus was a self-sacrificial man.

Men receive their marching orders from this Christlike example. Paul teaches that husbands “ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” In these and other texts, we see that the Bible consistently shows men protecting women, whether in home, church, or broader society.

The Bible teaches textually what common sense tells us naturally—and physiological study confirms scientifically. According to scientists Anne and Bill Moir, authors of Why Men Don’t Iron, men are generally larger, stronger, and faster, and have greater lung capacity, a faster metabolism, and roughly 11 times the testosterone of women. God’s design for men and women is good. We ignore it at our own peril.

If men will not own this responsibility, then women will be forced to take it on as did biblical women such as Deborah and Jael (and the extrabiblical figure Judith). Many modern men fail to mirror Christ in leading, providing, and protecting. In the cries of fatherless children, the strained voice of working mothers desperately seeking “work-life balance,” and the Marine Corps Gazette, we hear echoes of the Bible’s first question, addressed to a self-crippled man: “Where are you?”

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