In Theory: Does military spending betray America's religious ideals?

America spends more on its military than any other country. U.S. military spending in 2012 was $682 billion, which is $516 billion more than incurred by China, the next biggest spender. This means the U.S. has the most technologically advanced and best-equipped armed forces in the world.

Attempts to cut the military budget are usually met with protest. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently warned Congress not to cut spending by $52 billion for the 2014 budget, citing "severe and unacceptable effects on the U.S. military" if the cuts were imposed.

Q: With America being a mainly Christian country, is there a disconnect here between following the teachings of Jesus and at the same time spending huge amounts on armaments?

As a rabbi, I can share the Jewish view on this important topic. The Torah, in several passages and using various phrases, commands us to "love our neighbor as ourselves," pursue peace and avoid belligerence. The ancient prophets as well as our sages throughout time emphasize the importance of peace and stress that it is a central tenet of a divine way of life. We are even taught that God himself is called peace.

Yet, this very same Bible also teaches us that: "If someone is coming to kill you, arise and kill him first." It is understood that although we are required to go to great lengths to uphold peace, ultimately, it cannot come at any cost. If the cost of peace would mean my demise and the triumph of evil, then I am required to don my battle gear and wage war, no matter how repellent that may be.

The United States is the only country in the world today that has the overpowering might to stand as a bulwark against all-out bloodshed and war in many parts of the world. The sad reality is that there is a dark and sinister shadow created by a host of ruthless dictators and repressive governments around the globe. If we disarmed, madmen such as Kim Jong Un of North Korea or Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, would pounce on us or our allies at the first opportunity. If we let our guard down for even a moment, strongmen like Vladimir Putin of Russia would inevitably find a way to launch aggression somewhere in the former Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

I'm certain that no person of good conscience is happy with the vast amount of money that we are forced to spend on armaments. But so long as our world is populated by unscrupulous people who would do us harm, this is a moral necessity which we need to maintain.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center


I think not, but there is probably lots of wasteful spending, and very little commercial competition to lessen military expenses. It could possibly be done cheaper, but I wouldn't want a weaker military having done so.

Jesus said, if you don't have a sword…buy one" (Luke 22:36 NIV). Some believe eliminating military expenses will eliminate poverty, but buying self-defense is necessary lest there be no one to aid the poor. Imagine if we hadn't defeated the Nazis. We'd be goose-stepping today, speaking German, and our first Fuhrer would have only recently passed away. There wouldn't be any indigents because they'd be exterminated as freeloaders.

Freedom is expensive, and if we act all weepy and chop our military in favor of feeding our enemy's underclass, we'll only enrich them and make ourselves vulnerable. Countries should see to their own, and we should see more to ours. We also have astronomical debt that must be eliminated before we start surrendering our superiority and giving each other peace signs. Debt itself leaves us at a disadvantage to those who hate the U.S. but love to plunder our treasure.

Jesus said that "government is God's servant for your good… it does not carry the sword for no reason" (Rom 13:4 HCS). Today, it's not Excalibur that our national defense carries, but weapons such as the FGM-148 Javelin, the Mk 47 Striker, the UUM-125 Sea Lance, and the Boeing AGM-84 Harpoon. Our enemies have similar, though lesser weapons, and they threaten to use them all the time.

I'd like there to be earthly utopia, but then we wouldn't seek Heaven would we? While there "may" be a Christian majority in America, there are virtually no Christians in many of the countries with which we have difficulties, and it's only a button that could launch our next worldwide conflagration. Christians or no, have we really come to the place where we would stand by and permit tyranny to ascend? Not in my country on God's earth, I hope.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


It's a little dicey, quoting Jesus or the Bible on matters of war and peace. The prophets gave conflicting views: one said, "beat your swords into plowshares" while another said, "beat your plowshares into swords" (Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:10). And while Jesus said cool stuff about loving your enemies, he also said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). So there's room for both sides of the armament argument.

What's inescapable, though, is the biblical mandate, in both testaments, to feed and care for the poor, the widow, the stranger, the oppressed. And what confounds me is why such care isn't considered to be just as vital to America's national security as weaponry and intelligence gathering.

I'm no expert on international diplomacy, but it doesn't take one to see that a great deal of terrorism and other threats to our country stem from poverty, hunger, and other desperate needs, including adequate medical care and education. If we spent just a few of those billions to fund such assistance around the world, we wouldn't need such a massive arsenal, nor need to live in fear of our many enemies.

And the world would, you know, be better.

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge


We have probably all heard the saying, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition." While I don't know where that saying comes from, it sort of describes America's view of the world: be religious and also be ready to blow any adversary into smithereens.

I do not wish to appear to be naive, because I know that there is evil in the world and I know that there are those who would love to see America be no more. But still...we claim to follow the Prince of Peace, and yet we have the most powerful military in the world. Isn't there something inconsistent with having faith in Jesus and at the same time having faith in guns, missiles, bombs, tanks, aircraft, and anything else that can "neutralize" (that's war-speak for "kill") an adversary?

I don't have a satisfactory answer. While I generally think that violence is not the way to solve problems, I can envision a situation in which it might be inexcusable not to use violence. The old story of the crazed madman with a knife who is about to do bad things to your grandmother comes to mind; how can one sit back and not intervene — and probably in a violent way?

The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who died in 1971, was certainly not a pacifist. In fact, he said that we were not good enough to be able to defeat an evil such as Hitler without using evil means (i.e., violence, warfare) ourselves. Niebuhr's argument is persuasive, but we are still left with the words of Jesus when he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before he was crucified, "...all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26: 52). And then the world's greatest power proceeded to torture and kill him.

These days the United States is the world's greatest power. How interesting that so many of us who claim to follow Jesus are also proud to swear allegiance to the world's greatest power. That's not wrong; it's merely interesting. And I am reminded of another saying of Jesus: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's "(Matthew 22: 21). Of course, Jesus left it up to us to determine what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. As I mentioned, I have no satisfactory answer, and so I continue to wrestle with the issue. I am also not antimilitary — but I do like the bumper sticker that says, "How nice it would be if schools had enough money and the Air Force had to have a bake sale to buy its next plane."

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


According to the 2013 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook, the United States spends more on its military budget than any other country, more than four times the amount of its closest rival, China. But the statistics that concern me most are those showing the percentage of our annual Gross Domestic Product spent on the military and our per capita expenditure for that purpose.

The percentage of our GDP used for the military in 2013 is listed as 4.4%, equal to Russia and more than any other country in the world other than Saudi Arabia. And the per capita spending by the U.S. military in 2011 was $2,141, more than any other country except the United Arab Emirates.

Now I am not a statistician, but these comparisons make me believe our values are way out of balance in our military spending. The reasons the percentage of our GDP and per capita statistics concern me are that they are most closely related to the real lives of our people. With such a large percentage of our income and per capita expenditures being used for the military, there is less money available to provide for basic needs such as food, clothing, healthcare, housing and education. If we shifted the percentages we spend on the military to other vital services, we could make a huge difference in the future of our people and our country.

I am not myopic enough to suggest that we need to abandon the needs of our military, but as a person of faith I believe we need to reevaluate our priorities and support those things that we say we value. If we do not put our religious beliefs into action, they will have no impact. We must speak truth to power for the sake of all. How can we do less?

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta


There is no fundamental disconnect between strong faith in Jesus Christ and a strong system of national military defense. Jesus' teaching primarily addressed our person-to-person relationships as citizens of God's kingdom. In interpersonal relationships we should "not resist him who is evil" and "turn the other cheek." This is where some have confusion, applying this personal principle to the nation as a whole. But consider the way God ordered Israel, his nation on earth. At times Israel had a very strong military, and directed by God they waged wars that took human lives. Yet God was not unjust in it, and his nature has never changed. While in personal relationships believers are to be gentle, humble, forgiving and not seeking of personal retaliation, God's clearly expressed will for human government includes the punishment of evil (even with the sword! See Romans 13:4) and protection from foreign invasion.

In the New Testament God shows us how his invisible, borderless kingdom on the earth should function. But the Old Testament example of Israel's defense and military stands as the just way political earthly nations function properly. Was God unjust, unloving and unholy when he commanded Israel to form an army and wage war? He was not. Neither is the modern nation who spends even large sums to protect its citizens from persecution, injustice and foreign domination in a world fraught with "wars and rumors of wars [which] must take place" (Matthew 24:6).

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


America spends more on arms and armed forces than the combined spending of the next 12 countries on the list. We come close to equaling the entire world's military spending.

Most of this largesse isn't going to the men and women who serve. The U.S. military budget is heavily skewed toward hardware, with accountability so weak that we have more than enough weapons to blow us all up many times over, for which we have overpaid.

Meanwhile, many current and former troops don't get even their basic needs met — witness the shame of military suicides and that one-third of our homeless are veterans. Plus, relatively few civilian jobs are created in weapons manufacturing, compared with the same money going to schools, healthcare or housing.

We have around 1,000 military bases in over 150 countries. This is imperialism, not defense. Do we really need more U.S. troops in Germany, for example, than there are German troops there?

Consider the reality of the current threat, against which a huge military is useless. Backpack bombs. Box cutters. Castor bean extract. True believers willing to die for it. Handguns kill more Americans in a few months than the total U.S. dead from foreign attackers on American soil

Disconnect? Gee, let's see. Our skimpy food assistance to the poorest poor was just cut 100% in the House, and the Department of Defense frets over a possible 7% cut to a defense budget which many military supporters admit is bloated.

It makes me ask, with no disrespect intended, "Jesus Christ, what are we thinking?" Do I see his teachings reflected in our permanent war economy? No.

Roberta Medford

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