January 29, 2013

Dr. Albert Mohler: Women Serving in Direct Combat Is a Moral Issue

Albert Mohler

(Photo credit: SBC Annual Meeting)

By Aaron Gaglia

Last Thursday, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta lifted the ban of women serving in direct combat roles. This ban will open up the opportunity for women to serve in higher risk roles traditionally reserved for men.

In the wake of this announcement, prominent evangelical leader and President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler, commented on the lifting of the ban, framing this issue in moral terms.

“What we’re looking at here is a major moral revolution. When you talk about the relationship between men and women in a society, how a society orders gender difference, you’re looking at many, many issues, but one of them is inescapably moral.”

Though he acknowledges that there are utilitarian parts of the argument against women in combat, he argued that “the bigger issue is moral.”

He then went on to cite the major argument against women in combat:

“And without any embarrassment nor without any historical ambiguity, the major argument against that has been moral from the beginning. Not that it would be inconvenient to have women on the battlefield, not that it might be inefficient to have women on the battlefield, but that it would be morally wrong. Why would it be wrong? Clearly the gender difference suggested in that moral perspective is that women are to be protected rather than to be considered just like men when it comes to such high danger contexts as warfare.”

To drive this point home, he made an analogy to the sinking of the Titanic.

“Is the principle women and children first a legitimate and moral cause of gender difference? I think most people would still say so now. I think they would look to a man who took a space on a seat in one of those lifeboats at the expense of a woman… [as] unmanly and immoral. The same thing is largely true in terms of the moral instinct about prohibiting the service of women in infantry and other active combat units on the frontlines of battle. It says something about a society that it now officially forfeits any idea of gender difference that would include the responsibility of men to protect women.”

He then mentioned an argument put in favor of women in combat–the idea of autonomous individualism. “And according to that worldview people should basically be able to do whatever they aspire to do regardless of any kind of gender or ethnicity or any other kind of human condition.” This view advocates that if women want to fight in combat they should be able to fight in combat

By pointing to the fact that even advocates of lifting the ban speculate that only a few women will actually apply, he showed a limit in the idea of autonomous individualism.

“If equality is the issue, the only issue, the driving issue, then as moral philosophers have long understood, that should extend to an equality of responsibility not merely to an equality of opportunity. In other words, equality really isn’t achieved by saying men and women should both be able to enter to combat if that’s what they aspire to do. Real equality would only be achieved if persons are equally assigned regardless of their aspirations.”

He then ended his thoughts by commenting that the Pentagon and Congress will be further discussing and debating the lifting of this ban.

“And it will be very interesting how this very confused country tries to come to terms with what genuinely is a huge moral change by any estimation.”

You can listen to Al Mohler’s comments here (It is the first item covered in the briefing).

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  • Alex

    All of Mohler’s points are cheap, absurd rationalizations. Saying that a man taking a lifeboat at a woman’s expense is “unmanly and immoral,” for example, has a threefold effect. First of all, it separates the human populace by a morally arbitrary feature: gender. Second, it suggests that one of these groups–the woman group–is more vulnerable, so the real man will step up and and demonstrate his manly manliness by dying in her stead. This principle clearly holds men to a higher standard of nobility and bravery–why? The historical basis and obvious implication is that women require protection, that women need special care due to their womanly fragility. Thirdly, it completely misrepresents the situation. In the army, men are not taking scarce spots in a Missouri suburb at the “expense” of women, who must now drown in the waters of war on the front lines. Instead, there are a limited number of spots on the front lines and women are deliberately leaving the safety of the U.S. in order to claim the honor of defending their country. To deny them this is to deny them the level of self-determinacy that we allow men. This is humanistic inequality.

    Speaking of equality, Mohler’s points on it are equally as incoherent as his Titanic comparison. How does equality of responsibility justify not allowing women to enter the front lines? Women have responsibility over their lives; men have responsibility over theirs–so why should one have to “protect” the other by not allowing her to exercise her responsibility? Unless, that is, Mohler is suggesting that men have responsibilities to the same degree as women, but these responsibilities are different. This would pull as back into the 50′s with all of that “separate but equal” nonsense. This principle is so broad and unsubstantial that it could justify making women wear veils or denying them the the right to work altogether.

    Just think about the sheer anachronism of denying women a certain job because of tradition. How will your great grandchildren view this issue, Mr. Mohler? By then, your ideas will be as dusty as your body.

    • Mark

      I don’t claim to speak for Mohler, but his observations certainly don’t deserve to be called “absurd.”

      Alex, I assume you would have no problem with men being put into lifeboats in proportionate numbers as women were a ship like the Titanic sinking. If you look at the historical record it shows that men behaved rather heroically, putting themselves last (about 20% of the men survived vs 74% of the women). Based on your logic, that was immoral because it showed preferential treatment based on gender…however, in arguing for what you view as equality you ignore human nature and the conclusion of most of recorded history.

      Mohler suggests that putting women on the front lines in similar fashion to men would be immoral, but his argument is based, in part, on a very real physical characteristic: men are generally bigger and physically stronger than women. And there are other things to consider, such as psychological factors associated with those physical traits, etc.

      Yet another irony of Modern Liberals: they argue against war since the 1960′s, now they argue for putting women on the front lines. Go figure.

      Of course, if their real goal is to undermine the military then they may be achieving their objective.

      • Dan H

        Mark, good point about war. Yeah, when young men were being drafted, ALL war was WRONG, totally. Now that there’s no draft, war is cool – but only if you turn the military into a laboratory for the Loony Left’s theories about equality. At least they’re consistent: whatever the army is, it should NOT be a crack military unit to be used in winnning victories over the enemy.

      • Alex


        Why do you think I would be against men choosing to give up spots on life boats for women? I believe in equality in the sense that each human being should be allowed to choose what happens to their body and to direct their life as they see fit. This kind of equality is also known as basic liberty–remember, the basis of the constitution? If a woman wanted to give up her spot for her husband, that would also be generous, loving, and good, regardless of gender. I am against the government saying to that wife: “you are a woman, so we can’t trust you to manage your own life/body.” Please note that this attitude puts women in the same category as children and animals–beings incapable of consciously directing their lives, beings not trusted to sign contracts or enter agreements. This is clearly wrong. Why would you try to misrepresent my views in order to conceal this blatantly sexist moral error?

        You claim that I ignore human nature and all of history. This is a bizarre claim. I think humans have the power to treat one another as autonomous human beings, and humans have the ability to grant each other legal and moral rights. This is empirically verified–like when we started allowing women to vote. I also think humans are capable of doing the opposite, and not respecting the rights of others, like when we didn’t allow women to vote or when we owned slave or when Nazis slaughtered millions. All of these examples have shown that it is within man’s natural and historical abilities to respect women’s rights. This is obvious. Why do I need to argue about this? (And for the record, just because we have traditionally done something, doesn’t imply that we should continue doing it. So, questions of historical precedent are entirely irrelevant to the current discussion or any moral question. You are wasting my time with this issue.)

        Finally, you claimed not to speak for Mohler, but you then presume to assert an aspect of his argument that doesn’t appear anywhere in the transcribed passages above. Where did you pull this feature of his argument from? Did you even read this article? What makes it so much worse (and funnier) is that the point you attribute to Mohler is a utilitarian point or a point that is based on how well the military will function with women. This is exactly what Mohler’s argument claims to avoid: “…the major argument against has been moral from the beginning. NOT that it would be inconvenient to have women on the battlefield, NOT that it might be inefficient to have women on the battlefield, but that it would be morally wrong” [uppercasing mine]. So where does that leave us–you claim not to speak for Mohler, and then proceed to attribute views to him that he explicitly denies espousing.

        Furthermore, the views you attributed to Mohler don’t even make sense. The amount of physical strength required to serve in the military can be tested for. So denying women the ability to serve cannot be based on physical strength. If a woman isn’t strong enough, she will fail the test and won’t be permitted to serve. Same story with a man. (And as a final point, it really doesn’t take much strength to pull a trigger. Modern warfare makes physical strength more and more irrelevant.)

        Your bizarre worldview and incoherent ramblings aside, you really ought to reconsider the issue. Emotions are not a good enough reason to place limitations on the lives and dreams of others. They aren’t yours to control.

      • Mark

        Alex, I just happened to catch your reply here and simply could not let this kind of ignorant mischaracterization of what I said go without a response.

        Anyone who would offer the blanket statement, as you did earlier, that “All of Mohler’s points are cheap, absurd rationalizations” clearly has difficulty understanding his reasoning; but let me get to your last post and explain how you really miss the boat.

        First, regarding the Titanic, I did NOT say that you would be “against” men giving up their seats, I said that it appeared you would “have no problem with it.” There is a difference. You might try taking your own advice and READING what I wrote.

        You also stated, I assume in contrast to what you think my position is, that you are against the government saying “you are a woman, so we can’t trust you to manage your own life/body.” Of course, I never said otherwise. You read your own prejudices into my arguments and saw things in my words which were not there.

        You go on to say that “this attitude puts women in the same category as children and animals–beings incapable of consciously directing their lives, beings not trusted to sign contracts or enter agreements.” Wow! REALLY?? If anything is “bizarre” it’s drawing such a conclusion from what I wrote. Absolute la-la land stuff.

        When I said that you were ignoring history and human nature it was WITH RESPECT TO THE TOPIC BEING DISCUSSED: WARFARE. It had NOTHING to do with women voting or any of the other straw-man assertions which you mindlessly bring up (Of course, I should have known it was only a matter of time before the requisite “Nazi” reference was regurgitated or that, in continuing to fight a staw-man, you called my reasoning “blatantly sexist”).

        You state that “just because we have traditionally done something, doesn’t imply that we should continue doing it. So, questions of historical precedent are entirely irrelevant to the current discussion or any moral question.”

        Entirely irrelevant? So, life begins and ends with you? With your generation? Such an attitute really reflects the problems in contemporary culture. Our understanding of morality in war, or the lack thereof, is based largely on history. You ignore that at your own peril (and the peril of those who might depend on you).

        Let’s move on in our logic lesson.

        No, as I said, I did not presume to speak for Mohler. The observation about the physical differences between men and women were not attributed to Mohler, they were simply offered as facts (from my perspective) undergirding Mohler’s moral argument. Once again your reasoning is based on a false premise.

        Again, I didn’t say that no women would be able to handle the physical part of warfare–and, in contrast to what you seem to think, the physical part can be very rigorous–I was simply suggesting that the physical capabilities would be so lacking in women that there would be the temptation to lower standards (indeed, there are already rumblings about that under the ignorant notion that the modern army isn’t much more than a video game, requiring little more than pulling a trigger or a joystick).

        I further asserted, which you may have also missed, that “there are other things to consider, such as psychological factors associated with those physical traits, etc.”

        The notion that I have a “bizarre worldview” and that my observations are “incoherent” is clearly and easily refuted by the preceding.

  • http://whyiamnotafeminist.com Judithann Campbell

    Feminists want to draft women into combat positions; feminists could care less what most women want, and it’s no secret that they don’t care what most men want. The U.S. military is gearing up to force women into combat roles for which they are not qualified. Our country and the entire world will suffer as a result.

    Thank You, Mark, for speaking out on this issue and for sharing Dr. Albert Mohler’s thoughts. It seems that feminists have are very close to destroying chivalry; I shudder to think of what will become of future generations.

  • Pingback: Two Views on Women in Combat « TheoNerd

  • J P Logan

    They always resort to the Nazi slur. If we don’t want women in combat, then it’s the same as when “Nazis slaughtered millions.” Yep, great analogy there, deep thought – except maybe one little detail, i.e., keeping women out of combat is pretty much the opposite of “slaughter,” isn’t it? It makes no sense, but at least he got to use the word “Nazi,” which is mandatory when a liberal can’t think of anything else to say.

    This person thinks it’s important to “treat one another as autonomous human beings.” Obviously that doesn’t apply to an unborn child, since it’s treated as a tumor that can be removed at its mother’s discretion. Do the mom and the doc consult the fetus – I mean, if they respect its “autonomy,” they would need to get its approval before the doc cuts it into pieces, right? It can’t speak, but its actions to the point of death indicate it is experiencing tremendous pain. An unborn child has different DNA than its mother, so genetically speaking, it is an autonomous human being. I like that last paragraph, about how wrong it is to “place limitations on the lives and dreams of others. They aren’t yours to control.” Right on, brother. That’s what pro-lifers have been saying for years, but by gum, the liberals keep right on treating abortion like its a sacred right that cannot be questioned.