While I’m in favor of equality, I think the realm of combat is a rather odd arena to serve as a test ground for it, not least because it’s a decidedly negative activity that in general, no one should wish for. I can certainly understand the motivation to serve together with one’s comrades in all facets of military life, and to not be restricted or have one’s career curtailed. That said, I find the triumphalism surrounding the recent decision to allow women in combat to be strange indeed. Should we really be celebrating the fact that yet another who swath of our society has, at least in theory, become wide open to waging war? To that extent, I am ambivalent. Far from a triumph, this has me thinking of a Stanley Hauerwas essay from the 90’s about don’t ask, don’t tell, entitled “Why Gays (as a group) are Morally Supperior to Christians (as a group)” in which he writes the following: “This moral confusion leads to a need for the illusion of certainty. If nothing is wrong with homosexuality then it seems everything is up for grabs. OF course, everything is already up for grabs, but the condemnation of gays hides that fact from our lives. So the moral ‘no’ to gays becomes the necessary symbolic commitment to show that we really do believe in something.
But in some way this prejudice against gays has worked in their favor. They at least know more about who they are and who their enemy is. If only Christians could be equally sure who they are. If only the military could come to view Christians as a group of doubtful warriors.” (The Hauerwas Reader, p. 520)
The fact that the male-dominated Old Testament includes accounts of these three women is fascinating, no doubt. And yes, the stories are inspiring, perhaps especially to the young girl who has always wanted validation that she, too, has the power to plant tent pegs in men’s temples. But say there was no Deborah, and Barak instead rose to the occasion and won the battle for the Israelites, would that mean women shouldn’t serve in combat?
Of course not. While in this particular case Deborah kicks butt, and I think military women should be permitted to do likewise, taking cues from the lives of Biblical characters as if we’re reading from a script written to determine the right choice for this very occasion makes little sense and can even be dangerous. This is especially true when we are talking about a political and military decision, something decidedly removed from the purview of the church; it’s time to leave ancient anecdotes aside.