In Defense of Freedom, Life, Liberty, Home and Family

How Mormons Feel About Military Service and War

military uniform with american flag in background

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) members, also known as Mormons, have distinguished themselves in many wars, conflicts, and countries throughout time. They do not seek war for its own sake but value the reasons that sometimes result in the eruption of armed conflicts.

Understanding LDS views about military service, and especially war, requires an understanding of the Mormon beliefs that predate our mortal birth on earth.

It All Started With the War in Heaven

Although very little is known about it, there was a war in heaven that continues to be fought here on earth. It concerns agency, or the right to make choices in life. This war in heaven produced many casualties, as many as one-third of the children of our Heavenly Father.

The conflict pitted those who wanted people to retain the ability to make choices (agency), whether good or bad, against those who wanted to force people to make good choices. Agency won out over force. Because of that initial conflict, people are born with agency intact, and with the freedom to make choices here on earth.

Some governments protect this freedom, some do not. When they do not, or when governments attempt to take this freedom from citizens; then sometimes armed conflicts are necessary, whether by the citizens or on their behalf.

What Is Important Enough to Fight For?

Agency, or freedom, as many are sometimes more used to calling it, still needs to be protected on earth. This is often done through military service and, sometimes, war.

Armed conflicts rarely exist because of one issue. They usually involve many issues. Some of these issues can be political, economic or social. Not all these issues justify armed conflict. However, when basic freedoms are at stake, armed conflict may be justified.

Careful scripture reading suggests that freedoms such as life, liberty, home, and family are worth defending by armed conflict. This is also supported by inspired leaders. Nevertheless, defense without bloodshed, or minimized bloodshed, is always preferred. This can involve preparation, as well as a stratagem.

Defending Freedom Requires a Military and Military Service

Defending freedom is a difficult business. It has to be adapted to the times. Whether to have a standing army of conscripts or volunteers or some other system that does not conflict with religious beliefs. These decisions must be made by government leaders.

LDS members prefer military and government leaders of high moral character and religious sensibilities. Such leaders are usually conscious of the larger issues at stake. The goal of protecting freedoms can be lost during the horrors of war. Leaders who can minimize the inevitable horrors through righteous leadership are most desirable.

Citizens owe an allegiance to the governments they live under. Sometimes this involves military service and going to war. Mormons accept these responsibilities.

Mormons Have Always Answered the Call to Serve

Even during the most difficult times, Mormons have been willing to serve their country. At the time members were being driven out of many states and heavily persecuted, over 500 men agreed to serve their country as part of the Mormon Battalion. They distinguished themselves during the Mexican American War. They left their families as they migrated west. Later, after being released in California, they made their way to what is now Utah.

Currently, the Church operates a military relations program designed to help those who serve as soldiers, medical personnel, scientists, chaplains and so forth. This program has resources and personnel designed to help members perform their duties to their country, as well as their duties to their God.

Serving One's Country by Serving in the Military

Serving in the military is considered an honorable career for Mormons. Besides serving, many Mormons serve or have served in top leadership positions in the military including the following:

  • Lieutenant General Robert C. Oaks (USAF)
  • Admiral Paul A. Yost (U. S. Coast Guard)
  • James C. Fletcher, Ph.D. (N.A.S.A.)
  • Commander Don Lind, Ph.D. (U.S. Naval Reserve)
  • Lieutenant General James C. King (U. S. Army)
  • Dr. Ellis Miner (Astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Other members have distinguished themselves in ways connected to their service.

  • Paul Holton “Chief Wiggles” (Army National Guard)

Are There LDS Conscientious Objectors?

Certainly, LDS members have been conscientious objectors at some point in time. However, when a country calls a citizen into military service, it is considered an obligation of citizenship and our duty as members of the church.

At the height of these sorts of tensions in 1968, Elder Boyd K. Packer made the following comment in General Conference:

Though all the issues of the conflict are anything but clear, the matter of citizenship responsibility is perfectly clear. Our brethren, we know something of what you face and sense, something of what you feel. I have worn the uniform of my native land in the time of total conflict. I have smelled the stench of human dead and wept tears for slaughtered comrades. I have climbed amid the rubble of ravaged cities and contemplated in horror the ashes of a civilization sacrificed to Moloch (Amos 5:26); yet knowing this, with the issues as they are, were I called again to military service, I could not conscientiously object! To you who have answered that call, we say: Serve honorably and well. Keep your faith, your character, your virtue.

Further, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism notes that in all twentieth-century military conflicts, church leaders have discouraged conscientious objection.

Although Mormons willingly and nobly serve their country, they look forward to a time of peace, prophesied by Isaiah, when no one will "learn war any more."