A Christian who believes all war is wrong, and that serving in the military would violate his conscience and Christian identity, can ethically register as a conscientious objector. A Christian who disagrees with the Iraq War as a misguided waste of American resources, should not use the "conscientious objector" provisions to avoid military service.

One might believe the decision to invade Iraq was unwise. One might believe American operations in Afghanistan are futile, because one thinks the Taliban will simply reappear once the troops leave. But one wouldn't be right to resist a draft (if there were one) for those reasons.

The provision is there to protect the consciences of those who can't fight without believing themselves to be fighting against their god. If the provision is used to allow anyone who disagrees with a particular war or with a particular military strategy to "opt out" of military service, the provision will no longer exist for anyone.

The same is true with Social Security.

There are times when Christians are called to resist the state. And there are times when Christians are right to avoid the payment of taxes. One thinks, for instance, of early American Baptists who went to jail rather than pay special taxes for the support of the established churches. In those instances, the resisters believed the payment to be a direct confrontation of obeying God or obeying men (Acts 4:19-20). And they went to jail for it.

As you make this decision, ask yourself whether you plan to preach and teach your people that participating in Social Security (as payer or recipient) is a sin against God. If the "opt out" provision were revoked, would you willingly go to prison rather than pay the tax? And, would your prison time be because you saw the choice as between Christianity and idolatry?

If the answer to these questions is "no" (as it seems from your question), then you are not a conscientious objector to Social Security taxes. To then "opt out" of paying them would be to refuse to do precisely what Jesus commands us to do: pay taxes. It would also give reason for offense to the mission field you're attempting to engage with the gospel. And, by turning a protection of conscience into a political statement or a pragmatic economic benefit, it would imperil religious liberty provisions for your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Social Security may or may not be around when you retire. I don't know. I do know this: your money definitely won't be around when you're dead. So why waste your religious liberty on holding on to a little bit more of it for a little while longer?

February 18, 2010

What's your question or ethical dilemma? Send it to me at questions@russellmoore.com.

Russell Moore is Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway, 2004) and the forthcoming Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, May 2009).

Website: RussellMoore.com