To Battle We Go: UCMJ
By: Dr. Steve Kellner
A new military recruit signs an enlistment contract just before taking the oath of enlistment at the recruiting station, but it isn’t until some weeks into basic training that he or she sits in a class that explains the contract, the military legal system, and the service member’s rights or lack thereof.
For me, and I imagine for most recruits, it came as bit of a shock that I had signed away some of my rights as a citizen of the United States. Although service members are still technically covered by the U.S. Constitution, they are also governed by a separate legal system called the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ for short. Historically, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed this separate system in recognition of the unique mission of the military services. Individual rights must sometimes be given up in defending the nation.
Under the UCMJ, for example, service members give up part of their First Amendment right to free speech. They can’t publicly criticize the President, Congress, or their superior officers, or be involved in any kind of political activity in uniform. If they violate the UCMJ they won’t get a trial before a jury of their peers, but will either be summarily punished without a trial by their commanding officer or have a trial before a Court Martial, a panel of senior military officers. If convicted they can be fined, reduced in rank, given a dishonorable discharge, or even sent to the military’s own prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Soldiers of The Salvation Army also give up some of their rights when they sign the Soldier’s Covenant. They not only agree to believe in and adhere to the eleven doctrines of The Salvation Army, but also to the “I Will’s”, a list of ten specific lifestyle tenets. Most importantly, each soldier commits to the “devotion of my life to His service for the salvation of the whole world.” It’s quite a commitment, far above any church membership covenant I’m aware of. But it is necessary because of the unique mission of the Army. Salvation Army ministry is not for regular old church members.
In practical terms this means that Salvation Army soldiers give up the right to put themselves first. Ever. William Booth summed it up in one word, “Others!” Or, as the old Sunday school chorus says, “Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between.” Truthfully, this is the biblical standard for all Christians, but the Army has made it the centerpiece of its ministry.
New soldiers and old would do well to read through the Soldiers Covenant again and rediscover, perhaps, all that you agreed to when you signed it. Of course, no soldier always meets this standard, but it’s still the standard. But, no worries, The Salvation Army doesn’t operate its own prison for those who fall short!