Commander in Chief

The people of the United States have elected a new president who will take office on January 20, 2009. As I wrote on Election Day 2006,

One of the strengths of our military-political system is the subordination of the armed forces to civilian control. I don’t serve in a Republican army or a Democrat army, but in the Army of the United States. The members of the armed forces don’t make policy; we implement it – often at great cost.

While presidential candidates promise many things during a campaign, their first duty is to serve as the “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” This is the first of the very few duties enumerated in Article II of the U.S. Constitution. This will be the fourth president under whom I have served.

Military officers are taught that those in command are responsible for everything that the unit does – or fails to do – under their command. The new president will assume his responsibilities in a nation at war. He will bear the unimaginable burden of being responsible for the defense of the United States (and its allies). His decisions will affect the lives of both American citizens and people around the world. His decisions will also affect the lives of military members under his command. Every single president under which I have served has ordered military forces to engage in operations that intentionally took the lives of the enemies of peace, inadvertently took the lives of some innocent and cost the lives of American service members. The new president, as commander in chief of forces at war, will bear these burdens on day one of his term.

Paul encouraged Christians to pray for those in authority.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Psalm 72 offers this prayer for the sovereign:

Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor. May he endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. May he be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. In his days may the righteous flourish and prosperity abound till the moon is no more. May he rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. May the desert tribes bow before him and his enemies lick the dust. May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72:1-14)

Psalm 72 is offered within the context of Israel’s unique covenant with Israel, and the president is not a king. In the United States, sovereignty rests with the people within the framework of the constitution. That the people might live in security – at peace from both foreign and domestic threats – is one of the constitution’s primary aims (“insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence”). Congress has a constitutional role to play as well; it authorizes the establishment of military forces, pays for them and authorizes the use of military force.

Pray then, for the president, the congress and the people of the United States as they all perform their roles in exercising constitutional sovereignty within the United States.

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