To remember should be to work for peace

I want to start this post by expressing my admiration for the courage of those who have given their lives in military action in “defence” (which at least in the case of US and UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan means “attack”) of their countries. And I have great sympathy for those who have lost loved ones. I also feel a great sadness that most of their lives have been given in vain, or at best in partly successful attempts to undo the damaging results of previous wars pursued by their own countries.

But I do object to the way in which remembrance of war heroes has been brought into churches. Yesterday almost every church in my country would have included in its morning service an act of remembrance. Now I suppose it is good in church to remember those who have died, but what is the reason for specifically marking the deaths of those who have died in war? Is it not some kind of glorification of war? But any kind of glorification of war is totally contrary to the spirit of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament. It is also contrary to the teaching of the early church, as demonstrated by Anglican priest Tim Chesterton in a series of posts over the last few days Christians and War: The Early Church Speaks #1 #2 #3 #4 #5. See also the Mennonite badge which Tim posts a picture of: To remember is to work for PEACE.

If military people wish to have their own parades to mark their fallen comrades, they are welcome to do so. But please can they do so well away from the churches, whose fundamental attitudes are, or should be, completely at odds with theirs. And please can churches stop pandering to the expectations of those in the world outside, and of those among their own numbers, who hold anti-Christian militaristic views and expect the church to hold ceremonies for them, and disrupt its own regular programmes to do so.

I am prepared to attend my own church on Remembrance Sunday only because we have a very low key act of remembrance, with no military symbols displayed. For the last few years I have quietly absented myself from the main hall for the act of remembrance. This year I was on duty at the back, so stayed in the building but remained seated, in a place where I could not be seen so I didn’t give offence.

0 thoughts on “To remember should be to work for peace

  1. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We hated Him, yet He died for us anyway. He died for people that didn’t even know He existed.

    To me the closest thing that we ever get to that in our lives is those military personal who make the ultimate sacrifice.

    People are so ignorant to think that trashing veterans will make a difference, when in reality their anger should be directed at those in charge of policy making within the government. We don’t go to war because a majority of soilders, airmen, seamen, and marines vote that we should. They are simply doing their job. Christ didn’t do His own thing, but God’s thing. Those in the military don’t do their own thing, but what the ‘higher ups’ tell them to do.

    Obviously it’s not some perfect analogy or anything, but in all honesty, the sacrifice of the men and women of my country is the closest thing personally in my life to understanding what Jesus did.

  2. Rhea, I was trying hard not to trash ordinary veterans, who joined up often because they had to and if not because they did what they genuinely thought was best. It is of course the people at the top who are to blame. They are the ones who sacrifice the young people of their countries on the altars of their own military ambitions, while themselves staying at a safe distance in their presidential palaces and military HQs. If they were roundly condemned at our remembrance services, instead of being given seats of honour, I might have less objection.

  3. Peter
    A well presented and fairly argued post. I won’t say I fully agree with all of it, but exploring insights together is one of the results of blogs.

    I do agree that the church should be in the business of promoting peace and definitely not glorifying war. That is reflected in the Anglican Collect for the day with its reference to a world ravaged by sin. I applauded the stance taken by the late ++ Runcie at the Falkland thanksgiving service in 1982; I recall that Mrs Thatcher was not amused.

    But I do feel it is very appropriate for the Church to remember the war dead in the way we do. In our own age, by volunteering for the armed services, our service personnel have put their own lives on the line. In the world wars, the fact of conscription meant most had their lives put on the line by political masters. To note in reflection and repentance the perculiar horrors of war and the human sinfullness which gives rise to it seems to me a proper thing for us to do. Given the strength of your own feelings on the subject, I do recognsie and appreciate your sensitivity in your own church situation.

    This year, our vicar’s sermon majored on “greater love has no man that he lay down his life for his friends”. He skirted round the Calvinist/Arminian possibilities of this text, but used it to pose the challenge, “are you Jesus friend?”

    Thinking lastly on the question of remebering others who have died. Setting aside individual funerals and commemoration services , All Saints (and All Souls?) Sunday can provide a wider opportunity to give thanks for the dead, and with All Saints, also the living. Which I took when preaching on 2 November when I built up to and ended with the question “are you a saint?”

  4. The problem with applying the ‘greater love hath no man than this’ text to military service is that it isn’t true to the context. Jesus did not give up his life for us by serving as a soldier. He gave it up by refusing to fight. He turned the other cheek, loved his enemies, prayed for those who hated him and refused to answer evil for evil. That is how he laid down his life for his friends.

  5. Pingback: Threads from Henry’s Web » On Being Christian and Killing People

  6. Pacifism is not Christianity — merely a fad practised only by supremely comfortable people protected by the blood and sacrifice of others — and Christians are not pacifists.

    It is very important not to confuse our politics with the apostolic teaching. Of course every political view that I hold is correct, nay obviously moral. Perhaps you feel them same about your own? Those who disagree with us are worms, traitors, and selfish scum who need flaying until they bleed, or sending to “diversity” workshops until they beg for mercy. That will teach them tolerance for my point of view. (NB: to the humour-impaired… this is humour).

    But… nevertheless, the two things are different, and we must keep them differentiated in our minds.

  7. Roger, if it is a “fad”, it is one at least 1900 years old. Read the passages quoted by Tim Chesterton, to which he has added #6 since I posted. But do we agree that politics should be kept separate from the church? In that case you should agree with me that war should not be celebrated in church meetings.

  8. Most of the churches that included an act of rememberance were C of E, like yours. The C of E is the established church of this country, (whether we like it or not – seperate debate about whether it should be dis-established). The armed forces are part of the establishment with this country so there is a strong link between them and the C of E. Every unit of our armed forces will have at least an Anglican chaplian. So it is no surprise on armistace sunday we have an act of rememberance. It is not to glorify war, but to remember those who gave their lives for our country. Many in the belief or theory that we have the freedom to blog. So I really don’t know what all the fuss is about unless one is an absolute pacifist.

  9. Graham, it’s good to see you commenting here. Let me first say that I have serious problems with the establishment of the Church of England and would like to see it disestablished. It is not a matter of “whether we like it or not”; if our elected synod representatives requested disestablishment the current government would be quick to grant it. But there are very many not established churches around the world which hold similar acts of remembrance. So this is really a side issue.

    The problem really is that acts of remembrance, especially if attended by people in uniform or wearing medals (ours was not), are seen as glorifying war even if this is not intended.

  10. Peter,

    I respect your views. I wonder, however, what the results would be if we all agreed with you. That is, if we do not oppose evil, what will the world be like? As an example, I have in mind the position the Canadian General DeLair found himself in when Rawanda essentially blew up, pitting Tutsi aganist Hutu in a contest for survival. Mass murder was apparently the order of the day. What do you suggest?

    Ken Nordin

  11. Ken, I wish I had an easy answer. I am not committed to a completely pacifist position, and so I can accept that in some cases it may be necessary to use force e.g. to restore public order in a situation like Rwanda. Obviously it is hard to know where to draw the line. But any such action should be treated as a regrettable necessity, certainly not as something to glory in.

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