Memorial Day


If you attended church this weekend, did you hear your pastor or anyone else offer a word of thanks for American soldiers who gave their lives for their country? Perhaps he prayed for those still mourning loved-ones killed in war, but did he actually give thanks to God that they had courageously sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom? If so, I sincerely applaud your church and your clergy. Yet I'm wondering how many communicants actually had such an experience.

Granted, war is hell. There are just and unjust wars. I assume that most powerful nations, over the course of several hundred years, will be involved in both. Some of these conflicts may end in blazing triumph, while others in ignominious defeat. 

Let’s assume that a pastor believes that World War II was a just war and that the invasion of Iraq was an unjust one. What’s he to say in his pastor’s prayer? Is he to give thanks for the soldiers who lost their lives in the one but mourn the deaths of those who died in the other? That would be a bit awkward, wouldn’t it?  So he simply mourns the loss of human life across the board and is content to leave the matter there. 

Critically attentive congregants may wonder, “Well, does he think that my loved-one (or friend) died in vain?” Or are such congregants to conclude that the pastor is simply exercising an innocuous political dodge? That is, instead of stirring up diehards of opposing persuasions concerning the morality of war, he tries to find a common denominator in the hope that they all will be placated. “Certainly everyone,” he reasons, “will agree that we should mourn our dead.” If a minister tends to be of pacifist sympathies and suspects that engagement in any and every war is a sin, then it is true that Memorial Day is an occasion for mourning and leading one’s congregation in mourning, and that is the essence of it. 

There’s a question begging to be asked of such pastors. Can a soldier on the front line of battle, who is killing the “enemy,” be a Christian, even when the war is not just? When he carries a small copy of the New Testament in his battle fatigues and reads it at night after engaging in bloody combat, is this a blasphemous act? Even if we are of the strong opinion that a war is one of aggression, are we to commend the soldier for his service in it?  These are profound questions and not easy ones to answer. 

Yet the stubborn reality is that soldiers are not the ones who start wars. They are the ones who are ordered to fight them. When most wage war, they demonstrate fidelity and courage in carrying out the various tasks at hand, along with immense care and empathy for their comrades in arms. When I read of the selfless and heart-pounding actions of Medal of Honor winners, I am often brought to tears, not because I necessarily agree with the underlying reasons for the war in which they fought, but because I am moved by the magnanimity of their actions. 

I have no trouble at all thanking God for our men and women who were in uniform and who sacrificed their lives for their country. In doing so, I’m not contending either for or against the merits of the war in which they engaged, but am applauding them for the fact that they answered the call with resoluteness and rectitude, even when they were sometimes spat upon as they returned home. 

Let me change the subject for a moment. On Saturday, Ireland was the first country in the West to approve homosexual marriage by a majority vote. This was a staggering cultural development. It essentially redefines the nature not only of marriage in that country, but also of the family and of the way in which future generations in that country will understand the family. Christendom’s view of marriage and family were decisively vetoed. 

Did you hear anything about that in church yesterday? Is Christendom no longer concerned about Western culture? If so, how can that be, since brilliant thinkers in various disciplines, such as Christopher Dawson, Arnold Toynbee, T.S. Eliot, Russell Kirk, and Samuel P. Huntington, have all stressed the fact that the West has deep Christian roots? We often hear much about the toleration of peoples from other cultures coming to this country to live, while retaining their native customs, habits, mores, religions, and languages. So why nothing about the cataclysmic social development in Ireland this week? 

The Christian church in America has, like it or not, veered toward the political left in pronouncing upon race, immigration, culture, feminism, and homosexuality. America’s wars are widely regarded in American Christendom as a blight upon the world, and the loss of life occasioned by them, according to church leaders, should be only mourned, never celebrated as a gift. Likewise, same-sex marriage is, even for the more traditional communions in Christendom, seldom if ever expressed as a topic of concern from the pulpit, as that might offend gay worshippers and be construed as reactionary intolerance. Doctrinal differences between communions, needless to say, have all but become passé as well, since “being a Christian” has been sadly diluted and is synonymous with “being a nice guy.” 

Nobody wants to be a “warmonger,” a “homophobe,” or a “doctrinaire bigot,” that’s for sure. But does anyone care to be a patriot, a stalwart of American culture, and a Christian who has thoughtful doctrinal beliefs and concerns? Maybe not.

May 27, 2015