Memorial Day is one of those holidays that can be quite complicated for Christians. We worship the God who will give us shalom and we serve his Son who called us to be heralds of peace. Yet as an American I live without fear of my temporal peace being immediately taken, in part because of the wars fought over the years by those who share my national identity. I am a citizen of the world’s strongest modern empire. I know other people (even other Christians) do not benefit from my nations “military industrial complex,” but I do.
Some Christians neutralize this tension by appealing to our “dual-citizenship” and (for Americans) the relative “good” done by our military. Kevin DeYoung’s post “Remembering Memorial Day” is a good example. He argues that “being a solider is not a sub-Christian activity;” “love of country can be a good thing;” and “the United States military has been a force for good in the world.” It is hard to image alternative outcomes to World War II without affirming some of DeYoung’s argument. As one person wrote in my Facebook feed this morning, “Even pacifists should be thankful for troops who have stood in harms way for their right to not take up a weapon.” Touche, I cannot deny that even as I am convinced that as a Christian it would be a violation of my conscience to serve in our military I know that the decision of others to do so is often motivated by good intentions, sometimes by their Christian beliefs. All things considered, rather I would be a citizen of the United States than any other country in the world. I admit that.
Obviously there are some concerning implications to DeYoung’s post–first and foremost the reality that many other nations with a large Christian population have made a similar argument over the last fifteen hundred years. I have had to ask myself, “What good is a Gospel that calls me to submit to a Messiah whose anti-violence message I can ignore when it conflicts with the interest of my nation?” I read about the World Wars and I am awestruck at the reality that many of the nations involved–Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Poland, and others–were places where apparently the same deity was worshiped every Sunday even as we slaughtered each other.
Daniel Kirk’s post “Memorial Day” is a very good, short one on this subject. He writes these very important lines about being a Christian citizen of a free and peaceful nation:
“As Christians in the United States, we should be careful not to take for granted our share in this freedom. None of us worries about being killed on Sunday morning for joining in public worship.
“But this gratitude has its own danger.
“We might begin to believe that true freedom is gained by the shedding of the blood of our fallen soldiers. We might forget that no, the freedom we enjoy has been gained by us making the other guy shed more of his blood than we have shed of our own.”
Kirk reminds us that this comes very close to be the antithesis of the Christian narrative where “freedom” comes from Messiah giving his life for us. The same Messiah that calls us to peaceful resistance. The same Messiah that invites us to share his suffering and shame. Remember, he was a Jew among Jews who anticipated a violent Messiah, yet he turned his “war” against Satan and not the Romans who occupied his homeland. This is the other side of the challenge.
I am a citizen of the United States, but that is secondary. As the Apostle said, “But out citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3.20).” I pray for the day that he returns. I anticipate a time when we can have a peace far greater than the pax Americana, one from heaven–shalom.
- Rodney Thomas, On Memorial Day: Memory and Nonviolence
- Kurt Willems, Re-Membering Memorial Day