Memorial Day for Peaceniks

Memorial Day has been treated as a sacred holiday in many communities and in many congregations as well. Remembering those who have given their lives in war is a solemn and serious matter. Not to do so suggests that the suffering and deaths of those on the battlefield are undeserving of attention and honor. But whether Memorial Day should be treated as sacred in church is another matter.

As a minister who is a pacifist Memorial Day has frequently been a challenge. It is among my firm convictions that national holidays should not be celebrated in the worship of the church. The church body is not rightly defined by national identity, regardless of where a particular congregation is located or the nationality of its membership. Consequently, I have resisted any attempt to incorporate the celebration of Memorial Day into a service that aims to praise the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Further, honoring those who have died participating in an activity Christian pacifists intractably oppose, armed conflict, presents an additional difficulty. Doesn’t the celebration of Memorial Day somehow affirm the nobility of fighting in war? And doesn’t honoring the war dead commend their behavior to those who are younger, inviting them to emulate those who lost their lives even as they were involved in activities which would take the lives of others? I am not interested in doing either of these things.

Still, I have to ask, for a pacifist is there anything worth remembering on Memorial Day? I think that there is. While I don’t commend going to war, those who sacrifice, suffer and give their lives for their convictions are worthy of honor. Too few in our time seem to be willing to give up even a small part of their comfort in order to advance any cause greater than their personal satisfaction. Those who face life-threatening hazards for something in which they believe should be recognized. Their willingness to put their lives on the line for something bigger than themselves provides a counter-witness to the prevalent self-absorption found in our society.

The war dead should not be equated with Christian martyrs who have given their lives for Christ and his cause. But neither should they be regarded as little more than violence-prone gangsters who became hapless victims in a turf battle. For the most part they were ordinary men and women who were thrust into situations that were anything but ordinary. They were not looking for a fight but because of their beliefs and sense of responsibility they felt compelled to enter the fray. My father and most of my uncles served in the military. Earlier generations in my family did as well. They did what they believed the circumstances of their time demanded of them. They suffered, they sacrificed. Though none of my family members died in war so far as I know, they were very much like many of those who did so.

While I cannot support participation in war nor commend the inevitable violence of the battlefield, I can and do applaud the sacrifices of those who follow their convictions even when it leads to their own graves. Too many of us claim to have convictions but spend little or nothing of ourselves to advance them. Not only will we not risk our lives for what we say we believe is true, good and beautiful, we won’t even risk facing the ridicule or rejection that may come our way if we speak up with clarity during a time of crisis and controversy. So I find myself preferring the humble courage of the reluctant warrior to the timidity of the safely closeted and silent “supporter” of peace and justice.

Craig M. Watts

Royal Palm Christian Church

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One Comment

  1. Ron Faust
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    I join the chorus of your ennobled thoughts and will be on a Memorial Day March between the two plants that have a part in triggering nuclear weapons. At that time I shared the following poem:

    “Memorial March”

    We gather together in a single journey of destiny
    To remember those who resists injustices
    As we press our feet into the ground
    And feel connection to a Memorial march

    Enslaved to the patriotic spirit of the homeland,
    Many are inspired by their love of country
    Even to the point of dying for pointless wars
    Because it is easier to believe in toughness.

    But some march to a different and gentler rhythm,
    while willing to raise questions about war
    and our preeminence as a nation and
    whether the world is really our battlefield.

    Our tender feet step softly on this hard earth
    To protest a cavalier attitude that we somehow
    Have the right to invade other people’s privacy
    And to kill from a distance
    with sociopathic drones.

    We are marching to seek an alternative route
    Where we cease weapons of mass destruction
    And we quit making people suffer from poisons
    And we stop dumping problems on the poor.

    We are on this exodus to recognize our slavery
    To a society cracking under the weight of empire
    As we wish to suffer no more, yearning
    For the promise of freedom and justice for all.

    (On the occasion of the Memorial Day march from Bannister plant to the modernized plant on 5/27/13) by Ron Faust

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