I find myself in an uncomfortable position every time this day and the 4th of July roll around. I know my history. As an American citizen, I know that many wars have been fought by the United States Armed Forces in the name of justice and freedom (whether they were really about those things or not). I know that, in general, there is a long tradition of granting a certain level of respect and honor to those who have served in the military. There are people in my own family who have served.
While I would never go so far as to be disrespectful to someone who has been or is currently in the military, I struggle with knowing how to honor them, particularly if they ascribe to Christian faith. On the one hand, this issue is something that each believer must grapple with on his or her own. I recognize the fact that, as much as I don’t understand it, one can be genuinely and sincerely committed to God and find military service to be compatible with such faith. On the other hand, I absolutely do not agree with the actions that such people have engaged in. Violence, in any form and by any name, is simply wrong to me.
As I glance over at the television, the Stars and Stripes is waving proudly in a gentle breeze before some sporting match commences. I wonder: how far should the allegiance to that flag go? Am I Christian, or an American? Can I be both? Which one comes first? I have always felt, based on years of studying and prayer, that my Christian faith must always be the overriding factor of my life. I don’t always get that right, but it is my conviction. My nationality is of secondary importance.
This is where the conflict arises. In a strange and subtle way, the military and the Church here in America are quite intertwined. So much for our fabled separation of church and state. How could this be denied, when time is taken in services across the country to honor men and women who have engaged in such service? When are teachers honored before a sermon? Nurses? Stay-at-home mothers? Gas station clerks?
I can’t say that I’m not thankful to live in this country. I know that I enjoy great liberties. I am simply not convinced that the course this nation has taken has been God-ordained. In the Old Testament, covenant promises were directly linked to a physical, earthly place. In the New Testament, covenant promises are specifically NOT linked to any piece of land. Therefore, I don’t believe that Christians in America have some sort of blessed status. We just happen to live here.
We who have been set free by the Lord, what is our obligation to this country? What depth of thankfulness do we owe to those who fight? I wonder. For a good many years at the time of the Roman Empire, our faith was illegal. I have yet to read anything in which an early Christian person finds this inexplicable or petitions the government for “fairness.” To be an outcast in society, to be willing to accept the consequences for adhering to such faith, to suffer loss and torment, all of this was expected. Jesus Himself warned against it. Yet we today complain that our government doesn’t protect our religious rights as it should. Who has the unrealistic view?
There are so many questions related to this topic. What is freedom, and who secures it? Is it possible to be truly free in a land of horrible oppression? Must we take up arms to ensure that we continue to posses this freedom? For someone who is submitted to Christ as Lord, is it appropriate to ever put another human being in such a position as to be unable to say “no,” as is often the case with military commanders?
This is a touchy subject, I know. Some may accuse me of being passive in my pacifism. This is not the case. I believe in fighting for truth and justice, but I do not think that anyone on this planet, regardless of who they are, is my enemy. That’s not the battle I’m engaged in. I don’t think freedom has anything to do with who your government leaders are or what country you happen to live in. I made the decision long ago that my faith is worth suffering and dying for. I will not protest any consequences that might come my way for continuing to live as I do now, regardless of whether or not that life contravenes what the government deems fit.
Do I have such an attitude because of my indebtedness to men and women in the military and what they have fought for? Do I think thusly simply because I have the freedom to think it? Would I think differently if I had been born in the midst of a totalitarian regime? I don’t know that I can rightly untangle that.
I think what I can say on this Memorial Day is that I respect those men and women of the Armed Forces who, based on their convictions, have gone forth to do what they believe is right for their families and their country. I may disagree with those convictions, but I can admire the courage it takes to follow something through to its logical conclusion. I appreciate the heart of love that you have for your fellow countrymen and women. I admire your desire to serve and the acts of compassion you engage in within the context of terror.
My own convictions lead me to stop there, but I truly hope that it is enough. I also hope that it is evident that I do not wish to tear anyone down. My true impetus in writing this is to further sort out my own thoughts, and to encourage the Church to grapple with these issues, which are not as black and white as they might seem. Pacifists like me must accept that there are genuine brothers and sisters on the opposite side of the fence on this one, and that they are not indiscriminately violent. By the same token, those who do find military service to be compatible with faith must accept that their pacifist brothers and sisters are not cowardly or inconsistent with historic faith.