An uneasy peace with Memorial Day

May 31, 2016 by

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Being steeped in Anabaptism yet greatly appreciative of the liberties secured by the sacrifice of blood and treasure by millions of citizens over many years, I feel mental dissonance about Memorial Day.

I do not desire to dishonor the genuine sorrow of loss, nor the legitimate pride in sacrifice undergone in pursuit of worthwhile ends, nor to tarnish the memory of those who made selfless decisions for the greater good.

On the other hand, how does one reconcile celebration of war with a theology that celebrates the king of peace? It seems that we have perhaps collectively come to some sort of truce with war at least as represented by the sacrifice of the fallen. It is sort of a second-hand celebration, perhaps, but less than a repudiation of the violence our profession would seem to demand of us. Clearly we do not wish to be offensive toward or unsympathetic with those families bereft of loved ones.

But what if there were a celebration of sorts, or a commemoration of, those who engage in other sorts of things we maintain are beyond the scope of proper Christian conduct? What sort of honor would we give to those engaged in sexual escapades of a generally immoral sort? This was a pertinent question in the ’90s and, depending on the outcome in November, may again rise to the level of relevant national discourse. Would we tend to overlook violations of moral probity based on perceived promotion of our particular point of view or agreement with our proposed route toward a temporal paradise? Would we risk the fate suffered by John the Baptist for speaking truth to power on issues having to do with our understanding of religious imperatives?

It is highly unlikely that anyone is going to suffer loss of life for expressing the opinion that any particular office-holder is possessed of insufficient moral fiber, a fact that highlights the conundrum of the day. The liberty to condemn without fear has been attained and maintained by the very activity which a theology of peace calls us to reject.

To the extent the church has embraced the political right, it has also endorsed militarism, a phenomenon Mennonites have not proven immune to. Conversely, those who identify with the political left have a tendency to champion policies that would leave much of the world defenseless before the predations of their more powerful neighbors, solutions to world issues that some would say require the West to abdicate the role given by God to governments to suppress evil by the implementation of violent means.

What is the correct response to a public request for prayer, as I recently heard in church, expressing gratitude for the endeavors and sacrifice of current and past members of the armed services? How does one be a witness for peace while not celebrating that which seems antithetical to the call of the one who instructed his followers to love and do good to those who would mistreat and kill them without being disrespectful and even offensive? Perhaps we need to renew our awareness of the sense that we are not of this world, to more vigorously embrace the call to come out and be separate.

Whether in the temporary grip of either right or left, the political system depends upon the use of violence and the credible threat thereof to maintain its position. This is not wrong in a sense, but it is not Christian either. While the citizenship of nations and the citizenship of Christ’s kingdom overlap some, we may do well to rekindle a sense of distinction between the two, clarifying where it is our ultimate allegiance lies, while appreciating the freedom of expression our system affords us.

Gene Mast is a member of a Conservative Mennonite Conference church in Greenwood, Del.

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