May 29, 2017

Christian Opposition to Memorial Day

Every year there are the usual Christian bloggers denouncing the supposedly idolatrous nationalism of patriotic holidays like Memorial Day and July 4. Any display of the flag in proximity to the church or congregational reverence for fallen soldiers is ostensibly a grievous rebuke to the Gospel.

Such perspectives came to mind upon reading recent Wall Street Journal comments by French philosopher Pierre Manent, who noted, in columnist Sohrab Ahmari’s paraphrase: “For the West’s professional classes…the only acceptable sources of political communion are the autonomous individual, on the one hand, and humanity as a whole, on the other.”

This globalist mindset for Western secular elites is increasingly true for many American church elites, including some Evangelicals, whose elitism recoils at populist patriotic spirituality in Christian and especially evangelical subculture. It’s part of a larger spiritual universalism that rejects or minimizes particular loyalties. Although it nobly aspires to love for all humanity, it fails to appreciate that love meaningfully can only begin with relations in proximity, with family, friends, neighborhood and country. Loving everybody everywhere abstractly is unlikely without first loving nearby persons.

Sanitizing life of any mediating fidelities other than abstract universal love ultimately is isolating and elevates the autonomous individual to supremacy. This hyper individualism is arguably the ultimate cul-de-sac of a sterilized Protestantism shorn of the multiple organic community loyalties embedded in every form of Christian orthodoxy. Patriotism is a chief bugaboo to this cult of the isolated individual.

Here’s one such recently reposted Christian blog fretting about patriotic hoopla around Memorial Day from Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood, a “Baptist pastor, theologian and activist living and working in Texas:”

To put the United States flag on the altar of a church is to insinuate that somehow the United States has a claim to the grace of God that other nations and peoples do not. To put the United States flag at the front blurs that glorious declaration “For God so loved the world…” Can you imagine what someone from another country thinks when they see that United States flag up front at our churches? There is no nationality barrier to the altar of God. Jesus does not love the United States more than any other nation…to put a flag at the front and bless the atrocities committed by an incredibly powerful people in the name of Jesus is blasphemous.

If Rev. Hood worshiped at churches in Guatemala, Nigeria or Malaysia, and saw their respective national flags in or around the church, would he be offended? Why does he assume that a Guatemalan, Nigerian or Malaysian would be offended by American flags in or around American churches?

And why does Rev. Hood assume that affirming personal God’s love for America precludes love for other nations? Are fidelity and love for spouse and children a rejection of godly regard for other families? Or do marriage and family, solemnized in the church, signify the starting points and not the limits of love?

As to Rev. Hood’s obsession with the American flag as symbol of “atrocities,” there is a frequent Christian elite ideological anti-Americanism that demonizes American patriotism beyond all other national loyalties. Such critics, upon visiting a Latin American church, likely would not obsess over Mayan or Aztec atrocities from past centuries, which don’t fit the preferred narrative.

Here’s more commentary from Rev. Hood:

No one will recite Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:52, “…those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Matthew 5:44 and Jesus’ reminder to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” will not make an appearance. Least of all will we remember the millions and millions of people who have died in places with names like Hiroshima, Hanoi, Waziristan, Nagasaki, Kabul and Baghdad in the infernos created by our bombs…those “least of these” dead because we failed to see Jesus in their midst. No these words won’t be remembered… and I know most congregations won’t be talking beyond the soldiers who have died and will miss the opportunity to have a conversation about the wider call of Jesus to peace and justice.

Again, Hood’s anti-Americanism, so pervasive in the Evangelical and Religious Left blogosphere, precludes mention of crimes by Japanese militarism, Vietnamese communism, the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. Original Sin corrupts America more than any other nation or culture, supposedly.

Here’s more from Rev. Hood:

A real conversation about the non-violent love of Jesus and our purpose as followers can only happen when we take down the United States flags in our sanctuaries that stand in the way. If we want to truly honor slain soldiers we will stop perpetuating the nationalism that killed them. So let’s toss out all the flags and have a real Memorial Day next year…one that memorializes and celebrates a time when we began to emulate Jesus’ love for all people and put to death the nationalism that fooled us into thinking that violence can bring about peace.

The critique of Memorial Day and July 4, along with Veterans Day, is almost always premised on an absolutist pacifism that rejects the historic teaching by nearly all Christianity about the state’s ordained vocation to seek justice and security. Soldiers, police and public officials are called by God to seek the public good and defend the defenseless. Their calling, properly understood and conducted, merits honor and gratitude, not smug blanket condemnation. The hyper sectarian form of Protestantism that sneers at their godly roles is closely related to American hyper individualism.

Contrary to demands from the self-professed “radical theology” of Rev. Hood and other neo-Anabaptists, Memorial Day is a holiday deeply Christian in its origins and merits Christian embrace. It speaks to sacrifice, self-denial and duty. It vividly, disturbingly reminds us that the world is fallen and full of evil. It connects us to the dead and reminds us that we the living have no sanctimonious monopoly on truth and virtue. And it connects us to wider communities of nation, church, locality, neighborhood, lodge, family and friendship, through which God works, and all of which He desires to redeem.

We are not just solitary individuals standing in judgment of others but deeply interconnected with and obliged to many others with whom we stand under common judgment of God.

God bless your Memorial Day! Recall and thank the dead for their witness and sacrifice, their failures and their victories. Their example can be a providential means of grace for more faithful and abundant living today. And they remind us, contra American/Western hyper individualism, that we too are mortal and will follow them into eternity to meet our Maker and Redeemer.

15 Responses to Christian Opposition to Memorial Day

  1. Rusty says:

    Thanks. State. Capital.

  2. theenemyhatesclarity says:

    I agree with virtually everything you said. Our church honors military past and present, asking veterans to stand and be applauded. That gives me chills. Also, you make good points about the vocation of the christian state, and that love must begin locally. And nobody sings the Star Spangled Banner more loudly than me. But should the last be done in church? Should the flag be raised prominently in the sanctuary at the end of the service honoring veterans? Should we applaud the flag then? In a space set aside to worship the Holy God, do we exalt the flag in that situation? Or am I just being a grump?

    In Christ,

    The enemy hates clarity

  3. Dr. John D Abbott, Jr says:

    Great article! Thank you very much!

  4. Daniel says:

    Let’s not forget that the Methodist Church didn’t officially support WWII until its 1944 General Conference and this support was by no means without much dissent.

    I’d be more supportive of Rev. Hood if he preached his message of stamping out nationalism in houses of worship somewhere like, say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. Oh, wait! In countries like that without the freedoms US men and women died for so that he could express his opinions, he would be thrown in jail and possibly executed for blasphemy against Allah. It’s so easy to criticize when you’re speaking from your protected cocoon. I believe a great theologian executed by the Nazis called this type of pontificating “cheap grace.” Just sayin’.

  5. Leigh says:

    Use the link to go to Rev Hood’s website. Click on the “me” tab and read all about him. It will all become clear. I’m sorry IRD is giving him attention.

  6. Anna Wilks says:

    We came to this country to be free to worship as we wanted. Many died during the Revolutionary War to obtain that freedom. We wouldn’t be free today, I firmly believe, had it not been for His grace. Yes, the American flag most definitely belongs in our churches. We are one nation, under God and I will fight to keep it that way and will honor those who gave their lives to protect that right. I will always thank those who served and are serving, which our churches should do also!

  7. Barbee says:

    This is why as an Army Veterans mom I skip church on Memorial Day Weekend
    No witness to loving your neighbor to lay your life down for him

  8. Fletcher Law says:

    Some “pastor – theologians” spend a lot of time answering questions nobody cares or will ever want to ask.

  9. Christian says:

    But in this stance are you ignoring “turn the other cheek?” And “not against flesh and blood?” The world may be fallen but what about our call to bring heaven to earth?

    • Patrick Campbell says:

      Context provides your answer. Enduring personal insults, afflictions for The Name of the Lord, and fighting the good fight of the faith, ie, walking in peace and righteousness is one thing.
      Allowing, as a pacifist, crime and wickedness to go unchecked is to in effect serve as an accomplice to evil.

  10. Wayne MacKirdy says:

    I would commend to you Romans 13. See if your answer, theenemyhatesclarity, is found there.

  11. Patrick Campbell says:

    Hood is a thankless idiot. Has it occurred to him that the liberty he enjoys to express his opinion has come at the expense of military people who have risked and given their lives for our freedom?

  12. Patrick Campbell says:

    Consider the difference that the freedom the US has, that has provided the opportunity for the gospel to go forth through out the world, as apposed to Cuba or North Korea. For Christians, of all people, to be so ungrateful as to insult fallen soldiers and sailors and their families is a disgrace to the name of Christian. Pretentious, religious hypocrisy.

  13. David Boger says:

    Thanks, Mark. Right on!
    God first; then family; country; others; and then self.

  14. Dave Gilmore says:

    Many people get the “Jesus was a pacifist” thing wrong. He encouraged us to turn the other cheek, but that doesn’t mean we can’t defend ourselves or the defenseless with force. A few examples I always point to are the fact that Peter was carrying a sword when Jesus was arrested. If Jesus didn’t want him to use a sword should he need to, he would have told him not to carry a sword. In this instance he just told him now wasn’t the time.

    Another is Luke 22:36 where he SPECIFICALLY tells the apostles to get a sword if they don’t have one.

    Finally, the Faith of the Centurion is told twice in the gospels. The centurion, a professional soldier in an army that kept the Jews under their thumb, a leader of a hundred men, comes to him expressing his faith in Jesus’ abilities and asking for him to heal his servant. Jesus had every opportunity to tell the man to stop being a soldier, put his sword down and be peaceful. But he did not. He let the soldier be a soldier.

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