Remembrance Day is always a tension for me.
One of my more “legalistic” perspectives on my faith is that I believe, rather strongly, that we should not kill each other, exactly in reference to the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:13). Beyond simply being a call not to “murder” (which some otherwise good versions have used the last few years) I believe that this is a call not to kill anyone. I therefore have enormous difficulty with wars and such conflicts, where lives are bought and sold on the battlefield for political control and land. That does not mean that I don’t recognize the devolution of political whims that results in war: we live in countries and in a history that is built from the blood of our forebears. That this is true does not mean I have to like it. When I lived in the U.S. and turned 21, I remember having to register for the draft in Chicago. I am thankful that such a draft was not necessary while I lived there, because I knew that I would have served. As much as I feel that we are told not to kill, I also live in a system where I don’t have the luxury to live simply by my personal ethics. Often my perspective collides with that of the community around me, and I must submit.
At the church I’ve been attending the last couple of years, one of my pastors, Anne, expressed a similar viewpoint in a recent sermon: “As a Christian, I don’t take life. I find it hard to walk on ants and kill the pantry flies that flutter in our kitchen, let alone people.” Yet at times it is necessary. It may even be the least “wrong” of potential actions. That is the tension.
I believe that all potential conflicts can be worked out without recourse to violence. However, it is rarely easy to do so. Violence, on the other hand, is simple: anyone can do it. We learned that as children. It is almost a default human approach to disagreement. It is only in becoming more civilized that we realize our potential for avoiding violence. If someone attacks, it is simplistic to think that we can always “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). Depending on the situation, sometimes it is necessary to fight. Making that decision, and how to express it, shows how well we are maturing in our human-ness, even if we do have to fight.
In the sermon quoted above, Anne also described a quote from Jacques Ellul: “In the 1920s and the 1930s, there was a spiritual battle in Europe that the Christians didn’t fight: and the result was a physical battle, World War II… the Christians didn’t stand. And we must take a stand.” Much like today, failure on our part (among many) means that war happens. Indeed, today Christians are not known for preventing war or arguing for peace, but in may parts of the world are known for claiming that “God is pro-war” (Jerry Falwell, 2004). This illustrates individual immaturity in Christ, no matter how popular the speaker might be. (In many cases, as with Mr. Falwell, it shows that the speaker has tried to focus more on popularity than maturity.)
Yet in spite of these beliefs, I recognize that because of our collective perspective, war comes. I am therefore thankful to those who have gone to war in days before me. Remembrance Day is important for this reason. I am reminded on this day of the actions that I did not have to take, and continually don’t have to take. Is is on Remembrance Day that I am reminded of the relative, collective insanity of many of our leaders (not necessarily just those overseas) and am moved with earnest to offer “entreaties and prayers… for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life ” (1 Tim 1:1-2)
But that is not enough. Anne spoke in her sermon of “taking a stand”. It is essential that this is done before war looms on the horizon. “Taking a stand” is one of the ways that we can prevent war before it happens. There are many issues today that do not seem to affect us directly, but which we know are wrong: they are issues that are not simply non-traditional, or progressive, or challenging, or “economically unfeasible”, but wrong. Hurtful. Exploitive. Degrading. Antisemitism might have seemed innocuous in the days before WWII, but it became a fundamental concern. These are the things we need to take a stand against. Each of us must wrestle with the reality of events happening around us, and identify what we see as issues for which we can “take a stand”.
It is important… essential… that each of us determines exactly what that means for ourselves.