yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a friend, who is also a pastor, about celebrating Memorial Day in church. We both have theological concerns about such practices, yet want to be pastorally sensitive and to avoid having that debate be 'the hill we die on,' so to speak.
interestingly enough there is a dialogue on another blog I frequent regarding the correct relationship between the Christian and the governing authorities. The most popular proof-text that some like to use comes from Romans 13 in which Paul encourages the church to submit to the governing authorities because they have authority as a gift of God. In the best sense of this passage I think this is why so many want to celebrate Memorial Day in church, out of a sense of gratitude for the many freedoms that we enjoy in this nation and a sense of appreciation for those who have put their lives on the line to defend that freedom. This I understand.
Apart from Romans 13, the Bible is very sceptical of Governmental Authority. In 1 Sam 8, Samuel and God have a discussion about Israel's request for a King. Neither God nor Samuel are in favor of the idea. Why? Because the King will abuse his authority and oppress the people economically. The Prophets by-in-large, but not totally, are very critical of the governing authorities, their own and others. They often criticize their own leaders for oppressing their people or being willfully and pitifully ignorant of their poverty. Earlier in the Hebrew Bible there are the epic struggles between Elijah and King Ahab. In the New Testament we find a similar vein of scepticism and criticism of power. Mary's Magnificat is ladel with political overtones. The Lord's prayer can and should be read and recited with politics in mind; 'Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done...' the assertion that true power resides in God and true loyalty belongs to God, not Caesar, not Herod. Paul's use of Savior and Lord in the epistles is a direct use of Caesar's own language refering to self. Caesar is not Savior and Lord, Paul is saying, only Jesus...
I could go on and on.
This isn't to say that as Christians we criticize the government just for the sake of being critical. We are not called to be rebellious or violent. But we are called to be prophetic. We are called to participate in the creation of the Kingdom. When the governing authorities do not act in according with our Kingdom values, it is our duty to speak and sometimes act (non-violently).
This is the concern I have about Memorial Day services. While many well-intentioned members want to offer thanks and praise to God for our freedomes, I am concerned that this also serves to suggest that everything that the US does is blessed by God and approved of by God. Our country has a long history of enacting policies that are well outside the realm of the Kingdom, slavery, the treatment of Native Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans, and that is a short list. the current war in Iraq is a grave concern for me theologically. While I pray for the safety of those serving and appreciate their willingness to serve, I do feel that our leaders have put them in harms way for no good reason. they have been taken advantage of.
These are difficult waters to navigate. I do not want a Memorial Day celebration in church to support the simplistic Romans 13 theology that many have; submit to all authority. I do not want to support a theology, even more frightening that we saw during the Civil War in which both sides claimed God's blessing and no churches bothered to ask if the war was just or the carrying out of the war was as just, fair and humane as possible. And I do not want us to loose sight of the fact that we pray, as i said before, Thy Kingdom Come. Church, in the end is about God's Kingdom, not our own...
At this point the best I can do is offer prayers of thanks for those who serve and have served, as well a prayers of lament for our mistakes and repentance for our wrongs. I don't know if this is good enough, but it is the best I can do. When we have to sing a patriotic hymn (which I find difficult) I at least must then have a hymn that speaks of peace and justice and the whole family of God throughout the world.
that is what I have come up with