The sermon at our small United Methodist church on the Sunday before Memorial Day was titled, “Remembering What’s Important”, and from its content it would appear that what is important (in this particular church at least) has little to do with God. Memorial Day, a SECULAR holiday, invaded the church long ago.
What do phrases like “died for liberty...fought the battle…died for freedom” in the context of those who died fighting the [U.S.]nation's wars have to do with Jesus' life and teachings (aside from the fact that he taught us to love everyone, even those who kill)? War is absolutely incompatible with Christianity! Letting it into the church (and glorifying it) is surely idolatrous, and essentially marries the church to the empire. It is one thing to remember the dead; it is another to glorify the manner in which (and the Empire for which) they died.
That Sunday sermon served as a stark reminder of the wayward church living a schizophrenic existence, worshipping the Prince of Peace on one hand, and the power of the empire on the other. It is a sickness that dwells in the very core of an institution that was co-opted roughly 1700 years ago, and has never fully recovered.
What was said on that Sunday before Memorial Day reminded me of The War Prayer, an anti-war prose poem written by Mark Twain in 1904 as a way of venting his disgust at the Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War. Twain despised the blind patriotism and religious fervor that he saw as motivations for war. He submitted the manuscript to Harper's Bazaar, which rejected it (saying it was far too controversial for its time). Twain agreed, but decided that it should be published after his death; he said that, "None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth."
The War Prayer was finally published after World War I. Of all the anti-war writings I have read, none is quite as powerful (for me) as The War Prayer with its powerful language and imagery. It is brutally honest (and creative) in its portrayal of the church as complicit in the nation's military campaigns. You can read Mark Twain's The War Prayer by clicking here.
I find myself wondering how a church can live with such radical contradictions. Can a church be both a War Church and a Peace Church.? So what will it be? What might Jesus say???
Reference: The War Prayer at Quaker.org