Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Remembrance Day, Pacifism, and Christianity

Yesterday we marked Remembrance Day at the congregations in Port Franks and Grand Bend and Wednesday is the official Remembrance Day.  Over the years I have grown to appreciate the ceremonies marking November 11th —the 11th hour or the 11th day of the 11th month when the Great War, the war to end all wars ended.   This day honours all those who have served and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries.  Reciting In Flanders Field yesterday I found that my eyes teared up both times.  The poem and all it represents has become more meaningful to me over the years. 
I was raised in a home that had an ambivalent attitude towards Remembrance Day.  My father, a United Church minister, was a committed pacifist and did not have a positive attitude to military and those who served.  It is somewhat ironic that one of his grandchildren, my son and his wife, had careers in the Canadian army.  In addition I have served as the chaplain to the Parkhill branch of the Legion for some years now and I will be presiding at Remembrance Day services again this year. 
Honouring those who served their country in times of war is not in conflict with ideal of pacifism.  How do we, as Christians today live in the tension of a world in which groups of people like ISIS and other terrorist commit horrendous acts on their own population and threaten us, at least according to the leaders in the Western world?   The West has responded by bombing campaigns which are only, it seems, a temporary measure and is not in any way a solution to this crisis.  We can and should respond to the humanitarian crisis that results from this and other forces at work in Middle East.  However, should we, as Christian be supporting an ongoing bombing campaign and its resulting destruction of property and civilian lives.  The new Canadian government is withdrawing from the bombing campaign and will concentrate on training and other forms of support.  That is well and good but what should the Western countries be doing in response to this crisis?  I certainly don’t know.
Richard Rohr has written on the ideal of the warrior in society which provides a different perspective and may help cut though much of the distortion that develops around it and speaks of the positive as well as the negative aspects of it:
It takes warrior energy to see through and stand against mass illusions of our time, and be willing to pay the price of disobedience. It takes warrior energy to see through the soft rhetoric of "support our troops" which cleverly diverts from the objective evil of war. It takes warrior energy to walk to a different drum, disbelieve the patriotic trivia, and re-believe in the tradition of nonviolence, civil resistance, and martyrdom--the way of the cross.
I don’t believe that pacifism is an answer to the current crisis.  It also seems that non-violence, such as that practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King will work against the likes of ISIS.  So we are left with the question of a Christian response to a world in which violence seems to be deeply embedded.  We do need to at least try to see the roots of the current situation in the injustice of the past.  The recent history of response to violence by violence did not work in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It has contributed in part to the rise of ISIS et al.  Richard Rohr also speaks about this:
In the use of force, one simplifies the situation by assuming that the evil to be overcome is clear-cut, definite, and irreversible. Hence there remains but one thing: to eliminate it. Any dialogue with the sinner, any question of the irreversibility of his act, only means faltering and failure.
A military response is, it seems, the natural response to evil in all its perceived forms.  Realistically is can be both necessary and positive as the response to Hitler and Nazi Germany.  However, as Christians we can only pray that there will be other ways to respond to the current situation than all-out war with troops on the ground. 

These thought are rather convoluted and rambling.  However, that is a reflection of my ambivalence in respect to current situations.  As Christian we can respond by supporting those who fight and have fought on our behalf and encourage our Government to properly support those who sacrifice for our country.  We can respond by support for refugees who are innocent victims of the chaos that has developed.  We can also pray for new and different approaches to the terrorist and terrorism.  Thanks be to God.  

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