Some in the church think honoring Memorial Day, especially with its links to patriotism and the military, is quite naughty. These worries are part of a wider ideology that asserts Christians ideally are to be almost disembodied spirits floating over the earth without ties to family, community, and nation.
The flag was missing in my own church’s sanctuary on Memorial Day Sunday, though hopefully only because of recent repainting. Recently I attended a church where the pastor had restored the flag to his sanctuary after another pastor had removed it. The flag entails patriotism/nationalism, supposedly unfound in the Bible, and naughty for Christians to uphold.
Churchly critics of the flag, Memorial Day, and July 4 typically are also pacifist and additionally view the United States and its history as uniquely pernicious.
Nonsense. There are few national holidays more appropriate for Christians to honor than Memorial Day, with its themes of duty, sacrifice, and remembrance. Scripture and the vast bulk of Christian tradition affirm military service under rightful authority as God ordained. And the world would be infinitely more repressive, impoverished and wicked absent American influence across three centuries. The God of the Bible uses sinful persons and nations, even the United States, to accomplish His purposes.
What might the world look like today if Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were still in power? What if the Soviet Empire had prevailed during the Cold War? How many more millions would have died had Hitler and the Japanese militarists ruled most of the world? Absent the Civil War, what if slavery still persisted? And without the American Revolution and its founding principles of, at least in theory, human equality and dignity, what might human government in the world today resemble? What if America’s Christians had always been pacifists and smugly disdainful of their nation and its ideals?
Churchly ideologues who rue July 4, 1776, even as they reap the material and spiritual fruits of it, not to mention the labors of millions of U.S. service military personnel who have defended those fruits, do not usually ponder reality beyond the gates of their seminary or church doors. Not do they seriously ponder how much of the world today, however imperfectly, attempts to replicate America’s founding principles.
All Christians are called to love and serve whatever nation Providence has assigned them. And America’s Christians have special cause for added gratitude when they consider God’s unmerited blessings upon our country and its role in the world. The late Christian thinker and IRD co-founder Richard John Neuhaus once wrote that he expects to go to Heaven, for better or worse, as an American, not as a faceless, unattached universalist. There he expected to rejoice under the reign of the resurrected Savior, the God-Man who was and will forever gloriously be a first century Hebrew who loved His nation Israel even as He loved the whole world.
On Memorial Day we honor all who served and died, many sacrificially, that our nation and other nations might live. This day especially reminds us that life is fleeting, though eternally consequential. And we start serving God not through abstract, faceless principles but by loving those with whom we are in most direct contact, including that community where God has placed us called the United States. For Christians, Memorial Day should not be naughty but an honorable duty and a pleasure.