Some Thoughts for Christians on (U.S.) Memorial Day Weekend 2015

1. A modest claim: Whatever we think about the rightness or wrongness of war in general, or of specific wars, and whatever we think about the valor of dying in war, let us not make war holy. War is hell; it is full of sin. People (even war heroes) do horrible things in war and have horrible things done to them. People who have died in war, whether combatants or civilians, whether enemies or friends, should not have had to die. They had a future. They had dreams. They may have been at war against their own better judgment. They had spouses and children and parents who wanted to keep loving them and whom the dead would have wanted to keep loving.

2. A modest suggestion: In my book Reading Revelation Responsibly, I suggest that the church in the U.S. has two liturgical seasons, (1) the Holy Season, from Advent to Easter or Pentecost, and (2) the Civil Season, the time of civil religion, which runs from Memorial Day to Thanksgiving. This is not a good situation. Since this coming Sunday is both Memorial Day in the U.S. and Pentecost in the church around the world, what a church in the U.S. chooses to do and emphasize this Sunday (and between now and Thanksgiving) says a lot about that church. What are its priorities? Is it seeking to be a Spirit-filled church, a Pentecost church, a part of the global church with people from every tribe and ethnicity and nation? Or an American church?—which is actually an oxymoron.

3. A modest proposal: Since U.S. churches seem inevitably to want to remember those who died for a noble cause, can we—especially we Protestants—not pay a little more attention to those who have died for the most noble cause of all, the gospel? Why are we so ignorant of the great Christian saints, the martyrs, who have died down through the ages and are still dying today in various parts of the world? Are “we” (here I mean most Protestants and many post-Protestants) afraid of being too “Catholic”? Perhaps we should rather be afraid of being too “American” and not catholic enough. If American Christians can take American memorializing so seriously, can we not take Christian memorializing even more seriously? Can we not start naming and learning about the church’s martyrs on a regular basis?

Whatever we do or remember this weekend, let us recall that All Saints Day is less than six months away. And in the meantime, there are plenty of days and plenty of saints associated with those days for us to do a lot of remembering.

11 Responses to “Some Thoughts for Christians on (U.S.) Memorial Day Weekend 2015”

  1. John G. says:

    Good thoughts, Mike. Question: would you say that the Anglican Church and other national churches are also oxymoronic? I suppose I am wondering if your comment about American churches stems primarily from a particular frustration with how American churches blend religion with politics, or from something much broader.

  2. MJG says:

    Thanks, John. I do think a national church is oxymoronic (and more), so official establishment is different from what we have in the U.S., but they are not unrelated. (And if this sounds like frustration, read Reading Revelation Responsibly! :-) )

  3. Peter says:

    Thank you so much for that, Professor. I translated it into Spanish as soon as I read it and am distributing it as much as I can.

    And as a Brit who was raised Anglican, I feel very uneasy when I see the flags of the Armed Forces displayed in the churches of my country.

  4. MJG says:

    Gracias, Peter.


    tho i agree we should remember those that died for the gospel more than those that died in war , what you both fail to realize or understand is the viewpoint from those that fought in war, and likely so since neither you Ray Stephanie Connollyor @ George Terrell are combat veterans.i say this with love, . Allow me to give you the viewpoint as seen thru the eyes of a soldier who has known extreme combat trauma, At this time of year when the television and internet blazes with all things patriotic, it is hard for us to think of anything but what happened in war,,we are reminded constantly , so that certain days of the year , are called “Trigger days” for veterans who still carry the wounds of war. memorial day , veterans day and the fourth of july are the big ones,{ i know this to be true for 2 reasons , one, my ministry is dealing with combat veterans, second, I am one of 17 men out of 90 to walk out of the ashau calley at 17 years old.} The only way to change the mindset (worhipping of the dead soldiers} of the individual soldier with PTSD and society esp those that lost loved ones in controversial wars is to emphasize the Cross, yet not only the cross but what did Christ feel on the cross, { For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities;} when we grasp that Christ felt the sins of war, that he felt the burdens of war , that he has known the burden of losing a loved one in war , there we can find healing..for both society and the war weary soldier,..gentlemen , I cannot begin to describe the horrors of war, that happens day after day till all hope is gone, and the mind can no longer think a single positive thought,at my bleakest moment when all hope was gone, and years after combat i was experiencing the horrors of war in my mind , it was at that moment that Christ put his arm around my weeping soldier, and Told me that all the sins , griefs and burdens of war of war, and the grief of losing loved ones, had fallen upon his shoulders at the cross, and then he whispered “I understand and feel you pain”. Therefore to change the mindset of the church and society , to get it to go in the right direction, there is only one answer, we as christians cannot get on our hobby horses of moral ground and declare that we should no longer consider veterans day or memorial days as time to remember the fallen , but rather on these days we should pray desperately that God fills our hearts for compassion for the fallen , the widow , the orphan , we should seek them out , as these are the days of thier suffering , and we should pray earnestly that The Holy spirit empowers us to show those left behind the “COMPASSION OF CHRIST”

  6. Fr. Lon Emmanuel Fale says:

    Dear Dr. Gorman, I refer to your thoughts as the “Holy Enlightenment.” People need to get this and get it well.I remember the book you treated with us: “To Baghdad and Beyond: How I got Born Again in Babylon.” In it Wilson-Hartgrove said among other things that “the devil is far too clever to repeat a scheme about which we have all said ‘never again.’… The irrational nature of our nationalism in response to Operation Iragi Freedom makes me question our spiritual resources to resist the power of violence” (p. 112). I refer to him as a living martyr; someone fighting the course of the Gospel in the midst of war! This is what you are talking about. I believe that, even though difficult to get there, love will conquer all.
    With your permission, I am going to share some of your thoughts during the sermon today. In the subsequent days ahead, I will continue to challenge the Catholic Christians, paraphrasing what you have said about the Protestants and martyrdom in the course of Gospel, to read the Bible as Protestants do. Once more, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  7. John Barnes says:

    Wonderful blog for LOTS of reasons, thanks Mike. As I said in church, this is great holiday weekend for us Methodists, because not only do we celebrate Pentecost, but this year it coincides with Heritage Sunday, when we commemorate John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience and conversion on May 24, 1738. We can honor him, his brother Charles, Martin Luther (who wrote a preface), and the Apostle Paul (who wrote an Epistle to the Romans) as we remember John Wesley’s sermon “Salvation by Faith,” which was written on June 18, 1738 and is number one in the collected sermons of John Wesley. Grace to all!

  8. Ray Allen says:

    Yesterday at Calvary Baptist Church we celebrated Pentecost, by remembering the Christian saints and Memorial Day by remembering those who gave their lives so we can worship in freedom. I am a retired pastor who has preached in 35 plus countries and have found the culture of every country gets intermingled into the church. As a young man I also served in the U.S. Army.

  9. Melvin Lehman says:

    Thanks, Mr. Gorman
    I suppose you are aware that we of the Anabaptist tradition have always held this position (at least more or less)…so thanks for the affirmation.

  10. MJG says:

    My apologies to all for not approving your comments sooner–had some issues about notification.

    Thanks to all for your thoughts. Melvin, yes–I know. Ray–yes, it happens everywhere, but that does not make it good and right.

    John–yes, it was a good Sunday for those reasons, and thanks for sharing about them all.

    Fr. Fale–of course, you can always use anything here.

    Above all, thanks to Vincent–you make profound statements, and you are so right about the need for healing and Christ’s compassion. The horrors of war are atrocious (as I know by way of my father and some good friends), and healing is both needed and possible through Christ.

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