Memorial Day with Michael Spencer

Roebling Bridge, Cincinnati OH. 2017

For Memorial Day 2019: The Glory of the Nations – How Common Grace Redeems Nationalism
by Michael Spencer

My friend Mark is a soldier. A Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. He just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he, in his own words, was “proud to be a Marine at a time my country needed my service.” I am proud of him, too. Not just because of his military service helping to keep my children safe from the terrorists who hate all Americans. I am proud of him because he is a Christian, one who is serious about following Jesus and gives real evidence of Christian commitment and character. I don’t hesitate to wish that my children would grow up and imitate Mark.

Recently, however, I was reminded that not everyone agrees with my assessment of my friend, Mark. There are some Christians who would say that Mark cannot love his country enough to go to Afghanistan and dispatch Bin Laden and company, while at the same time claiming that Jesus is King. This is idolatry, they say. A sinful and impossible compromise, choosing country over Christ and ignoring the Bible’s teaching that Jesus alone is King. These critics point to Jesus’ words of non-resistance and non-violence in the Sermon on the Mount and say that Mark is willfully disobeying Jesus at the instigation of nationalism.

Some of these critics make an articulate case that the evangelical church has adopted a blindly nationalistic, patriotic idolatry in the last two decades, as Christians have become flag-waving supporters of the Gulf War and the War on Terrorism. They point out America’s many sins, such as abortion, its shallow and unbiblical understanding of God, and its headlong pursuit of money and materialism. How can a Christian follow Christ and promote and defend these errors?

The Kingdom of God, these critics charge, is our true country and Christ is our only King. All other nations are under His judgment. Notions such as freedom, liberty and justice are perverted by the nations of the earth, and only Christ can be the source of such blessings. We are to live as aliens and strangers, giving no allegiance to nation or political party that ultimately belongs to God.

It’s the ultimate WWJD question. Would Jesus do what Mark did? Could Jesus have been a Sergeant in the Marine Corps, go to Afghanistan to fight terrorists and still have been our savior and example? Could Jesus give His service to America, and not sin in choosing to do so? Or would Jesus have refused military service? Would “Render unto Caesar” include or exclude fighting to defend His family if invaders attacked Nazareth, or if the nation of Israel asked for His service in defending itself? Tony Campolo used to ask if anyone could picture Jesus dropping bombs on North Vietnamese civilians.

These are serious questions that must be answered. As a Christian I believe I must answer them from the Bible, and that I must submit to what the Bible teaches and not to my own emotions and preferences. I freely admit that I am a patriot, and that the phrase “For God and country” is not nonsense to me. I have listened to the arguments of those who take the position outlined above, and I agree with substantial parts of their observations. But, in the end, I believe they have ignored and over-simplified the Biblical material to bolster their own choices.

To begin with, I will not outline my considerable agreement with those who accuse evangelicals of idolatry. There is a plague of patriotic idolatry in American Christianity. Our ultimate loyalty is to Christ. We are citizens of His Kingdom, and we must obey the law and example of our King. I am a great admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I fully agree with the Biblical foundations for his critique of America and the movement he inspired. I don’t believe America is always right or that every conflict we have entered was right, and I certainly agree that America is fallen, pagan, materialistic and likely to become increasingly hostile to Christians in her midst.

My disagreement — and it is a substantial one — is that this picture is too simple. It discounts the Bible as a whole in favor of one stream of Biblical material. This is a common problem among people who build Biblical cases without an overall Biblical theology, and I have noted this with everyone I have debated concerning these issues. There is a real annoyance at bringing up anything other than the words of Jesus. Where Jesus endorsed all of scripture as a testimony of truth, these critics quickly reject or ignore scripture that is not on the level with the Sermon on the Mount or the words of Jesus. Of course, one must ignore the words of Jesus Himself that send us into the rest of the Bible to understand Jesus if we are going to maintain that position.

I also find it interesting that the position of the critics does not match up with what we find in scripture where Jesus or the disciples interact with people. I was surprised to discover that some advocates of pacifism teach that the centurion and the Roman officer Cornelius left the military after becoming Christians. The text, of course, says nothing of the sort, and, in fact, the New Testament seems to have a positive or at least neutral view of the career of soldier. Such assertions come perilously close to the kind of statements Roman Catholics make about the career of Mary. I am not denying that we may sometimes make logical inferences beyond scripture, but there is a limit to what sort of confident factual assertions we can make.

What is the missing factor in the argument that my friend Mark cannot serve God and country? Common grace, an element of theology that is more and more frequently abandoned by Christians who do not know the whole Biblical story. It is God’s common grace that redeems nationalism sufficiently that my friend Mark can defend my family against terrorists in the service of our military with a good conscience.

Common grace is an answer to the question, “To what extent did God abandon the world when it fell into sin?” Now the reason so few understand common grace is that their answer would be, “God abandoned the world totally and completely, because He can have nothing to do with sin, sinners, or anything they create.” And of course, there are lots of scripture verses to prop up that claim. The problem is, however, that while God’s holiness does dictate that His eyes are too pure to behold evil and so on, God’s mercy, kindness and continued involvement with sinners has been consistently demonstrated through all of redemptive history.

God should have exterminated Adam and Eve. Instead, He showed them mercy, forgave them, clothed them, allowed them to enjoy the blessing of marriage, family and creation. God was merciful to Cain. He blessed whole generations and nations of sinners. Even in the flood, when it appeared God had run out of grace, He was gracious to a whole family of sinners, and continued to be so after the flood when they demonstrated they were still quite sinful and fallen. The story of God’s surprising common grace is the story of the entire Bible. The Apostle Paul appeals to this often, as he does in Acts 17.

I won’t write a treatise. Common grace is the history of God’s dealings with every person and every nation in the Bible. When He should have utterly abandoned them, He did not. When He should have left them to themselves to rot in their own depravity, He showed a more patient, kinder face. He blessed them with gifts large and small. The goodness of His image remained with them, though marred and broken. He restrained judgment and extended mercy repeatedly. God did this as a witness to His mercy. As Paul said, the kindness of God is meant to bring us to repentance. Common grace is a pointer to saving grace. Many Christians may think it wasted, but God apparently disagrees, because He lavishes the stuff on the just and the unjust alike with every breath.

If you have come this far, please understand the importance of this last point. God has not utterly turned His back on humanity or human institutions, work, creations, and concerns. God is up to more in history than just the redemption of a people for eternal glory. He is invested in every aspect of human experience to do us good, even those of us who despise Him and always will. While the sinfulness, depravity and judgment-worthiness of humanity and its works are beyond dispute, that has not compelled God to abandon us. In the worst of people, the worst of human activities and the worst of human institutions, there is still the remaining purpose of God and His on-going common grace.

Now the premise of this essay is that common grace sufficiently redeems nationalism that my friend Mark may serve his country with a clear conscience and still give ultimate allegiance to Jesus Christ. Two passages of scripture catch my attention in this regard, one in Genesis and one in Revelation.

The first is the origin of human government itself, the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-11) I would like you to observe that what God is doing at Babel is a restraining act of mercy. It is God’s opinion that human nations will be less evil if separated into nations than if they are one nation, one culture. (One world government fans, have at it.) In other words, nations are, to a certain extent, a manifestation of God’s common grace, and this is, I believe, Paul’s entire point in the crucial text of Romans 13:1-13. The state is a minister of God to do you good. That is common grace in the form of a nation.

Now what is the purpose for God’s invention of a world of nations at Babel? If the purpose of the individual government is to bear the sword and punish the evildoer, then I do not think it a leap at all to say the entire Babel project had as one of its purposes the preservation of good and the restraining of evil in the community of nations. All nations are fallen, and all are under God’s judgment, but in the sovereignty of God, some nations will preserve genuine good more so than others. And the stage of Biblical history demonstrates that this is exactly the way God used nations: preserving truth and good, while bringing temporal, restraining judgments on individuals and other nations. (Read Habakkuk, where the prophet learns from God himself how God will use one nation as judgment and preservative.)

It is at this point that I want to say there is a good bit of unbiblical multi-culturalism underlying some of the criticisms I am answering, and I think it is important to point this out bluntly. A nation that treats women like animals is inferior to a nation that gives them equal rights. A nation that says kill innocents is worse than one that says protect innocents. (A true contradiction in America, as we protect some children and abort others.) A nation that protects religious freedom is better than one who denies it. A culture that allows people to choose their own government is better than a dictatorship. A nation that freed its slaves is better than one that enslaves its own people. A nation that gives generously is better than those who take ruthlessly.

I know both are fallen, depraved, wicked and under the judgment of God. But one, in the common grace of God, is better than the other on the scale of true virtues. It is grade school stuff. (At this point I will spare you the bizarre statements made by some critics that America is the moral equal of Nazi Germany or Communist North Vietnam. It is sad to see what multi-culturalism has done to the ability to recognize simple human decency. Some of our Christian colleges are churning out this remarkably barbaric point of view, and it is tragic.)

Now this alone, in my mind, justifies my friend Mark’s choices in life. He is fortunate to live in a country that, under the kindness of God, cares about values that are superior to and more compassionate than most other nations that have ever existed. Our country is flawed and its history is flawed, but no one need be ashamed to protect women, children and their fellow human beings. Mark is doing the Lord’s work, according to Romans 13.

Is it right for Mark to take the life of a terrorist? Don’t the words of Jesus absolutely preclude that option for a Christian? This is another essay, but I’ll say this: Where is the moral law of God eliminated as a result of the words or works of Jesus? If the Ten Commandments say “Do not murder,” and the next two chapters are filled with example after example of capital punishment, where does the New Testament say this moral law is abrogated? In John 8, is Jesus’ act of mercy premised on an elimination of the moral law? I hear Jesus’ words to Christians saying they cannot employ violence in any way towards those who persecute them, but where does the New Testament say I cannot protect my family?

Right here? Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Are these words intended to stop Christian policeman from enforcing the law? Do they mean the state, if it submits to Christ’s words, will empty death row and all prisons? Does it mean I am obligated to only pray for the terrorist who is murdering my children, rather than stopping him — even with lethal force — if I can? I respect those who say that is the case, but I must respectfully disagree.

Romans 13 makes it quite clear that Paul assumed his readers understood the rightness of the execution of justice. A Christian choosing to not resist persecution is one thing. A Christian choosing to not do the just and right thing is another. God says He is a protector of the innocent. God says He is a warrior for the cause of right. God says we should imitate the good soldier. Jesus said that Pilate’s power to execute was from God. I believe that Cornelius went back to work after becoming a Christian, and if a threat to the safety of his fellow citizens came his way, he would be absolutely acting in accordance with right principles to deter the evildoer in any way, including the use of lethal force.

Should Cornelius obey Rome if it said, “We are going to invade Britain, pillage and rape the population?” In my opinion, no. The principles of justice can obviously be violated to the point that a Christian cannot serve, but my point (and St. Augustine’s) is simple: when a nation is defending what is good and just, a Christian may serve with a clear conscience.

And so my last passage is from Revelation 21:24 ,26:  24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.  26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. This is, of course, the picture of the New Jerusalem, and it is explicitly said that the glory and honor of the nations, and their kings, will be brought into it.

The picture is one of triumph, the victory of God attended by the arrival of conquered nations, bringing their treasure to lay before their conqueror, the Lord Jesus Christ. Like all of Revelation, this is picture language, using the known to communicate the unspeakable. But it is striking, in a book that so consistently speaks of the nations of the world negatively, to hear of the “glory” and “honor” of the nations being part of the New Jerusalem.

I find this the perfect compliment to the idea of common grace given to every nation. To every nation and every culture, there is given the gracious gifts of God. These treasures of truth, justice, liberty and compassion are then soiled and broken in the hands of fallen, sinful men. But they are God’s gifts nonetheless. There is a glory and honor to every nation and culture, to every people group, and yes, apparently to every government. A glory and honor that we may be able to see or not. A glory and honor that we sometimes handle with respect or treat with contempt. A glory and honor that leads us to Christ, or which we distort and destroy to dishonor Christ.

In the kingdom, such glories will be redeemed. The gracious purpose and blessing of God will be recognized, and we will have a further reason to admire God’s kindness, mercy and salvation.

There is a divine glory to America. There is a godly honor given to this nation. Yes, it has been betrayed in the idolatries of human ambition, and soiled in the ignorance and evil of human greed. But those gifts have not been completely forgotten, and they are worth living for, and even dying for. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw this and spoke of it often. I believe my friend Mark sees that honor and is right to be proud of his service to a country that still upholds, imperfectly and inconsistently, values and truths that reflect God.

The critics I have responded to believe that America is rotten to the core because it is not, nor can it ever be, a Christian nation. They criticize those who say America is such a country, and point out the flaws of our founders, our dreams and our ambitions. In many ways they are right. But there is another way to look at America. In this fallen world, this is one nation where the churches of the Lord Jesus have flourished. This is a nation that has sent more missionaries and ministers to serve than any other in history. It is a nation given incredible blessing by God, and though these have been misused and made into idols, it is a nation that regularly thanks God for those blessings. It is a nation where millions of people beg that God for mercy and revival.

America is, among all the nations of the world, in many ways the best and the worst. The best in the grace that God has shown us. The worst in how little we have done to respond to that God. But where a young man named Mark lives for Christ, and serves the best values of this great country that God has established for His honor and glory, then I think we have no reason to be ashamed.

60 thoughts on “Memorial Day with Michael Spencer

  1. good morning, Headless

    no, not ready for (shhhhhhhh) ‘The Rapture’

    I still am struggling to get over how it can be that Bonespurs who hates to read is wanting to destroy Iran/Persia . . . . Persia, the ancient country of five-thousand years of poetry

    the irony of this is too much for me, I am overcome indeed! (lace handkerchief dabbing at eyes)


  2. The RCC does have a flag, called “Vatican City” in lists of Flags of the World.

    (Always wanted to do a filk of Tom Lehrer’s “Vatican Rag” going “Waving the Vatican Flag!”)

    At St Boniface, there’s a Vatican Flag in the superior position on the left side of the church (viewed from the congregation pews) and an USA flag opposite it on the right side. (I think some of the churches in our diocese still have 48-star flags; tells you how long they’ve been there.) This is in accordance with US flag etiquette, which allows for a church flag in superior position to the national flag.

    I have yet to see a giant portrait of The Trump Who Must Not Be Named in place of the crucifix behind the altar of ANY RCC church. Or any mainstream/liturgical church for that matter. (Though I’m expecting one to show up any day now on the ten-meter telescreens behind the stages of the Megas and their “franchise campuses”.)


  3. Even the most fundamental except the extreme nut job understand the American flag and the society that the flag represents is apart and separate from the beliefs and actions of the church.

    But a lot of those extreme nutjobs are either in positions of power or sucking up to those in power like Grima Wormtongue.


  4. Congress? The Senate is his. The House he ignores. Strange days. I almost can’t remember when we were ‘America’, but THIS? This is not who we are, Robert.

    While the CHRISTIANS(TM) chorus “AAAAAAA-MENNNNNN!!!!!”

    ‘He’ has been compromised and now our whole country is hostage to his dealings. We won’t survive another term of this horror.

    As a survivor of The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay/Christians For Nuclear War, I can attest that they have already anticipated this — and Rejoice. Are YOU Ready for (whisper) The Rapture?????


  5. nothing wrong to be proud of one’s country,
    but I’d rather have my country with a Statue of Liberty


    with a ‘trump wall’

    the difference? if you don’t know, I couldn’t begin to explain it . . . . but I know the difference: my mother’s people first came here to Virginia aboard the ship Furtherance from England in the 1600’s;
    my father was an immigrant who spoke no English when he came here at age five from Quebec, Canada

    so I know the difference . . . . it’s in my very DNA


  6. conflating doesn’t matter when you look at it this way, JB:

    ‘all gave some and some gave all’; but everyone went into battle not knowing which ones would be which . . . they all went into ‘the valley of death’ not knowing, but they WENT

    one way to look at it that might help some I hope (?)


  7. but we also will share in the price of abdicating responsibility for decency in world leadership

    our ‘safety’ from responsibility will come at a cost of ‘who we are’ and we will have betrayed our fathers who fought the good fight against the monster and won

    we have our own monster now, and he is roaring loudly, and he is owned by the enemies of decency and freedom . . . may God help us

    can we find our way back to ‘who we were’? not by ‘looking away and saying nothing’, no

    we must begin to speak out fearlessly . . . . . if we are ‘silent’ about the border babies, we have no hope for a return to the land of our WWII fathers and mothers which was an honorable country


  8. He, whose name we do not speak, gets $$$ from the Saudis, so ‘compromat’, he has to sell to them.
    Congress? The Senate is his. The House he ignores. Strange days. I almost can’t remember when we were ‘America’, but THIS? This is not who we are, Robert.

    ‘He’ has been compromised and now our whole country is hostage to his dealings. We won’t survive another term of this horror.



    I would say good , common sense Christians as evidenced by this fine piece of common sense. if a church has one, leave it, if it does not do not put one up. Not a major issue but a good talking point for some for some reason. I think the RCC has a flag, it does not make me feel uncomfortable. Much to do about nothing.


  10. Yes, we are. And our current administration is getting ready to do an end-run around Congress to sell even more weapons of war to the Saudis without congressional authorization. And nary a peep from the media or Congress.


  11. yes, it was the last ‘good’ war

    the rest have been politicians playing soldier on someone elses’ son’s blood

    Iran is not threatening us, but the ‘powers that be’ are beating the war drums and our young men and women will die in battle for the amusement and hubris of the ‘bonespurs’ commander-in-chief


  12. Robert f. good thing Alfred the Great was not afraid to defend his homeland and religion from the Viking pagan raiders or we would be living in a different world. All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, of course that is not an original thought but as stated earlier I have none. The communist Chinese government has killed literally millions for economic and political reasons and one thing they fear is the power of religion and they control it .


  13. I agree, Tom, but I’m beginning to see how the US may be entering a period when it would be far better for it not to remain dominant. We’ll have to see — and that’s why I will never be a nationalist, because my preference that our country should be or remain dominant is contingent and provisional, not absolute and unqualified.


  14. Many Lutheran congregations of German descent only started flying the American flag in their sanctuaries during WWI and WWII, to signal that they were not sympathizers with the enemy.


  15. John Barry, I recognize that it’s a complicated issue. As an admirer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who as a German citizen and Christian during WWII resisted the Nazis and participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler, I can hardly do otherwise. But realpolitik can never be the Christian default approach to war and international politics; there’s just no Christ in it at all.


  16. Steve Newell, I believe every one of the Islamic countries in the world or certainly the majority have a significant religious symbol on their national flag, many of the European countries have a cross or some religious symbol on their flag. The USA flag has no religious images and that is good.

    I have been to many different churches that have the American flag displayed or at ceremony times honored such as 4th of july. Even the most fundamental except the extreme nut job understand the American flag and the society that the flag represents is apart and separate from the beliefs and actions of the church. I have never felt or understood that some are “worshipping” the USA but they are aware that the cornerstone of the greatest country of the world is Christian values.
    Flags are symbols that serve a function. If I went to Germany and they had a German not Nazi flag I would not be offended or think anything amiss except that I am in Germany or China.

    So what about the EO churches that are built on a national id and language. I just never seen anyone confused about the display of the American flag except as a good talking point. We were/are not a Christian nation , a theology but we are a nation of Christians at least for another generation, maybe.


  17. John Barry, it’s obvious that the US dealt better treatment to conscientious objectors that did Nazi Germany.

    I think that from my comfortable position in the Bible Belt I much prefer the US having been one of the dominant world powers post WWII.


  18. I tend to agree with you. I don’t like them on the platform.

    I can see the other side of the equation, too: that is, the old-timers who think that removing them is disrespectful and offensive.

    And to show how back-and-forth my mind is on this issue, the fact that someone WOULD get offended by removing flags probably indicates their idolatrous nature and giving MORE reason to remove them.

    And to further show my back-and-forth struggle with this, even as I cringe at the idolatrous nature of flags in a worship setting, I do want to respect those who feel removing them is disrespectful


  19. Tom aka Volkmar, to one of M. Spencer’s fine points, what happened to conscientious objectors in the USA compared to the inferior cultures? What country in the real world would you have in the position of power since 1945 other than the USA. I think America has gotten drunk on trying to be the policeman of the world and spreader of democracy to the world.


  20. I got it from my Grandmother but I not think she was as old as the Talmud but maybe. It is certainly not an original thought from me as I do not have any.


  21. Tom aka Volkmar, Just to keep it as simple as I can and I can keep it simple, lets just take USA actions and conduct after WW2. I often what country in the real world is the USA compared to. So to use a football metaphor Tom Brady is the best QB and then we can compare him to joe montana, Manning, Brees or whoever and say that is how we arrive at our conclusion. it seems the actions of the USA is compared to an unachievable , by humans, perfection rather than the real world we live in.

    After WW2 America was untouched in the productive homeland, had the A bomb, more equipment and resources than anyone in history. What did the USA do with this power/ The Marshall plan, we rebuilt war torn Europe and Japan. We stood down our military and was even benevolent to USSR that was war like and fast becoming our enemy. So what country , what political system is USA being compared to?

    What if Russia was in the position of power American was in 1945 not to mention Germany and Japan, what do you think they would do. Hebert Hoover was doing a study of the human cost of invading Japan homeland. The American death and wounded rate was estimated to be over a million. The Japanese would not have surrendered and would have died literally by the millions. The A bomb and the firebombing saved lives on both sides compared to the alternative.

    I am thinking of the Sellers movie, the Mouse that Roared about the little poor country that attacked the USA so they would be defeated and then helped. Funny and good movie.

    Korean War, Vietnam, Middle East etc, America fights defensive not offensive wars and it goes without saying use to and I mean use to, proceed to protect the interest of this nation. So who would you want to have in the real world now with the power economically, politically and military that the USA has?
    China , Russia, Iran, Japan , Canada. Who would be as good as the USA was in the 20th century and into the 21ar?


  22. Consider this question: Is it acceptable to have national flags in the worship space of a Church?

    I struggle with this one. I have come to the conclusion that there should be no national flags in a church. If we say that it is acceptable to the US flag, would have been acceptable that German churches have Nazi flags or Chinese churches have the Chinese flag?


  23. BTW, there were Germans and Austrian conscientious objectors who refused to serve in the German war machine. Franz Jagerstatter comes to mind. Granted that those objectors didn’t survive for long…


  24. If I remember correctly Merton went into the monastery in 1940. His brother was drafted and died in WWII–and Merton was unaware of that fact until months later because of the oikonomia relative to novices.

    WWII was imo the last “good” war where there was little to no choice but to violently confront a despicably violent and genocidal regime. The fire bombing of Dresden was the Allies tit for tat x10 response to the Blitz. Violence perpetuates violence on an escalating scale. Since WWII the US has become drunk on violence. For many churches, Southern Baptist especially come to mind, to fly a Christian banner and the Stars and Stripes evokes the idolatry of an Americanized Christianity.

    The US public was lied to about WMD’s in the hands of Sadam–a dictator that the US government supported until the invasion of Kuwait. The US does not have clean hands.


  25. Robert F. I do not know much about Merton , so what would Merton do WWMD in during WW 2 period or any period when evil had to be defeated. Should the USA armed forces not fought the Nazi, is there ever a situation where force to preserve the “good” not perfect cultures is needed or should as M. Spencer alluded to should inferior cultures be opposed as they harm the world.
    This is one of the reasons Memorial Day affects so many as someone has to take hard real action so we can safety analyze the situation and what should be. I do believe that moral equivalency has gotten out of proper context. That is why I referenced the siege of Vienna, what would you have done/ What if the Christian and secular kingdoms had not stopped the Islamic march on Rome. it does seem that the let somebody else defend us is now the common refrain in USA society. There are very few Pat Tillerman’s left in the country.


  26. Ronald Avra, thanks for your post, I credited it to CM , earlier this morning rather than M. Spencer. I thought it was a well written thoughtful piece.


  27. “Whenever we are sure that we are among the righteous, we immediately find ourselves among the arrogant.”

    (Fleming Rutledge)


  28. ” . . . the Lord sees the poor, and he loves the poor, and he sends his people to serve the poor. That is a message that pervades the Scriptures from end to end. There is something seriously out of balance in American Christianity. I am personally opposed to abortion, but there is nothing explicit in the Bible about abortion. There is nothing explicit in the Bible about prayer in the public schools; there is nothing explicit in the Bible about the American flag or the right to have a gun. There are, however, thousands of explicit words in the Bible about justice and compassion for the poor. . . . ” (Fleming Rutledge)

    In a society that deprives women of equal health opportunities, there will always be more suffering among women who are poor than women who can ‘afford’ to seek out safe medical care. How do we know this? Ask any woman who remembers ‘those days’ and they will tell you the ‘stories’ of ‘how it was’ in that reality before the medical care for a woman was a ‘right’.


  29. Robert, while I am not a fundamentalist I do agree that abortion is equal to murder. I think Fleming Rutledge said it best
    For these and other reasons, it is wrong and deeply unChristian to speak simply of “a woman’s right to choose.” There are two other human beings in this equation, the father and the unborn (not to mention God). Situations in life differ drastically; ethical decisions should not be made with reference to the woman alone.


  30. At this point I will spare you the bizarre statements made by some critics that America is the moral equal of Nazi Germany or Communist North Vietnam. It is sad to see what multi-culturalism has done to the ability to recognize simple human decency.

    It is not multi-culturalists I have heard saying this in the media, but Christian fundamentalists who claim that every abortion is a murder, and that as a result by the numbers America has murdered far more people than either Hitler or Stalin.


  31. I believe that Cornelius went back to work after becoming a Christian, and if a threat to the safety of his fellow citizens came his way, he would be absolutely acting in accordance with right principles to deter the evildoer in any way, including the use of lethal force.

    What if the threat to the safety of his fellow citizens (and the Roman’s Jewish colonial subjects) came from his commanding officers, as was so often the case under Roman rule?


  32. God should have exterminated Adam and Eve.

    I find this a problematic statement, made by someone from a background of moralistic fundamentalism with which he still had a hard struggle. Perhaps God could’ve exterminated humanity in its rebellion, but instead he did what he should’ve done as a God of love, not brute power: he covered and forgave them.


  33. In our own time, we can see how readily Buddhist extremists in Myanmar, with the support of Buddhist monks, have undertaken a genocide against the Rohingya people in the name of nationalism.


  34. At the same time, Merton’s view of Eastern religion’s place in the Orient is overly idealized. For instance, Buddhist institutions quickly made arrangements with and thereby came under the protection of Indian princes with nationalistic agendas and goals; as part of this arrangement, Buddhist institutions and leaders naturally agreed not to act in ways that disrupted or undermined the claims of legitimacy made by the princes. Buddhism is not a revolutionary religion in any case, and one would not expect it to overthrow governments by outright political resistance; but what is surprising (though it perhaps it shouldn’t be) is the way Buddhist preachers most often advocated for obedience on the part of the laity to the princes and warlords in their nationalistic projects of conquest and violent aggression. In the modern period, this can be seen in the way that Japanese Buddhist leaders almost unanimously acquiesced to and supported the militarization of Japan leading up to and through WWII. Not only did they support the war effort, but they often spoke of it in glowing nationalistic terms as a religious duty for Buddhists to perform (see Brian Daizen Victoria’s Zen at War for an illuminating treatment of this subject from a practicing Zen Buddhist). And this was by no means a one-off. Buddhism and the major religions of the East do not strictly speak enjoin pacifism on their adherents, except for sanyasins and bhikkhus, those specially dedicated to the spiritual life; for the rest, what we would call the laity, these religions commend obedience to the existing authorities, and participation in their national projects, including warfare.


  35. Merton was a much clearer thinker in regard to this issue than Spencer. But then Merton was far more radical in his understanding of Christianity too; I believe he called himself a Christian anarchist.


  36. People in this country like to mix their nationalism up with Christianity, and there certainly has been an ugly and concerning resurgence of that over the last couple years. The reason I mentioned Europe and not the U.S. is that its rising nationalism stands quite apart from Christianity, and shows clearly how much religious energy and focus nationalistic movements can command without explicit religious connections.


  37. As Ransom put it in Out of the Silent Planet, “Love of kindred is not the greatest good, but it is a good.” Absolutely, in our time idolatrous nationalism in the American church is a huge problem. But we must, in confronting that idolatry, not also throw the baby out with the bathwater.


  38. I find this essay by Spencer somewhat disconcerting, that “common grace” somehow oblivates the ills of nationalism and violence. Perhaps this was written early in Michael’s blogging career.

    Christianity overcame pagan Rome by nonviolence.

    But when Christianity became the religion of the Empire, then the stoic and political virtues of the Empire began to supplant the original theological virtues of the first Christians. The heroism of the soldier supplanted the heroism of the martyr—though there was still a consecrated minority, the monks, who kept the ideal of charity and martyrdom in first place.

    The ideal of self-sacrifice was never altogether set aside—on the contrary! But it was transferred to a new sphere. Now the supreme sacrifice was to die fighting under the Christian emperor. The supreme self-immolation was to fall in battle under the standard of the Cross. In the twelfth century even monks took up the sword, and consummated their sacrifice of obedience by dying in battle against infidels, against heretics. Unfortunately, they also fought other monks, and this was not necessarily regarded as virtue. But it does show what comes of living by the sword!

    Christian chivalry was the fruit of a union between Christian faith and Roman, Frankish, or Germanic valor. In other words, Christians did here what they also did elsewhere: they adopted certain non-Christian values and “baptized” them, consecrating them to God. Christianity might just as well have turned to the East and “baptized” the nonmilitant, contemplative, detached, and hieratic institutions of the Orient. But by the time Christianity was ready to meet Asia and the New World, the Cross and the sword were so identified with one another that the sword itself was a cross. It was the only kind of cross some conquistadores understood.

    There was no further thought of Christianizing the ideals and institutions of these ancient civilizations: only of destroy¬ing them, and bringing their people into subjection to the militant Christianity of Europe. Hence the strange paradox that certain spiritual and largely nonviolent ideologies which were in fact quite close to the Gospel were attacked and coerced in the name of Christ by the Christian soldier who was often no longer a Christian except in name: for he was violent, greedy, self-complacent, and supremely contemptu¬ous of anything that was not a perfect reflection of himself.

    (From Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton, pg. 101, 1966, Doubleday)


  39. It is a tradition at our Lutheran parish to observe Memorial Day by adjourning to the church cemetery after our regular worship service on Sunday, where our pastor says a short prayers in honor of those who died in service, reads the Gettysburg Address, leads us in a cappella singing of “America the Beautiful” and a moment of silence, concluded by a blessing and dismissal. My feelings about all this are mixed; especially now, I question the reality of our country’s commitment to democracy and “liberty for all”, and I’m cynical about the integrity of its history with regard to those values. And I do wonder if it is possible to truly follow Christ, and also follow the nation onto the battlefield. Still, I take my place with those gathered to remember, if only to mourn the loss of many who gave their lives in service to ideals and institutions that may not have been as noble as their own motivations; they were simply doing the best they knew how to do, as Christians and as human beings. May they rest in peace.


  40. Right now nationalism all by itself, quite apart from the churches and Christianity, is leading to a bad, unchristian place in many European countries. That is because nationalism as a movement overlaps significantly with religion in it demands to be treated as an “ultimate concern”, a phrase coined by theologian Paul Tillich; it is this overlapping that has led Tillich and other theologians to call nationalism a form of idolatry.


  41. I am on holiday in Spain for two weeks and you can see how nationalism and Christianity can lead to very unchristian actions by the Church and the government. For example in 1492, Queen Isabelle the Catholic started the Spanish Inquisition. Likewise, you can see how the Church and State interacted with the colonization of the Americans.

    This concern is not new and the Christian Church has suffered when it wraps itself in nationalism and gets in bed with the state.


  42. The most poignant “GALVESTON” with Vietnam images sung by Jimmy Webb and Michael McDonald.


  43. ” . . . They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.. . . ”

    (Robert Lawrence Binyon)


  44. For a long time I struggled with how I personally felt about Memorial Day. I truly appreciate and honor that the nation has set aside this day to remember and reflect on the real cost of taking military action. I am adamant that Memorial Day be the day we honor and remember the ones who had their fives taken away , most at a very young age. I do not like it when people conflate Memorial Day with Veteran Day.

    I now stay at home and do not attend any organized events and do not even socialize in a celebration manner as it just does seem right to me. However , I understand and anything that gets citizens to remember and think , if only briefly of the cost of military action is good.

    I have visited the little known D Day Memorial in Bedford VA. which is a good place to see the impact of war on a small community and personalize it. Due to the 1941 call up of their National Guard unit Bedford lost about 20 soldiers on June 6, Day , in a small town of about 3200 then, this was of course devastating . Anyway last time I went , it was not visited by many. I don not think many really Remember the Maine or even Remember Pearl Harbor , which is sad but predictable.

    I guess the last verses of the Star Spangled Banner covers it as well as it can be, conquer we must , when our cause is just and that defenders of our nation stand between the people and wars desolation. I never questioned at any time the morality of my actions as a soldier, doing my duty as ordered which was my oath. Never did I doubt and we still think that our country was not defending even if the tactics and rationale of sending us into action was questionable.

    I appreciate the thoughts in the article . There is a time when people must act or evil will prevail. The defenders and soldiers of the siege of Vienna made a difference as does every armed conflict. People and their convictions change history. Somebody has to be the point man of the tip of the spear.

    When it comes to WWJD and all that I just personally leave it at God is God, humans are human. When humans try to be more than human they become less human. I do not think God was on my side more the NVA or VC side but I like to think I was on God ‘s side personally not as a soldier of a nation.

    I am rambling but after all these years Memorial Day does not seem like enough appreciation and acknowledgement but what possibly could be? I know my good , God given life was denied to some others and I have no idea why but I have always alternated being feeling guilty and feeling blessed. My duty changed my life but to some it ended their lives, so I keep that in the back of my mind and then all I can really do is thank God personally. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason in the in the random battle mayhem.

    :Plenty to reflect on Memorial Day and we should.

    CM, again I do appreciate your insightful article. I would guess when the young Sgt. gets older, he will be glad he did what he did.


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