On Memorial Day I attended an event at the local American Legion post. As a member of one of the Anabaptist peace churches, I’ve always held to the views of non-violent resistance modeled after the example and teachings of Jesus. Attending a ceremony honoring the memory of those who have died in acts of war was certainly a new experience. Such events can quickly become quite awkward, especially since Anabaptists give their allegiance to God and will not say the Pledge of Allegiance.1
With only around 2 million worldwide followers, the Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, Amish, and Quakers make up a tiny portion of Christianity. We are outliers. The vast majority of Christian denominations believe that certain forms of violence, such as self-defense or that enacted by governments, are ethically and morally permissible.
There were a number of speeches given during the ceremony. Immediately after playing Taps an older gentleman gave a speech about the amazing origin of Taps. He had received the history in an email and shared the story with the crowd. It was quite moving.
It was also completely false, which was quite likely to be the case as soon as he said he had received it in an email. If something on the internet that sounds too amazing to be true, it is probably fake. And no, you shouldn’t trust Wikipedia either: it is written by anyone. A couple hundred people, including many young children and our local state House representative, had no idea they were being fed a pack of lies.
Anabaptists believe that all war and violence are not in keeping with Christianity. We recognize the horror that is a loss of life: any life. All life is valuable in God’s sight. One of the most outrageous claims of Christianity is that those who have committed, but repented of, horrible acts will be saved. War terminates the life of those that God would rather save.
The ceremony was more than showing respect for the dead. It glorified and validated the actions of those who engaged in violent acts. It accomplished this through falsehoods. Most Christians have been fed a similar pack of lies leading them to support that which they should not support. One reason atheists have trouble with Christianity is the number of atrocities that have been committed by the state in the name of Jesus. History has spoken clearly: if you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Without being a hypocrite, how can you condemn Islamic extremism if the history of your own ancestors is full of abuses in the name of Christianity?
Many Christians look to how the Church in Germany failed to prevent the Holocaust and say that they would do things differently. Yet the ‘Christian Nation’ of America has gone to war time and again, each act as acceptable as any other. For every American war there is a flag at the American Legion post memorializing those that died in those wars. The average American, who can’t recognize a fake chain email being presented as fact, would not recognize an immoral war if it saw one.
1 How can you pledge your primary allegiance to the state with which you disagree and is guilty of great harm? To do so makes you culpable for its atrocities or a liar. No man can serve two masters, and this is especially true for the Christian. An atheist friend of mine gets around disagreeing with the Pledge of Allegiance by saying ‘with liberty and justice for some’ to reflect reality.