remembering ‘our armed forces’

I know that this is a hard day for many people because it is a chance for them to reflect on loved ones who died in the horrors of war. Coming from Northern Ireland and a Protestant community in Northern Ireland I know that it has special significance because of the victims of terrorism, some of you reading this, maybe all of us who grew up in Northern Ireland know victims no matter where we grew up. If I’m being honest though I would mainly know victims on the Protestant/Unionist side of the community and none on the Nationalist side of the community.

I know that yesterday many churches in Ireland incorporated some type of  Remembrance Sunday aspect into their morning service to remember (amongst other things) those who gave their lives in war serving their country.

When I say that many churches in Ireland incorporated some type of Remembrance aspect into their morning service I probably mean ‘many Protestant churches in Ireland‘ and ‘their country‘ usually means something to do with the United Kingdom or Commonwealth.
I haven’t seen a single poppy out about in Galway whereas up in north in Lisburn or Belfast I would have seen many, it is part of story of Northern Ireland
In fact this is the first time that I can remember without seeing any poppy worn by a member of the church or around the city. There wouldn’t have been that many around Dublin when I lived there, but you would have seen something. Perhaps poppies in a box on the way out of church or a plaque on the wall with the name of some young men who died in the Great War.

That is not because of anything anti-British or not remembering about war in Galway but a reminder that Ireland has two different countries with all the history, hurts and baggage associated with that.
It is also a reminder that my particular denomination, the PCI straddles two very different countries. So if someone where to speak at the Presbyterian General Assembly about chaplains in ‘Our Armed Forces’ they would be wrong. For members of the PCI there are two armed forces.

Actually, that isn’t even right.

Because for members of the PCI from different countries around the world what does ‘Our Armed Forces’ actually mean?
For those members of PCI who might come from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Hungary, South Korea, USA, India, Malaysia, Brazil etc who are ‘our armed forces?’ We live in such a globalized world now that our church might easily have members from countries that fought each other in World Wars. We might easily have someone from Argentina or Iraq in  church.

The Republic of Ireland does hold a version of Remembrance Sunday on the Sunday nearest the 11th July, the ‘National Day of Commemoration’ but I don’t know of any church that holds an act of remembrance on that Sunday to remember those Irish soldiers who died in past wars or United Nations peacekeeping  missions. Perhaps there are, but I am unaware of them.

When I see video clips of people wearing poppies on the BBC down here it seems very obvious that it is a largely a symbol or remembrance for the British and Allied Forces. Some people might dispute that it is something bigger than a British, Commonwealth or Allied Forces thing, it is about remembering all those who died in the madness of war. Perhaps so, but the British aspect seems to main thrust of it to me, if only for the reason that the Poppy Appeal is organised by the Royal British Legion.

According to Wikipedia Remembrance Sunday is held:-

“to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts”

Under the section about Northern Ireland the Wikipedia entry says:-

‘In Northern Ireland, Remembrance Sunday has tended to be associated with the unionist community. Most Irish nationalists and republicans do not take part in the public commemoration of British soldiers.’

For years I have found Remembrance Sunday to be the hardest Sunday to go to church as a Presbyterian because it is a Sunday that seems to say (even if that is not the intention) that being Presbyterian is somehow tied up with being British and Unionist.

The reason that I find that so hard is that I think it puts a barrier up between my neighbour and I in the one place that should rise above national identity.

Lots of Irish people aren’t Unionists and ‘God Save Our Queen’ (whether we like it or not) in their ears is the national anthem of a foreign country and to some a foreign country of the oppressor, not the soldier who fought for our freedom.

Personally I think that church has to be neutral ground, a place for the healing of the nations and not just our nation, or those who identify with our nation. That is why I feel sick anytime the British National anthem is sung in church as if it was a hymn of praise.

If a German Christian or Irish nationalist Christian would feel uneasy at coming to our Sunday morning worship to come and worship Jesus because of the way we remember the horrors of war from a British perspective I think we are in the wrong. That is not because of wanting to lessen the hurts of war and death or help people deal with their hurts, or to remember the victims of war.

The other thing is that there  are many other wars that our brothers and sisters in Christ have had to live through and are living through right now that have nothing to do with the fields of France where the poppies grow.

What does the poppy symbolize for the people in Congo or Syria, for the people in Iraq? Or if your grandmother is blown up by a remote controlled drone airstrike what does wearing a poppy mean for them?

The phrase ‘our armed forces’ seems wrong to me as a Christian. Would we feel comfortable in a church service in Berlin where there was some act of remembrance for members of the German military?
If we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven   can we go to church on a Sunday morning to celebrate that unity we have as brothers and sisters in Christ then go home to support ‘our armed forces’? The Germans Christian supporting ‘our armed Forces’, the Irish Republican Christian supporting ‘our armed Forces’, the American Christian supporting ‘our Armed Forces’ and the Iraqi Christian supporting ‘our Armed Forces’? What does that even mean if we’re supposed to be peace bringers and united in Christ? This video clip from Tony Campolo comes to mind.


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