On Memorial Day, Americans remember those who died in active military service. Regardless of one’s view of war(s), it is important that we pay respects to those who have offered their own lives for others’ freedom. I, for one, live in relative comfort and ease, in part because of their sacrifice. I am reminded of their sacrifice not just on Memorial Day, but also on other days when I encounter veterans undergoing post-traumatic stress. A few have shared with me how difficult it is for them to live “normal” lives in society, especially when the civilians they encounter discount and demean their military service. It is hard for me to comprehend their sense of isolation and trauma.
Similarly, it is hard for me to comprehend the persecuted church’s sense of isolation and trauma. I am often oblivious to their ordeal. As with many Americans who merrily go about their daily lives while our troops are engaged in life-and-death battles, many of us who are Christians merrily go about our daily lives as our brothers and sisters face persecution. Let me be clear: I am not linking America and Christianity, as if America is a Christian nation; rather, I am reflecting upon how Americans, including Christians, can easily disconnect from the sufferings of their fellows around the world. This state of being stands in contrast to Christian Scripture, which calls us to suffer with those who suffer as believers (1 Corinthians 12:26).
It is important that we remember the fallen, even while doing everything possible to work for peace to guard against further wars, bloodshed and persecution for the sake of all nations and religions. We can read various historical, realistic and non-glorified treatments of war, as well as what led to them. We can pray and support the families of the fallen (Refer here to the work of TAPS—a tragedy assistance program for the families of fallen soldiers). Beyond remembering those who have laid down their lives for others’ freedom, Christians can find resources for building a sense of connection with the persecuted church at Open Doors and The Voice of the Martyrs. Christians can also become advocates for religious freedom for all people (for an excellent article on this subject, see “A New Movement: International Religious Freedom for All”; see also “Don’t Be Indifferent to Religious Persecution. Make a Multi-Faith Difference at Lent”). We can also draw attention to those who have given their lives to pursue non-violent means of combatting tyranny and oppression, individuals like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Mahatma Gandhi. Each one of them drew inspiration from Jesus in his own non-violent response to injustice (See for example Matthew 5:38-40).
The memorial was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt on July 3rd, 1938, the 75th anniversary of the battle. One Union and one Confederate veteran unveiled the 47 1/2 foot tall shaft. Roosevelt compared the task of the men of the 1860’s with the men of his day: “All of them we honor, not asking under which Flag they fought then – thankful that they stand together under one Flag now.” In less than five years the sons and grandsons of these veterans would be standing together in unimaginably terrible battles against enemies around the world.
Americans from North and South, Christians from the Far East to the West, and humans across the globe should work together to cultivate peace and fight tyranny, including our own. To draw from President Lincoln’s first inaugural which he gave six weeks prior to the Civil War’s outbreak, may the better angels of our human nature triumph.
Just as Americans should not be indifferent to our fallen troops on Memorial Day or any other day, so American Christians should not be indifferent to those who have fallen for their faith. We should remember the fallen and sacrifice ourselves for peace, unity, and fellowship.