Church newsletter article, 13.11.11
These are words that will have been or will be spoken many times either on Friday or today as the country remembers those killed or wounded in military service for Britain over the years. It is good and right that we don’t forget – a central pattern in the Old Testament is remembering what has gone before, celebrating that which is good and learning from that which was wrong. Of course, the stories of the Bible make it clear that despite the fact that they sought to remember and learn from past mistakes, they so often failed to do so, wandering time and time again from God and his ways. We, of course, are no different. After the ‘Great’ War, the ‘War to end all Wars’, came the ‘Second World War’, and even after the horrors of that we find ourselves still today involved in numerous conflicts around the world. The tragedy of fallen humanity is that we are quick to forget and slow to learn.
The tradition of poppy wearing as a sign of respect and remembrance has been in the news this week with the clash between the governing body of world football, FIFA, and the English governing body, the FA. The FA wanted the English squad to wear a strip this weekend with a poppy embroidered on it. FIFA declared that this was not permitted due to their general ruling against emblems outside the standard strip ones being permitted. This disagreement rapidly escalated with the English Defence League, the Prime Minister and the Duke of Cambridge weighing in to join the sense of public indignation that poppy wearing could be denied like this. In the end a compromise was reached, and poppies were permitted on the teams black armbands.
I have often remarked in the past about how I struggle with Remembrance Day as a Christian, and I think the events of this week demonstrate why. As I have already said, I have no problem with remembering; in fact I would encourage it, and I am pleased that the England Squad wore blank armbands as a sign of mourning, mourning for the violence and death faced by so many in conflict. I have no problem with them wanting to wear poppies either, although I actually appreciate FIFA’s stance, if perhaps a little inflexible to start with. It’s the way that remembrance has almost become a religion, a celebration, that disturbs me, with talk of heroes and what sometimes feels like a glorification of war as seen in some of the language and emotion reflected in the response to the ban. Although there are acts of heroism and bravery, examples of self-sacrifice for the sake of comrades in arms, for the most part it’s violence, anger, pain and sorrow. The ritual of poppy wearing is not the heart of the matter. The real heart of the matter is the question of what we’re doing to promote peace. How do we seek to reflect the attitude of Jesus who refused to take up arms and conquered not as the Lion of Judah, but as the Lamb that was slain? (Rev. 5:5-6)