Here is the editorial from this months Record – There are many things that glorify war, but remembering the Fallen in previous wars is not one of those things.
In the centre of the village of Fearn in Easter Ross there is a war memorial. I remember as a teenager standing there and counting the names engraved on it. Between the First and Second World Wars there were dozens – the vast majority from the First World War. This is a village which barely has two hundred people. The Highlands of Scotland were far more devastated by the trenches in WWI than they were by the Clearances. So why do we celebrate ‘Remembrance’ Sunday?
We don’t. We mourn. We remember those who died in senseless slaughter. We remember those who fought for our freedom, but we do not celebrate war. Sadly, there were some within the Christian church who did – and sometimes I suspect there are those who still do. There is a contrast in attitudes.
The leading Free Church elder, Hugh Miller, had this perceptive insight in the middle of the 19th century:
That dislike of war which good men have entertained in all ages is, we are happy to believe, a fast-spreading dislike…. And of course, the more the feeling grows in any country, which, like France, Britain, and America, possesses a representative Government, the less chance there will be of these nations entering rashly into war. France and the United States have always had their senseless war parties. It is of importance, therefore, that they should also possess their balancing peace parties, even though these be well-nigh as senseless as the others. Again in our own country, war is always the interest of a class largely represented in both Houses of Parliament. It is of great importance that they also should be kept in check, and their interest neutralised, by a party as hostile to war on principle as they are favourable to it from interest.
Contrast this with the Anglican bishop of London, Arthur F Winnington, who in 1915 stated that it was the nation’s duty to mobilise for ‘a holy war’. In one of his sermons he urged British soldiers to ‘kill Germans – do kill them; not for the sake of killing, but to save the world, to kill the good as well as the bad, to kill the young as well as the old, to kill those who have shown kindness to our wounded as well as those fiends…. As I have said a thousand times, I look upon it as a war for purity, I look upon everyone who died in it as a martyr.’
These words are chilling, crass and anti-Christian. They show what happens when the Church gets caught up with and goes along with the spirit of the age. Anyone who visits the Somme or the vast graveyards of both World Wars can only shudder at the callousness of those remarks – said by a man who purported to be an under-shepherd of Christ.
A number of years ago we took a number of teenagers who were at the Free Church overseas camp in the North of France to visit one of these war graveyards. On the way there the bus was filled with laughing, boisterous teenagers. On the way back to our residence there was almost complete silence. The young people sat in contemplation and a degree of reverence. That is a fitting approach to remembrance.
It is also fitting to remember our history. In a postmodern, dumbed-down, self-absorbed culture such as ours, we both forget our history and we far too often end up believing a fake historical narrative – one that just happens to suit our current feelings and views. Cambridge University students, supposedly the elite of our educational system, recently voted not to support the wearing of poppies and Remembrance Day, because they ‘glorified war’. There are many things that glorify war, but remembering the Fallen in previous wars is not one of those things. Nor is it wrong to particularly remember the dead from your own country – they, after all, are the ones who died so that we can have the freedom we have today.
We give thanks for those who died for our freedoms – we do remember them. But we also mourn and long for the day when war shall be more.
Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
-Psalm 46:8-10 NIV
The November edition of The Record, the official magazine of The Free Church of Scotland, is now available online via Issuu. https://thefree.church/1e
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Here is the contents list for this month