Memorial Day, as we all know, is not just the official beginning of the summer vacation season. It is a federal holiday that commemorates U.S. soldiers who died in military service for their country. Although it was first observed in honor of Union soldiers who died during the War to Prevent Southern Independence, after World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to include soldiers who died in vain and for a lie in any unnecessary U.S. war.
Since the beginning of the senseless and immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Memorial Day has degenerated into a holiday to honor all things military. It ought to be called Military Appreciation Day No. 1. Just like the Fourth of July ought to be called Military Appreciation Day No. 2 and Veterans Day ought to be called Military Appreciation Day No. 3. The rhetoric on all three of these holidays is now the same: soldiers are heroes, veterans are to be lauded, soldiers fight for our freedoms, there is no higher honor than military service, soldiers keep us safe from nasty terrorists, soldiers should be thanked for their service.
As I have maintained about Veterans Day, Memorial Day is now devoted to praising soldiers, flattering veterans, repeating ridiculous slogans and poems about the military, and heaping glory, laud, and honor ad nauseam on the troops.
What is really troubling to me is when Memorial Day idolatry turns into Memorial Day blasphemy.
The worst time to be in a church is on the Sunday before Memorial Day (or the Fourth of July, or Veterans Day). Many evangelical churches have “patriotic services” that are wholly given over to military idolatry and blasphemy.
Current and former members of the military are encouraged to wear their uniforms to church. They are recognized during the church service. They are asked to stand—sometimes with thunderous applause. Their names are printed in the church bulletin. More prayers than usual are offered for “the troops” (but never for their victims) over and above the usual nonsense. The church sign has something on it about the military. A video tribute to the troops will be shown. The pianist will play the song of each branch of the military during the offering. Special military guest speakers might will be brought in, perhaps even a chaplain trying to serve two masters. If you are truly blessed, a military color guard will march down the main aisle to open the service.
But that’s not all. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited in the middle of the church service. An image of the American flag is put on the cover of the church bulletin. Hundreds of small American flags are placed around the church property. More American flags are placed inside the church building than are normally on display. American flag lapel pins are worn more than usual, or even worse, a cross and flag lapel pin. The blasphemous Battle Hymn of the Republic is sung, as well as hymns of worship to the state.
Would Jesus celebrate Memorial Day?
A Baptist pastor thinks so.
I had never heard of Dr. Marc Monte—the “well-known” pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Avon, Indiana—until a pastor friend who is not a military idolater sent me Monte’s recent article “Memorial Day: WWJD?” I couldn’t resist penning this brief critique.
Monte begins by saying that “for many Christians, Memorial Day observances include a patriotic church service,” but then mentions that this tradition “has come under censure by some well-meaning but misguided Christian leaders.” He references “a recent online article” by “influential Presbyterian pastor Kevin DeYoung” that “decried church observances of Memorial Day stating, ‘The church is not a good place for patriotism.’” Monte gave no link to said article. I checked Pastor DeYoung’s blog and did not see a recent one. What I did find was something DeYoung wrote years ago titled “Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day” in which point five was headed: “All this leads to one final point: while patriotism can be good, the church is not a good place for patriotism.” The article is undated, but I found that the same article under a different title was published in 2011.
Here is what Pastor DeYoung said that so upset Pastor Monte:
We should pray for service men and women in our congregations. We should pray for the President. We should pray for the just cause to triumph over the evil one. We are not moral relativists. We do not believe just because all people are sinners and all nations are sinful that no person or no nation can be more righteous or more wicked than another. God may be on America’s side in some (not all) her endeavors.
But please think twice before putting on a Star Spangled gala in church this Sunday. I love to hear the national anthem and “God Bless America” and “My Country, Tis of Thee,” but not in church where the nations gather to worship the King of all peoples. I love to see the presentation of colors and salute our veterans, but these would be better at the Memorial Day parade or during a time of remembrance at the cemetery. Earthly worship should reflect the on-going worship in heaven. And while there are many Americans singing glorious songs to Jesus there, they are not singing songs about the glories of America. We must hold to the traditions of the Apostles in our worship, not the traditions of American history. The church should not ask of her people what is not required in Scripture. So how can we ask the Koreans and Chinese and Mexicans and South Africans in our churches to pledge allegiance to a flag that is not theirs? Are we gathered under the banner of Christ or another banner? Is the church of Jesus Christ-our Jewish Lord and Savior-for those draped in the red, white, and blue or for those washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Yet, in a 2012 article titled “Remembering Memorial Day” that was also published in 2010 and earlier, DeYoung says some things that make me cringe: “There are a number of good reasons why Christians should give thanks for Memorial Day,” “The life of a soldier can demonstrate the highest Christian virtues,” “On the whole, the United States military has been a force for good in the world.”
So DeYoung is a mixed bag.
Nevertheless, Monte says that DeYoung’s “piety is misplaced” and that “his insistence that churches (other than his own) avoid Memorial Day observance violates Scripture” because “the Apostle Paul granted Christians and Pastors latitude with respect to the holidays they choose to observe.” Although DeYoung has the right “to refuse Memorial Day observance on Sunday (and to lead his church in that decision), he does not have the Biblical right to question the spiritual integrity of other Christians who chose to observe the holiday in their services.” Monte points out that DeYoung’s church acknowledges “extra-Biblical holidays” like Christmas and Easter and says that “Memorial Day celebration is a matter of Christian liberty and conscience.”
Monte then brings up the question: “What would Jesus do? Would Jesus have celebrated a nationalistic Jewish holiday connected to war and bloodshed?” He says that Jesus did celebrate such a holiday: Hanukkah, called the “feast of the dedication” in the New Testament. Says Monte:
As a holiday, Hanukkah is not part of the Jewish ceremonial requirement of the Old Testament. It is a civil holiday commemorating a Jewish priest’s military victory over the Greeks and his subsequent rededication of the Jewish temple. And Jesus was present in the temple for the celebration. He did not condemn the nationalistic observance; He participated in it.
Monte then says that “it is appropriate to render due honor within a civil context when doing so does not violate the Scriptures or a believer’s conscience.” And since “Memorial Day is preeminently a day of honor—a day to honor and remember America’s fallen heroes,” “to render such honor in public worship is well within the purview of the New Testament.”
In his conclusion, Monte again mentions American heroes:
Some Christians will, for whatever reason, remain non-observant of Memorial Day in their worship services on Sunday. That is their choice and it is within their right. Others, however, will observe Memorial Day, remembering American heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. And that choice, too, is right and proper and good—and above reproach.
I said I would be brief. I have six comments to make.
First of all, because Christians have “latitude with respect to the holidays they choose to observe,” they should avoid Memorial Day because, as I mentioned above, it is merely Military Appreciation Day No. 1.
Second, “LGBT Pride Month” is celebrated in June each year. Certainly Monte would be critical of this and say that he has “the Biblical right to question the spiritual integrity of other Christians who chose to observe the holiday in their services.”
Third, Christmas and Easter, although neither one is celebrated in the New Testament, both have to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ, who should certainly be honored. Memorial Day has to do with honoring those who, for the most part, died in vain and for a lie in service of the state, many times in countries that many Americans couldn’t locate on a map unless it was labeled with large, bold letters.
Fourth, here is what the New Testament says about Jesus “celebrating” Hanukkah: “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch” (John 10:22-23). And from this Monte says that Jesus “participated in it”? Yes, it was a civil holiday, but it was a Jewish civil holiday, not a Roman civil holiday.
Fifth, Monte has a fantasy view of soldiers. Let me break it to him as gently as I can: soldiers are not heroes, soldiers do not fight for our freedoms, soldiers do not keep us safe from terrorists, soldiers should not be thanked for their service, soldiers should not be honored.
Sixth, even if all of the things that Monte wants to be true (soldiers are heroes, soldiers fight for our freedoms, soldiers keep us safe, soldiers should be thanked, we should honor soldiers) are true, this still doesn’t mean that Memorial Day should be celebrated in church. Church services should be wholly dedicated to the praise and worship of God and the preaching and teaching of his word, not honoring heroic men.
Yes, it is a Christian’s choice to observe Memorial Day in his worship services. But given that the celebration of Memorial Day in America is, like Athens, wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16), it is not a wise choice.
*This article was originally published on LewRockwell.com