I was a little uncomfortable at church on Sunday.
Partly, because it was 34 degrees and humid. We have no air-conditioning.
Partly, it was the two Australian flags hung prominently on the wall at the front of the church, framing our normal banner of the dove, cross and orb – representing the Trinity. It was Remembrance Day. Were we honouring the flag? Showing our respect? Why was it there? And why next to God?
There’s been a lot of good done in the name of the Australian flag and the Union Jack it bares. But also a lot of evil. Cronulla, Nauru, Dresden, Gallipoli… Yes, there has also been a lot of evil done in God’s name. But Jesus preached ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘love your enemies’ and then actually did it – he died for his enemies. The Australian flag, on the other hand, I’m not even really sure what it stands for.
We prayed on Sunday, thanking God for the ‘sacrifices’ people made so that we could enjoy the ‘freedom’ and ‘lifestyle’ we have today.
The historian in me cringed. I thought of those who were sent to war unwillingly, who we ‘sacrificed’ in Vietnam or Papua New Guinea; the 16 million including thousands of young Australians who died in the first World War, and for what?; the Aboriginal soldiers who on returning from the Second World War found they couldn’t vote or even join the RSL with their mates – what sort of ‘freedom’ or ‘lifestyle’ was that?
But the theologian in me also cringed. Whose sacrifice brought peace and freedom?
Stanley Hauerwas has written a brilliant piece, Sacrificed on the Altar of the Nation, on the the Church and war. He argues that the Church is the alternative to the reality of the world, the Church is the alternative to war.
[Pacifists] do not trust those who would have us make sacrifices in the name of preserving a world at war. We believe that a sacrifice has already been made that has brought an end to the sacrifice of war…
If the Civil War teaches us anything, it makes clear what happens when Christians no longer believe that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the world. As a result, Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ.
If a people do not exist that continually make Christ present in the world, war will always threaten to become a sacrificial system. War is a counter-church. War is the most determinative moral experience many people have. That is why Christian realism requires the disavowal of war. Christians do not disavow war because it is often so horrible, but because war, in spite of its horror – or perhaps because it is so horrible – can be so morally compelling. That is why the church does not have an alternative to war. The church is the alternative to war.
Ephesians 2 – For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
Remember the wars and the people who suffered, but I think we can put away the flags. Thank God for the peace he has given us, not through wars, but in Jesus.