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Should Memorial Day be observed in church?


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Should Memorial Day be observed in church?

Commentary by Cassy Benefield | FāVS News

Memorial Day is a U.S. federal holiday to honor and mourn the military personnel who died while serving in the Armed Forces. Since 1971, it has been observed on the last Monday of May. The Sunday before this holiday, probably just about every evangelical church mentions Memorial Day, plays a video honoring it or preaches a sermon on its theme.

While Memorial Day is an honorable holiday, it does not belong in the sanctuaries where Jesus Christ is to be worshipped above all.

Honoring America’s soldiers for their service and sacrifice is important, and Memorial Day is a valuable time for reflection. However, this holiday should not be observed from a pulpit.

John 15:13 is often used to compare Jesus’ death to a soldier’s death: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

Jesus’ death on a cross is as far as North is from South to a soldier dying in battle, who is trained to kill the enemy, even though they may have laid down their life for their friend.

Jesus not only died for his friends but also his enemies (Romans 5:10). He did so non-violently for his Father’s goal of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19)

Soldiers often die in battle, sometimes killing before being killed. Violence is an excusable means to an end for a nation’s goal of power.

No such thing as a Christian nation

The Bible teaches that all nations, except Israel in the Old Testament, are pagan. Today, that means none of them are Christian, including America. According to the Bible, Satan and the “principalities and powers” rule the nations under his domain (Ephesians 3:10-11).

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness illustrates this when Satan offers him all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship (Matthew 4:8-10). Jesus rebukes him, emphasizing that only God should be worshipped.

This indicates that world power is under Satan’s domain, despite any spiritualization of a nation under religion. Paul stated that Jesus triumphed over Satan’s power through the cross (Colossians 2:15), but this does not mean Jesus rules nations in the conventional sense.

Jesus’ kingdom is countercultural, as described in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), where the humble inherit the earth, weakness is strength, leaders are servants, enemies are loved and the least are valued.

Mixing what’s divine with the world

Memorial Day represents man’s kingdom, not Jesus’. It blends what belongs to the world with what belongs to God.

In the book, “Why Do the Nations Rage?: The Demonic Origin of Nationalism, David A. Ritchie defines nationalism as an idol and calls it a disordered love for one’s nation. Behind this unnatural love of nation resides a spiritual entity that opposes God’s kingdom.

God commanded Israel, whom he chose as his own, not to associate or mix with other nations and their spiritual practices. However, throughout her history, she syncretized God’s laws with the religions of surrounding nations, reaping God’s judgement as a result.

Worshipping the god of a nation or the nation as god

Ritchie uses Daniel I. Block’s book, “The Gods of the Nations,” to show national identity in the ancient Near East correlated to that nation’s patron deity. While we in our day “distinguish worshipping the god of a nation from worshipping the nation as a god, to a resident of the ancient Near East, this would be a distinction without a difference” (emphasis Ritchie’s).

In other words, honoring Memorial Day in churches reflects a disordered love of country as an idol. By using religious symbols and biblical language to honor war dead, we equate soldiers’ sacrifices with Jesus’ sacrifice. This is idolatry.

To counter this soldiers should be remembered with an appropriate love of country and patriotism, and not from church pulpits.

Their sacrifice should not be compared to the self-sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross — an extraordinary act with which there is no comparison.

The views expressed in this opinion column are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of FāVS News. FāVS News values diverse perspectives and thoughtful analysis on matters of faith and spirituality.

Cassy Benefield
Cassy Benefield
Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a 'y') Benefield is a wife and mother, a writer and photographer and a huge fan of non-fiction. She has traveled all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (2004-2006) to Romania where she mainly taught Conversational English. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, California. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a religion nerd who is prone to buy more books, on nearly any topic, than she is ever able to read. She is the associate editor of FāVS.News.

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Walter A Hesford
Walter A Hesford
20 days ago

Thank you, Cassy, for your critique of making Memorial Day into a Christian event. As always, it is dangerous when church and state mix. I also object to Memorial Day being a holiday celebrating our military might. In the New England of my youth, on Memorial Day we all went to the cemetaries to visit our relatives there and clean up and decorate their graves. For me it remains a day for thoughtful remembrance.

Sue Eggart
Sue Eggart
19 days ago

Thank you, Cassy for your thoughtful article. I too struggle with the idolatry of nation from the pulpit when either Memorial Day or Fourth of July are celebrated in Church. I also struggle when I see an American flag on display anywhere near the cross. Conflating our faith with our patriotism, is a step too far!

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