Veterans Day emblems under fire: "The Red, White, and Blue" or the White Flag of Surrender"?
By Debra Rae
A highly respected Christian institution, Seattle Pacific University (established 1891) claims as one of its notable graduates "bombardier Jacob "Jake" DeShazer. Following the infamous attack at Pearl Harbor, Jake volunteered for the daring Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. Thereafter, in a Japanese prison, he made peace with the God of his youth while enduring forty hellish months of beatings, torture, and starvation, not to mention two years in solitary confinement.
Upon recuperating from his ordeal, Jake served thirty fruitful years as a missionary to the Japanese he'd grown to love. Largely due to Jake's testimony, the commander responsible for dropping torpedoes at Pearl Harbor, Mitsuo Fuchida, likewise gave his life to Christ. Over the years, Fuchida and DeShazer spoke to large crowds, both together and individually. As a result, literally thousands of people met Christ.
Veterans Day Ceremony
With respect to honored congregants, over seventy percent in the U.S. military today self identify as Christians, and experience dictates that atheists in foxholes are rarities. In his research, Marine Colonel Ronald Ray discovered that, in scores of manuscripts throughout our history, 73 percent of military prayers have been offered in the name of Jesus. Only recently have prayers, as this from the West Point Prayer Book (1948), been denigrated as politically incorrect: "Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will ... through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
Students of the Bible rightly identify the church, not as a building or institution, but rather as the ekklesia, "the called out ones." The apostle Paul consistently portrays ekklesia as a living, assembled congregation. In the New Testament, itsuse is limited to a particular location—e.g., Corinth or Thessalonika. All said, along with most SPU students, a majority of veterans qualify as ekklesia; and their presence, complete with godly ceremony, poses no universally acknowledged offense to a church edifice.
Patriotic Symbols of a "Heaven Rescued Land"
To most, the American flag is no symbol of warfare; rather, it symbolizes our nation's strength and unity. The 1954 amendment to Francis Bellany's version (1892) of our nation's Pledge of Allegiance targets religious transcendence as America's most powerful resource. Jake acknowledged that transcendence, both in times of peace and while at war. Traditionally, the flag affirms not war, but peace for a "heaven rescued land," with "freemen" standing "between their loved home and the war's desolation."
In our nation's flag-folding ceremony each fold represents an aspect of America's noble heritage—e.g., the second pays tribute to belief in eternal life; the eleventh glorifies the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the twelfth is in tribute to Christianity. With stars uppermost, the folded flag bears witness to America's trust in God; hence, our nation's motto, "in God is our trust."
What better place than a Christian chapel to uphold this motto, to worship the Prince of Peace, and to honor His servants who've sacrifice dearly in its pursuit? Unless the SPU restriction is lifted, the answer is a resounding "NO, not in my chapel" to Francis Scott Key's query, "Oh, say does that star spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
Playing the "Discomfort" Card
No student is required to participate at any level in this chapel service, yet naysayers apparently insist it's "their way or the highway" when it comes to Old Glory. If only unwittingly, these align with Chris Hayes, MSNBC cable channel host and editor at large for Nation magazine. On the eve of Memorial Day some years back, Hayes expressed his own "discomfort" with the notion that fallen soldiers are "heroes." In his words, "It is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war." Naturally, this comment created a firestorm; appropriately, an apology followed. But then, here we go again!
Anonymity clouds the dissenters' identities. Perhaps they represent a pacifist faith tradition of conscientious objection, or maybe they speak for chronically offended postmodernists in defense of political correctness. No matter, honorees represent neither camp. Awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, and Prisoner of War Medal, Jake arguably was an American hero, presumably respectful of military protocol. Jake's gone now, so he won't be participating. Were he in attendance, planned presentation of the colors and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance would fully resonate with all that he held dear. This no doubt holds true for his military fellows and the majority of potential event attendees.
Selective Tolerance at Play
Club member Daniel Fenlason argues that, in his own church, students who choose to do so should be able to pledge allegiance in recognition of heroes who sacrificed supremely for that very right. Clearly, Fenlason is not alone. Presumably, all SPU students know a veteran. The U.S. Defense Department reports that there are currently two million American children and teenagers who have had at least one parent deployed in a war zone, and parents of over nine hundred thousand have been deployed multiple times. Both parents in approximately fifty thousand military families serve in the armed forces.
In the 1990s, the army officially adopted what have come to be known as "The Seven Army Values," summarized with the acronym "LDRSHIP"—namely, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. All typify "freemen" standing "between their loved home and the war's desolation." All are biblically grounded. For good reason, most Christian Americans don't associate idolatrous warmongering with patriotic protocol in honoring our veterans.
To be clear, scripture contains no command to avoid war. Indeed, Old Testament warfare holds religious signification. Priests often accompanied Israel's armies into battle, which began with sacrificial rites. Lauded as a mighty warrior-king, David defeated Goliath and, doing so, demonstrated God's protecting His people against clear and present dangers. Limited to taking possession of the Promised Land, Old Testament wars of conquest were specific events in God's salvation plan. Combat involving God's agent, Israel, was a function of faithfulness. When God's people proved faithful, victory followed. When not, they were defeated. Upon failing to obey God's command to defeat idolatrous Canaanites, He rectified Israel's tolerance of evil with national chastening.
Furthermore, the Bible freely employs military verbiage within the context of instructional spiritual metaphor. For example, prowling as if a lion and wielding a proverbial sword and bow to cut down the righteous, true enemies (inclusive of warring weapons and tactics) are not carnal, but instead spiritual. To withstand the enemy's schemes, believers don the whole armor of God. In resisting the adversary, good soldiers of Jesus Christ take God's faithfulness as a shield and buckler to withstand weaponry formed against them while God Himself strikes and scatters their enemies. Significantly, the theater of biblical warfare is in heavenly places.
Just War, A Christian Theory
Motivated by the end goal of peace, a just war is waged by a rightful, properly instituted authority— never for self-gain, but always for a good purpose (to prevent an even greater evil, for example). Prominent voices within Christendom, Augustine and Aquinas, are credited with the Christian theory of a just war—Peacefulness in the face of a grave wrong—that can be stopped only by violence—is sin. In truth, just wars are the outworking of God's providential sovereignty over all nations. Victories (and losses) come from His direct action through His chosen agents.
Hayes was correct to apologize. Honoring the sacrifice of American heroes in no way justifies "more war." Nor do emblems associated with military honor violate clear text of scripture. Most accept them to be fully in tenor with a publicly sanctioned holiday (Veterans Day) and fitting accompaniments to a chapel service dedicated to honoring brave military men and women.
The salient point being: Those who disagree need not participate. Foregoing this one service does not preclude their "comfortable" attendance at all other military-free chapels provided throughout the year. Unfortunately, unless a vocal majority convinces event organizers otherwise, decision makers at Seattle Pacific University may yet again succumb to the tyranny of the minority.
Frankly, should negative media coverage pressure SPU decision makers to back down, my profound disappointment will not be assuaged. Supplanting "the Red, White, and Blue" with "the white flag of surrender" may well serve to empower a chronically offended minority, but lifting restrictions in response to negative media attention is similarly troublesome. Correct me if I'm wrong, but both scenarios appear to be driven less by biblical principle and more by the bully pulpit. All said, integrity takes the fall.
Debra Rae is a regular contributor to The Intellectual Conservative and this publication. © 2015