Two 50-something Episcopal priests, now serving churches in Pensacola, reflect on faith in the face of war in the Middle East from their tours of duty as military chaplains. The Pensacola News Journal reports:
One serves as a Navy chaplain at a combat-support hospital in Kuwait. The other serves as an Army chaplain at military prisons in Iraq.
Less than three years after they’re finished with their active-duty service, they end up at Episcopal churches in Pensacola, some six miles apart.
The Rev. C. Neal Goldsborough and the Rev. Jeffrey A. Jencks emerged from combat with similar perspectives: They firmly believe they have seen God — and his dark counterpart — on the blood-soaked battlefields and field hospitals of the Middle East.
It’s Veterans Day, and the two priests say it’s important that Americans remember that the sacrifice we ask of our young men and women overseas isn’t just a physical sacrifice.
It’s a moral sacrifice as well, where troops are asked to shed all they have been taught about killing and the sanctity of life in order to fight a greater evil.
God was not far off even in these most tragic of circumstance, said Goldsborough, who has been at Christ Church for six weeks. Evil was never far away either, something that became obvious to him as the remains of a child from Flight 77 were recovered.
“Everyone paused while I said a prayer and made the sign of the cross,” he said. “It was at that point in my life that the reality of evil became very, very real to me. But as I watched the volunteers, the brave military people, the people from the Red Cross working to combat all the destruction, I learned firsthand the reality of God and learned that God’s love is stronger than evil.”
When serving at the detention camps, “Jencks said he ensured the detainees had new Qurans, and even brought in tutors to help them read and understand the words of their faith better. He helped ensure their religious dietary requirements were met and that they had a chance to vote in government elections.” “The Muslims knew my cross,” he said. “And a majority of them would see it as a sacred symbol.”
Read the article here.
Meanwhile in England there is a controversy over church participation in Remembrance Day events. The BBC reports:
Services of remembrance are taking place at parish churches across the UK. Liberal Christian research group Ekklesia says this amounts to the Church making a “political statement” at odds with its teaching and beliefs.
But the Rector of Putney said this “missed the point” and it was right to remember sacrifices made for others.
Ekklesia said it was not suggesting that the Church is celebrating British victories, even less that it is celebrating war itself.
But it does claim that, when the Church says it is commemorating “those who have given their lives for the peace and freedom we enjoy today”, it is ignoring the political and theological implications of its actions.
Rev Dr Giles Fraser, the Rector of Putney in south-west London, and frequent contributor to The Lead, said that Ekklesia was missing the point.
“I think the Iraq war was wrong… but these aren’t services in celebration of some cheap nationalism,” he said.
“We are celebrating the service of people who put their lives on the line for others… and that’s absolutely right and proper”.
Dr Fraser – who lectures Army officers on the ethics of conflict – presided over a service of remembrance typical of those in other Anglican churches.
He received a military parade and then welcomed troops into St Mary’s Church, in Putney, where their standards were placed behind the altar.
He said the Church of England’s special position in the state allowed it to “articulate a spiritual and a moral side” to institutions such as the armed forces.
“They do a very difficult job… they don’t get a lot of money, they don’t get a lot of glory for doing it, they do it in the care for others. That’s exactly right with my values as a Christian, and other people’s too,” he said.
Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia offers his hope for a more realistic view of all who died in war and an examination of war itself and the role of Christianity:
Two years ago Channel 4 newscaster Jon Snow talked about the ‘poppy fascism’ in the broadcasting industry, which required their display by public figures every November. There is a similar unspoken oppression in the way that the church deals with Remembrance. Only the very brave would suggest from the pulpit that the dead might not all be ‘glorious’, that some might have died in vain, or that our recollections should encompass those that our country’s soldiers killed – even though that it what the Church is supposed to believe.
A few weeks ago I found myself doing a radio interview with a war veteran who wanted a campaign medal to be given to Bomber Command. Bomber Command, and those involved with it had never received one. The reason, he said, was that the carpet bombing that they had been ordered to undertake in World War Two had been considered by many shameful and embarrassing. They had been quietly forgotten and pushed to one side.
The 50,000 aircrews and personnel who died, need a proper memorial. They should be remembered. And perhaps it is the church’s role to make sure that people like those, whose story has been marginalised, continues to be told.
But it is also important that their actions and the consequences should be remembered, – openly and honestly. We should recall that in a few nights of bombing, a similar number – 50,000 but this time civilians – were burned alive in the firestorm at Dresden.
This is not to judge the soldiers and aircrews, or indeed fail to recognise and acknowledge the huge price that they paid. Rather it is to be truthful about what took place, and make sure that all the dead are remembered.