As a pastor for almost 35 years, I have had the privilege of knowing many veterans within the context of the church. I have had the opportunity to speak with many of them directly about their military service. In all of these interactions, I have been impressed by the honesty and integrity of the conversations. There has been acknowledgement of the sometimes complicated moral and faith issues involved in being part of the military. After all, Jesus was a pacifist. But I have been very moved by the thoughtful consideration of the veterans I have known.
In all cases, the people I have spoken with have seen their participation in the military as service: Something they did to help others, something done for the good of others. And there is a sense of the desire to protect the freedoms that are at the essence of US identity. I have just finished listening to Philip Roth’s novel, The Plot Against America, set around World War 2. And it is a reminder that threats to American freedoms do not only come in the form of dropped bombs or exploded buildings. There are many other ways that American freedoms can be attacked and undermined.
This is Memorial Day. A day to remember those who have served and died serving our country. We also remember their families. It is a solemn and sacred day. I’m not sure how Memorial Day came to be associated with shopping, boating, beaches, and picnics. The gateway to summer. Some tell me that Memorial Day is about giving thanks to those who have protected our freedom of access to recreation and retail by fully engaging in those activities. Ok. But personally, I prefer something more solemn.
But I will say this. From the veterans I have known, who have served to protect our freedoms, retail and recreation included, I know that they did not have in mind protecting the freedom to shoot an unarmed person who is jogging down the street. Think Ahmaud Arbery. And so many others.
And, during these times of COVID-19, I am fairly sure the veterans I have known did not serve to protect the freedom to infect someone with a deadly virus.
But every single veteran I know has served to ensure our freedom to vote. So If you want to honor those who have served in the military, past and present, exercise your freedom to VOTE.