It seems a long time ago since I wrote this post.
Living in Dublin which has a much more complicated history with the British Empire, things are very different. Here it causes a stir if a TD wears a poppy.
In the UK, Derry born footballer James McClean has also been causing a stir for the opposite reason by refusing to wear the version of his club shirt with the poppy on it.
I recognise this is a sensitive subject and I mean in no way to dishonour anyone. It is important as Christians that we ask the questions about remembering those who have died and where it crosses a line into nationalism or justification of the use of power that does not sit easily with the Kingdom of God. Perhaps where something noble gets subsumed into nationalism. War is ugly and leaves many innocent victims. it is right to remember those who have lost their lives – on both sides of the conflict. For me the purpose of remembering is to honour their sacrifice and also to learn and pursue peace and reconciliation.
As a northerner now living in the very different context that is (the Republic of) Ireland I believe more strongly that national flags have no place in churches – especially Northern Ireland where they carry such loaded meaning. My friend Kevin writes very articulately about this here.
Flags are different to the wearing of poppies and remembering those who have lost their lives – often family members. Archie Bland caused some controversy with this article in last week’s UK Independent about the pressure to wear a poppy – certainly if you watch the UK media you rarely see anyone on TV not wearing one.
Finally an interesting perspective from across the pond in Canada where Sarah Bessey wrestles with remembering her grandfather and her pacifism.
For Ireland North and Republic this will continue to be an issue in a land where flags are political symbols and carry loaded meaning, where the British state and British Army have been seen and experienced as instruments of oppression. The poppy is the symbol of the Royal British Legion – a name alone which can cause issues in Ireland.
So in 2012, as Christians what should our questions and response be? I don’t think it begins with should we wear poppies or remember soldiers who have lost their lives, or even should we have flags in churches.
It begins with what is the kingdom of God and how is the kingdom of God demonstrated? What will it look like for the kingdom of God to break into current reality in a place like Ireland marred by violence and sectarianism? Those are the filters that will answer our prayer of ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ rather than the primary filters of political allegiance and even personal experience of loss, no matter how great that might be.
Now from the outset I want to say I have the utmost respect for those who have sacrificed and put their lives on the line for their country. I get a lump in my throat watching the veterans of the First and Second World Wars and hearing their stories. It outrages me that those who do their country – or government’s bidding at great cost aren’t properly looked after. What i’m about to say is in no way about not valuing the sacrifices of those who have bravely laid down lives
I must confess i’m not a poppy wearer. I have a poppy application request sitting waiting on facebook that I haven’t done anything with yet and am not sure if I will. It does seem to be a bit of a political statement for many to ear a poppy or not, and it seems that on TV everyone is wearing one. Is that because its what they are supposed to do or because they choose to as individuals support the poppy appeal? To seen Juande Ramos – the new Spurs manager wearing one as a Spaniard seemed slightly bizarre. I’m not sure if Spain have poppies there. To be honest if I was to wear one it would probably be white poppy. It does seem as if in some circles its the done thing and not to do so is frowned upon. Obviously some people make it too much of a political issue.
My problem with Remembrance Sunday is that often to me it seems to forget about the millions of innocent lives also lost in conflict, and the lives of those on the other side. In remembering our fallen heroes do we also remember the thousands of Germans killed by the RAF’s firebombing of Dresden (labelled a war crime by some), or the thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who have died? Even those combatants from the ‘other side’ are people who have/had mothers, fathers, children, friends, siblings. I was struck when in Berlin that our tour guide emphasised the point that the Nazi were not superhuman monsters – but people like us who did commit evil acts. As we remember wars, there are heroic acts, but war in itself is brutal. Remembering or commemorating military battles in church also seems strange to me, and is something I am extremely uncomfortable with. In many protestant churches we don’t take any time to remember some of the great heroes and martyrs of the faith yet we remember those who gave their life in battles? It seems incongruous at the least. And how does it all square with being peacemakers, with loving enemies and some of the crazy things Jesus called us to? Is this something we really give thought to or is it just something that’s expected, that we always do, and aren’t willing to ask hard questions of?
Which brings me on to flags in church. Now it may be to do with the political sensibilities of living in Northern Ireland, but I don’t think there is any place for national flags to be flown or hung in churches. Think about it – what is the church? The church as a whole is the bride of Christ – God’s people – citizens primarily of heaven but seeking the good of the cities they live in here on earth. Surely for churches to fly national flags symbolises a national allegiance that goes against our allegiance as brothers and sisters of the worldwide church. For many flags are political symbols, and associating churches with political viewpoints is dangerous. For many a certain flag is a symbol of oppression. So to go to the church, where according to Paul, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection all who are in Christ are equal, that national identities are no longer important, and find that in fact those national identities are still there seems strange. Especially in a place like Northern Ireland. The church is supposed to transcend national, political, racial and cultural allegiances. When will we learn that our primary allegiance is to God and his kingdom, that we are part of his reconciling the world to himself, and simple things like political symbols in church are huge barriers to that reconciliation?
the soapbox – biting off more than he can chew with these thoughts in progress