One hundred years ago “the war to end all wars” ended. It was November 11, 1918. Soon thereafter the President declared November 11 to be Armistice Day, in honor of the peace that was to follow. In the 1950’s, the name changed to Veterans Day, but the emphasis stayed on honoring veterans and promoting peace.
We have not managed to do away with war in the last hundred years. Currently our country is embroiled in our longest war ever, with no apparent end in sight. And yet we still hope and pray for peace, and we honor those who serve.
Our church, the ELCA, has a social statement on peace, “For Peace in God’s World.” adopted in 1995. The statement was written after the Cold War and before 9/11. “At the end of a tumultuous and violent century, we share with people everywhere hope for a more peaceful and just world….As our world discards the mind-set of the Cold War and faces the new threats and opportunities of a changing time, we join with others in searching for what makes for peace.”
The statement reminds us that earthly peace is not the same as the promised peace of God’s present and future eternal reign. As Christians we work and we pray for both. “Trust in God’s promise of final peace freely given in Jesus Christ alone drives us to engage fully in the quest to build earthly peace.” “Through the cross of Christ, God calls us to serve the needs of our neighbor, especially those groups and individuals who suffer and are vulnerable.” “Sharing a common humanity with all people, we are called to work for peace throughout the globe.”
The last half of the social statement is about the Christian responsibility to be engaged in the world, advocating and working for peace and justice. We are not a pacifist church. We do not refuse participation in the political order or in military service, and we do not automatically condemn all involvement in military engagement. The statement outlines “Just War” criteria, including: right intention, justifiable cause, legitimate authority, last resort, declaration of war aims, proportionality, and reasonable chance of success.
Twenty years later, there is much conversation among theologians as to whether there can be a “Just War” in an age of non-state terrorism, nuclear weapons and drones. The statement encourages Christians to stay engaged in conversation, prayer and advocacy.
And the statement urges Christians to work for a culture of peace, to strive for an economy with justice, and to move towards a politics of cooperation. Included in these are: respect for human rights; discouraging the glorification of violence; foreign aid; controlling the arms trade; NGOs working for peace; care for refugees and migrants.
The ELCA seeks to support the men and women who serve in the armed services, through chaplaincy. Currently our Synod has 2 active pastors who are also chaplains or candidates—Marlow Carrels in Westby and Jayson Nicholson in Laurel. Ken DuVall, retired, continues work on behalf of the VA. Montana and Wyoming have a high percentage of veterans. Our people volunteer at higher rates than most of the rest of the country.
This year Veterans Day falls on a Sunday. Elsewhere in the e-news you can find resources for worship on Veterans Day, from the ELCA. Also, this year, the Montana Veterans Memorial is inviting all congregations who have bells to ring their bell 21 times at 11 am on November 11, as part of the “Bells of Peace.”
We pray, gracious God, that swords will be turned into plowshares and that peace will reign. We give thanks for all who have served. Shield from danger those who bravely protect us. With them, may we glory not in war, but in your love and righteousness. Strengthen us to be peacemakers in the world. Amen.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Veterans day worship resources
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA