Saturday, November 11, 2017
Honour and Allegiance
This year we have acknowledged the 100th anniversary of some of the key battles which involved Canadian soldiers, including Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. Three years ago as the 100th anniversary of the onset of World War I approached I preached about the role of chaplains during that global conflict which resulted in the deaths of eight million people.
I noted that in sermons of the day there was no question that the troops of the Commonwealth were on the side of good and the enemy was unreservedly evil. Germany was described passionately as a diabolical nation and its soldiers were walking in the devil’s footsteps.
When men enlisted it was assumed that everyone was a Christian and each recruit was required to name a denomination, whether they actually had one or not. If they didn’t, they automatically became Anglicans! There simply was no provision for atheists or those from other religions.
And religion became an essential aspect of the war, in terms of chaplaincy, really for the first time. Along with the chaplains the Young Men’s Christian Association or YMCA was very active with servicemen. The association developed what they called the War Roll Pledge which a remarkable 500,000 men signed:
I hereby pledge my allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour and King
and by God’s help will help to fight his battles for the victory of His Kingdom.
The idea behind the pledge was that clergy at home would then be contacted to offer encouragement and support for the individual soldier by letter. But as the pledge suggests the assumption was that they were fighting for Christ ar became a Holy War, crusade. No one, it seemed, wanted to acknowledge that this was a war in which Christians were fighting Christians.
Despite this conviction the chaplains often ministered to the enemy whom they found injured and dying after a position was taken. One chaplain wrote of praying with a dying German after the capture of Vimy Ridge. Another learned the Lord’s Prayer in German so he could recite it with captured enemies.
On this Remembrance Day we can honour the fallen and those who have served. We can also ponder the folly of war and of the "us and its consequences. If we don't do both, how can we declare our higher allegiance to the Prince of Peace?