Photo by AJ Colores on Unsplash

Litany for objectors and resisters

February 15, 2022

A number of times a year, congregations celebrate with spirited passion the patriotic holidays. Sometimes former military members in uniforms carry in the American flag, solemnly marching down the church’s aisle for a presentation of flags at the front of the church. Patriotic hymns are sung as those who served in the military and especially those who died for their country are honored and remembered. Often a liturgy supports the church’s affirmation of those who have served the purposes of war or defense.

I once attempted to preach a sermon encouraging worshipers to consider that true patriotism also includes those who find that their conscience compels them to object to the use of military force to resolve conflict or to resist their nation’s investment in or use of military might. Why wouldn’t that be a reasoned response, based on the message of Jesus, the teachings of the Bible, and the songs we sing in worship? I wanted worshipers to consider objectors and resisters in the light that President John F. Kennedy did when he said, “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” Yes, let us honor veterans, but let us as Christians also embrace the position held by Martin Luther King Jr.: “When we say, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world.”

Without taking anything away from a church’s recognition of veterans or celebration of patriotism, why not also give credence to objectors and resisters?

I was hoping to plant some seeds, perhaps even seeds of discord, to encourage a Christian’s struggle between Jesus’ teachings about love and peace and a nation’s military agenda. It was like ending a sermon with a question mark, which required listeners to weigh the points and think about their own views: how to balance national interest and religious faith. After the benediction, the organist launched into a ten-minute medley of patriotic favorites, basically undoing everything I had just tried to accomplish. The congregation jumped to their feet, clapping with heightened gusto, smiling, cheering, and celebrating the national holiday. I learned not to mess with the patriotic holidays but to use other opportunities to encourage members about the things that make for peace.

These headings appeared in a recent church bulletin:

Presentation of Flags

Litany for Veterans (Congregation is seated. Veterans remain standing.)

Without taking anything away from a church’s recognition of veterans or celebration of patriotism, why not also give credence to objectors and resisters, recognizing that the way of God and the teachings of Jesus could lead a church member to oppose war or to choose not to cross a line where he or she might be ordered to take another’s life? This is not so much a giving of equal time to an alternative point of view, but rather a lifting up of that position as a legitimate outcome of the church’s preaching and teaching. And so, to that end, I offer a “Litany for the Objectors and Resisters.”

L: O God, just as we remember those who have served the military, we as the church also honor and celebrate people of faith whose conscience leaves them no other choice than to oppose war or the use of deadly force to resolve conflict.

P: As children of God, we seek to follow the way of God, which beckons us to find alternatives to the way of the world, as we seek in God’s name to be champions for the human race, without borders, boundaries, or walls.

L: O Prince of Peace, in this very place we have heard your teachings about loving others. We understand the love you taught to mean that we should seek the highest and best interest of others, even for our enemies. We struggle to understand how killing or injuring another could be in their highest or best interest.

P: Your way can be extreme, Dear Jesus, but you do call us to turn the other cheek, to live in harmony with one another, and to recognize the blessedness of being peacemakers. It is hard, and sometimes we are afraid of what others might think about us, but we will pursue the pathway of peacemaking because of our love for you.

L: O Divine Spirit, we receive the commandment of God instructing us not to kill. We also embrace the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. We read in our Bibles that we are to overcome evil with good.

P: Grant that we might stand with those whose conscience and faith lead them to desire to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). For those who object to or resist the call to war, may we also recognize them as heroes of the faith. May we offer here a safe haven to those who choose, like Christ’s disciples, to obey God rather than humans, even if that choice leads to their estrangement from others in their family, among their friends, and even in their church.

L: Loving God, your word impels us to live in harmony with one another, not to repay anyone evil for evil, and to live peaceably with all.

P: We can be afraid of people who are different from us and especially those who seek our harm. And yet your Son taught us: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (Romans 12:20). Dear God, teach us and lead us to rise above natural human feelings that crave for revenge to the spiritual heights where you “bend our pride to your control” (from the hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory”).

L: Lord Jesus, you told your disciple, “Put your sword back into its place: for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). We are haunted by your telling your followers, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:42).

P: O Jesus, forgive us for our failure to recognize the things that make for peace. Guide our feet into the way of peace so that we may be followers of the light, even when other ways seem so popular and accepted. Lead us to become ambassadors for Christ, reconciling people in conflict with one another, and to favor the way of nonviolent reconciliation.

L: From childhood we have sung, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, brown, yellow, black, and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Who are we to harm or fight against those whom Jesus loves?

P: Give to us a global vision, O Lord. Help us to see that in every corner of the planet, all girls and boys, all women and men, are unique wonders, never to be repeated in all of history, and should be treated as your most beloved and sacred creation.

Rev. John Zehring has served United Church of Christ congregations for 22 years as a pastor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. He is the author of more than 30 books and e-books. His most recent book from Judson Press is “Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation.”

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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