Saturday, 10 November 2012

Remembrance Day

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. It was originally to commemorate the Armistice at the end of the First World War on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11 o’clock in the morning. WW1 was considered 'the war to end all wars'; history has shown otherwise. Today, we remember all those fallen in battles and wars, not just those of the first or second world wars. All over the UK, people are wearing poppies, while adverts tell us to ‘wear your poppy with pride’.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

by John McCrae, May 1915

Tomorrow morning, the Queen will attend her customary Remembrance Day service and lay a poppy wreath at the Cenotaph. There will be parades, where other wreaths will be laid by dignitaries at other memorials. Churches throughout the land will observe a two minute silence at 11 o’clock, to remember the fallen, ‘lest we forget’.

What would the Amish do in this situation? Would they participate?

There are no Amish in the UK, but in America, they have a similar commemoration on Memorial Day. And, no, the Amish do not celebrate the day. Why not?

The answer lies in the word ‘non-resistance’. Non-resistance for the Amish has become a rule without exception. It is not the same as passive resistance, or even pacifism. It isn’t even non-violence. Passive resistance does not come within the spirit of what the Bible teaches. Although it does not use physical force, it still is a method of demanding our rights and resists the will of others.

Of course, this means that during times of war, the Amish became conscientious objectors. Some considered they did this simply to get out of supporting their country; but that is far from the truth. For one thing, the Amish were considered exceptional farmers. The government was happy in most circumstances to allow the Amish not to be conscripted, because they needed the farm produce. They were also renowned for their hard work and building skills, so they willingly contributed to the war effort in other spheres. What they would not do was kill another human being in the name of patriotism.

The attitude of non-resistance has permeated the Anabaptists in general and the Amish in particular, since earliest times. Dirk Willems, a Dutch Anabaptist was fleeing for his life, in the year 1569. his ‘crime’ was that he had refused to submit to the state church, rather following his conscience and what he believed the Bible taught. The pursuit crossed a frozen river. Willems crossed the river safely, but behind him he realised his pursuer had fallen through the ice. Knowing he could have got away, he turned back and saved the drowning man from the icy waters and certain death. Willems was then arrested, imprisoned and later burned at the stake. Willems had taken to heart the injunction to ‘do good to those who spitefully use you and persecute you’.

During WW1, some young men were conscripted from a small place called Wolf Creek. Wolf Creek was a Hutterite colony (an Anabaptist sect) and was non-resistant. The youths claimed conscientious objector status but were sent to Fort Levenworth Military Prison for their stand. While there, they were tortured. In early December 1918, Michael Hofer was admitted to hospital as a result of his treatment and the torture to which he had been subjected. He died there on December 2nd. His brother Joseph had also died three days earlier, due to the same treatment. Two other men from the same colony were also tortured, but survived, because they were released from prison with a government apology! (See and ).

During the French-Indian war, an Amishman named Jacob Hostetler and his family faced an attack by Native Americans. He refused to fight back and would not allow his sons to fight either. He and two of his sons were captured by the Indians (as they used to be called) and carried off into captivity. His wife, daughter and another son, were scalped and murdered. Jacob Hostetler chose not to retaliate because he believed it was wrong to take the life of another; instead he chose the path of non-resistance, following the teachings and example of Jesus.

The Biblical Basis
Why would otherwise sane people make such a seemingly mad choice?

The Amish take their example from Jesus Himself, who when he was reviled, did not revile back; when the authorities treated Him shamefully, he did not retaliate; when he was taken as a lamb to the slaughter, he opened not His mouth.

Jesus taught, ‘Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil’ (Matthew 5v38,39). The key phrase is ‘resist not evil’ and from that comes the term ‘non-resistance’. Jesus went on to clarify what He meant: ‘Whoever shall smite thee on thy left cheek, turn to him also the other. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away they coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain’ (Matthew 5v39-41). And further: ‘Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you’ (Matthew 5v44). The meaning is clear and needs no interpretation and the Amish take the message to heart. This is why, when a baby is killed by youths throwing stones at an Amish buggy, they would not go to court and the youths eventually got off with a fine and a six month suspended gaol sentence – for killing an Amish baby.

In practice, this means that an Amish person, whether man, woman or child, will not retaliate when someone insults them or even injures them. They will not prosecute an offender; most unlike the rest of America which seems to delight in taking everyone to court and suing them. When an Amish person is taken advantage of, he accepts it graciously; he does not seek to ‘get even’. The slogan ‘don’t get mad, get even’ is not in the Amish vocabulary. Added to that, the Amish person will go above and beyond that which is expected – when he is asked for a favour, he does all he is asked and more. When called to war, he will do his best to help his country, but he will not fight and he will not kill another human being. To kill a man, he believes, even in the defence of family or country, would go against the clear teaching of the Bible to ‘love your enemies’. They follow the example of the Hebrew Christians: ‘Recall the former days in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great struggle with sufferings; partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated, for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven’ (Hebrews 10v32-34).

If Jesus could endure being made a spectacle, being shamefully treated and put to death, the Amishman sees it his duty to follow in His footsteps. 

Does that mean we, or the Amish, have no respect for those who have died? Do we take our liberties for granted, hard won by the shed blood of others? Not at all! The Amish are thankful for their freedoms; they went to America in order to be allowed those freedoms. They do not take it lightly when others die to ensure they keep those freedoms. However, they do not see it as their role to enforce peace by means of the sword or gun, though, as I have said, they will help the war effort by other, peaceful means. As I said yesterday, for the Amish, church permeates the whole of their life; they do not compartmentalise it and they are not simply 'Sunday Christians'. But also, their allegiance is to a higher authority than the government; they will obey the King of Kings rather than men, even if it brings suffering to themselves and they 'count it all joy' if they are called on to suffer for the sake of Christ.

There is, of course, another death that will be remembered by a small minority on Sunday morning; the death of Jesus, the 'Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me'. But many more, probably most, in fact, will not remember Him; they hardly give Him a second thought, if they think about Him at all. While the death of soldiers has bought freedom from oppression; the death of Jesus can bring freedom from sin and hell (the second death). My own church does not stand for a two minute silence.  Our morning meeting is the communion, which we call the Breaking of Bread service. As our elders have said, 'we meet to remember the Lord, not those who have died in battle'.

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