Memorial Day is observed in late May, honoring the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military with parades, public ceremonies and prayers in houses of worship. Since 2000, Americans have also been encouraged to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, for a National Moment of Remembrance, according to va.gov, the official website of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This week’s clergy discuss whether God plays favorites in the continuing battle for justice and freedom around the world.
The Rev. J. Christopher Ballard
Rector, Trinity-St. John’s Episcopal Church, Hewlett
When I was a young man, I believed war was abhorrent to God. I also believed that there was no evil in the world. The naiveté of youth is often dispelled by age. Now middle-aged, I can say with the wisdom of time: Evil is a very real thing. It exists. Also, I no longer pretend to know what God thinks except how it is expressed through the word — the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, it seems clear that God favors God’s chosen people, but then we get up against the Christian ideas of Jesus seemingly forbidding violence and war. I think that might be a misread of Jesus. I know that God says over and over in all three Abrahamic texts (Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Quran) that fairness is a pillar of our faiths. The famous passage from Amos 5:24 used a lot during the Civil Rights era, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” is an example. To give a Christian perspective, there is no question that Jesus favored nonviolence, but His ministry was entirely focused on the disenfranchised, and he became violent when the money changers in front of the temple were excluding poor people from access to God. This proves that even Christ gets furious when the least among us are oppressed. When war comes — and I mean real war the likes of which America has not seen since World War II, when real evil threatened God’s creation and the weapons were greater than wisdom, when 12 million people were marched into gas chambers (6 million Jews and 6 million others), when hope seemed lost, God takes sides on the part of righteousness. As imperfect as humans are, evil must not be met with quietude, but with compassionate strength to protect those whom evil hates.
Rabbi Susie Heneson Moskowitz
Temple Beth Torah, Melville
I do not believe that God takes sides in war. I often ponder this when watching sporting events (which are ways we transfer our aggression and competitiveness, constructively, without killing people and possibly avoid senseless wars). Does God care which team wins a ballgame? I can’t imagine God has time to be concerned or even to rejoice when one team wins, or cry when one loses. I do like how players pray to do their best and for strength to push themselves to the limit. But why would God want one team to win over the other? This seems highly unlikely to me. In war, you could argue, one side is right and just and God should be pulling for them. But usually both sides believe that they are fighting for the good, and that their way is the correct way. They believe God should be on their side. I think we would all be better off if more people prayed for peace and took steps to get to know each other, to create vehicles for peace and connection. While I acknowledge that sometimes war is the only option, I strongly believe God is on the side of peace. So I continue to pray, “Oseh Shalom Bimromav” — “Make peace in the heavens, and upon us and on all Israel.”
I.J. Singh of Bellmore
Author of five collections of essays on his journey as a Sikh in America
It would be natural to think that the Creator approves and sides with those who please him by their fealty, loyalty and worship. Yes, but Sikhism asks that we step a bit further. The Guru Granth — the Sikh scripture — opens with an alphanumeric — Ik Onkar — derived from Sanskrit, that posits one God, the creator of all, not separate and different creators for the many different religions of mankind. Sikhism clearly declares that we are all the children of the one creator and then speaks of God as both the mother and father of all. We should be looking to the commonality of creation — an inclusivity that is the richness of humanity, not factional divisions and different creators at war with each other in the name of God. Sikhs and their religion have fought many wars for justice and survival; their record is justly celebrated in history. Humans create a diverse reality of gods — at each other’s throats perhaps? — and that is a monumental failure of human thinking and tolerance, which is and should remain foundational to all religions. As a Sikh, my plea would be not to drag the creator down to our divisive and fragmented reality. Think not of Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh and many other gods as different from each other and claim that he would takes sides in undertaking such a war.