Every year I like to report on one of the major Remembrance Parades held by the Armed Forces. This year, it is Blandford Garrison's turn. The 'Order of Service' was a printed leaflet detailing 8 pages of speech plus one page of notes on the Flanders Fields poem.
All eight pages of the ceremony was about Jesus Christ 'our Lord' and worshipping God. Only on the forty-sixth line of text does anything to do with Remembrance occur; comprising of only a few sentences. After that, comments on those we are remembering are slightly more frequent. The service included several Christians hymns most of which had no relevance to remembrance. For all intents and purposes, the remembrance speeches were, in entirety, a Christian sermon, catering only for Christians.
The soldiers had to attend - it was a "scale A" parade that cannot be missed. Present were atheists and many Ghurkhas, most of whom are Hindus and Buddhists. Yet over and over words were spoken such as "Let us confess to God" for sins, "Almighty God, who forgives all who truly repent ... through Jesus Christ our Lord", "in honesty and pride let prayers be said". So those who aren't Christians attended the service dishonestly? Most of those who attend can't "truly repent" in the name of Jesus, because the vast majority of soldiers aren't actually Christian and don't even believe in God. If they were listening to the Padre and if they understood theological words, the vast majority of those stood listening would be appalled at the way the sermon clearly excludes non-Christians.
The very first words of the Padre were: "We are here to worship Almighty God, whose purposes are good; whose power sustains the world that He has made; who loves us, through we have failed in His service; who gave Jesus Christ as the light and life of the world; who by His Holy Spirit leads and directs us in His way."
It is thoroughly unfair to force so many people to attend a Christian sermon so they can be preached at on a day when most of them want instead to remember the dead and departed - their colleagues and friends, known and unknown, who have died fighting for freedom. During every military Remembrance Parade I have attended I have spent most my time feeling ridiculed, excluded, annoyed, irritated and offended by the sectarianism coming from the front. Remembrance Day is not the time for preaching.</i>
"Let us remember before God ... all who have lived and died in the service of mankind" ... anyone who understands the values and standards of the British army - being based on equality and inclusion, and rejecting religious discrimination - knows that sentences like that should read "Let us remember ... all who have died in the service of mankind". Why is it necessary to exclude non-god-believers, with all the God talk? It is exclusionary and inappropriate to be preaching on a day of remembrance.
"We pray for an end to the destructive hatred of war [...] In the name of Jesus, Prince of Peace. Amen." The hypocrite who spoke those words may genuinely want an end to destructive war, but, I sincerely advise them to start with ending religious discrimination. That means, admitting that perhaps the majority of those remembering the dead should not be forced into a Christian sermon "in the name of Jesus", and perhaps the Padre should not be saying such things, when there are many present who hope (not 'pray') for an end to destructive war, in the name of compassion and remembrance, not in the name of 'Jesus Christ'. It is hypocritical to separate out non-Christians on a day like Remembrance Sunday, as many of our enemies are separatist religious extremists doing what they do in the name of God.
The official answer in defence of this Christian prejudice is that soldiers can for religious reasons exempt themselves from these parades. But the procedure is torturous and unknown to many, and more important, to do so is seen as strange and counter-cultural. To exclude oneself from a parade that everyone else has to attend goes against all training. Most do not dare.
There should be a compulsory parade of Remembrance Sunday in all military camps for the soldiers there. It should be a time of serious reflection, remembrance, solemnity and togetherness, no matter what the religion and beliefs of the soldiers. But there should also be a voluntary, separate, Church sermon for Christians who hold to Christian beliefs. The first parade, for all, should never be mixed with the purely Christian parade. At the moment, every Remembrance Sunday parade in the Army that I have attended has failed to live up to the Values and Standards of the British Army it is held for!