As Australia commemorates Anzac Day each year, people of faith often find themselves grappling with big questions.
Should believers join in honouring our military, and if so, to what extent? Should churches hold Anzac-themed Services? And is it OK for Christians, who serve a God of peace and love, to join the armed forces?
One Australian who has thought a lot about these questions is Professor Tom Frame. He spent 15 years in the Navy, was Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Force for 6 years, and is director of the Australia Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society.
A Christian Approach To War and Defence
Professor Frame said when he joined the Navy at age 16, he didn’t consider the ethics of his decision much, but thinks differently and deeply about it now.
“I’ve gone through phases,” he said. “I’ve never been a militarist, where might is right and if you’ve got power you should use it.
“I did dabble with being a pacifist. But now, things like the genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, and civil unrest in Somalia, [have made me] think that there are circumstances when it appears unjust not to act – and just to act.
“I feel we need to restrain people who are inflicting violence on others.
“My position would not be too much different from the classical just-war position, which says that you can use force in certain circumstances.”
He believes Jesus would want Christians to test their motives.
“You ought not use force to pursue your interests. But if we see someone being beaten up, and restrain them, we might stop them committing murder and prevent someone from being killed.”
He added that he believed empathy, kindness and listening could create a society where terrorism and violence were no longer a threat.
“I think Abraham Lincoln was right when he said, ‘I destroy my enemy by making him my friend’.”
What’s It Like Being A Christian In The Military?
Thomas Mynott, 25, is a Combat Engineering Officer in the Australian Army and has a strong Christian faith. He said he has no sense of moral conflict about his career.
“I think there’s a perceived difficulty with being a Christian in the defence forces because of the nature of the work,” he said.
“The defence force is just a cross section of society. We’ve got tradies, professionals, soldiers, administrators, transport drivers… the only difference to everyone else is that we wear a uniform.
“I think the reality is that it can be hard to be a Christian in any workplace. The real question is, ‘where do we as Christians hold our faith in the workplace’?
“For me, it defines who I am. It’s something I don’t shy away from. I’m able to generate really positive [discussion] and talk about faith in general in my workplace,” he said.
Mr Mynott’s twin brother David is also a soldier in the 10th Light Horse Battalion in Perth. Thomas said that for both he and his brother, their faith was a great benefit in the military context.
“When times are tough I can rely on Jesus Christ’s strength,” he said.
Times of War Can Lead People To Faith
Professor Frame said that in his time with the defence forces he had seen people come to a faith in Jesus.
“We are sending people to places were religion is taken far more seriously than Australia, and it makes them think about the religion that’s perhaps dormant in their own life.
“Others have been in a situation of danger and made a deal with God – ‘if you get me through this, I promise to do that’. In many ways they’re saying thank you to God that they survived.”
Should Christians Commemorate Anzac Day?
Did you know that in the 1920s after World War I, the original Anzac Day services were very much church-led?
According to Professor Frame, in those days they were much like an annual funeral service.
“The [national] sense of mourning and grief was so acute. It was the right thing for the churches to take a leading role in helping people come to terms with their grief.
“A lot of what sustained the Anzacs was the Christian story of suffering, redemption and resurrection – that there is a possibility that when bad things happen they can be redeemed for good.
“If Christian churches aren’t able to put a good message gin this context then I think a great opportunity has been overlooked.”
Zac Veron, CEO of Anglican Youthworks, feels strongly about the importance of remembering fallen soldiers.
In 2007 he and his family travelled to Gallipoli during a Bible Land tour and were deeply moved.
“We saw the cemeteries, the coast, went up and saw the monuments,” he said.
“We held a special service, my daughter read out the Ode, and we spent a lot of time looking at the gravestones. It was a quiet time, there wasn’t a lot of talk, it was solemn and I was quite emotional. I didn’t expect that.”
Mr Veron has two close family members who are army officers, and takes Anzac Day very seriously.
“I’m very respectful of those who serve our country in that way, and wish sometimes that we’d acknowledge that more, not just on Anzac day.”
“I think as a society we perhaps have lost the weight of the sacrifice that many have paid so we can enjoy the freedom we have,” he said.
As for army officer Thomas Mynott, he will spend Anzac Day in uniform around Shellharbour at local events.
Mr Mynott, which he said gives him a sense of pride.
“That’s the one day we get to wear our uniform when the community recognises your services.
“I like the theme of this year’s centenary, it’s not just about Gallipoli but about commemorating those currently serving. We maintain the same values today as our forebears, like mateship and cameraderie.”