Peace Loving Christians?

Talking to Mum today on the phone she was talking about her most recent “In Good Faith� article for the local paper, and the reaction to it in the letters page. The responsibility for the column alternates between a number of people in the local area, and Mum has contributed for a number of years, and it has to be said that it is not unknown for her columns to merit a reaction in the letters page!

Her column this time around was written about Remembrance Sunday, and more specifically the use of the National Anthem on that occasion. In terms of Church use, aside from significant occasions it is about the only time it gets used in a Church context. In light of the media debate over the red or white poppy this year she talked about the choice of verses for our National Anthem, particularly the ‘modern’ politically correct version that gets used in many places today.

Whilst in many situations, only the first verse of our National Anthem gets used, there are a number of official additional verses, and over the years been a number of additional verses added – at one point reaching eight verses. Depending on the age of the hymn books in use in the Church, there are still a variety of different versions of the words in use. Our older hymn book, the 1983 revision of ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’ includes two versions of the anthem, one with the traditional three verses, and the other with two verses, the second being the one often considered the ‘modern’ verse. It should be noted that the second verse is also indicated as one that could be omitted. Our newer hymn book, ‘Hymns Old and New’ combines the two versions in ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’, removing the second traditional verse, and adding the ‘modern’ verse to the end. I’ll list the words to the traditional version and the our newest one below. Firstly the traditional:

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen

Now the one from our newer hymn book that we used this Remembrance Sunday:

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen

Nor on this land alone,
But be God’s mercies known
From shore to shore:
Lord make the nations see
That men should brothers be,
And form one family
The wide world o’er

The point of Mum’s column was to highlight that although the additional verse is often seen as a modern addition linked with a modern change in attitude amongst Christians towards war, it is actually much older, indeed the additional verse is actually one of four alternative verses written by William Edward Hickson in 1836, as part of a debate over the words of the anthem at that time when particularly the second verse was considered offensive. More of this version was used in the English Hymnal, the hymn book used at Church when I was growing up. Indeed when you see the other verses that had already been dropped you can see that the second verse is fairly restrained, take verse six (with apologies to any Scottish readers), written as a result of defeat at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745:

Lord grant that Marshal Wade
May by thy mighty aid
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the Queen!

In terms of the reaction to her column, the paper published a letter it had received quoting the omitted second verse, and commenting that it wasn’t very peace loving. Needless to say Mum is slightly frustrated as the whole point of the column was to point out that Churches often dropped that verse, and replaced it with the Hickson verse because of the sentiments expressed!

Having said that, although the Hickson version is more than a century old, and certainly to many modern Christians the holy war as a Christian concept is something that occurred back with the Crusades, the publishing of the next in our series of Finchampstead Parish Magazine Extracts, with extracts from the magazines during the First World War, paints a slightly different picture. The booklets reprint selected items from the Church published magazine, now published by members of the village, and whilst there are a lot of similarities with what our modern parish newsletter publishes (an earlier booklet has a 19th Century item about the activities of the Sunday School that is remarkably similar to what happens today), the war extracts are most striking, especially in the editorial undertones, take this item from June 1915:

“Are there not still, however, a fair number of unmarried men in the parish who ought to feel that their right place is with those gallant men who are so nobly upholding the great traditions o our race and whose praise is being so loudly sounded throughout the Empire?�

Whist it’s not explicitly putting it as a God given command, being written in something produced by the Parish Church it would be a big surprise, and probably controversial if we were to write something similar in a Church publication today. How Christians react to War and particularly Remembrance Sunday, has always been a difficult and thorny area. For example whilst there are still military chaplains, Christians in the military, and we still call on God to protect our ships when they launch, the White Poppy that caused controversy this year has been around since 1933, and was created by a clergyman as part of the Peace Pledge Union in reaction to a sermon by a former Army Chaplain on Amistice Day 1933:

“If I blame anybody…it is men like myself who ought to have known better. We went out to the army and explained to these valiant men what a resplendent future they were preparing for their children by their heroic sacrifices.� He went on to “renounce war because of what it does to our own men� and “what it compels us to do to our enemies�. “I renounce war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatred it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in the place of democracy, for the starvation that strikes after it.�

However, even though we used the more acceptable National Anthem, and the sermon was focused on the horrors of war, there were only red poppies in evidence at our Church, and a number of regular parishioners, and also people who rarely attend arrived wearing their medals. The main street through the village is also closed for a well attended parade to the War Memorial. Certainly, cancelling the Remembrance Sunday parade, or combining it with a regular service as has occurred elsewhere would prove massively controversial. The question is though is quite what proportion of the regular congregation would confess to feeling more in common with the ideals of the White Poppy campaign?

A history of the White Poppy campaign can be found here, and a short biography of Canon Dick Sheppard who founded the Peace Pledge Union can be found here. The Red Poppy campaign can be found here, with more details here.

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