Friday, November 10, 2006


Well, not quite - but the idea that we might think about peacemaking and nonviolent symbols alongside war remembrance has been variously described to me (in a string of media interviews yesterday, from BBC to TalkSport to Vatican Radio) as 'unacceptable', 'barmy' and 'despicable'. But the notion that this means the assumptions of the existing set-up must therefore be at least implicitly pro-war does not really register. It is a huge blind-spot. But not unexpected.

Ekklesia's proposal (I quote from our news release) was that "Whether you are from a 'Just War', or a pacifist tradition, Christians believe that there is no redemption in war. Churches, who host so many services of remembrance, should at least give people the choice, and make white poppies more widely available, alongside red ones." Both The Times and the Express 'interpreted' that as a call to "dump" or displace the red poppy with a pacifist white one. And these are the people who read and write English for a living... Ah, well.

At least The Sun got it right! Ye, of little faith... The Google News feed on the coverage (a lot of it) is here. And yes, we have raised questions about whether the red poppy is really 'neutral'. The violence of the reaction would, ironically, undermine the case that it isn't. And the official Poppy Appeal site quotes Admiral Lord Nelson: "England expects every man will do his duty." That, in case you didn't know, was about forming conflict resolution teams. Ahem.

The material which will tell you what we are really saying is here, by the way: Proper debate about war 'honours those who have died' 9/11/06; Violent solutions not 'normal' but mythic, says theologian 09/11/06; Challenge to political correctness of the poppy 09/11/06; Canadian war veterans attack peace activists over white poppies 08/11/06; Controversy over sale of white poppies. More on the roots of the "myth of redemptive violence" here. Walter Wink is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, USA. His books may be purchased at Metanoia Books. To buy white poppies:; British Legion appeal:

Meanwhile, here's a newspaper letter I was invited to send back to a correspondent who had got very much the wrong end of the stick, but also wanted to accuse us of being Hitler-appeasers.

Ekklesia has not called for red poppies to be"dumped". We have suggested that churches can make white ones available alongside them, to remind us that the dead are honoured when we commit ourselves to alternative ways of resolving conflict.

We cannot remake history, but we can learn from it. The Second World War defeated Hitler, but the First and its aftermath produced him. Latterly, largely nonviolent means overcame entrenched tyranny in Eastern Europe and South Africa. But war in Iraq, while removing Saddam, has resulted in worse bloodshed, not a 'solution'. Meanwhile the 'war on terror' is reinforcing what it fights.

TV culture constantly conveys the dominant assumption that killing solves problems. But it is might that wins wars, not right. Our point is that the the poppy and the Cross are symbols of death, but while the former implies that violence can deliver us, the latter declares the power of love to be non-violent sacrifice.

Ekklesia supports the difficult work of conflict transformation in war zones. We think this is where the priority should be right now (especially for the churches, who often seem more interested in-infighting). That is a fine way to honour those who died in the hope of an end to war, but whose dreams are not being answered by its perpetuation across the globe.

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