Sunday Sermon: Singing about War while Praying for Peace

A good friend told me today that they sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” in his ward. It seemed odd, he said, to be singing about war at a time when our leaders have instructed us to pray for peace. “We pray that this armed conflict will end quickly,” said the First Presidency message released last month after Russia attacked Ukraine, “and that peace will prevail among nations and within our own hearts.

This seemed like a reasonable point, and it propelled me to take a few minutes looking through our hymnal to see how many of our hymns are essentially martial ballads or songs about war. The number I got was 11—not overwhelming, but also not trivial.

60 Battle Hymn of the Republic
68 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
178 O Lord of Hosts
225 We Are Marching on to Glory
246 Onward Christian Soldiers
248 Up, Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion
250 We Are All Enlisted
251 Behold! A Royal Army
253 Like Ten Thousand Legions Marching
259 Hope of Israel (Zion’s Army)
340 The Star-Spangled Banner

These include some of the most popular songs in the hymnal, which makes sense when you consider that they are all upbeat and vibrant songs in a hymnal (and musical culture) notorious for its funeral tempos. And very few of them are unique to the LDS hymnal. Most of these hymns are well represented across Christian denominations.

And it’s not hard to understand why. Christian hymns are martial because they are based on Christian scriptures, which are also martial. This goes back to the very beginning. Yahweh was originally a war god, whose job description included marching at the head of the Israelite army as they utterly destroyed their enemies. This fact is partially obscured by the King James phrase “Lord of Hosts” (which has been picked up by most other translations) an antiquated English word for “armies.” Simply updating the phrase to “God of Armies,” as several contemporary translations do, creates a very different perspective.

The New Testament’s mission of spiritualizing the historical aspects of the Hebrew Bible makes the problem worse, as it turns the very real wars and conquests of the Old Testament into metaphors for a spiritual struggle. For the Hebrew Bible to become the Old Testament, all of its historical content had to be reinterpreted within a typological framework, which meant that the glorious battles of an Iron Age people and their war god had to somehow become metaphors for the Prince of Peace. It did not happen without some cognitive dissonance.

Now, I do understand metaphors, and I realize that “marching as to war” is not the same thing as marching to war. The Bible often uses physical conflict as a metaphor for spiritual conflict that people can understand. That’s swell and all, but the Bible also uses sexual congress as a metaphor for divine communion, and it describes Christ as a bridegroom to the Church, and we don’t have a single hymn about that. The Song of Solomon is as underrepresented in the world of Christian hymnals as the battles of Joshua are overrepresented. At some point, the world decided that erotic hymns were incongruous for religions that valued sexual continence. Should we not decide the same about martial hymns for religions that value peace?

And we have plenty of hymns about peace and love and the gentleness and mercy of God. A quick survey turns up:

14 Sweet is the Peace the Gospel Brings
87 God Is Love
102 Jesus Lover of My Soul
105 Master the Tempest Is Raging (Peace Be Still)
113 Out Savior’s Love
124 Be Still My Soul
125 How Gentle God’s Commands
129 Where Can I Turn for Peace
155 We Have Partaken of Thy Love
176 ‘Tis Sweet to Sing of Matchless Love
335 Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy

Maybe these are the songs that we should sing instead. This would mean giving up a lot of songs that have been many people’s favorites since childhood—songs with rousing melodies and triumphant imagery that make us feel powerful, which, if we are not careful, we can mistake for feeling spiritual. But the main idea of Christian discipleship means giving up everything that is not the Kingdom of God in order to create the Kingdom of God. And that means renouncing war and proclaiming peace (D&C 98:16).

Metaphors matter. They construct our worldviews and shape our values. It is very difficult for someone who has heard spiritual life described as warfare for most of their life to conclude that war is an inherently horrible thing or that we should put all of our efforts into solving problems without soldiers (Christian or otherwise), mighty fortresses, or royal armies. It is hard enough to renounce war and proclaim peace under any circumstances, but it is virtually impossible when you have been raised to see warfare as God’s ideal solution to difficult spiritual problems. If we want peace to prevail among nations and within our own hearts, then maybe it is time to stop singing about war and sing hymns of peace instead.

Comments

  1. Amen! to the simple point that it is time to stop singing about war and sing hymns of peace instead.

    Regarding Onward Christian Soldiers as metaphor, yes I can find meanings and metaphors that are useful or that I can get behind. However, the militarism galls and I’d rather not do that work. Furthermore, the various uses and metaphors over the ~150 years since the hymn was written are not all uses I want to attach myself to. Even victory over sin is complicated. The hymn is often used as a missionary hymn in the sense of we will save the world by Christianizing the world. Always in our version of Christianizing, of course. That one makes me very uncomfortable. On the other hand, the hymn has been used as a protest song, as in protest against the establishment, particularly in the case of the civil rights movement. I would probably have been in synch with that use, had I been there. In wartime, Winston Churchill used the hymn to say the Allies were the righteous saving the world from “measureless degradation.” On the other hand, today, March 20, 2022, I can’t help but hear the words in the voice of Patriarch Kirill urging Russian soldiers to take Kyiv.

  2. I don’t know. I kind of am on the side of Ukraine fighting for their freedom and independence. So, is that kind of war all that bad? There are usually two sides to war, one being the country doing the invading, and other being the country doing the defending of themselves. If you want to simplify it down to good guys and bad guys, just make sure “we” are not necessarily the good guys.

    I think that assumption that “we” are always the good guys, is the problem. And this applies to the war as metaphor idea. I think a lot of religions have become evil because they assume that “we” are the good guys while inflicting our ideas onto others. I could give a lot of examples, like legislating against gay marriage, like the Spanish Inquisition, like outlawing the native religion of indigenous people. But, rather than examining the situation as “what would Jesus do?” The religion was sure it was doing God’s will by forcing its own will on others.

    Now, I agree that we should not glorify war. War is hell, but then so is having your nation and homeland destroyed. I think we need to be realistic about war. War is sometimes a necessary evil.

  3. We sang the war songs last week as we were told our ward was being dissolved and three wards would be combined to two. It was a pretty deliberate message of “suck it up people.”

  4. In Just War theory defense of your nation and homeland under proper authority is the prime example. In fact, Augustine considered peacefulness in the face of a wrong that can only be stopped by violence to be sin. I’m in the camp that would treat using “war” applied to defense of your nation and homeland as a category error.

  5. Michael Austin says:

    I think that there are a lot of things that are sometimes necessary in extreme situations that we still should not normalize through regular hymn singing. Both Nephi decapitating Laban and Jael driving a spike through Sisera’s head were justified by the texts. God apparently approved of these actions. But we don’t sing songs about them. One can hold that defensive warfare is justified without celebrating warfare in general as part of a worship service.

  6. Matt Evans says:

    Michael, it seems disingenuous to say the hymns “celebrate warfare in general.” The songs appeal to the need for and value of social solidarity in the face of great evil, to inspiring courage and sacrifice as is needed in Ukraine now.

  7. Daniel Ortner says:

    I think this is a bad take. The war against Satan is very real. If we forget that we are at war with a really cunning and dangerous adversary then we are likely to grow lax in following God. Reminders of the spiritual war that we are in are needed. Of course messages of peace are as well.

  8. I, for one, think this is an important point and well made.

  9. On a given Sunday we generally sing three or four hymns, and each time we choose a hymn that features a lot of war language we miss a chance to sing about topics that might call us toward peace.
    I agree that language matters, metaphors have an impact on our thinking, etc. I can acknowledge that sometimes armed resistance is necessary, but agree with Michael that there are plenty of actions that might be justified that shouldn’t also be embraced as themes for congregational hymns.
    I am hoping that the new hymnal will help in this regard, providing us with a lot of inspiring new music, and a lot fewer martial images.

  10. Michael Austin says:

    We are all enlisted till the conflict is o’er;
    Happy are we! Happy are we!
    Soldiers in the army,
    There’s a bright crown in store;
    We shall win and wear it by and by.
    Haste to the battle, quick to the field;
    Truth is our helmet, buckler, and shield.
    Stand by our colors; proudly they wave!
    We’re joyfully, joyfully marching to our home.

    Matt, I think that there is room for good-faith disagreement about the extent to which a song like the one quoted above “celebrates warfare in general” or appeals “to the need for and value of social solidarity in the face of great evil.” However, the former is a perfectly valid interpretation of the plain meaning of the words. Indeed, if this were not a common and popular traditional song, I seriously doubt that anyone would support adding it to the hymnbook precisely because it gives a view of warfare that is contrary to the plain meaning of other texts that we are enjoined to take seriously. Long traditions can make very inappropriate things seem appropriate, but that is not argument that I find compelling. I do not believe that it is at all disingenuous to think that a jaunty tune about how happy war makes us can be read as a celebration of warfare in general.

  11. charlene says:

    I am 100% in support, Brother Michael. For years I have quietly refused to sing these martial and/or *patriotic* songs, including the chorus to “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning.”

    Rarely has my silence been noticed, but it is a sincere action between me and God.

  12. Aussie Mormon says:

    Why are these hymns bad, but not violence related allusions in scriptures such as the below:
    Ephesians 6:10-20
    Matt 10:34-35
    Hebrews 4:12

  13. Assuming that “O Lord of Hosts” is in any way a militant hymn is rather like assuming that “Playboy” is a magazine about young lads playing marbles or mumblety-peg. And, “A Mighty Fortress” is not at all martial besides that one word, and the defensive nature of a fortress would suggests that including that hymn after your cursory glance through the list of titles in the hymnal is another category error.

  14. Michael Austin says:

    Mark B,

    “Lord of Hosts” means “God of Armies.” The martial nature of the phrase is obscured by the fact that people don’t understand King James English. But signing a song about the God of Armies has undeniable military associations. If you simply substitute the modern phrase for the 17th century one, it is easy to see that it is a song with some connection to warfare, and that fact that most people don’t understand this just shows how careless we have become with our language. The controlling image of “A Mighty Fortress” is military. I a perfectly aware that you can read other things into this, but it is a martial metaphor, and it is not an insignificant word somewhere in the song. It is the central idea of the whole song.

  15. Ever anon says:

    Calling A Mighty Fortress a military hymn because of the use of the fortress imagery is proof texting. Read Luther’s text. (Not the one in the hymnal.) His message is that we don’t have to fight because Christ Jesus will win our battles. It’s the opposite of a military hymn.

  16. So are we also going to clip those warfare accounts from the Book of Mormon and Old Testament while we are at it? How about any allusions to the war in heaven?

  17. Since the adversary vowed to reign with blood and horror on this earth, I don’t have much of a problem singing a few verses about opposing that awfulness.

  18. Yosemite Sam says:

    We are very much at war, but not the type with guns and swords. Our battle is with the adversary. It started long before this world was created and will continue until our foe is vanquished. Relevant hymns that we sing are related to our spiritual battle that we have against satan and his hosts. The war is both collective of us against him and also individually against him. The outcome is already known but the war still must be fought. There is no fault in singing such hymns. They strengthen the human spirit to continue on and not give up.

  19. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    “In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea
    With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me.
    As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
    While God is marching on.
    Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!”

    Your thoughtfulness is duly noted, but we don’t throw out babies like this, no matter how dingy some of the bath water might be. I fully recognize that in its most iconic version, these lyrics are accompanied by a literal snare drum and fife. Objection overruled — it stays.

  20. The Song of Songs doesn’t get much play in modern hymnbooks, but it was very well represented in the Renaissance by hundreds of works; Palestrina’s fourth book of motets (1584) was a cycle of 29 settings from that poem. Such settings later appear in Schütz’s Sinfonia sacrae, Monteverdi’s Vespers, and the texts of Bach cantatas to add some Protestant Pietistic paraphrases to the mix. Even colonial American William Billings got into the game with his composition “I am the rose of Sharon.”

    Certainly sensibilities change over time – although I don’t think too many congregations sing it very often, it is a little embarrassing that “Come, All Whose Souls are Lighted” is still in the hymnbook, even if they demoted the original opening verse “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains” (about being called to deliver lands from error’s chain) to the second verse, and eliminated the verse about the “heathens in their blindness bowing down to wood and stone.”

    On the other hand, it is really the height of silliness to maintain that O Lord of Hosts is a war-inspired hymn. Maybe no one sings verses 4 and 5 as they are printed below the music but they do say “As brethren let us ever live/In fellowship and peace!…” and “May union, peace, and love abound,/And perfect harmony…” Certainly this hymn has less to do with martial themes than some that didn’t make the objectionable list, like Called to Serve, with its pounding and repetitive kettle-drum fourths and fifths in the bass accompanying the ranks as they press forward singing their triumph song, or the military fanfares of God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand, even if that is more about defense from “war’s alarms.”

    In the 1985 book, hymns such as We Are All Enlisted, Behold! A Royal Army, Hope of Israel, and Onward Christian Soldiers are listed in the index under topics as varied as Cheerfulness, Commitment, Courage, Duty, Encouragement, Unity, and Youth; they were listed in the previous hymnbook’s Topical Index in the category: Militant Hymns.

    Now just because popes preached Crusades or rode out in armor to battle at the head of their troops (in Erasmus’s satire, Julius II plans to recruit 60,000 more to return and storm the gates after Peter won’t let him into heaven) or that there exist today many extremist, fundamentalist paramilitary groups at the fringes of some denominations and religions, who glory in apocalyptic rhetoric and deeds, doesn’t mean that the philosophical concept of a Church Militant doesn’t also have a metaphorical meaning in which the faithful are struggling against the devil, the world, or the flesh. But I agree that singing hymns that stray into that territory, however well-meaning, can feel unseemly, with whiff of jingoism causing a squeamish reaction. I think that most of these hymns are already very infrequently in rotation, however, and will probably drift toward irrelevance.

  21. Justagirl says:

    Michael Austin. Am I the only one who noticed the last line of “We are all enlisted” does not rhyme as the other lines do?
    Stand by our colors; proudly the wave!
    We’re joyfully, joyfully marching to our GRAVE (home).
    Can’t help but think the words were edited prior to printing.

  22. The basic error of the original post is in this statement: “And that [Christian discipleship and creating the Kingdom of God] means renouncing war and proclaiming peace.” That’s a very narrow and one-sided reading of a complex scriptural record. The truth is that Jesus is both the Prince of Peace and the Lord of Sabaoth. The righteous Nephites included both those who buried their weapons and the armies of Helaman. After the centurion explained what his job implied, Jesus praised him for his faith.

    While there have been any number of foolish and destructive wars that should never have been started, renouncing war in all situations would only result in tyrants dividing up the world between themselves. The members of the church in the military are performing honorable service, and treating all mention of warfare in our hymnbook as shameful seems like a shabby way to treat them. And right now seems like an especially inopportune moment to say that all we need to do is renounce war. If anything, strict pacifism would seem to be discredited. Proclaiming peace did not keep the Russian army out of Ukraine, although the Russians would only be too happy for Americans and Europeans to renounce war at this moment. The Ukrainians might beg to differ.

  23. Michael Austin:
    It’s apparent that you still haven’t read any of the hymn “O Lord of Hosts” other than the title, which was the point of my first comment. And, even the King James translators seem to have recognized that “host” had meanings other than the martial ones that you point out. In Luke 2, the heavenly host joined the angels in singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Hardly warlike lyrics.

  24. Michael Austin says:

    C. Keen,

    “Renounce war and proclaim peace” is actually not something I made up. It is, for Lattter-day Saints, and actual commandment (D&C 98:16) and something that is enjoined on us by our own scriptures. That does not mean, as you correctly point out, that there are not exceptions. There are exceptions to nearly all of the commandments. It is easy to imagine situations in which the unrighteousness of others makes killing, stealing, dishonesty, assault and battery, and just about every other sinful action necessary by virtue of the fact that worse things will happen if the action is not performed. But we don’t sing songs about these exceptions. We don’t glorify them. We don’t brag about how we are going to lie to deceive the enemy or kill somebody because they are a danger to other people. We do not turn exceptions into cultural artifacts. We build our religious instruction around the rules, not the exceptions.

    I find it interesting that so many people in this comment thread are reading it through the eyes of Ukraine and saying, “how dare you say that people cannot defend their home and their families.” That is not what I am saying. People whose homes and families are being attacked don’t need cultural performances that encourage them to fight to defend themselves. What I wish people would look at is the social and cultural manipulations that have been necessary for Putin to convince Russia to support a damaging, wholly elective, and immoral war. That is what songs like these do. They normalize and glorify war and allow leaders to manipulate people into supporting military actions that are not the least bit defensive or honorable. It is not a coincidence that the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is publicly standing with Putin and supporting the invasion of Ukraine. Dictators need the support of churches and other institutions to make war. Songs like “we are all enlisted ’till the conflict is o’er / Happy are we, happy are we” are part of the apparatus that gives them support.

    I believe that you are correct that “renounce war and proclaim peace” does not mean “never under any circumstances, take up arms to defend yourself.” But it is not God doing absurdist haiku. It means something. And I think that a reasonable estimation of what it means is that we should treat war–even when it is absolutely necessary–as a bad thing, we should do everything we can do to prevent it from becoming necessary, and we should work hard to purge our lives and our culture of things that glorify it or trivialize the harm that it does. Not singing jaunty, uplifting songs in church about going to war with our enemies seems to me to be a reasonable part of what “renounce war” means in practice. Not giving dictators more tools to dupe their populations into supporting warfare strikes me as an appropriate measure for somebody who wants to “proclaim peace.”

  25. Michael Austin says:

    O God of War, let us invoke
    Thy Spirit most divine
    To cleanse our hearts while we partake
    The broken bread and wine.

    I get that the song “O Lord of Host” is not about war. I have sung it and read it many times. What I find so problematic, though is that we can’t even sing about Christ as a god of peace without invoking the title of an iron-age war God. “Lord of Hosts” is an Old Testament title for a war god. And yes, the writer of Luke was also using a martial metaphor to describe God. “Hosts of angels” means “army of angels.” For ancient people, this is what angels were. They were an army of scary, militant beings like the one that Jacob wrestled with. They were not the cute cherubs we now see on Valentine’s cards.

    And yes, I also get that these songs have messages of peace. That is also part of my point. We have become so acculturated to martial language, that we don’t even recognize it when we are using it. I do not find it useful to say, “other than the title, which is also the first words of the song, and the invocation that everything else falls beneath, this is a song about peace.” Hymns are a type of prayer, and who we address our prayers to matters. Whatever messages we love and value in songs like these literally come after an invocation of a war god. Wouldn’t the message be stronger, and less conflicted, if we started, “O Lord of Peace”? It would even scan correctly.

  26. As a mom of 3 boys, I can’t help but appreciate the occasional hymn that makes my guys feel like following Jesus is a bad@§$ thing to do.

  27. At best, war is a necessary evil. The operative word there is “evil,” yet so many people want to ignore that part of the phrase and pretend that necessity not only justifies the evil, but somehow makes it glorious. It should be obvious that singing hymns of celebration to a necessary evil is only productive for those who profit from the evil. People who actually love peace can do much better.

    It’s not simple to deal with the moral complications of war, but for Christians, if that’s what we really are, it’s a basic obligation to face the problem without becoming people who worship God by celebrating war as a model for life and spirituality.

  28. it's a series of tubes says:

    Alma 43 seems to set forth certain specific and limited circumstances where the obligation to violently defend is actually a commandment of the Lord.

  29. Practicing some empathy, if I’m a Ukrainian man or woman I need no encouragement from church or state to defend my country under attack. But if I’m a Russian soldier ordered to an invasion of a neighboring country I need a whip from the state and rousing hymns from the church in order to march. Even then I hope I would say no. That’s current events telling me all I need to know about the use and abuse of martial hymns.
    President Kimball once upon a time chastised us for being a warlike people. I felt called to do better, to be better.

  30. Left Field says:

    Let Us All Press On is also filled with military imagery.

  31. Left Field says:

    Who’s on the Lord’s Side, Who?
    God of Our Fathers, Known of Old
    For All the Saints

  32. Geoff - Aus says:

    There was a time when joining up was seen as exciting and patriotic, and glorious, perhaps before ww2. I realise in America even now returning soldiers are seen as heroes, less so here. So in other countries where the military is held in less reguard, these hymns are even more of a problem. These hymns are left over from this time, when war was seen as glory.

  33. I’ve long thought it kind of intriguing how the German hymnal seems to have many fewer songs with martial imagery, even adjusting for having fewer songs in it overall.

    Somebody could do an interesting comparative study on imagery across different languages’ hymn selections, if it hasn’t been done already.

  34. Thanks for writing this. I explored a similar theme in SquareTwo Journal a few months back. The topic feels more urgent now… Even if it’s always been important. More intentional consideration about and less caviler use of war imagery in our worship would benefit all of us.

    For those interested: https://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHustonZionsHealers.html

  35. Michael: I don’t think your argument that war is exceptional will stand up. Smiting off the head of a drunk in the street? Yes, that’s exceptional. But the Old Testament if filled with war, the New Testament describes war in Heaven and at the end time, and the Book of Mormon is filled with war, and the preceding centuries have been filled with war, and the current century isn’t doing so hot either, so I think it’s a mistake to try to sweep all that under the rug of an exception. War seems to be a regular occurrence that urgently needs some myth-making and rule-making to keep it under control. We need to think long and hard about it, and even sing about it. It won’t do to treat D&C 98 as a proof text and exclude everything else in scripture that treats war differently. I understand your personal dislike of martial hymns, but I don’t see that you have an argument that a metaphor used widely in scripture needs to be excluded from the hymnbook.

  36. Michael Austin says:

    C. Keen,

    I am not treating war as an exception. I am treating the justification for war as an exception to the Christian and Latter-day Saint principle of proclaiming peace. D&C 98 is not a “proof text”–it is the essence of Christian discipleship. Renouncing war and proclaiming peace is fundamental to Christ’s gospel, and, even when defensive violence is absolutely necessary, it is not something that, in my opinion, people who take Christ’s words seriously should want to sing about. If you do not believe this then, of course, I respect your right to have an opinion that is different than mine. But we simply do not understand God, Christ, the scriptures, or discipleship similarly enough to have a productive discussion about it.

  37. Michael Austin says:

    M. David,

    That is an excellent article. Thanks for posting the link.

  38. While I appreciate the post and I see the point, I think additional nuance and input from music people is needed. The post seems to include a high level discussion about both lyrics and the hymn tune, but I can’t conclude that we remove all martial music from our hymn books or never sing them.

    The primary song Beautiful Savior is originally “Crusaders Hymn”. Which is the true meaning of the hymn – crusaders or the Savior? It’s probably in the eye (ear?) of the beholder? What about Go Tell Aunt Rhodie, which is the hymn tune of one of our hymns. A very large percentage of our LDS hymns use lyrics not originally intended for the accompaniment. Even My Country Tis Of Thee was originally God Save the King. I mean do we throw out a good ole American hymn because we dislike meany King George? Also why isn’t that a war hymn?

    Matches are in 4/4 or 2/4 time with 120+ beats per minute. I bet many of our hymns meet that criteria. Some organ registration is meant for marches (reeds) but can also be used in robust favorites like How Firm A Foundation or the Spirit of God.

    As a trained organist I had a bishop one time tell me to play only well known hymns and to play them “normal.” I still get angry thinking about that because it’s complicated and nuanced. So I played for the Beauty of the Earth in minor key with a loud registration and different tempo and it sounded like a different hymn. This is a good topic but incomplete.

  39. I see your point and it is a good article and I think things like this need to be said. But I have too much Captain Moroni and Teancum in me to want to take such songs out. I deeply feel that freedom isn’t free, that our peace exists but for the grace of God and the warheads of our nuclear weapons, and that we have to be prepared to defend ourselves. And yet I don’t own a gun. I may inherit my parents guns but that’s the only way I’ll ever get any at this point in my life. Perhaps a bow?

    This is the contradiction of the Gospel. The message of peace that pits father against son, brother against brother. Where I draw the line is where the scriptures seem to draw them: offensive warlike actions. When people were all ready to send aid the Ukraine, I was thinking, how do I send bullets? That’s the fastest way to get food to the people is to end the conflict. The Russians are liars. I don’t mean all Russians, but those leading and fighting are just liars and murderers and need to be compelled by force to stop their violence.

    This also ranks right up there with “sympathy for the devil” comments I see from time to time. Revelation talks about war in heaven, then woe unto the inhabitants o the earth. I don’t have sympathy for a being that is actively trying to kill me and deceive me so he can destroy me. I have a warlike attitude in response to his threats against me. I think that is appropriate. But while also doing all I can to treat those around me–those in the same boat with me, who are not trying to kill me, as peaceably as I can.

  40. I’m not sure what to make of people who are uncomfortable with the miltant nature of God vs Devil (or even natural man).

    Conflict, violent conflict, is embedded within the very fabric of our being.

    I’m not saying it’s an ideal state, but it’s part of us. Even our immune system with pathogens, killer cells etc is not only described in miltant terms, but it’s literally describing what’s happening.

    Modernity has divorced us from reality in many ways which allows us the comfort of a life with (seemingly) less awareness of pain — but we all know pain and suffering will strike (there’s a conflict term again) inevitably and we seem in some way less equipped to handle it.

    It’s a blessing and a curse in some ways that we are uncomfortable with conflict and it’s imagery. I’m not saying we should seek it out as a good but it’s inevitable on mortality; and fallen Lucifer would suggest it’s inevitable in eternity.

  41. Michael:

    Like you I experience great dissonance at church at times when the demands of shared humanity require we mourn. But like the tone deaf scheduling that has us discuss, say, food storage on Easter Sunday, we just seem to believe institutionally that we needn’t concern ourselves with goings on in the wider world. We suffer true strictures of the heart because of that.

    Some years back on what, in Germany, was Holocaust Remembrance Day, I had to shut the hymnbook while the congregation sang words that cast war and conflict in glowing (actually, insipid) terms. My grandfather, a native of southeastern Idaho, lays buried in a grave in England, a victim of Nazi aggression. The family he left behind when he volunteered to fight in Europe before the U.S. entered the war still exhibits the effect of his sacrifice. How, then, could I sing so flippantly about war?

    Part of the problem in our LDS music culture stems from the fact that we simply don’t have very good music. And this weakens our worship. We have so few hymns that tackle deep subjects profoundly. Granted, ours is a family with professional musicians and wide exposure to the sacred music traditions of many faiths around the world, but this is not a criticism based on elite tastes. Rather, mine is an expression of holy envy for those whose church experience includes profound emphasis on worshipping Christ through genuinely sacred music.

  42. Anonymous says:

    This is certainly not the first time the church and its members have had to live through overseas conflicts, but my question is – were there any movements to remove hymns like this during times of war in the past? There were many protests and conscientious objectors during recent conflicts, I’d be surprised if at least a handful of people didn’t feel the same way about these hymns that you feel now.

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