The Security of America
By Dr. William R. (Bill) Bouknight
The following was shared at the Memorial Day Service on May 30, 2016 in Darlington, S.C.
On this Memorial Day, we honor America’s first responders, those who have worn the uniform and borne the burdens of her armed forces. Especially do we honor those who gave their last full measure of devotion for America.
Just six weeks ago I was privileged to stand on the sacred sands of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. If you have never been there and can possibly find a way to make the trip, I urge you to do so. That was the spot where on June 6, 1944, Allied forces began to retake Europe from Nazi Germany. At the south end of Omaha Beach is Point Du Hoc. There stands a 100-foot cliff, rising from the beach at a 90-degree angle. Allied intelligence believed that the Germans had huge 105 MM guns there able to destroy naval vessels miles away. It was essential that those guns be taken out. In the dark hours before sunrise on June 6, 220 U.S. Rangers came ashore at that point. Armed with rocket propelled hooks and ropes, they scaled that cliff even in the face of Nazi machine guns. The Rangers were surprised to find no Nazi artillery at the top of the cliff. Those guns had been moved about a mile from the beach. The Rangers found those guns and destroyed them. At the end of June 6, only 70 Rangers were still available for duty. All the rest were either dead or wounded. But they accomplished the mission.
Several hours later, at sunrise, thousands of U.S. troops came ashore at Omaha Beach, as the Nazi guns on the cliffs above sprayed death. But those 18-year-old American boys kept coming, even though the waves sloshing on shore took on a reddish tinge because of all the blood-shed. Just a mile from Omaha Beach is the American cemetery where 9300 of those boys are buried. So many were just 18 or 19 years old. They never had a chance to get married, raise a family, or have a career. They left it all on Omaha Beach. If anybody ever gets the idea that freedom is free, tell them about Omaha Beach and the American cemetery there.
We Christians have a natural aversion to violence and war. Our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, was known as the Prince of Peace. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” In our personal relationships, we should make every effort to avoid violence. We should refuse to retaliate when offended, unless our lives or families are threatened. We should return good for evil.
However, the nation has a different mandate. St. Paul in Romans 13 taught that heads of state are authorized to “bear the sword, bringing punishment on the wrong-doer.” The heads of state must have people to discharge that responsibility. Thus, we have the biblical mandate for police forces and standing armies. Jesus was a realist. He taught that there would be “wars and rumors of war” until he returns in final victory. In this sin-marred world, freedom will always require the blood of patriots, and if we ever become unwilling to pay that price, freedom will perish.
In the midst of the American Civil War, John Stuart Mill made the following wise observation: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
Important as our armed forces are as America’s first responders, they are not our ultimate security. God is. The survival of any nation is based on its commitment to his values. The prophet Zechariah pointed to the real source of national security when he wrote, “’Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
Today over 70 percent of the American public believes that our nation is headed in the wrong direction. Hollywood has forgotten how to make a movie without profaning God’s holy name, and Hollywood turns a profit because church members pay the admission fee to see those movies. It is a tragic but true fact that America is the foremost producer of pornography in the entire world. The prophet Jeremiah could have been describing Americans when he wrote, “They have forgotten how to blush.”
Jesus defined marriage by saying, “Therefore a man will leave his mother and father and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Yet our Supreme Court has invented a different definition of marriage, and five unelected judges have decreed that 320 million Americans must accept it. That same Supreme Court has declared that an adult has the right to destroy an unborn baby if that baby is inconvenient. Yet the Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” In other words, every unborn baby is a work of God in the womb.
If a student in a public high school wants to write a term paper on Buddhism or deviant sexuality or witchcraft, his right to do so is carefully protected. But if he wants to do a term paper on Jesus, he is likely to encounter opposition.
Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham, claims that we switch the labels on sin to make it seem less serious.
We call lying, exaggeration; we call murder, the right to choose; we call fornication, cohabitation; we call homosexuality, gay; we call greed, ambition; we call lust, adult entertainment; we call profanity, adult language. We have learned that if you give something a more benign name, it seems less offensive, less serious, less sinful. But God is not fooled, nor is he mocked. Whatever a person or nation sows, that also is what a person or nation will reap.
God reigns over all nations. Those nations that support his purposes receive his blessings. Those nations that contravene his purposes end up on history’s junk heap. If you want to see the evidence, consider Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Saddam Hussein.
My hope and prayer is that a spirit of repentance will spread like a tidal wave across America in these critical months before Election Day. When George Washington was inaugurated as our first president, he got down on his knees and kissed the Bible. Then he led the entire Senate and House of Representatives to an Episcopal church for a two-hour worship service. And, thank the Lord, there is no record of the ACLU filing a lawsuit in protest.
Thomas Jefferson, the father of the separation between church and state, knew that belief in God is essential for the nation. He wrote, “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of God?”
God’s patience is long, but not inexhaustible. He is a just God who hates evil and judges all unrepentant sinners and nations. The most patriotic thing we can do during these coming months is to repent and pray for America.
Today we honor all members of the armed services, especially those who have given their lives in service to the nation. Even more important, we acknowledge that the nation’s ultimate security is Almighty God. As the psalmist declared, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
The Bible gives us God’s recipe for national health and renewal. It is found in the second book of Chronicles, and it is still our hope for 2016: “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
If we have ears to hear, let us hear. God bless America!
The Reverend Dr. William R. (Bill) Bouknight was born in Greenville, SC, June 20, 1941, son of the Rev. and Mrs. W.R. Bouknight, Jr. He was reared in Methodist parsonages all over South Carolina. His undergraduate and most of his seminary education were received at Duke University, with the final year of the Masters of Divinity work completed at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland). Afterward, Bill completed the Sacred Theology Masters (STM) at Yale Divinity School. In 1988, Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC conferred upon him the honorary D.D. degree.
Bill served five churches in South Carolina from 1966 until 1994. His longest tenure was twelve years as Senior Minister of Trenholm Road UMC in Columbia, SC. In 1994 he was appointed Senior Minister of Christ UMC, Memphis, TN. During Bill’s thirteen years in that position, over 4000 new members joined the church. Over one-third of them joined by profession of faith, rather than transferring to Christ Church from another congregation. In cooperation with a large African-American church in that city, Christ Church sponsored an annual interdenominational service in the Pyramid of Memphis early on Easter morning that attracted an average of over 15,000 worshippers. Those services were credited by city leaders as making a significant improvement in race relations. In June, 2007, Bill retired, having served 41 years in full-time ordained ministry, and moved back home to Columbia, SC.
Bill served twice as a delegate to United Methodism’s General Conference, and three times as a delegate to Jurisdictional Conferences. He is a recipient of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award, and was named the Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church for 2002 by the United Methodist Foundation for Evangelism. In 2008 he received the Philip Evangelism Award at the United Methodist Congress on Evangelism. Bill is a former chairman of the board of directors of the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church. For eight years he served as Associate Director of the Confessing Movement.
Bill served as a chaplain in the Army National Guard for 27 years, retiring in 1994 with the rank of Brigadier General.
He has written several books. Three recent ones are “The Authoritative Word: Preaching Truth in a Skeptical Age” (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2001), “Should Christians Always Oppose War, and 11 Other Questions Believers Ask” (Bristol House, Anderson, IN, 2004), and “If Disciples Grew like Kudzu” (Bristol House, 2007). Bill’s latest book, published in 2010 by Bristol House, is entitled “Five Beliefs Worth Dying For.”
Bill has been married to Gloria Pardee Bouknight for 42 years. They reside in Columbia, SC have two sons, Brad and Aaron. Bill’s hobbies are golf, quail and turkey hunting, reading, visiting historical sites, and dancing with Gloria.