I was one of those fortunate enough to attend the dedication of the Marine Corps Museum at Quantico — a beautiful structure rising out of the Virginia countryside in the shape suggestive of the famous image of the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. While I waited for the festivities to begin on that glorious autumn day, I was struck by the incredible camaraderie displayed by all of the Marines and former Marines.
An 85-year-old man sitting right behind me said, “I’ve been a Marine for sixty-seven years.” Once a Marine, always a Marine. He enlisted when he was 18, did his duty in the Pacific, came home, and built a life for himself. And here he was, halfway across the country, celebrating the opening of the museum.
Jim Lehrer, the PBS newscaster and a former Marine, was the day’s emcee, and he explained it well. “What’s important to understand about Marines,” he said, “is that they know that their safety depends on the person on their right and the person on their left.” You are bonded together in battle.
Then the question hit me: Why is it that the Church does not feel the way the Marines do?
Do we believe that our safety or our Christian faith depends upon the people in the pews on our left and on our right?
The story of Jason Dunham says it all. President Bush introduced Dunham’s parents, who received their son’s posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award.
Dunham, a corporal from upstate New York, was leading a squad of Marines in Iraq when they were ambushed by insurgents. During the hand-to-hand combat, Dunham leapt to place his helmet over a live grenade. Dunham’s bravery saved his friends — and cost him his life.
Why did he do it? To save the men serving under him. It was true heroic altruism — the one thing that Darwinian theories of natural selection can never account for. But would you or I be prepared to show what Jesus called no greater love? Would we lay down our lives for our Christian brothers?
As the various Marine battle flags were paraded in front of the dais, bearing names familiar to every Marine — Tripoli, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Fallujah — I know I wasn’t the only one in the crowd with my spine tingling, my chest swelling with pride in the heritage of the Corps.
But then I wondered how many Christians really understand the proud heritage of our faith; how the martyrs in the first century gave their lives to preserve the Gospel; how Christians through the centuries have championed great causes for the benefit of mankind: the abolition of slavery, the development of hospitals and universities, care for the poor, the protection of human life. We all remember Mother Teresa, of course, and some of the great missionaries, but how about the saints of bygone years? How about the Christians in the Roman Empire who gave their lives to tend the sick during the great plagues when pagan doctors fled?
The story of human history is a great cosmic battle between good and evil, a greater struggle than any war in human history. We’re engaged in it, and we’re on God’s side. What if we Christians had the same sense of loyalty, commitment, and responsibility for our heritage as do these proud Marines?
A nagging question in the midst of a glorious autumn day.