Our church’s recent Christian Heritage Tour of Washington D.C. accomplished what I had hoped. Neither a vacation nor strictly a historical tour, the trip proved to be a genuinely spiritual experience.
Our tour guide, Rev. Tim Schmig, calls the tours he leads of the nation’s capital “Stories in Stone” for good reason. As we visited monuments and markers commemorating individuals and events from our nation’s past, we observed countless Bible verses and allusions to faith carved in stone. We saw at Mt. Vernon, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Capital Building, the Supreme Court Building, and Arlington Cemetery inscriptions – too often overlooked – that proclaim and preserve for Americans the fact that this nation was founded on biblical principles by men guided by religious convictions. These markers all communicate the story of God’s grace and providence in American history.
There was one monument we visited that seemed somewhat out of place on this tour. Opening in 2004, the National World War II Memorial is newer than the other sites we toured. The memorial consists of 56 granite pillars surrounding a plaza with two triumphal arches on opposite sides. The arches signify the two fronts of the global conflict. Most arresting is the Freedom Wall on the west side, covered with over 4000 gold stars, each representing 100 American servicemen who died in the war. A bold inscription proclaims, “Here we mark the price of freedom.”
What made visiting this monument out of place for a Christian Heritage tour was the absence of any spiritual references anywhere on the monument. There were no allusions to Scripture, no prayers, not even any moral statements about the righteousness of the cause. How much truer to the facts of history would this monument be were President Franklin Roosevelt’s D-day Prayer, which was broadcast by radio live to the nation on June 6, 1944, inscribed near or on the Atlantic arch. Or how appropriate would be on the Pacific arch General Douglas MacArthur’s famous “I have returned” speech which proclaimed to the people of the Philippines on October 20, 1944, “By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil… The hour of your redemption is here… The guidance of divine God points the way.”
Originally, I attributed the absence of any spiritual references on this monument to simple oversight on the part of a few people who perhaps, contrary to the vast majority of the greatest generation, possess a purely secular mindset and fail to appreciate the importance of faith. But I was mistaken. The monument’s glaring defect was purposeful. It has been noted by others, and efforts have been made to correct it. In 2013, a U.S. senator introduced the World War II Memorial Prayer Act directing the Department of the Interior to install a suitable inscription of FDR’s D-Day prayer. The bill was met with fierce opposition. Some actually argued that including FDR’s prayer would be an insult to veterans. (As if the American soldiers who landed on Normandy beach were offended by it.) Sadly, there are many today that would prefer an American history and heritage sanitized from any religious influence, and who work toward that end.
In spite of all the opposition, the bill to add FDR’s prayer actually passed both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by President Obama. However, though years have since passed, the adjustment to the monument remains “under development.” The history portrayed at the World War II Memorial remains incomplete.
American founding father Benjamin Franklin wisely observed that “half a truth is often a great lie.” To report the events of American history while omitting the influence of the Christian faith is to distort or misrepresent the actual record. To exclude Christianity’s place in the story of America is, quite frankly, to tell a great lie.