Saturday, June 6, 2020


Christian, and non-Christian, soldiers moved onward in a big way seventy-six years ago today. D-Day, June 6, 1944, was a pivotal moment in the Twentieth Century and one of the two great turning points (the other was the Battle of Stalingrad) of the Second World War. 

That war was not just another fight over territory or whatever. Of all the conflicts of modern history, World War II was the great clash of competing moral forces. The Nazi regime was arguably the most evil power of modern history. The Nazis directly killed at least fourteen million people; and they started a war that slaughtered at least sixty million. The misery and destruction they inflicted on mankind was incalculable.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was always a religious man, and one of the truest Episcopalians ever to inhabit the White House. In fact, in another life, he might have been a clergyman. Next to his mother, the Rev. Endicott Peabody, whom FDR revered as "Dr. Peabody," was the most important influence on FDR's early life. He was headmaster of Groton School when FDR was there. Too, he officiated at the Roosevelts' wedding. Guided by Peabody, FDR formed a lifelong love of God and of the Book of Common Prayer.

When the Second World War boiled up, FDR came to understand it as a moral crusade of good against evil and he struggled to steer an unwilling country onto the side of good which, by the summer of 1940, was Great Britain standing alone against a seemingly unstoppable Nazi war machine. Prime Minister Churchill was desperate to get the U.S. into the war against Germany. For the meanwhile, however, the two had to work around the edges. To encourage more American support, Churchill met FDR in the north Atlantic in August of 1941. Brilliant man that he was, Churchill organized a church service on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales, one that would appeal to FDR's religious sensibilities. Churchill chose the hymns and oversaw the service which was conducted by Church of England chaplains. "Onward Christian Soldiers" was one of the hymns. FDR was deeply moved. On the way home, he told aides, "We are Christian soldiers marching as to war." Find a video of the FDR-Churchill meeting here .

After the U.S. officially entered the war, FDR never wavered in his view of the great moral crusade of history. He saw the war as a titanic struggle of good against evil, one that the good would win but only at enormous sacrifice. As D-Day approached in 1944, FDR wrote a prayer himself, with some help from his daughter and son-in-law. On D-Day, he addressed the nation by radio and included his prayer. It was perfect for the occasion. It has gone down as one of the greatest public prayers of human history. Find an audio of it here .

Also on D-Day, King George VI addressed the British empire on the radio. He too saw the war as the great crusade of good against evil. Find the king's address here .

Cemeteries now dot the hills overlooking the beaches of Normandy. They are filled with the bodies of the brave soldiers who gave their lives in the great crusade against evil. To say we are forever in their debt would be an understatement. They saved all of us. They saved civilization.

And so, FDR, Chruchill, and the king were right. They were onward Christian soldiers. They were the side of right. They had to win that war. I will always believe God was there on the beaches of Normandy as I will always believe he remained in the minds and hearts of the great men who did their best to be His soldiers.

So, on this anniversary of one of the greatest days of human history, let us say a prayer of thanksgiving for all the forces that gave us the victory of good over evil all those years ago.

Remember friends, we are here for the living of this hour, just as those valiant men who hit the beaches of Normandy seventy-six years ago were there for the living, and dying, of that hour. Peace.


P.S. Confederate statues continue to fall. My jaw dropped this morning when I learned of the removal of Admiral Semmes from downtown Mobile AL. He had presided over Government Street for 120 years. On yesterday, the city government suddenly and quietly removed the statue and its markings to an undisclosed location. This is yet another "monumental" change in a city steeped in Confederate history. Find a video report of the Semmes removal here . I am now wondering how much longer John Calhoun will preside over Marion Square in Charleston.