White poppies for Armistice Day, says British think tank

A leading British religious think tank is asking Christians to wear white poppies symbolising Christ's peace as well as "politically correct" red ones for tomorrow's Armistice Day commemoration.

Writing yesterday in the largest Church of England newspaper, the Church Times, director of the religious think tank Ekklesia, Jonathan Bartley, suggests that the white poppy is far more in keeping with Christianity than the red variety.

The red poppy has been a part of Armistice or Remembrance Day ritual since the early 1920s and in Australia it has also become popular in wreaths used on ANZAC Day.

Mr Bartley says the idea of an alternative white poppy dates back to 1926, just a few years after the red poppy came to be used in Britain and Australia. However, since 1933, those wearing white poppies have often been accused of causing offence.

Last year, Baptist minister Andrew Kleissner hit the headlines by suggesting that the white poppy be worn alongside the traditional red one at his church in Ipswich. This week, controversy broke out in Canada over a peace group's decision to sell white poppies.

"Such controversies, the recent debate over the display of religious symbols in public, and the church's opposition to the war in Iraq, all bring the issue to the fore," says Mr Bartley.

"The Christian tradition, and specifically the crucifix, have a great deal in common with the poppy. Both are linked to sacrifice. Both take a location of bloodshed and violence and make a statement about it. And both attempt to give us hope in the face of death.

"They imply that those who died did not do so in vain", Mr Bartley writes.

"But whilst apparently banned from wearing one symbol of hope (the cross), public figures in Britain are simultaneously urged, indeed in many cases, required, to wear another (the red poppy) - almost as an article of faith.

"There is a political correctness about the red poppy, which often goes unnoticed."

But Mr Bartley says there is a difference between the red poppy and the crucifix, which makes the white poppy "more Christian" than the red variety.

"Whilst the red poppy implies redemption can come through war, the Christian story implies that redemption comes through nonviolent sacrifice," he said.

"The historical alignment of churches with Governments and the national interest has meant that churches have often giving their blessing to war. However as was seen over their widespread opposition to the invasion of Iraq, churches are increasingly willing to oppose military action, as churches become less aligned with both the state and British culture.

"Whether you are from a 'Just War', or a pacifist tradition, Christians believe that there is no redemption in war," he said.

He says churches in their remembrance services should offer people the choice alongside red ones.

"The crucial question is not whether we should remember. The question is how we should remember. And how we answer this question affects not just the memory of those who died, but those who are still dying in wars around the world," Mr Bartley said.

Update and correction

Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow has written to CathNews to correct our earlier story which had said that the white poppies were to be worn as an alternative to the red ones.

"We are NOT calling on people to wear white poppies instead of red ones," Mr Barrow writes, "but to make white ones available as well.

"This is important, because, though we question the way the symbolism of the red one has been used (and its virtually compulsory nature), we do not wish any disrespect at to those who wear it, or to the work of the organisations the red poppy raises money for. Both the co-directors of Ekklesia (myself and Jonathan Bartley) will be wearing both.

"And Jonathan is pictured in today's [Friday's] UK Daily Telegraph doing so. Unfortunately two newspapers mischievously suggested that it was an either-or we were putting forward. We would be very grateful if you could point this out," Mr Barrow concludes.

Violent solutions not 'normal' but mythic, says theologian (Ekklesia, 9/11/06)
A time to remember, but should we wear a more 'Christian' white poppy or a 'PC' red? (Daily Telegraph, 10/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
The Red Poppy - History

White is not right! (Dorset Echo, 10/11/06)
Canadian war veterans attack peace activists over white poppies (Ekklesia, 8/11/06)
Newsreader Jon Snow condemns 'poppy fascism' (Ekklesia, 9/11/06)
White Poppies Upset Some Veterans (VUE Weekly 10/11/06)

10 Nov 2006