Time to re-think the poppy?

by Richard on October 30, 2013

Two years ago, Kim wrote of the red poppy

As an American ex-pat who has lived in the UK for 40-odd years, I have watched with dismay over the decades as Brits have relentlessly adopted some of the seedier and sinister elements of American character and culture. And now the stately red poppy has been infected with a virulent strain of our vainglory and vulgarity.
In the lead-up to Remembrance Sunday, evidently one cannot appear on television without wearing the emblematic flower, even foreign nationals. Once a modest and multivalent symbol of grief/sacrifice/patriotism, the red poppy has become a badge of enforced and/or servile conformity and ostentatious nationalism (a flag-substitute really), and celebrities even wear it as a lavish and (I’m afraid) tasteless fashion statement.

This year, those words have come home to roost, as a minor media storm rages over a Methodist minister’s refusal to wear a red poppy at a Remembrance Sunday service.

Patricia Jackson told other clergy that she would be happy to sport a white poppy during the proceedings on Remembrance Sunday, but will not wear a red one.
Her decision has upset many parishioners at Hadley Methodist Church in Telford, Shropshire, who claimed that the American-born priest ‘doesn’t seem to realise’ the importance of the poppy.
Ms Jackson, who calls herself ‘Rev PJ’, last week told local councillors it was her ‘democratic right’ not to wear the poppy when conducting the service on November 10.
She did not give a reason for her refusal at the time, but a spokesman for the church said it was because Ms Jackson is an advocate of peace.

I normally would follow convention and wear a poppy, but this year I’m reconsidering. If we’ve really got to the point where it is not possible to preside at worship sans poppy without being bullied and vilified, it is time to give it up.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }


Bob Gilston 10.30.13 at 6:47 pm

The article also went on to say “However, today locals suggested that if Ms Jackson was unwilling to wear the poppy along with most of the congregation, she should not be leading the remembrance service.”

It’s sad that Rev PJ and the local people have created an unnecessary misunderstanding over the whole issue of the red poppy.

I don’t believe Richard that you will not wear the poppy just to make a point. The occasion is far to important to start fighting Rev PJ’s corner.

It’s wrong that she is being bullied and villified because of her decision to wear a white poppy instead of a red one. But did she really need to go there?


Richard 10.30.13 at 7:34 pm

The trouble is, we never really get the whole story on these things. The way I read it, Rev PJ never intended to ‘go there’ - she certainly isn’t the first Methodist minister to conduct a remembrance service without wearing a poppy. Someone has chosen to make a big deal of this, but I doubt it will have been the minister herself! Yes, the poppy is a symbol of remembrance. But it’s also a symbol of having donated to the RBL: if I make a charitable donation, should I expect to be vilified for choosing not to advertise the fact?


ee 10.30.13 at 7:42 pm

I grew up being taught that the main message of the poppy was to honour sacrifice and say ‘never again’ to war. I agree with the points that Kim makes, but isn’t it better to wear it and restate this part of the meaning, than by alienating the congregation by not wearing it?


astar 10.30.13 at 8:56 pm

it is very shame that the person that took this to the papers only did because the person does not want PJ at the church full stop. she has not worn the poppy for the last 3years because of her reasons its a shame that she is now being held up in hiding with her very young nephew all because of this one persons view on removing her from the church! where is the real christian values gone.


Kim 10.30.13 at 9:08 pm

During my time as a URC minister, I’ve taken over 50 Remembrance Sunday Services, including a few at Richard’s former Sketty Methodist Church (that’s throwing in evening worship — and I never missed morning worship — too important for the congregation — and too important as an act of witness to the Prince of Peace). I also never wore a poppy, red or white. If asked, I would explain why I didn’t — that at Christian worship promoting any cause or organisation other than Jesus Christ and his church is inappropriate — and it never caused a kerfuffle. And even as I used the occasion to preach pacifism — Christological pacifism, biblically explicated, of course — and pray for our enemies, and grieve the loss and waste, and re-commit ourselves to peace-making — and more and more urgently and passionately as the years passed — I don’t think I ever caused offence, not least because I always also tried to honour soldiers who had fought in wars in good conscience, and civilians who had supported wars in good conscience. It takes a combination of sensitivity and integrity, sure — and mutual respect — but then that shouldn’t be rocket science for any Christian minister, should it? Jeez, if I can manage it …

Do I need to add that any conduct of Christian worship that is basically an act of cheer-leading for (God-is-on) our side isn’t — isn’t Christian that is? If I do, consider it done.

Oh — and thanks, Richard, for the re-post. And — wow! — I actually still stand by everything I said — in spades.


Richard 10.31.13 at 4:13 pm

>> “If asked, I would explain why I didn’t — that at Christian worship promoting any cause or organisation other than Jesus Christ and his church is inappropriate”

I’m not entirely sure I agree with you. Are you saying that ministers should never wear badges? Or only when they’re at worship? That sounds uncharacteristically dualistic…


Kim 10.31.13 at 6:03 pm

Certainly at worship. I think ministers leading worship is a special case. As it happens, however, I never wear any “badges”, at any time, any place. I can imagine ministers wearing badges to support causes that are dear to them in the gospel. But then I think it’s they who’ve got problems with “dualism”. For example, at election time, with a political party they think is gospel-friendly, compared another they think is actually quite gospel-hostile: if they wear (say) a red (US: blue) badge in public, why not wear it when they lead worship?

I’ve even wrestled with myself over formally supporting movements within the church on issues about which I have strong thoughts and feelings, because I don’t like the whole idea of normalising interest/pressure groups within the body of Christ. In two cases, however, I have given my support by being a paid-up member: Clergy against Nuclear Arms and LGCM. Still, I would never wear a badge. I simply try to let my words and actions, without explicit reference, (if you like) manifest the manifesto.


Kim 11.01.13 at 12:01 am


I think I just spotted the first person on telly not wearing a red poppy: on Question Time, Paris Lees, the Gay Times journalist who self-identifies as a bisexual transgender woman. It clearly takes a person of quite nonconformist and radical views to go poppy-less on television. Of course the alternative reading is that what else but that a goddamn pervert would be unpatriotic.


Kim 11.08.13 at 12:38 am

Another no-poppy on Question Time tonight: the author and poet — and anti-war activist — Benjamin Zephaniah.

Ten years ago, when an OBE was in the wind, Zephaniah said: “Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word ‘empire’ … Benjamin Zephaniah OBE — no way Mr. Blair, no way Mrs. Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.”

John McCrae, the author of “In Flanders Fields”, was, needless to say, a zealous supporter of empire and the war effort (though, interestingly and importantly, he wrote the poem in May 1915, at a bullish time before the scale and futility of the mass carnage would lead to the disillusion, despair, and scathing critiques of the later war poets).


Mark Byron 11.08.13 at 4:33 pm

I haven’t watched British TV, but Canadian TV (we get the CBC on our cable and I like their 10PM The National newscast) has the same rash of red poppies on nearly everyone. There is a queasy conformity to that, as if you had to wear one lest you dis the fallen vets’ memory and does remind me (like with Kim) of a Anglo version of wearing a flag lapel pin in times of high patriotism.

This is another one where Kim and I are on the same page, albeit for slightly different reasons.

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