Patriotism and Civil Protests

From the pastor…

All of the consternation in our country around football players kneeling or standing during the national anthem has caught my attention. I have had several conversations with members of our church around this issue. I have read the Facebook posts of many of you who are passionate about this issue.  The public debate has got me thinking, which is a good thing.

I like ritual, especially those that serve to draw us together. I like this patriotic ritual, all Americans standing for the National Anthem at a sporting event. It unifies us as a people, at least in that moment. We can be a united people even with different skin colors, economic classes, geographic regions, religions, and politics. Singing together the same anthem reminds all of us that what separates us should not divide us. We can be one, Americans and as one we can work for the common good of all.

My faith in Christ calls me to care deeply for those on the margins of our society, the voiceless. Thus, I respect not just the right of protest but this protest against racism led by some of the NFL players during the anthem. Racism is alive and well in America. Because there is no slavery, Jim Crow laws, deed restrictions, etc…it is easy for people that look like me to convince ourselves that racism has been fixed. The players protest reminds me that this is not so, and honestly I need the reminder.

I grieve the hyperbolic language of the debate. One commentator in defense of the protest said the National Anthem itself is a racist hymn. I am not sure what he meant by that. Racist people have surely sung it. The country that it honors surely has wrestled from it’s birth with racism. Yet, he seemed to be saying something else, that I found disconcerting. That the issue of racism was bigger than the capacity of our country to solve. His anger spoke to a  hopelessness that I reject. Other observers upset over the protest seemed equally as angry in their passion. From them, I heard that if an NFL player doesn’t want to stand for the anthem he should be fired, ejected and I even heard one say kicked out of the country. Kneeling, instead of standing, does not seem quite so offensive to me as to warrant those sorts of repercussions…or that sort of anger. Their anger seemed less about the disrespect of the ritual and more about the protesters themselves.

A civil protest is supposed to draw us into discussion as a country. The Charlottesville protests a few weeks ago that turned violent did this about racism. This protest has drawn us into a discussion, too, but the discussion seems more about patriotism than racism-the original intent of the kneeling protest to begin with. What is the right way to honor the anthem? How much divergence are we allowed as citizens? Who gets to decide this?  How do we punish/correct those who diverge past the expected norm? These seem to be the underlying questions I have heard debated this last week. Answers to these questions, I have less wisdom to share. I do wish we could debate them in public in a way that draws us together rather than breaks us apart. Afterall, isn’t that the point of standing for the anthem in the first place?

Peace, Pastor Karl

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