Protesting by taking a knee? Should it be done?
No matter how you feel about the current debate over whether the USA flag and anthem are worthy targets of protest, it would do us some good to take a calming breath and recall the cost of liberty our founders paid to allow us to engage in such debates. I do not believe the debate should be about whether public sports figures should be allowed to use those symbols as targets of their protest; rather, I believe we should collectively ask the more direct question: Are the United States flag and national anthem proper targets of those protests?
The United States is far from perfect, and it has plenty of “sins” on its national soul, such as slavery; however, this experiment in giving individuals personal liberty (the first of its kind in history) is a precarious construct–it can easily be lost if we do not collectively respect the freedoms we do hold. The founders, as imperfect as they were (some were slave holders), intended this nation to be governed by the people and for the people. The flag and the national anthem are symbols of the founder’s desire to build this nation upon the people. To disrespect the flag and the anthem is to disrespect the very ideas upon which this country was founded. The flag and the anthem are not holy; they are not sacred things that deserve adoration or worship; yet, they represent the system we are striving to make fairer and those symbols deserve respect.
Not everyone feels as if our system of government is working for them, and therein lies the truly important issue. We must strive to find ways to make our nation work for all people, and yet the system our founders created allows us to do that. We can only do that if we look at each other as neighbors and fellow citizens. Let us not forget the strides we have made. An African-American was elected President (twice), and a woman came within a whisper of becoming President in 2016. Liberty is a messy business, and yet that is what the USA is all about, and the flag/anthem are the symbols of the history-making cause to provide liberty to everyone.
The American Revolution was a historical and horrific struggle for the cause of liberty. People of that day felt that personal freedom was critical, to the point of being willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause. Many mothers and fathers on each side of the Atlantic Ocean lost sons and daughters in that struggle. Siblings lost siblings; wives lost husbands; in some cases, husbands lost wives, and it was devastating for millions.
Tom Brokaw, best known as an American television journalist, wrote the book, The Greatest Generation. The book is an important work centering on the incredible heroes who fought in World War II; our nation owes those people a substantial debt. However, those who fought for independence for this country receive little attention in our current culture. People today stand almost 240 years removed from the early struggles our Founding Fathers and heroes endured to construct a land and government that allowed its citizens to live in liberty. There can be no doubt about the authentic greatness of the citizens living then; however, that generation would not have existed had this nation never been formed through the blood, pain, and sacrifices made by the people who fought the American Revolution.
Our existence as a nation did not look obvious when viewed from revolutionary battlefields. We lost many conflicts during the war, and throughout much of the early years, our army was a mess, without sufficient weapons, uniforms, clothing, shelter, food, or men to help fight. Our old brothers and sisters fought against all the odds, and for a brief time it looked like those who died might have died in vain. Nevertheless, in the heart of those founders was the desire to be free, to choose his or her destiny, to use the gift of free will that God gives each person. Our ancestors nurtured a deep desire for liberty, yet it seems that our culture has erased that passion. Brokaw’s work reminds us that liberty does not come free—men from this nation’s early days understood the tenuous nature of freedom:
“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” [James Madison, speech at the Virginia Convention, 1783]
“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”
[Samuel Adams, 1779]
Patrick Henry’s speech in the House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775, is well known. The House was trying to decide whether they should mobilize against the British forces. Henry supported facing the British in battle, as the following excerpt from his speech reveals:
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, “Peace! Peace!” — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! [Patrick Henry – 03/23/1775]
Furthermore, let us not forget the horrific Civil War the USA fought. While there existed many economic and political issues resulting in that horrendous war, in the end the moral cause of freeing slaves won out. More than 600,000 people of this nation died in those battles, from combat, starvation, disease and accidents. Recall that in those days the United States had a total population of approximately 31,000,000–which is less than one-tenth of today’s census, and those who died comprised two-percent of the full population. To put this into perspective, if the Civil war was waged today, and the percentages (and conditions) of numbers who participated and died remained the same, we would see 6,600,000 people die. That is a massive statement of support for the high ideal of human freedom. In truth, free societies, while they have existed through history, are quite rare and it remain critical that each USA generation learn (and relearn) these lessons.
I dare say that most Americans have learned about the Liberty Bell, and that it is one of this nation’s iconic symbols of liberty; however, I also dare say that most do not know what is inscribed on its surface, as follows:
“PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND
UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV. XXV X.”
That inscription is a quote from the Old Testament (Leviticus 25:10). In those days, people cherished freedom and God. Can we say the same?
DOES GOD WANTS US TO BE FREE
In this fallen and sinful world, we must always remember that freedom is a gift—we must not confuse liberty with equality, they are not the same. The Bible does indeed teach that God created all humans in His image and likeness; therefore, before God every person (created in His image and likeness) are equal. We must not confuse being equal before God as being a higher order than the freedom that God gives to every person.
At the root of every individual and soul is the God-given right to be free, to choose our way, whether that way is ultimately sinful or righteous. The classic Biblical example of this is the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 1-2). God gave Adam and Eve a firm command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They chose to disobey God and fell into the trickery of Satan. They ate of that tree, which bound them to the consequence of required physical death for them and for every person after them. A critical point in the account is that God gave Adam and Eve full freedom. They had the ability to choose good or evil. They chose evil; they opted to disobey God, and we have seen the horrors that have fallen upon humanity ever since that fateful choice by our first parents. Ultimately, God desired paradise for Adam and Eve and gave them significant bliss in the Garden, yet sin came into the world through free because God respects our freedom. He will not stop us from doing evil—He wants our love and acceptance to be a free choice. In the New Testament, we see the importance of individual freedom:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. [Galatians 5:1 RSV-CE – Italics and bolding added]
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
[2 Corinthians 3:17 RSV-CE – Italics and bolding added]
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. [Romans 8:18-21 RSV-CE – Italics and bolding added]
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” [John 8:31-32 RSV-CE]
As an example revealing what God desires for us, think about the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. God set His Chosen People free from tyranny and slavery brought upon them by Pharaoh. However, many people do not know that at one time in history, Egyptians had embraced the Jewish people and had welcomed them into their land; the Jews were not always slaves of the Egyptians. Over time, Egyptian rulers forgot history—they enslaved the Jews. God desired that his people be free, for it is only through true freedom can a person rise to the heights that God intends for them. In that account, we see that freedoms can be lost slowly, without notice by those being slowly enslaved.
It is my hope that more people will begin to cherish the freedoms we have—history shows we must not take our liberty for granted.
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[Excerpts taken from my book: Catholics: It is our Fault]