A forced patriotism is not patriotism. I see thousands of people on television celebrating their leaders, but its meaningless if not participating in these patriotic demonstrations may lead to abuse, arrest or even death. I cannot imagine how many hours those North Koreans must practice to put on their choreographed demonstrations for their Supreme Leader, but they mean nothing.
I grew up when the Berlin Wall was still standing. I remember well the fact that citizens of East Germany were locked inside their country. They would have loved to leave; they actually died trying to escape to freedom. I was proud of the fact that I and every other United States citizen wanted to be here. We were patriotic because we wanted to be patriotic. We were free and because of that freedom we stood erect and sang the National Anthem.
If this NFL rule stays in place, if players are fined for not acting patriotic on the field, it cheapens patriotism. When we have reached the point that an employer can demand that an employee act patriotic or suffer financial penalty, then those employers, not the players, but those employers are acting unpatriotic.
A group from the church attended a concert of the New Valley Singers. The pieces hailed from Mississippi. The director introduced “This little light of mine” with a story about Fannie Lou Hamer. She jumped numerous hurdles in order to vote in the Jim Crow South. When she finally registered to vote, her employer threatened to fire her and her husband if she did not back down. He used her employment status against her to protect his warped idea of patriotism. Instead of un-registering, Hamer became a civil rights activist and worked to sign-up thousands of other “unpatriotic” African-Americans in Mississippi. And at the end of all of her voting rights gatherings, she closed with the religious hymn “This little light of mine.” Faith inspired her to be truly patriotic. She was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by white supremacists and the police while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote, and it was her faith in Jesus that kept her strong.
There are serious issues behind “taking the knee.” We can’t paper over them and equate patriotism with “America - love it or leave it.” We need to be a country that treats equality and the rule of law as more than slogans. We need to face our problems and deal with them. Those are the hard questions of a real patriotism.
I believe fervently in what the Declaration of Independence professes: ““We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….” God is the source of human equality. Not government paper. Not even the loudest voices. Churches, therefore, need to stand up for a sincere patriotism that is offered because it is deserved. Churches need to be government’s conscience not cheerleader. When the government says, “You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem …,” and if you don’t then “you shouldn’t be in the country,” when employers can threaten employees for not being properly proud, then it’s time to have an honest talk about what patriotism really means, and to start sharing more deliberately “this little light of mine.”
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