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A House Divided Should Try Kneeling

By Brig Cluff on August 13, 2020

If I give all I possess to the poor . . . but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It . . . is not easily angered . . . .

1 Corinthians 13:3-5 (NIV)

Dear Fellow Americans,

What happens to a nation when its people develop contempt for one another on the scale that we have recently reached in America?

When we look back upon ruinous generations of the past, we pity them, but we also marvel at their foolishness and depravity. Yet if we are headed for catastrophe, then future generations will surely view us in the same way. It is impossible to predict the outcome of our communal malevolence, but prudence, conscience, and pure gut-feeling suggest we ought to make a course correction before it’s too late.

In my 47 years, I have never felt so much racial and political strife as now. Our environment feels dangerously combustible, and the simmering controversy surrounding (mostly black) athletes and coaches kneeling in protest during the national anthem is a veritable powder keg.

If your heart is filled with contempt for the kneeling protestors, then regardless of whether the protestors are right or wrong, you have a serious problem. And because of the terrible depth and breadth of political contempt that currently predominates in our nation, we all have a serious problem–a national security problem.

It is true that both sides of the political divide have contempt in their hearts. Other communities should look into their own hearts, but this post is addressed primarily to my community.

Many Americans consider the kneeling protests to be nothing short of BLASPHEMY. That includes most members of my community, and many friends and family members. They are filled with righteous indignation over this perceived blasphemy. I empathize with with them, not only because they are my people, but because I too consider the flag to be a sacred symbol.

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima

I know and love these patriotic people, and I assure you that they are not merely patriotic; they are truly good people. Yet good people sometimes do bad things. Indeed, the worst atrocities are always committed by people who began with good intentions. My concern is that the righteous indignation, which animates these good people, is actually not as righteous as they suppose. And the terrifying thing about blasphemy is that it practically cries out for scorn, if not punishment, if not war.

I fear that the upcoming start of the NFL season could be a flashpoint. This article is intended to help people who are offended by the kneeling protests to see the protestors in a new and more loving light.

Many things divide us in America today, but the kneeling protests need not be one of them. I believe we could turn America’s volatility index down a few notches just by re-examining the way we look at these protests. To that end, I want to share an epiphany I experienced recently about the symbolic meaning of the much-maligned kneeling protests, and it is this: Kneeling for the national anthem does not signify contempt. To the contrary, kneeling is a sign of loyalty, respect, and reverence.

George Washington kneels in prayer.

When protesters kneel for the national anthem, they simultaneously honor America, and demand that she live up to the essential principle upon which she was founded, that “all men are created equal.” Kneeling is a peaceful, respectful, and effective protest.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .

Declaration of Independence

But you may say that the kneeling athletes do not mean to pay special respect to the flag, and that they really mean to do just the opposite. That may be true in some cases, but certainly not in all cases. And in any case, the fact remains that kneeling is an almost universally recognized sign of respect. If the kneeling protestors’ primary objective was to show contempt for America, don’t you think they could have come up with a contemptuous gesture?

Jealousy and disdain factor into this as well. Don’t these professional athletes already have everything? They are rich, famous, and beautiful. They get paid to play games. Even with all of that, their personal conduct is often deplorable. How dare they defile America’s flag? Such ingratitude is loathsome, right?

The Tuskegee Airmen

I beg you to check your outrage, and consider that although they may feel aggrieved, our black brothers and sisters love America, and we should love them. Moreover, their forefathers and foremothers deserve our solemn respect and gratitude, for we are in their debt, to say the least.

If the issue is whether professional athletes should be grateful for what they have, then I think the answer is certainly yes–because we should all be grateful for what we have, and professional athletes have more than most. But that is not the issue. Professional athletes should be grateful, but their privilege does not morally disqualify them from protesting.

The abundance enjoyed by professional athletes actually gives greater credence to their protests because they have much to lose. Their participation in these controversial protests shows courage, commitment, and selflessness. They are not protesting because America has not been good to them. No, they are protesting for the less fortunate members of their community. They are protesting because they believe it is the right thing to do, come what may. They are protesting because they are willing to sacrifice their fame, fortune and personal tranquility upon the altar of freedom to help bring America closer in reality to the righteous ideals upon which she was founded. Maybe, just maybe, they are protesting to fulfill a sacred patriotic duty.

In one of the less-well-remembered portions of his towering “I Have a Dream” address, Martin Luther King, Jr. said it perfectly:

Martin Luther King, Jr.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream, delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.

If we want our exceptional nation, which was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” to long endure, then let us now rededicate ourselves to America’s inspired founding principles and to the unfinished work of our American heroes.

Abraham Lincoln

In paying homage to those who gave their lives at the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln said:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, delivered November 19, 1863 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

If you are offended by the kneeling protests, then try reconsidering them in the light in which I have here portrayed them. The collective righteous indignation of the American people with respect to the kneeling protests is dangerously susceptible to incitement. Let us reverse this rising animosity. The inspired words of Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address on the the eve of America’s first Civil War are ominously relevant today:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, delivered March 4, 1861.

We do not dishonor our American heroes, who sacrificed their lives for this country, by kneeling before her flag. No, we dishonor them by sinking into hateful contention with one another. Make no mistake, the discord that has infected our nation is an existential threat.

If we love America, then let us love one another. If we want to make America great, then let us cast aside our indignation, and unite with our fellow Americans.

Brigham A. Cluff