Awash in Foolishness

My response to the whole NFL national anthem controversy is decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I have a visceral reaction: who are these spoiled brats making more money in one year than either I or anyone reading this blog will make in a lifetime? What do they really have to protest? What’s “wrong” with the words of this anthem?

I’m an American historian who deeply appreciates the Founding of this nation—its Biblical framework of thinking and its overall goals. I also believe that despite the sins and/or problems of its past, America has tried valiantly to correct many of those missteps and has been more of a beacon of hope to the world than any other nation one can name.

Two world wars ended because of America’s reluctant participation in both; the Soviet empire crashed and burned under American pressure and the Cold War came to a satisfactory conclusion.

So, yes, it disturbs me to witness professional football players who bask in the glow of athletic fame, and who draw rather obscene salaries in light of what they actually produce for the nation, decide to disrespect the nation that gave them this opportunity.

On the other hand, as a Christian, I don’t equate national pride with sacredness. The Constitution, while remarkable and worthy of our esteem, is not on the same plane as Scripture. The flag, while a vibrant symbol of what America says it stands for, is not the emblem of the heavenly kingdom. The Star-Spangled Banner, thrilling as it is when one knows its history, is not the banner of eternity.

Then there’s another factor thrown into the mix that makes it all even more mixed up: Donald Trump.

The protests were already an issue before Trump entered into the cultural battle, but, as usual, his words turned a smoldering burn into a blazing fire. By using his bully pulpit to denounce the protesters and call for their firing, he misused the office he has been granted by the voters.

In my mind, there is this comparison that is always present: Trump vs. Reagan. I ask myself how Reagan would have handled such a situation and, from what I know of his character and history, I come away thinking that he would have defused it with his humor and adult behavior. Not so Trump. Adult behavior, in his case, is rarely witnessed.

Those last two paragraphs will raise the ire of Trump defenders, I know. Yet I can’t help but wonder why he won’t simply attend to the weightier issues he was elected to deal with and avoid getting involved in lesser controversies.

It always comes down to character, or the lack thereof.

Due to Trump’s involvement, the protests increased, and now no one really knows if those protests are against the anthem itself or against a president who unwisely inserted himself into the foolishness.

Foolishness. I guess that’s the word that stands out to me as I survey this mess. The NFL players who are protesting are foolish. The president of the United States is being foolish. We are awash in foolishness.

Christians, this message is for you: don’t get carried away by any of this. Focus instead on the eternal. Pray for all those invested in this foolishness, on both sides. Pray that knowledge, understanding, and wisdom may prevail—for the sake of what has been, historically, the best country on the globe.

How About a Display of Gratitude Instead?

What does this flag mean? Why do we salute it? Is it appropriate to do so or should we hold it in contempt because not everything that has happened under this banner has been perfect?

american-flag

A Christian knows that citizenship in any nation is a temporary condition. We are, as the Scripture famously affirms, strangers and pilgrims on this earth. Yet we are also told to pray for whatever nation we live in and do all we can to help it conform to Biblical principles, in society at large and in the government.

This flag, and the national anthem that accompanies it in public venues, is now being disparaged in an unprecedented manner. I hold up no nation nor any of its symbols as sacred in the same sense as I revere God and His ways. However, I am to appreciate the good that has been done in a nation and honor its symbols.

The United States, despite its manifold problems throughout its history (and I know something about that history), has been one of the greatest forces for good that the world has ever witnessed.

The current controversy centers on slavery. Let’s review.

When has slavery never existed in the history of the human race? You have to search hard and long to find any place that has never had this institution, in one way or another. Why not, instead, acknowledge that the English-speaking world, both Britain and America, led the way in the banning of slavery?

You say that prejudice continued even after slavery was banned? Again, I ask this: where, in the history of the world—and even today—has prejudice not reared its head? It’s part of the human condition called sinfulness. Why not, instead, look at the efforts of this country, in particular, to minimize the natural prejudices that arise?

francis-scott-key-on-shipThe Star Spangled Banner is now under attack as racist. Why? Consider the history of the anthem. The author, Francis Scott Key, was on a ship in Baltimore’s harbor attempting to arrange a prisoner exchange. He had to wait through the night to continue the negotiations. He feared that Ft. McHenry, which blocked the British entry into the city, would fall. When he awoke the next morning and saw the flag still waving over the fort, he was inspired to write.

The third verse, in context, speaks of how the British have sought to wipe out the land of the free and the brave by the use of hirelings (remember the Hessians in the War for Independence?) and slaves. The latter were promised their freedom if they would come over to the British side and fight. The exact words are these:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, that the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion a home and a country shall leave us no more? Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, and the Star – Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I see nothing obviously racist in those words when taken in context. It’s a simple statement of fact at that moment in our history.

francis-scott-keyKey himself is also being attacked because he was a slaveholder. Yes, he was, as were George Washington and many other luminaries in those early years. Those who disparage all the Founders overlook the desire most of them expressed to find a way to wipe out slavery once and for all. They also overlook the possibility that some slaveholders were kind to their slaves and even freed some of them when they had the opportunity to do so.

Francis Scott Key was one of those. Key was a committed Christian who despised the slave system he was born into. He believed slavery was wrong in principle and did free some of his slaves. As a lawyer, he took cases on behalf of slaves seeking their freedom. One of his contemporaries even said he was “ready to brave odium or even personal danger in their behalf.”

Key didn’t advocate for mass emancipation all at once because he didn’t see how that would work. As with many of his fellow citizens at the time who worked to end slavery, he favored a gradual merging of freed slaves into the culture and the economy.

Some fault Key for his support for the colonization movement, which sought to send freed blacks to Africa to set up their own government there. That did happen, by the way. That nation is known as Liberia. Many prominent Americans joined that movement. Some did so for racist reasons, hoping to create an America with a wholly white population. Others, though, such as James Madison (The Father of the Constitution) and Abraham Lincoln, lent their support because they thought it would be best for blacks who might find it difficult to enter successfully into a society dominated by those with a British/European heritage.

Calling all supporters of the colonization movement racists is a gross stereotype that doesn’t stand historical scrutiny.

America, throughout its short history, by comparison with other empires, has demonstrated to the world that representative government can work, even when it is messy.

America has come to the aid of the world by standing up to the tyrannies of fascism and communism.

America has, by law, thrown out ancient prejudices and attempted to place all citizens on an even playing field.

America has offered opportunities to the descendants of slaves that few nations have ever achieved. Does a racist society elect a black president? Does it pay black football players millions of dollars for athletic skills because it is racist?

Then those same individuals who have been so blessed decide to make a public protest over what they consider to be a racist society?

Colin Kaepernick and others on the various NFL teams will make more money this year than I will make in my lifetime.

Should I protest? Should I reject my nation because I’m being treated unfairly? I mean, I can make a case that what I do as a university professor is far more valuable than what they do when they play their games.

We need more historical common sense and less manufactured outrage. Displays such as these public protests only help bring us down as a nation. We need to pull together and show gratitude for what the blood and toil of previous generations have handed to us.