I was at a high school homecoming event the other day. To start the event, the administrator instructed everyone, “You will stand for the national anthem.” Always before, the invitation was, “Please join us in standing for the playing of our national anthem.”
The difference between instruction and invitation was not lost on me.
When it comes to the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance, I understand and appreciate the respect given to these symbols of our national ideals. Even more, I appreciate the freedom to participate or not, to stand or not, to put my hand over my heart or not, to recite or sing the words or not.
I appreciate these freedoms because I chafe at being told what I will do. After all, I am an adult (and I’m not employed by the institution I attended the other day).
So, did I stand?
I did. And I analyzed why the entire time.
Why did I stand?
Most of the time, I think we stand for the national anthem because it’s what we always do, because everyone else is, and because someone said, “Please stand for the national anthem.” So, we do.
Colin Kaepernick changed that. Not right away, but the ripple effect of his simple and nonviolent protest (ironically placed at the beginning of violent entertainment) has resulted in the ongoing and growing protest in our midst.
Can a “patriot” really take a knee?
If the ideals we hold so dear cannot withstand some of our citizens taking a knee in the presence of the symbols of those ideals, then what we hold so dear is not worth honoring.
You may need to read that again.
If football players and owners and coaches so disrespect this thing we call “America” by taking a knee during the national anthem, then our beloved America is weak indeed.
Do we really want to insinuate our own weakness by decrying and prohibiting the freedom to protest?
Why did I stand, and why am I likely to continue standing?
Why I’ll stand
I stand because I still believe the basic ideals to which we aspire as Americans are admirable and worth championing.
I will stand in recognition that one of those ideals is the freedom to call into question the practices of a nation that proclaims freedom for all and the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while systematically denying those ideals to some citizens simply on the basis of something like skin color.
I will stand to allow those to kneel who want to wake us up and grab our attention by breaking from custom, by deviating from the expected norm, by not bowing to mass behavior.
I will stand in hope that someday soon, all of us will be able to stand together because we really do embody, as best we can, our most noble ideals.
But I will not stand because I’m told to stand.
And I will not stand mindlessly.
You shouldn’t either.
Eric Black is pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington, Texas, and a member of the Baptist Standard Publishing board of directors.