The flag, the Bible, the cross, the ring, the badge, the collar... we are a country rife with symbols, literally wrapped and weighted with the pomp and pageantry of the many things we’ve chosen to identify our beliefs, our memberships and positions.
These symbols are designed to represent ideals, signify philosophies, advertise status, be unspoken statements. Those who wear, bandy, raise and wield them do so because they wish for their memberships, their affiliations, their support of the symbolized groups or ideals to be known.
“I’m a Christian. I’m a married person. I’m a priest. I’m a cop. I’m an American. I’m a…” and so on.
While many who subscribe to these symbols do so with authentic belief, honest dedication, and deep attachment to what’s being symbolized, not a day goes by when someone somewhere isn’t caterwauling about this or that symbol and how and why it should or shouldn’t be worn, waved, wielded or wasted. Given all the Sturm und Drang, we’d like to presume everyone involved understands what these symbols actually stand for. But there’s growing evidence to the contrary, particularly when the words and deeds of those defending those symbols contradict and sully their inherent message:
• When a religious book is held up as the “word of God,” as “scripture to live by,” while some who subscribe to it denigrate other religions, discriminate against and define certain groups as sinners, use it to judge and malign those who do not share their beliefs, all while breaking many of their own commandments.
• When men and women proudly wear wedding rings to signify their commitment to marriage violate and betray that commitment without compunction or thought to the damage inflicted on home and family. Sometimes those are the same people who carry that religious book around.
• When officers wearing badges and guns are sworn to “serve and protect” yet too often use the power of their position, their weapons, and their immunity to oppress, destroy, damage, and discriminate in the name of the law, disproportionately on the bodies and lives of people of color.
• When vaunted representatives of a church don the priestly collar to signify their status yet violate the very tenets of that church by sexually abusing members of the community (particularly children), oppressing women within the hierarchy, discriminating against LGBT members and punishing “sinners” with violence and lack of compassion.
• When a piece of material containing a certain arrangement of stars and stripes is vaunted as the height of patriotism by men and women who daily spew hate and fear, who use politics to divide, demean and enforce their religious beliefs while denigrating the beliefs of others, who marginalize and dismiss classes of people seen as “other,” and inflict and invoke violence against those who don’t subscribe to their view… all in the name of “American patriotism.”
The list goes on. We’re not unaware of the contradictions.
So how, we ask, when conscientious athletes “take a knee” in protest of racial injustice, an undeniable problem in this country, can anyone – particularly a Christian pastor who likely sports a crucifix round his neck and a Bible in his pocket ― think he’s “honoring America” (or God, for that matter) when remarking that those players “should ‘be thanking God’ they haven’t been ’shot in the head”?
How can a popular organization like NASCAR – whose team owners “threatened to fire anyone who kneels or protests during the national anthem” – hissy fit about that flag yet not enforce an outright ban on waving or bearing the Confederate flag, a brazen symbol of those who fought against America and its flag?
How can the purported “president of the United States” ― a man who makes his products overseas while spouting “America first!”; who compliments and excuses Nazis and white supremacists; who denigrates and disrespects Gold Star families and war heroes; who degrades and abuses women without shame; who endangers America and the world by taunting foreign enemies; who lies with impunity; who cheats and defrauds, and who, as mounting evidence shows, colluded, connived, and co-opted his very position with the aid of Russia, all while obstructing investigation into that crime – how can that man dare open his mouth, raise his voice, tweet his insipid objections, about the men and women peacefully protesting by not saluting a flag, by kneeling during an anthem? HOW?
There is no rational answer. It’s the height of hypocrisy; the narcissism of arrogance. In fact, the very people who appear most outspoken, most outraged, most aggrieved by the First Amendment exercises of those kneeling citizens, are often the same people who ― by their bigotry, their hate and fear; their small-mindedness and discriminatory practices – perpetuate the exact behaviors being protested.
Which includes the bandying of their own caustic symbols: Confederate flags, white hoods, Robert E. Lee statues, Trump uniforms and tiki torches; hate tweets, lynching memes, sexist posters, white supremacy hand signals, and burning crosses.
As for the American flag, the Stars and Stripes; the Red, White & Blue: it is only a symbol of patriotism if it is waved by people who are true patriots: people committed to the welcoming, inclusionary, open-hearted, non-discriminatory, freedom-for-all theme at the heart of this country’s identity.
If you are not that person, if you do not live by that philosophy, if you insist on waving hate and fear instead: sit down and shut up. Drop the act. We’re not buying it. We see through you. Lose the hyperbole. Cease the tweets, knock off the misguided outrage, and, for God and country’s sake, put down the American flag.
It doesn’t suit you.