When I was 15 years old, I made a decision. I quit saying the pledge of allegiance; I stopped putting my hand over my heart and singing the national anthem. I stood in silent protest. There was nothing controversial about it. In fact, nobody noticed.
There are many moments in our history that make me proud of my country, but America hasn’t always lived up to its philosophical ideals — and somewhere in my 15-year-old heart, I knew that.
The key to any democracy is an engaged citizenry – engaged through voting, by exercising our freedom of speech, and by peaceful protest and resistance. If I am ever a “patriot,” it is in and through those actions.
Both my grandfathers were veterans of World War II. One of them was Floyd Monroe, a member of the Blackfoot tribe who fought for a country that killed his people and stole their land – not unlike all of the black men and women who have fought for a country that has, and is, still oppressing them.
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My grandfathers have passed away, so I can’t ask what they think of the protests by NFL players kneeling or sitting for the national anthem.
But for the last three years, I have had the opportunity to work with many military veterans across the country, and I can say that most of them understand why some players are taking a knee. Many even support it.
Saying the pledge or standing for the anthem is at best a symbolic act; neither is an essential nor an effective act of citizenship or patriotism. When I made my decision at 15, I wasn’t thinking of it as a protest. It was a decision of conviction which reflected my values and beliefs.
It wasn’t until I was a pastor that the subject ever came up. It came up when I removed the flag from the sanctuary of the churches I served. It is true that I live on the far-left theological edges of Christianity; nevertheless, my perspective on this subject remains deeply formed by my faith.
As a Christian, I don’t worship the Bible or the cross. I do not pledge my allegiance to either of them, or to anything. I try to model my life after the teachings of Jesus who invites me to see and honor the imago Dei, the image of God, in myself and every human being. This truth compels me to pledge my allegiance to one thing: to resist anything that dehumanizes by acting with love, kindness, compassion and justice.
A flag is a piece of cloth. It is worthy of our respect for what it represents and continues to aspire to be. But respect is something that is earned, and not just once, but over and over again, through a consistency of behavior.
Sometimes the people and things we love and respect most need a little “tough love.” A reminder that our respect isn’t inherent; it is earned.
In my opinion, this is a time when America needs a little of that tough love. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a time when she hasn’t.
I wish we’d stop watering down our patriotism by wrapping everything in the flag. We can start by eliminating the national anthem at professional sporting events.
I love football. I have played and coached it my whole life. But, football, like every other professional sport, is simply a game. It is entertainment and nothing more.
Maybe patriotism is finding a truer form in a bunch of citizens who are kneeling and sitting, peacefully calling us to be better. And that, my fellow Americans, is patriotism in its truest and most worthy form.
The right to kneel or stand is the very thing my grandfathers fought for. It is the very thing I’d be proud to have my own daughter or son fight for.
Celebrating and supporting that right? Well now, that is something I can stand and salute.
Tad Monroe of Tacoma is a consultant, storyteller and creative entrepreneur. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org