Sometimes Calls for ‘Unity’ and ‘Conciliation’ Ask for Too Much

Written by Steve Pauwels on September 30, 2017

So, some NFL players are kneeling during America’s national anthem. What about those who “take a knee” while simultaneously placing their hand over their heart? A bit of a mixed signal, that one. Others stand, gripping the shoulders of those stooping near them. Of course, we mustn’t forget the personnel who do all of the above — or various combos thereof — at the same time linking arms with one another. At least one running back interrupted his knee-taking to stretch and run in place as the patriotic hymn rolled. Then there are those gridiron professionals who knelt, arms interlocked, before the “Star Spangled Banner” began — then leapt to their feet together once the music started. The point of which is …?

Has anyone, perchance, worked up a schematic to translate the significance of each iteration?

Under the banner of team solidarity or protecting the talent from a briefly awkward, politically-infused situation, a handful of squads opted to dodge the entire contretemps altogether. Whether by coach fiat or joint decision, they camped out in their locker rooms until the glorious tune’s final notes faded. Pittsburgh Steeler skipper Mike Tomlin’s sterilely understated explanation? “We’re not participating in the anthem today … to remove ourselves from this circumstance.”

There’s been a bright spot or two in the midst of the dismal spectacle. One occurred — at least momentarily — this past Sunday. While the entire Steeler bench loitered in the shadows, offensive tackle (and former Army Ranger/three-time Afghanistan veteran) Alejandro Villanueva broke with teammates, stepping out into the sunlight, ample paw raised to his chest.

The national response was electric: His No. 78 Jersey promptly became a best seller.

Then the six-foot-eight, three-hundred-twenty pound starter dumped on the whole episode: Before cameras the next day, he explained it was all a misunderstanding. ““Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally.”

Allrighty, then. How about we cancel those jersey orders …

This entire movement, recall, was sparked one year ago by former San Francisco 49er QB Colin Kaepernick’s virtue-signaling against purportedly institutionalized racism. More recently, among those comparatively few who bother vocalizing precisely what it is these shenanigans are protesting, many insist they’re not dissing the flag or our nation’s history or military. Instead, they clarify, it’s Donald Trump they’re poking.

His comments of a week ago, before a rocking throng of Trump-enthusiasts in Alabama, pushed them over the edge, they argue. Too “divisive”. Too contemptuous of First Amendment rights. Amidst the surge of sideline kneeling, gauzy declamations of “unity” swirled droningly. “It’s time for equality!” “He’s dividing the nation!”

Not much commentary from NFL ranks, meanwhile, about how “divisive” it is to disesteem the song that, for nearly two centuries, has rallied Americans to celebrate together what has been admirable about their Republic.

It’s the Leftist’s old Let’s-come-together-and-find-common-ground-exclusively-on-our-terms trope. Stop disagreeing with our viewpoint so we can all get along!

Those calls for compromise seem to always run one way …

No argument, the President’s profane, September 22 blast against the anthem-kneelers provided more of what Trump regrettably excels at: Boorishly manhandling a perfectly defensible public position — i.e., Francis Scott Key’s masterpiece deserves respect — and pummeling it into contention-addled mush. Flatly put, the Leader of the Free World ought not resort to fly-ridden language that has to be censored when reported by the media. Modern kids already get assailed with needless cursing and foulness from practically every precinct; it’d be nice if they could catch a few moments from the President without running into same.

Furthermore, it’s creepy for the individual standing most brashly behind the levers of American governmental power to be urging private business operators (NFL franchise owners, in this case) to cashier their employees (athletic talent.) Speak up for the respectability of the United States, by all means, Mr. Chief Executive. Deplore the actions of those insulting what is her best. But forgo the snarling “fire ’em” fulminations, please.

That said, although it was another Trump-bungled opportunity, the White House occupant’s instincts are spot on. The antics of the Sunday afternoon/Monday night kneelers are nothing short of a backhand to Uncle Sam. And spare me the too-cute-by-half nuances between the kneeling-but-hand-over-heart posture versus the no-hand-on-heart-but-arms-linked choice versus …

Keeping it straightforward: Is the anthem being broadcast? Off your rump (or knees). Palm reverently to the breastbone. Sing along for extra credit. Demonstrate at least bare-bones respect for the country that affords you the right to make a living – and oh, what a living! — playing a game. Do it for your fans. For stadium and TV viewers. Do it because it’s the proper thing.

If the clamor for peace at any price, that we preserve superficial collegiality and guard “unity” at all costs, demands we throw aside essential patriotic decency? – well, then, it asks too much. None of us should chase after avoidable strife, encouraging dispensable discord. But when the unvarnished choice stands between what’s right and what’s conciliatory? That’s easy.

There’s plenty on which we can and should yield in the name of comity – but not everything. Certain, cherished convictions sometimes require unbudging stubbornness.

I’ve a friend who does extensive humanitarian work in one of the country’s major metropolises. He’s tried sedulously to connect with nearby churches – but has essentially gotten the chilly message he’ll never enjoy a substantial relationship with a number of area pastors if he continues to cling to his conservative (read: biblical) sentiments regarding sundry social issues.

He’s not the one kicking friendship to the curb there.

As revered as is the goal of God’s people serving Him together (Psalm 33), unity isn’t the paramount virtue. Righteousness and truth get first place.

Paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, once one begins making exceptions to vital principles, were does it stop?

Even the” Prince of Peace”, Who gave His life to heal the rift between mucked-up people and the Creator (and other people – Ephesians 2:11), acknowledged: Occasionally and inescapably, commitment to non-negotiable fundamentals will generate conflict. Relationships frazzle, perhaps rupture (Matthew 10:33ff).

Obnoxious jerkiness? Rude troublemaking? Never. But in the crunch? Truth over smiley faces — every time.

An insightful statement attributed, probably apocryphally, to Thomas Jefferson has it: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock”

Yes, “stand”; even if colleagues and buddies are glaring as you do it alone – for the anthem; for much else.

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Share if you agree sometimes you have to stand for truth, even if it hinders “unity” with those who disagree.

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.