One of the recent fads of the protest community has been the refusal to stand while our national anthem is being played at sporting events. These protestors claim they cannot respect the state hymn of a nation that tolerates so much racial injustice.
I’m not sure why this anger has suddenly arisen, and why the national anthem has become the target, because our nation has always wrestled with injustice among its populace from its inception. Injustice among citizens can never be justified, but even some of the founders, who were slave owners, tried to create a frame work of government that could eventually bring equity to our nation. That struggle will always be ongoing , and it will take the deliberate cooperation of the majority of the citizens to achieve “justice for all.”
I’m not sure how sitting down during the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance to the flag could make a positive contribution to the struggle for justice. Some claim it would “raise awareness.” Raise awareness? We live constantly with the awareness of injustice in our culture. My family history includes my Indian grandmother being raised on the reservation. One of my high school friend’s parents met and married in the Japanese internment camp near Rupert. How about the injustice of a backup quarterback making more money, while not playing, than most of us will have earned in our entire adult life? How about the injustice of people giving speeches advocating for the poor and getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process, while a single mom still can’t get medicine for her sick child? How about the injustice of young college graduates earning more money than their parents ever could, and then criticizing the generation that produced them?
Originally, the national anthem was a song born of the battle for justice and freedom, not its achievement. It became the common rallying song of the citizens of a nation committed to the fight for freedom. It celebrated a national framework where freedom of participation is possible — including expressions of protest. It was the one place where all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, could become one choir expressing a common commitment to fight for justice.
Our national anthem honors those who fought for the cause of freedom and justice. The tradition of singing the national anthem before sporting events began shortly after our nation was engaged in war, and it was a hymn of thanksgiving to those on the front lines of the struggle for justice. Since 9/11, major league baseball teams have sung “God Bless America” as a common prayer for protection for our nation.
The national anthem is to our nation what the song, “We Shall Overcome ...” was to the civil rights movement. It has raised our hopes and celebrates the incremental advances throughout our history. None of these hymns have ever claimed that the cause of justice has been fully realized. So we keep on singing to encourage further dedication and participation.
Failing to act respectfully at the singing of these anthems conveys dishonor on all those who made the sacrifice in the attempted advance of freedom. Our younger generation should be taught to honor our heroes or we will fail to produce heroes worthy of our honor.
I have sung the national anthem at several Boise State athletic events, and felt honored to do so. But I have also wondered if we have sung this song so often that we have lost the majesty of its message and purpose. It is possible to sing the same hymn in church so often that we no longer appreciate its enduring grandeur.
Perhaps it is time to stop singing the national anthem at all sporting events and reserve it for only special occasions of national magnitude, until it has returned to its original dignity. Then maybe we would long for the wonderful occasion of singing our common hymn with our fellow citizens, and the next time sing it with greater appreciation.
Loren A. Yadon is pastor of New Life Fellowship of Boise.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.