On Memorial Day, 1991, I stood with other Americans at the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and joined them in the pledge of allegiance to our flag, flying over our mission in a foreign country. It was a “lump in my throat” kind of moment.
We had just come through the now barely-remembered first Gulf war. An alliance, led by the United States, had driven out Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Watching from next door Saudi Arabia, we were proud of how our country had handled the crisis.
The pledge and the national anthem are useful for such moments of patriotic feeling. They should not, however, be a test of citizenship or of respect for our nation or our military. They are simply one expression, useful for some, less so for others.
Some American Christians believe attachment to such symbols borders on idolatry. They refuse to say the pledge out of concern for their primary allegiance to God.
I respect their belief. I also respect the beliefs of football players who kneel or sit during the national anthem. One player said his Christian conviction regarding justice compelled him to act as he did. It was a non-violent protest, the sort of act American soldiers have died to protect.
We do not live in a dictatorship where school children assemble each morning to pay lock step allegiance to a great dictator. Instead, non violent expressions of concern for certain practices of our country are a sign of healthy citizenship.
God knows we have a few other things to worry about: North Korea, a hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico, and an opioid epidemic, to name a few.