I had this idea kicking around in my brain for a while before the NFL controversy broke out. It is the idea of personhood, and what that entails.
I grew up in a Fundamentalist home. For decades I considered myself a born-again Christian, and I did all of the things a Christian is expected to do. I read my Bible, had personal devotions, went to church regularly and participated in as many outreach programs as I was able to attend.
I was against the first Gulf War, which was started when Iraq invaded Kuwait. There were enough members of the surrounding Arab nations (some of whom were quite wealthy) to assist their neighbor, Kuwait. I was grateful that my brother was in Germany when the USA invaded Kuwait. However, the Army deployed my brother to the war. We knew he was on active duty in combat, but we did not know he was actually part of the troops which were sent behind enemy lines to fight.
Of course patriotism was on display. The USA handily defeated Iraq and liberated Kuwait. It was around that time that I noticed an increasing type of militant patriotism growing and spreading throughout conservative Christianity. Keep in mind that I was a strong believer in the Gospel message. However, it appeared to me that too many Christians were conflating Uncle Sam with Jesus Christ. The flag, the anthem, and the pledge were elevated to forms of worship. Supporting America became a necessary part of living out our Christian faith. I had seen what war had done to our family and I was disgusted.
A pledge is a solemn promise. What is allegiance? I looked it up online and the definition included the duty of a citizen owed to a sovereign state or government. It is expected. Think about that. Every time you say the Pledge of Allegiance, you are implicitly stating that you submit yourself as a person with obligations and duties to America simply by being born here. Naturalized citizens are required to swear an oath of allegiance to America.
What is agency? That was a bit more complicated. The definitions I found were a bit confusing. I consulted an online thesaurus and the synonyms include force. control and influence.
Let’s turn to personhood and personal agency. We all agree that each individual is unique. There are no two persons alike. When we talk about persons, we talk about the entire package of humanity that is represented by an individual. This includes not merely a biological human, but the sum total of life experiences, education, ideas, memories and so forth. In this nation, at least, we have a Bill of Rights which recognizes the uniqueness of every citizen. That Bill of Rights has been amended over time as our nation has recognized that with personhood comes personal agency. Each person has the absolute right to determine his or her path through life. Each person controls his or her own destiny.
Right off the bat, speaking only of the sects of Christianity of which I was a part, we have a problem. Personal agency is considered a sin. It says each person is born corrupt and without goodness. Just being alive makes us an affront to God. We are required to repent, yield to God and only do what God wants. We must submit our personhood to God. Our hearts are deceived and wicked even in the womb (according to one of the Psalms). Unless we ask God to forgive us and ask Jesus into our hearts to save us, we are doomed.
Now comes the really dangerous intersection. Religion and politics. Because our holy book demands total fidelity to God through Jesus, and that same book tells us that we are to obey every agent of the government, we become twice enslaved. Personal agency is out the window.
I am so glad that certain athletes have exercised their guaranteed rights according to the First Amendment. They kneel in honor of murdered black men. They kneel in both sorrow and respect for a nation which has wounded their communities. They love America but kneel in sorrow for her continued oppression of others.
Some people do not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They recognize that their fidelity is to themselves and those they care about. They are the brave ones who are peacefully protesting oppression. I support all types of peaceful protests. I will add that I am disgusted by those who use violence in protesting; the violence infringes on the personhood of those around them.
This is a long post and I will end it here. I need time to think more about this issue. I consider myself lucky to have escaped the oppression inflicted on me by my sects of Christianity. I no longer believe there even is a god. I am grateful to protesters throughout my life who challenged my systems of belief.