The Principles of Unity and Justice: A Response to the Kneelers and Pastor Hamm
Controversy: Pastor Kevin Hamm, First Baptist Gardendale, said of those who kneel during the playing of the National Anthem, “…when that flag is raised, or when they sing or play that national anthem, you owe it to the men and women who have given their life’s blood to protect our freedom to stand in honor of them…you have two options: you can stay here in America and help us get America back to the way God has designed her, or if you don’t like it, you can get on a boat and sail away cause nobody’s making you stay here.” Some African-American pastors and others have condemned this statement as racially insensitive. I, too, see it as racially insensitive, unfortunate, injurious and unacceptable.
The roots of unity are found in the art of problem-solving. A corollary of that is that most division is the result of the inability to resolve conflict. We might say that we solve problems the best and for the most lasting results when we solve them together!
Applying that to the topic of justice, we believe we can best solve important matters such as these by working together. That requires dialogue that is honest and truthful, listening that is not clouded by preconceptions and goals that are mutually satisfying.
Three things are important when we reach the protest level.
Wisdom invites me, instructs me and implores me to know what will happen, who will be offended, who will come to arms, who will be turned off, who will rally and who will resist. Wisdom implores me to know the cost to my cause. Wisdom tells me if I am choosing the most effective venue for my message. Sometimes shock is the right venue when there is no other recourse, but then I shouldn’t be surprised by the anger, misinterpretation and pushback by the hearers.
3. The desired results – I have to ask myself, “Am I accomplishing what I set out to do?” I can say I’m not being offensive, but if people are being offended, then I really am. I need to be honest. If offending people in this manner was my goal, then I’ll continue on. But if my message is being drowned out by the pushback then I’m failing to make the impact I intend.
Let’s look at these principles in the issue of the Kneelers and Pastor Hamm.
Both have a right to express their opinions. They both get a pass for this.
The kneelers appear to be drawing more attention to their actions than to their message – the injustice suffered by the African-American community at the hands of the police. Their message is being drowned out, minimized and lost. They can say they mean no disrespect to the flag, the military or to patriot Americans but the results don’t support their evaluation. This is a fail.
Pastor Hamm’s comment about “getting on a boat and sailing away” may make sense to those of us from the Viet Nam era who heard, “America, Love it or Leave it.” But today, the expression of these few words is offensive and is speaking louder than his overall patriotic plea to love America. He can say he didn’t mean anything racially but the resulting impact tells a louder story. People are offended as it is seen as a racially insensitive remark. This, too, is a fail.
Are these the desired results? Probably not. This, also, is a fail. Both sides need to step away from the passion of the moment and look with a broader vision. Both need to back up and evaluate if there is a better way of achieving their purpose because both expressions have been interpreted beyond their initial intention. And both parties need to not throw more fuel on the fire. The things that divide us destroy us if we let them. The willingness to guard our unity is what brings us together to resolve our issues. As Wendell Phillips said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
As Gatekeepers we strive to live up to the great expressions that are foundational to our nation. The first is the official motto of the United States, “e pluribus unum”, Latin for “out of many, one”. Our motto speaks of diversity expressed in unity. We strive to practice “Unity with diversity in love.” The second is found in the Pledge of Allegiance, “…one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” And the third we hold in agreement with Dr. King, expressed from the Declaration of Independence, in his “I Have a Dream” speech when he said he “looked forward to the day that “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” He dreamt of the day when all “would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’”
While others seek to divide us in order to protest our differences, we choose to unite us in order to solve our differences. We think we solve our problems better when we do it together!
Pastor Randy W. Williams