Once again a viral video has galvanized individuals in a firestorm of fury and a nationalistic outrage. Air Force veteran Melissa Manhart approached a protest where an American flag was apparently being desecrated by the protesters. In an act of patriotic fervor self-righteous nationalism, Ms. Manhart took the flag and refused to return it to the protesters. Each side claimed to be the rightful owners. The protesters claimed she was stealing their property and she claimed she was protecting the public property of all Americans from disgraceful desecration. The Internet video of the incident shows the ensuing argument as heated disputes regarding ownership, patriotism, and proper treatment of the flag were interspersed with the cries of racism, bigotry, and police injustice. In the end, Manhart was arrested and the flag returned to the protesters while scorns of the police failure to defend the flag were railed at the uniformed by bystanders. It was all the kind of theatrics that makes videos go viral.
In watching this outrageous viral video make its rounds through the Internet, on blogs and Facebook, I cannot help but feel immensely distraught and discouraged at the flagrantly unchristian response to this incident.
Please do not misunderstand. I do not support the public desecration of our national symbol. Yet I also fervently believe that the brazen behavior of Ms. Manhart is actually more offensive then whatever the original protest was so ignorantly trying to communicate. Ultimately, for me it begs the question, where is Christ amid such an inane conflict?
Christians are called in Christ to stand for justice, equality, and righteousness. Although we may rightfully demonstrate justifiable patriotism and appropriately express loyalty to, and reverence for, the symbols of our nation, nothing in Scripture supports the Christian support of such volatile behavior theatrical grandstanding simply to protect a piece of cloth that ultimately has no power or no authority. It disheartened me to see professing Christians defend the behavior of this woman in the rationalization that the flag deserves such arrogant, rude, and unchristian protection.
At the root of the issue lies the fact that such grandstanding and polarizing behavior does nothing to support one’s cause over and against alternative perspectives. In reality, it serves only to galvanize highly politicized opinions and entrenched attitudes of hatred and anger. Those who would promote the desecration of the flag will find no sympathy for why its symbolism is so important to those who would defend against its desecration. Those who are originally protesting through the desecration of the flag are in no means willing to come to an understanding, thus making mutual dialogue impossible.
To put it rather bluntly, in my opinion, both sides were wrong. When protesters publicly and dramatically desecrate an American flag, it is clearly an act intended to evoke strong (and highly reactive) emotion. It is also, coincidentally, a protected form of free speech in our country. As such, free speech may not be something that we particularly like or approve of, but that freedom is a constitutional right. Such rights, also demand responsibility; but more importantly, such rights come with an acute awareness of the consequences of exercising that freedom. Those who were protesting by using the flag received exactly what exactly what they wanted—lots of attention. The irony is, they got their attention because of the behavior of one who disagreed with their approach. Had Ms. Manhart left them alone their protest would have never reached national attention.
The firestorm of fury. This incident has unleashed upon the world is indicative of the greater problem we face as a human community, as a church, and as a nation. It is clearly indicative of our unwillingness to speak to one another. Our passionate rage is driven by anger toward those who see the world differently and that does not lead to healing and wholeness. Our angry desire to speak down to others and shout out to overpower those with whom we disagree does nothing to foster the values that make America great. In fact, it is such a values that will ultimately destroy this nation that we so love. Most of all, such volatile insolence toward others disgraces Christ.
As a faithful Christian, a proud veteran, and proud supporter of the American flag, I would ask those who were protesting through the desecration of the flag to find a more effective means of dialogue rather than resorting to childish shock value theatrics that clearly only offend and divide rather than unite or educate. I would also tell Ms. Manhart that she needs to get over her idolatrous obsession with a piece of fabric and focus her well-intended passions and energies on constructive dialogue and faithful prayer in order to change her world for the better. If that is what patriotism looks like, we do not need any patriotism at all. Her behavior is a disgrace to the flag. As a nation, and as Christians, if we allow such behavior to fuel more rage, more self-righteous arrogance, and more hatred, we serve only to sow the seeds of our own destruction.
It’s time we stop the grandstanding and start listening to one another.