I have been watching the Vietnam Documentary on PBS this past week. Born in 1959, I was a little young to remember it. I grew up outside Chicago in a university town. There were 25,000 students in DeKalb, Illinois. I do remember the protests and riots on campus. Cars burning, police activity, lots of talk among the townspeople. Most of the residents of DeKalb were farmers, blue collar workers, and university employees. My cousin, the first grandchild in the family, served in Vietnam.
The message I received was clear: the protesters were wrong. They were young, entitled, liberal, and out of control. Their opinions, protests, and their disturbing the peace was not appreciated. Good Americans served when their country called. America — love it, or head to Canada.
I have been watching the Vietnam Documentary on PBS this past week. It is clear to me that our country and the entire world was in a far worse state 50 years ago. It seems clear now, that good and bad people in our government made one tragic decision after another. It seems clear that some protesters had honorable intentions, while others did not.
50 years ago, the nation and the world was a mess, the protests were not limited to this country, and the violence was not limited to the conflict in Vietnam. We are in a better place today, and one of the reasons for that better place is the work of peaceful protest.
I was raised in farm country. I was raised to respect the flag, and I always will. Raised by World War II vets and by those who supported the war effort at home, I will always be thankful and respectful to our service women and men.
I was also raised to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus before country, Jesus before the orders of my earthly superiors, and Jesus before the law of the land. I understood that if my country ever asked me to do something that was contrary to my faith, then I was called to resist.
I was not raised to respect protesters, and yet I have come to see that peaceful protest is more than a right, it is a calling. Jesus protested the abuses of the religious. And 500 years ago, Martin Luther protested abuses by the Roman Catholic Church. As Protestants, we should understand the place of peaceful protest.
I respect the flag. I respect the sacrifices that others have made that I might live in freedom. I respect peaceful protesters. I may or may not agree with them, but that is not the point.
My prayer is that we might respect and love each other enough that we tolerate and even celebrate differing opinions. My prayer is that somewhere in that mix we will find the truth.
Love you all — even when I don’t agree with you.