If NFL players take a knee, do it in prayer for a divided nation

If NFL players take a knee, do it in prayer for a divided nation
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To kneel or not to kneel, that seemed to be the question last Sunday, the day most Americans partake of two Sabbath rituals: worship and NFL football. Maybe there is a way one of those can inform the other as America wrestles with the proper attitude of respect for our flag and our national anthem.

Kneeling is a posture of reverence, most often experienced in a house of worship as we bow in the presence of the divine. Ancient texts in many faith traditions record the way in which we, merely human, acknowledge a Creator, a Spirit, a Yahweh who is transcendent and beyond human understanding.

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Kneeling is also a way to admit our imperfection, to confess sin, to ask for forgiveness for our transgressions, to commit ourselves to seeking a better world and to confronting injustice as well as personal shortcomings. Kneeling is the preferred posture for prayer.

I think it is likely that kneeling protests during the playing of our national anthem will continue at professional sporting events and will probably now migrate to college and even high school athletic contests. As we’ve seen, this could be a very contentious and disruptive moment in our political culture. Unless we change the discussion altogether.

What if those who kneel during the national anthem do so in prayer? An individual athlete, or even a fan for that matter, could pray for our country. Pray for a spirited conflict in which no one gets injured. Pray for the president and all those who support him and those who don’t. Pray that the beer concession stays open past the seventh inning. Whatever.

Those who do not believe in a divinity could also just silently meditate about the things that matter more than a sporting event. Family, friends, community, safety. Values that all Americans cherish one way or another.

The “star-spangled banner” that our national anthem honors is a symbol that we also pledge our allegiance to as “one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Isn’t that precisely what those kneeling in protest desire? One nation that confronts the injustices that divide us and that honors the liberty, under our Constitution, to express freely what we believe?

Yes, we are a country with no established religion and that prides the “separation of church and state” back to Thomas Jefferson who invented the phrase. But religion, politics, and, yes, football are rather inseparable in today’s America.

Kneeling protests this past weekend caused division and conflict in a country that is already way too polarized. But it is hard for me to imagine that many Americans would object to those who take a knee because they want to honor our country and its exceptionalism as a “shining city on a hill” as Ronald Reagan once said. Talking with God during the national anthem seems to be a perfectly American thing to do.

Besides, how could President Trump tweet against those who are praying for our country and maybe even for him? At the very least, perhaps this would get him back to some of the subjects that are a bit more urgent on our national agenda.

The only losers in this are the poor young soloists often invited to the field to warble their way through a song that was written by a British composer that is too damn hard to sing anyhow. Let’s make the ritual of the national anthem at sports events something meaningful, something prayerfully in the interests of a truly United States of America.

Mike McCurry is a former White House press secretary for President Bill ClintonBill ClintonAll five living former presidents to attend hurricane relief concert The Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE and now the director and professor at The Center for Public Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.