Thursday, August 4, 2016

Legal, Moral, and What’s Right

Just because something is legal, does that mean it’s necessarily the right thing to do? I started thinking about this after reading about a melee that broke out during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. As you might recall, an attempted burning of the American flag ignited the scuffle.

Someone on social media pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court in 1969 ruled burning the flag is not illegal. That’s true, but does that mean it’s okay to do?

Consider: There’s no law that prohibits cheating on one’s spouse, but does that mean it’s the right thing to do? You won’t get arrested for cutting into a grocery store’s checkout line, but just because it’s not against the law, should we do it? And I doubt there’s any legislation restricting a person from walking into a mosque and shredding a copy of the Qur’an (if you prefer, Koran), but that doesn’t make it right – or advisable.

As I’ve so often found, the Bible has something very practical to say about this. And you don’t have to be religious – or even spiritual – to appreciate its wisdom: "’I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ – but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Another translation states it this way: “’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.”

I’m all in favor of free speech, and if people want to protest, they should have that right. But if that involves attacking the sensibilities of millions of proud, patriotic Americans – especially in these days when we’re told to avoid offending anyone – maybe it’s stepping over the line.

Some might argue an American flag is just a piece of material, so what’s the harm? But if the protesters thought it important enough to select the Stars and Stripes to set ablaze, it must be more than a piece of material to them. For them it’s a significant symbol, representing some cause they wish to protest or denounce.

Countless thousands of soldiers have given their lives to protect what the flag represents. Many thousands more have returned from battle maimed in body, mind and spirit to guarantee the rights of these protesters to voice their dissent. My father suffered two wounds in World War II, and a number of family members and friends also participated in various wars because they believed in the values and principles the American flag has traditionally represented.

So for those who feel inclined to burn Old Glory to express their ire, I’d like to ask them, as the Scripture passage admonishes, “Is it beneficial?” “Is it constructive?” “Is it helpful?” “Does it build up – or does it tear down?”

I’d also make a suggestion: If these protesters feel so strongly opposed to the American way of life, why don’t they burn their Social Security cards and renounce their benefits? Or their welfare checks, food stamps, or college financial aid vouchers? That would make a point, for sure.

And since those that protest in such an unseemly manner reject what they believe the red, white and blue stands for, these folks should be encouraged in the strongest possible way to quickly find a new country of residence, one whose flag they can look upon with pride rather than scorn.

That’s not to say all is well with our nation. Far from it. But for those of us who choose to convey concerns and dissatisfaction in more civil ways, we’d be wise to heed the exhortation of Micah 6:8, which informs us, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

We’re not to worship a flag – or a nation. But in our strivings to bring about a better world, wouldn’t an approach that’s beneficial and constructive, one that’s helpful and builds up, be better? Flies still are much more attracted to honey than they are to vinegar.

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