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Urging listeners to confront both the “beautiful” and “painful” moments of American history, Pusey Minister in Memorial Church and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Jonathan L. Walton voiced his support for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has recently drawn criticism for sitting during the national anthem in protest of police brutality.
Walton argued that Kaepernick’s critics espoused “affectatious claims of patriotism” rather than genuine, informed citizenship, and called upon the audience to engage fully with injustices. Kaepernick’s moral scrutiny of the police system, Walton contended, represented a more true form of patriotism.
“The true lover of this country is willing to rebuke the nation when it’s wrong and do all in its power to make it right, not by ignoring or excusing its sins, but by bringing the nation’s sins out in the open,” he said.
Some critics have called Kaepernick “anti-American” for his decision to sit through the national anthem, and characterized his protest as an act of disrespect to the armed forces. While Kaepernick has said he has “grave respect” for those who serve, he remains steadfast in his protest.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said in an interview with NFL Media last week.
At Thursday’s Morning Prayers in Holden Chapel, Walton, a son and grandson of military veterans, began his remarks by expressing his respect and admiration for those who serve in the military.
“Every time I look upon the walls of Memorial Church, I am inspired by the 1,113 names engraved upon its walls, men and women who paid the ultimate price in World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam,” he said.
Walton echoed the sentiment expressed by University President Drew G. Faust in her remarks at Morning Prayers on Wednesday, turning to America’s “complicated” history to discuss both “inspirational moments” and “unjust realities.” He discussed the military service of Navy doctor Robert S. Hurlbut ’34, who died in World War II and was remembered for providing “necessary words of comfort” to those who served with him.
Walton contrasted this narrative of selflessness and heroism with the story of Emmett Till, a black teenager who was kidnapped, beaten, and lynched in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman. Till’s killers were acquitted and were paid to share details of his murder for publication in a magazine.
“This is who we are as a nation—we are an exhibit of contradictions,” Walton said. “While it is easy and comforting to smooth over these contradictions, it’s also dangerous.”
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