The Flag, The Crown and The Cross: Collin Kaepernick, Donald Trump, and the Gospel
Nearly 2,600 years ago a multitude of people gathered and, there was an image held up before the crowd while music played. Immediately everyone bowed down. The image was important for the country, the image was important to the ruler, and the image was important for the people. Everyone respected the image, everyone feared the king, and everyone bowed –except for three men. The country was Babylon, the image was a Golden Calf, and the men were three Jews named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
This past weekend players across the NFL took a knee during the national anthem as a shot at President Donald Trump and the derogatory comments that he made about Collin Kaepernick at a rally in my own hometown of Huntsville, AL. Of course, Collin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem last year to protest inequality in America, displayed in the regular reports of police brutality directed toward young African American men. And so, in order to “stand with Kaepernick,” players knelt during the national anthem.
What happened in the NFL this past weekend is in many ways very different than what happened to the three Jewish men during the time of the Babylonian captivity, but I think we can learn a lot from this old story. Most notably, we can consider what happened to these men after they refused to kneel. As you may know, they were thrown into a furnace to be executed. They were ultimately saved by God, but my point is to say there was no freedom of speech in Babylon. There was no room to disrespect a national symbol.
While I do believe that inequality certainly exists in America, and while I agree with Roger Goodell that President Trump’s comments on Friday were “divisive,” I don’t personally agree that showing disrespect to the flag during the national anthem is an effective or appropriate form of protest. The flag represents a country that is bigger than any one president. It represents the core American value that all men are created equal and free, and while our country fails to perfectly protect that value, equality is a value that most Americans hold. The flag doesn’t represent a political party, a person or a political position. It represents a country. And personally, I love America. While we are far from perfect, I am so grateful for all of the good that this 240-year-old country has done. My family is joined by many others who, for centuries, have worked hard and paid a great price to establish our country, protect our country, and extend the freedoms that we enjoy all over the world.
As I watched the NFL players disrespecting the American flag this weekend, I was reminded of how great our country really is. The amazing thing about America is that you don’t have to love her in order for her to love you. The amazing thing about America is that she protects your right to speak ill of her. The amazing thing about America is that she can create an enterprise that pays people millions of dollars and gives people the platform of millions of viewers only for those people to use that platform to disrespect her. That is very different than ancient Babylon. That is very different than the experience that most people have had in the history of the world. In America we actually love liberty; people can express whatever they want, and America will still protect them. And while American football players were taking a knee during the national anthem, American soldiers were staying up all night on battleships in the Pacific Ocean keeping them safe. What an amazing country!
So, how do we respond to all of this as Christians? First, I hope that you join me in thanking God that by his providence we get to live in a country like this. It is a wonderful gift that very few people in the history of the world have had the privilege to enjoy. Second, I want to invite you to show some wisdom and maturity. Collin Kaepernick is 29, and most of the athletes in the NFL are even younger. They have been praised and taken care of since they were in 8th grade, not because of their wisdom or intellect but because of their size, speed and athletic skill. Many of them are frustrated about real inequalities that do exist in America while at the same time feel a little guilty for being among some of the most privileged. My point is, these guys are barely of adult age and have experienced very little “real life,” and we shouldn’t expect them be leading the way on this issue with wisdom and maturity. Let’s also not forget that we have a 71-year-old president who can’t help himself from publically bantering back and forth with them on Twitter. But Christians should be level headed and wise. Our feet should be firmly planted in truth, and we should be secure in the identity that we have been given in Christ. So please be wise, and seek to live peaceably with all.
Finally, don’t back yourself into a freedom corner. It is certainly okay to disagree with Collin Kaepernick and the many other NFL players for disrespecting the American flag. It is certainly okay to think that they are spoiled and ungrateful – many of them are. But respect their right to believe and do what they see fit. Freedom doesn’t guarantee that people will be smart or grateful but it does give us a chance of actually finding truth. One day people may think you are strange and stupid for worshipping a formerly dead Jewish guy who you believe will come back one day riding through the sky on a white horse. They may already think that, but I hope and pray that no one in American ever tries to take that freedom away. The wise Christian should never be a proponent of limiting people’s freedom of expression. That would be a mistake that would surely come back to bite us and bite us hard. If we ever find ourselves in a country where we are forced by the government to rise or forced by the government to bow, watch out because that’s probably the kind of place where those of us who believe Jesus is Lord will be thrown into a furnace.