Regarding Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit out the national anthem, I made an appeal in Part 1 for dialog over diatribe. This story has obviously hit a nerve about the racial tension in our country, and of all people on the planet, Christians should be the first to at least engage in level headed conversation about it rather than a knee-jerk visceral reaction. That’s not to say that after our debates we’ll all come to the same conclusion. But at least we’ll be able to say that we put as much effort into listening as we did into pontificating.
I wanted to share a couple more observations about the controversy…
First, I wanted to point out that Kaepernick broke no laws by his method of protest. There’s no law or any NFL policy that I know of that says the players have to stand during the singing of the national anthem. It’s a great tradition, but not a rule. The Scripture sanctions civil disobedience at appropriate times and places, but this is not an example of that. What the quarterback did was certainly distasteful for many but not illegal.
On the other hand, in their quest for “liberty and justice for all” Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks all practiced nonviolent civil disobedience. They freed slaves, marched where it was illegal to march, and sat in “wrong” seats on the bus. In order to advance their just cause, each of them intentionally broke the law and suffered the consequences. There are times to violate the law in order to avoid violating our conscience, but, again, Kaepernick’s protest isn’t that. He broke rank with conventional social mores but broke no laws or employee policies.
Speaking, then, of social mores, we should remind ourselves that standing during our national anthem is a symbol of patriotism, not necessarily as a sign that one is truly patriotic. It doesn’t mean that a person has no love for America if they choose to sit out the song. In similar fashion a lot of truly patriotic Americans refuse to salute the flag for conscience sake. In his case, Kaepernick wanted to make a symbolic statement of his opposition to systemic racial disparity in our country.
Though it might not seem to those who cling to them, but symbols are benign in themselves. Their significance is in the eye of the beholder. Even those for whom the national anthem is important should be able to concede that it’s only a symbol and not the staple of good citizenship.
This custom of standing at the anthem is one that carries more meaning to some than to others. Those who have less of an attachment to the song as representative of their love for country may be just as patriotic as those who are more attached. And if you have a particular affinity for the significance of the anthem you probably reacted more viscerally to what Kaepernick did, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more patriotic than he is. In fact, it’s conceivable that what he did was, in his mind, a profoundly patriotic act.
Speaking of symbols, we Christians have a bunch of them associated with our faith. Making the sign of the cross, for instance, is, for a lot of Christians, a significant gesture of respect in the presence of a crucifix or at the end of their prayers. I don’t practice it as part of my tradition, but I respect those for whom it has meaning. In fact, I quite like it when I see it. But the fact that I don’t practice it myself doesn’t make me less grateful for the sacrifice of Jesus than those who do. I neither wear a cross nor display one in my house, but I assure you that I “cherish the old rugged cross” with all my heart!
The principle way I show my affection for the cross is to live in its power. And I suspect that most people who cross themselves or wear one around their neck feel the same way. Those who routinely cross themselves in church or wear it around their neck, and yet live in blatant debauchery, are the hypocrites among us. If you’re trying to decide between revering the symbol and living a reverent a lifestyle, I strongly suggest that you honor the cross of Jesus with your life and leave the symbol behind. There’s no better way to show one’s respect for the sacrifice of Jesus than to live with wholehearted abandon for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But, for some, obeying the Christ of the cross AND doing the sign of the cross is the best of both worlds!
So how does that relate to how we feel about Kaepernick’s sitting out the anthem? I’m saying if that particular symbol of patriotism is of great importance to you, then you’ll most likely be more irritated about what he did than others would for whom it isn’t as meaningful. I’m saying, keep in mind that it’s just a symbol and your attachment to it is best kept subservient to even more practical forms of your devotion to our beloved country, such as voting and fighting injustice.
I think we would all agree that, whether or not we tear up at the singing of the anthem, the very best way to show one’s love of country is to love its citizens. Go ahead and stand, remove your hat, and put your hand over your heart if it means something to you, but when the ballgame is over, show your good citizenship by not cussing out all those drivers who pulled in front of you in traffic on the way home!
If you want to be a model American citizen, don’t just sing your heart out at sporting events; treat others the way you want to be treated. Love your neighbor, even if he or she was born with a different skin color or came from another part of the world. Stand, sit, or kneel as you wish; but for the love of God, “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God!”
Then I go to my brother
And I say, “Brother, help me please.”
But he winds up knockin’ me back down on my knees
There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time comin’
But I know a change gon’ come. (Sam Cooke)
Can I get an Amen” Or, if you prefer, an “Oh, man!” I’d love to hear your thoughts…