The Star-Spangled Banner - this song is our nation's anthem. The cultural norm for our nation is to stand, hats off, and hand over heart as the anthem is sung and the American flag is presented. My belief is that this moment is to celebrate the freedoms promised to us by our Constitution, honor those who served and fought to create and protect those freedoms, acknowledge the anthem and flag as national symbols of these freedoms along with the sacrifices required for them, and to celebrate a moment of solidarity with fellow citizens in our shared allegiance to America.
And as we stand, may we not be blind to the present tragedy in America. As we stand to share in this patriotic moment, the citizens of our nation do not equally share in these sacrosanct freedoms. The documents and symbols that promise equality are too often betrayed by people and systems who in turn deny access to and conspire to withhold rights that should be inalienable for every citizen. At every moment in the history of our nation when there was a dire need for an impetus to change, there have been courageous people who at their own peril challenged injustices, oppression, indifference, and deception. Without disruption, there can be no change.
I am white. I will never be racially profiled. I will never fear for my teenaged children to be misunderstood because of the color of their skin. I will never experience the inescapable reality of minority bias. I will never fear opportunity not being accessible to me because of my ethnicity. My "I will never..." list is profoundly longer than the list belonging to a person of color. My first drafts of this blog failed to understand that as a white person, I don't understand. Dear friends whom I frequently look to for advice and insight on social issues, especially those involving race, challenged me to not instruct minorities on what they should do. I should be posturing myself to learn and listen rather than correcting and criticizing. So here are my questions as I myself strive and seek to better understand specifically what is happening now in the NFL as a microcosm of America. If I don't stop to learn and listen then I will forever be a victim of my own biases that come with my own ethnicity which is true for me and people of color.
Are those as devoted followers of Christ who are upset and angry over people choosing to not stand for the anthem wrong? Are those as devoted followers of Christ who are upset and angry over people insisting that the anthem and flag be honored by standing wrong? Am I wrong in believing that a person who identifies as a Christian is being hypocritical if they are dismissive of the undeniable crisis of social injustice in America? Am I wrong in believing that a person who identifies as a Christian is being hypocritical if they are dismissive of the undeniable importance for a unifying national identity accompanied by honoring and respecting related cultural norms? Am I wrong in believing that a choice between patriotism and social justice is a false choice? What should be the focus of my disruption in an effort to bring about the changes for curing the social ills of injustice?
When Mr. Kaepernick began sitting and eventually kneeling during the National Anthem, did he unintentionally place at odds two sacrosanct ideals? The Preamble of the Constitution calls for patriotism and social justice. "We the people...a more perfect union..." are at their very essence statements demanding patriotism. "...establish justice...insure domestic tranquility...promote the general welfare..." are at their very essence statements demanding social justice. Why aren't all of us equally disturbed by the well documented injustices against people of color as we are by the disruption of standing in honor of the Anthem and flag? Are people using the manner of Mr. Kaepernick's protest as a distraction because they refuse to deal with the shame they should be feeling for being complicit in the social injustices that withhold from citizens the promises of the Preamble?
The very nature of protests are based upon the principle that there are times when a divide is necessary before there can be a more perfect union. For example, I loved our worship leader's t-shirt recently that simply said "Nah." with the name Rosa Parks below and the date 1955. The Civil Rights Movement necessitated protest. And these protests eventually created a shift in our society toward equality and the "all" of liberty and justice grew! Every protest by heroes of the Civil Rights movement focused on directly disrupting laws and practices that were racist, brutal, deplorable, and shameful. In my belief, this is why the protests of the Civil Rights movement were so effective. Through peaceful resistance and disruption, they created an environment where our entire nation could no longer ignore the systemic dehumanization of people of color and overt practices of oppression. America was forced to see its glaring hypocrisy.
If you aren't watching movies like Selma, The Birth of a Nation, 42, The Express, and the documentary 13th, you aren't trying. If you aren't following the story of Nate Boyer, Mr. Kaepernick's former teammate, you aren't trying. If you aren't reading articles by journalists who look different than you, come from a different life experience than you, and have different political affiliations that you...you aren't trying. If you only get your news from one media outlet, you aren't trying. If you aren't reaching out to people who have different perspectives on what is presently happening in the NFL, you aren't trying. You are just polluting the world with lazy opinions like a dripping faucet of toxic waste. The measure of progress isn't agreement. A nation can never completely agree. What we seek is harmony. Harmony is when diversity is cooperating! And we will never cooperate until we seek to understand one another...so let's try harder!
What I am learning in my conversations with people, in my watching, in my reading, in my listening...is that disruption and protest is more difficult today than during the Civil Rights movement. Why? Because the racism and oppression that predominantly plagues us today is more subtle. Oppression is evolving. There was nothing subtle about the segregation of schools. There was nothing subtle about restrictions on public transportation. There was nothing subtle about restrooms, water fountains, restaurants, and employment. What all the despicable hate groups experienced in Charlottesville this year is that prominence fails. Hate, racism, and bigotry is still rampant in American today because it learned through the Civil Rights movement that prominence is no longer an effective strategy. Oppression is evolving. Oppression has become subtle but is still lethal. And for us to do nothing, to not try to seek it out and utterly destroy it is sin.
Passivity is never the right response to oppression. Jesus' command to turn the other cheek had nothing to do oppression. Jesus in His sermon was dealing with the issue of provocation and how to deescalate conflict. Everything about His life and ministry was a 3 year protest against the exclusivity of the Judaism of His day. In Isaiah 53 we read in verse seven that Jesus was oppressed and treated harshly but never said a word. But this is not passivity! Passivity is doing nothing. These verses in Isaiah are prophesying about the coming Messiah who we know is Jesus. When He was led away to the cross, oppressed and treated harshly, He did not resist...but His protest was deafening! He was not being passive. This was the most aggressive act in all of history, fighting for us against sin and death and ultimately winning! The truest form of Christian aggression is fighting relentlessly for the need of another, especially when the person or people for whom we are fighting are powerless themselves. In August of 2016, this is what I believe Mr. Kaepernick was doing. He was fighting for people who were powerless themselves. Before we judge his actions we must first endeavor to understand both his motive and intent.
I will never kneel or sit during the Anthem. But I am not threatened or offended by Mr. Kaepernick or any other athlete who is kneeling or sitting during the Anthem for the specific purpose of protesting the injustices that plague America. I do firmly believe that kneeling is a better form of protest. By kneeling, a person is extending an invitation. Kneeling for us culturally is the posture of petitioning. Their kneeling is our fellow citizens extending to us, patriots, an invitation to work harder to root out all forms of injustice in society, both prominent and subtle. We are being invited to see the Preamble come to full fruition.
Paul in Galatians 6 demands of us that we submit ourselves to the Law of Christ, which expects us to bear each other's burdens. This command is given because we don't have a natural inclination to take up a burden that does not directly affect us, especially when that burden might be at our own peril. Is there an application of Galatians 6 in regards to this current societal conflict taking place in the NFL? If my felt need is to see fewer people harmed by social injustice, then find a way to carry the burden of seeing the anthem and flag honored and respected. If my felt need is to see the anthem and the flag honored and respected, then find a way to carry the burden of seeing fewer people harmed by social injustice. The Law of Christ is true, regardless of how counter-intuitive it may feel. Whatever else needs to be a part of finding harmony in our communities, bearing one another's burdens is undeniably part of that solution.
As many people are already predicting, the momentum these NFL protests garnered will soon sadly be lost. The NFL will patiently wait before enacting any new policies regarding standing for the Anthem. Individual teams will be allowed to create their own policies that will reflect the political climate of their respective cities and states. Teams are businesses and players are ultimately restricted by contracts they signed and the players union they have joined. The collective bargaining agreement in place clearly defines the scope of authority for the owners, the league, and the players union. Regardless what some sports journalist seem to believe, freedom of speech has limitations when it comes to employee and employer relationships. The NFL is a business, the players are employees under contract, the owners are the controlling agents of their company, the league is a contractual affiliation among all the owners, and the players union exists to represent the rights of the employees. Let's not be naive. The factor that will continue to direct the final outcome of this conflict will be economics. At the point either players, owners, and media outlets stand to lose substantial revenue, they will compromise. And regarding some sports journalists who try to compare prayer in schools with players being required to stand for the Anthem, the Constitution does not deal with religion and patriotism in the same way. Strong feelings do not equate to a legal precedent. But even if the momentum is lost there, may it never be lost in us! The "all" in liberty and justice must become so inclusive that there is no room for exclusivity.
If you are a Christian, you may be asking yourself the wrong question. The question should not be "Should I stand or kneel for the Anthem?" The question should be as a devoted follower of Christ, "How can I bear the burden of another, especially if that burden is not my own immediate felt need?"