In moments of crisis, people will rally behind points they already agree with, but pride prevents us from graciously appreciating the other side. When emotions are so high, public debate can become like trying to reason with a drunk at the bar or a child throwing a temper tantrum. True growth requires the fertile soil of both genuine curiosity and sober levelheadedness. I haven’t seen much of either in the national anthem protests. So I’ve waited to comment, hoping things would calm.
I’ve written about this before – i.e. the tendency of people to get religious about seemingly non-religious items. But the current national anthem debate seems to perfectly illustrate this.
The argument from those who oppose kneeling during the national anthem is that the American flag is an obvious, revered symbol of the United States’ Armed Forces. Anyone who has ever been to the funeral of a fallen veteran recognizes the prestige attached to the American flag. The flag represents a unique freedom we possess as a nation, a freedom worth dying for. Many have. And it’s disrespectful to fail to recognize those who have fought so sacrificially.
The concession that’s made on this end of the debate is that ethnic inequality is totally inappropriate, but that this simply isn’t the venue to express that sentiment.
On the other side, the argument from those supportive of kneeling during the national anthem is that we are in a country that supposedly stands for equality, but that there are real and legitimate inequalities that are currently being perpetuated. We are conscience-bound to do something about human mistreatment and with the eyes of the country watching, it’s an important platform on which to say you’re not okay with it – functioning as a voice for the voiceless.
The concession that’s made on this end of the debate is that our armed forces are wonderful, but that they’ve risked (and sacrificed) their lives specifically so that we could live in a country where we were free to express our views. In other words, what’s the point in fighting to protect our country’s freedom of expression if, in fact, our country disallows free expression.
Everyone’s “Bowing” to Something
It seems like it should be simple, but it’s a rather complicated issue. And when we offer simplistic explanations, it’s perceived as dismissive by either one or both sides.
My take, as a Christian, is simply this: If humans were truly created by God to worship God as an essential act of our humanity, then when we societally lose consciousness of God, we don’t stop worshipping, we just start worshipping something other than God. By that, I simply mean that we look to something other than the true God to give us our meaning, our hope, and our identity.
I think a possible explanation of what we’re seeing right now is that some who are in favor of the athletes kneeling might be ascribing God-level value to their ethnic status. I’m all for celebrating cultural gifts. Working in an inner-city setting, I’ve had my eyes opened to issues of systemic injustice and unrecognized privilege in ways that I previously hadn’t understood. This is an issue worth fighting for because nothing is worth fighting for if not human well-being. But I also think it’s possible to elevate cultural identity to the position of a god. If so, it’d naturally lead you to think, say, and do things that contradict the will of the true God.
I think it’s also possible that right now some who are adamantly opposed to kneeling athletes might be ascribing God-level value to their nation. We have a lot to be thankful for in our country, including our armed forces. Our freedoms are virtually unmatched against another time and place in history. This debate, as ugly as it’s occasionally gotten, can only take place in a country with this much freedom. In a different state, someone might get beheaded. That, in itself, is something to be thankful for. But I also think the 20th century was very clear evidence that nationalism run amok, elevated to the position of god (which always took place in decidedly godless countries), is a disaster.
So, it’s possible that some impassioned souls right now are bowing to their culture and some are bowing to their nation.
The other item that would never get mentioned in the media is the fact that these demonstrations are taking place during America’s new pastime – professional football. NFL ratings have taken a slight hit in recent years, but that doesn’t change the fact that with the advent of fantasy football, the NFL has become the highest grossing sport and the most watched show on TV. And it mostly takes place…on Sunday. The irony better not get lost. We haven’t gotten less religious. We’ve just gotten less religious about the true God. This has left us to pour our religious fervor into issues of cultural identity, nationalism, and recreation.
Biblically Resisting the Crowd
While many Christians are vaguely familiar with the story of “The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace,” fewer are familiar with why they were thrown into that furnace. In Daniel 3, we’re told, “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold (Dan. 3:1)…Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do…you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up…Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Dan. 3:1-6)
Everyone complied except some of God’s people who “neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan. 3:12)
Some might say they were protesting, but keep in mind that they were protesting because they wouldn’t bow down to anything but the real God. They weren’t protesting for their Jewish culture or their Jewish nation. They weren’t considering their people victims nor were they feeling disrespected. As believers, they simply believed they should fall to their knees before no one but God.
What Does This Mean?
I’m not certain most of us would come down on the same spot on the national anthem debate, nor do we have to. We can/should love one another even as we disagree.
One thing I think most of us would likely agree upon, however, is that if you’re a Christian, while we might fold our hands to respect the flag or take a knee in silent protest for important issues, Jesus Christ is the only one worth truly bowing down before. Consequently, we must never insinuate that our ultimate cause is ethnicity or nation, because our ultimate citizenship is in heaven and our ultimate culture is the family of God. My assumption is that this may very likely lead us to simply keep our mouths shut when a secular world gets religious about things other than the true God.