More than a year ago, Colin Kaepernick made waves when he began protesting violence against Black Americans, first by staying seated and later kneeling during the national anthem. Since then, many others have joined in the peaceful protest. Many have also become vehemently angry at them for doing so. I admit, I was among those angry at Kaepernick when it started. I supported his right to protest, but his method angered me, as then I found it disrespectful.
Since then, I’ve changed my mind on the issue for various reasons. Part of it is the deciding that these people do have a right to protest and it is a peaceful and respectful one. Part of it is noticing that the method of exercising a proper and peaceful protest is somehow always deemed to be wrong by someone. Part of it is paying more attention to the injustices they are protesting.
But perhaps the biggest factor in my change of mind and heart is that I’ve noticed something that has grieved me enough to do some examination.
Recently, the President released several “statements” (provided tweets can be called statements) condemning NFL players that choose to kneel and also the owners that support them doing so, even going so far as to call for their firing.
At the same time, after being battered by hurricanes, many US citizens in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are without power and drinkable water. Yet many of us are angrier about football players not standing for the flag and anthem than our people being in real trouble.
Many have also been speaking out about the realities of systemic racism still present in this country that have caused heartbreak, hardship, and suffering for many. These are Americans that are discriminated against and/or targeted in various ways. Some are so far under the radar that they’re barely noticed, and others so grandiose, it’s strange how they can be overlooked. But they are, and there is more anger over apparent incorrect acknowledgement of a flag or song than over ill treatment of our own people.
There is greater concern for respect shown to objects than respect and concern for people of our country who are suffering.
Because of things like this, I have come to believe that problem here isn’t a problem of patriotism. The problem is something else…
Somehow, patriotism and idolatry became horrifically intertwined in our country today.
Somewhere along the line, we decided icons were of greater value than people. We decided that those who dare not honor them “properly” must be punished. We demand reverence for the flag and anthem. We see the flag everywhere, and that’s not even on Independence Day. We state the ceremony is to honor veterans and soldiers, even when many have expressed they’re okay with the protests in line with the rights they fought or are fighting for.
It’s also seen in some churches in America, where the flag is seen to be almost as holy of an icon as the Cross, and where anything remotely seen as any form of disparagement against America is taken as an affront to God Himself. Thus, the “love America or get the hell out” attitude is fostered in a place that is supposed to be about love and acceptance of all people and proclaiming a completely different kingdom. America is believed to be God’s darling, with little valid reasoning to back it up, honestly.
If you look from a different angle, it eerily resembles a form of worship. We demand a certain posture, certain protocol, and reverence for the flag and anthem; and command absolute compliance for the ceremony, likening our demands to the voice of God. At times like this, however, we sometimes sound more like Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3, in which he commanded all to bow to his golden statue when the music started, and threatened actual fiery retribution to all who resisted.
It’s a strange and disturbing thing, yes. But it does warrant some consideration.
If Americans around us are suffering from racial injustices, economic turmoil, living in post-disaster squalor with desperate need for help, and other such maladies; but we’re more concerned with our anger at a football player who takes a knee during the Star Spangled Banner, then we have to ask a serious question:
Are we really patriots, or are we just idol worshippers?
Of course, there’s another idol present here, another thing violated by voices crying against justice.
This other idol is the illusion of our own perfect little world.
We want to pretend that we’re okay, that nothing is actually wrong. We want to pretend that all racism died with the end of segregation, that injustice can’t exist in the land of the free, that those who say different are just whining over something non-existent.
We want to pretend that there is nothing wrong with us; that we’re not remotely racist, sexist, or negatively biased in any amount or fashion. We want to pretend we’re perfect and that everything is hunky dory because our homeland is so star spangled awesome. We want to pretend that there is no problem anywhere and thus, none of us bear any fragment of responsibility concerning any supposed injustice.
But it’s just not true. Our sin nature is ever with us. It twists us against others and drives our desire to look out for number one. It is coupled with the wicked forms of systemic discrimination and oppression all around us, and none of us are uninfected, even if it’s in the least degree of poisoning. This darkness is hard at work in the world around us, sowing chaos, creating despair, and twisting our hearts in diabolical fashion.
We don’t want to admit there’s any problem at all, and we don’t want any reminders that these problems even exist. We don’t want them because sooner or later they require a painful admission from us:
We are part of the problem.
But sooner or later, we need to accept the reality of our idolatrous hearts and repent. We can no longer turn a blind eye to evil on our very doorsteps in the name of patriotism or self-preservation. We must accept the reality of our sinful and broken state and ask Jesus to heal us of our compromise with these idols. We need to own our part in the injustices all around us, no matter how small the part may be.
When we can accept these truths, we can go from part of the problem to part of the solution. We can begin to work to change the unfortunate reality once we accept it. We can be the change our land and people need.
That’s what these players are trying to tell us: that everything is not okay and we need to realize that. It’s time to begin accepting responsibility for the suffering around us. That is what this is about, not some false perception of an arbitrary slam against the flag or the anthem. This is about people.
And that’s why I’m okay with the NFL players taking a knee.