Christians, The Flag, and Colin Kaepernick

This term I’m teaching the Introduction to Politics course at Corban University, which is a Christian college in Salem, OR. During yesterday’s class I asked the students if they had heard about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem in protest of racial injustice, specifically mentioning issues revolving around the Black Lives Matter movement. Most the students had heard. So I asked what they thought the Christian response should be to the issue.

Here’s what Kaepernick said for reference when asked by an ESPN reporter why he didn’t stand for the anthem:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

As you can imagine, the statement has divided people with some supporting what he said and others taking exception to his actions and comments. I was very impressed with my students’ views on the matter. Let me share a few of their thoughts.

One student said that everything we do should be done to honor God so that when we speak we have to do so in a way that God would approve.

Another student said he thought Kaepernick missed the mark because now people are talking about him and the National Anthem instead of the issue of racial injustice. By doing what he did he actually put the spotlight on himself not the issue he was trying to address.

However, another student argued against that point saying that Kaepernick actually did accomplish what he wanted to do because the entire nation is talking about it so he did make a difference.

It was a very good debate but in the end all the students agreed that as Christians we have to work to unite people not divide people. So what does that mean if you’re a Christian and want to know how to respond to this or other sensitive issues?

The first thing we need to do is love people – even people with whom we may disagree. When you do that you won’t find yourself making knee-jerk, emotional comments that disparage and judge others.

Second, as Christians we can disagree with people without being disagreeable. Personally, I agree with Kaepernick’s motive – there are racial injustices in America – but I think his method of expressing his concerns were inappropriate because they went well beyond the issue he was highlighting and actually disparaged other people in his statement, including those who think the flag stands for freedom and the police. Yet, being someone who served in the United States Army I will always defend his right to say what he thinks even if I don’t agree.

Third, as Christians we need to figure out how we can be people who love and unite others to honor God in situations like this. As we talk about it we must look at the situation as God does not as we do, as society does, or as one or another interest group does. God loves all people so we should as well. So when these divisive issues come to the front we as Christians have an excellent opportunity to show people who Jesus is! We can use our platforms – social media, friends, colleagues, the media, and more – to express opinions that are God honoring.

What would that look like in this case? Well, I think you could say something like this:

I can completely understand Kaepernick’s frustration – there are clearly injustices in our nation. What we need to do is all work together to address these issues and not pick sides. We all want social equality for all races so the question is how do you get the African-American community, the police, the white community, and others around a table to come up with true community solutions that finds common ground.

Then you need to do it!

See here’s the rub with being a Christian – that word is a verb not a noun. We are told very clearly to put our faith into action. It is not enough to identify a problem, pray about it, and hope that God takes care of it. Jesus left us here on this earth to be His hands and feet. Problems like this are for us to solve. And we are to do so as Jesus taught – loving people in a way that draws them to us not making comments or taking actions that pushes them farther away.

I’ve seen a lot of comments and memes on Facebook and other social media that attack Kaepernick personally for his position. As Christians, let’s not fall into that worldly trap. Instead let’s love the guy even if we disagree with his actions; let’s find common ground if there is any; and let’s do something in our own communities to address our social issues in a way that is both constructive and unifying.

Christians have a great opportunity in our current cultural climate to be the counter-culture to what has become the norm. While others are attacking each other and fighting we can show people a better way. Love always; tell the truth in love and gentleness; and in all you do draw people closer to Jesus by your words and actions. That’s what can make a difference in a fallen world.

 

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