I had the privilege last night of sitting down for a meal with 3600 or so friends and neighbors; people I know well and some I don’t know at all. It was wonderful and, it was powerful. But, it made me think. I had, like so many watched NFL players kneel or remain in the locker room during the National Anthem at various games around the country over the weekend. I had read the responses to these protests from all sides, from the White House, to the housewife, to the professor, to the pastor. And as we were passing potatoes around our table, the contrast was profound.
Let me say this: This is for Christians first and foremost, though I think it applies to anyone, regardless of belief. We, as Jesus followers are held to a high standard. I am not applying what follows to anyone else.
So how do we, as Jesus followers, respond to the issues being protested by these NFL players? How do we balance a desire to stand for the oppressed and a desire to show respect for a flag and a country that has long worked toward equality and ending oppression in the world? How do we reconcile that with the recognition that we have, as a nation, been the oppressor? Here are a few thoughts:
First, we must recognize that our words matter. That what we say represents a God who loves unconditionally, a God who is and always speaks truth. Sometimes, it is more important to listen and work toward relationship rather than work to prove our point. If we represent the God of Truth, then let our words be true as well. Social media gives us a platform to express this, but it certainly allows for untruths to easily creep in. It is easy to share something that supports our opinion on this matter; just a click, and it is out there. We should check the veracity of what we post first, before we share, and before we assume that it is from a reputable source. We should also make sure that we are communicating God’s truth rather than our own. We must recognize that our beliefs are colored by our experiences and our environment and that we have, over time, assimilated our religious belief into our national identity. Sometimes by calling out divisive statements, we ourselves divide even further. What we say should seek to bring people together rather than separate. Our words should be loving, thoughtful, and measured rather than reactionary.
Second, we must recognize that our nation is temporary. It will pass away. The United States of America is not a religious state and is not, nor should be, a stand-in for the church. Sometimes, the national interest and direction of America is in line with the Gospel and sometimes it is not. We must be willing to speak up when it is not. This is difficult for us. We do not want to seem unpatriotic, nor disrespectful to our veterans. This is a fine line that we will all have to deal with based upon the situation and I will admit, it will never be easy. We should be grateful every day for the freedom we have and the opportunity that it provides us. We should never take it for granted, nor those who have fought for it and defended it. But this part of this freedom is the opportunity to speak up when our nation, either actively or passively, does something that is oppressive to another. Respecting that freedom is honoring to our national heritage and our veterans and active-duty service men and women. But this nation will pass away. Heaven is not the United States, it is so much better. As Christians, we should always keep in mind that this is not our home and that we are ultimately citizens of heaven.
Third, we should be students of history and of policy. When these issues come up, it should drive us to learn more. Learn more of the history of our country and of ethnic groups different from us. If you’re a white male of exclusively European descent as I am, then the Black Lives Matter movement is quite foreign to you. Learn about it. Find out about African American heritage and culture. Visit the Black America West Museum in Denver. Learn about the things you do not know about. With the controversy over the national anthem and respect of the flag, learn about flag etiquette. It weakens your argument when you become angry over those who protest in this way while wearing an American flag t-shirt. When you read about NFL policy toward the anthem, take some time to find out what is actually written. Talk to someone you disagree with on this, or any other issue, and listen to them. Find out why they believe as they do.
Lastly, treat people as God would have you treat them. You cannot control their actions, but you can love them. We can disagree and still love. It is not always easy, but it is possible, and it is better than disagreement without love. Pastor Craig quoted C.S. Lewis this past Sunday and I wanted to share the full quote because I think it is highly applicable to this discussion: Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.” We must be constantly aware that the person that we disagree with is of supreme importance to God and therefore must be to us as well.
Maybe, then, in the midst of disagreement and contrary opinions, we can sit down together and pass the potatoes around the table.