There are not many White parents who, upon finding out that their Johnny or Jane has been unfairly treated or deprived of classroom resources, won’t speak up and ask the teacher or principal to rectify that situation. I recall doing so myself when my youngest was in about third grade and late in the year she told me she finally had the chance to use the classroom computer. I was shocked. So for nearly the entire school year, the boys had used the computers. No girls. Did I march into the school and demand justice and equality? You bet I did.
So why is it so difficult for White folks to understand that when an athlete respectfully takes a knee or bows out of pledging allegiance to the flag or paying homage to the national anthem, s/he is protesting the injustice and inequity of persons who supposedly are promised “liberty and justice for all” but in truth, are too often denied that promise? That is not only an understandable protest, it is one that actually honors the principles of the flag and is far more patriotic than the hollow entertainment and spectacles that surround the flag at these events. Consider God Bless America at the 7th inning stretch–it may not be blasphemous but it’s close.
Christians especially are caught up in this drama when they should know better. Church History is a complicated and long history but for the sake of this point, let me simplify and say that most scholars would agree that Constantine and his conversion to Christianity is a watershed moment. So there is Church that is Pre-Constantinian and there is the Church that is Post-Constantinian. The Pre-Constantinian Church was persecuted and martyred by the Roman Government. Paul and Peter and the Lord they proclaimed were all killed by the State. And the reason so many Christians were persecuted and killed is that they would not bow to the images of Caesar and the State. The Post-Constantinian Church eventually became intertwined with imperial power. And yes, in America, churches will have the flag prominently displayed in their sanctuaries. Some will pledge allegiance to it on a Sunday. That is a Constantinian Church, jeopardizing the very Gospel it proclaims.
Were a First Century or Second or Third Century Christian to show up by way of a time machine and see athletes refusing to honor the image of the State, they would quickly conclude that these must be Christians about to be fed to the lions in a large stadium.
Well, Pastor, what do you do? When I am at a stadium and the anthem is sung, I stand and put my hand over my heart. But I do not pledge allegiance. My allegiance is to Christ. I love my country and am grateful for all I have but here’s the deal—I know that my experience as a White male in this country is vastly different from African-Americans, Women, and GLBT persons. I don’t blame them at all for opting out or taking a knee at the anthem. That in my opinion is remarkably similar to the early Christians and their passion for God. And were I able, I’d link arms with those who choose to protest because, protest is not only Protest-ant, it is American through and through. And I recognize this: while a game, be it football or baseball, allows me to cheer on an athlete, it does not allow me to dictate their conscience. They agreed to entertain us but they did not agree to prop up our political views or philosophical opinions. When we can have a conversation about how justice in this country is predetermined and bends for some while oppressing others, then maybe we will have grown up.
So, no, Mr. President, you are wickedly wrong. These athletes are not “sons of bitches.” They are brave. They are true Americans. You owe them and the country an apology for your vile speech.