Quite a stir in the NFL right now. Players and entire teams are now trying to make political statements during the playing of the National Anthem. And, as expected, since kids all over America look up to those spoiled-rotten, millionaire boys-in-men’s bodies, the “kneel down” protest has spread to middle and high schools. It’s all enough to to make this US Marine Corps Veteran want to strap an M-16 to their backs and drop them all in the middle of Iraq or Afghanistan so they can experience what it takes to provide such immense freedom that even enables them to protest while uniformed men and women hold the flag right in front of them in stadiums, standing at attention and saluting from the first note to the last.
While some have claimed they, as Americans, have this “right” or “freedom” to protest during the anthem, it is worth noting that 36 US Code 301, passed by Congress, states regarding civilians: “During a rendition of the National Anthem . . . all other persons present should face the flag, and stand at attention with their right hand over their heart, and men . . . should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.”
We used to be a Nation of Laws. Now, we are lawless. We celebrate lawlessness. Sure, if a law violates God’s Word, as a Christian, I am obligated to obey God and “protest” or “disobey” my government. But friends, there’s nothing in the Bible forbidding us to obey our nation’s laws and protocols during national anthems. So, believers in the Church who are defending the actions of these lawless millionaires might want to rethink in light of Romans 13.
While I support the 1st Amendment doggedly, I do not think it wise to use the National Anthem as the “platform” for protest or redressing grievances. Imagine our Olympic athletes doing so during a medal ceremony! Do you think the men and women in the military always agree with everything happening in our nation? Yet they stand at attention and salute every single time. Why? Because they have been trained in the doctrine of law and order! I mean, where will this end? Should we allow people to burn the flag during the anthem? Go spit in the faces of the sergeant holding the flag on the field? Go punch a police officer trying to direct traffic in the parking lot? Lawlessness leads to these very things, and no doubt someone somewhere is already planning it or maybe has done it.
And just what are these athletes protesting? Racism. Injustice in the law enforcement and/or court systems. That’s what they are claiming. And I agree those things exist. And I agree they are sinful and wrong. And I agree we as a nation and especially we Christians in the Church ought to be fighting hard against them.
But I disagree that this platform is an acceptable means. And I disagree that these millionaire boys are the right bearers of this banner of protest. After all, they have “made it.” Many of them may have come “from the hood” but let’s face it, they ain’t there anymore! America worked for them!
But, maybe just maybe some of them desire to use their privileged status to fight for the under-privileged. If that is so, it’s noble. And yet again, I want to strongly protest the method and manner of their protest. It is actually a lawless and senseless way to go about fighting for justice for all. A better way would be for them to sacrifice their lavish lifestyles and don a police uniform. Start walking the beat in the hood. Or give up your millions, like your colleague Pat Tilman, to enlist in the Army. Or at bare minimum use your star power to establish organizations that get police officers and citizens and judges all enjoying picnics together in their towns, talking to one another, listening to one another, loving one another.
Kneeling during the anthem accomplishes nothing. Sacrificial love conquers all injustices, though. And this really has been and continues to be the purview of the Church. Right? Of all people, we followers of Christ should know the solution to injustices can never be merely political. And the NFL has absolutely no real power to change men’s hearts. “Lawless” is an accurate description of every person. And only the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross can remove the penalty of God against our lawlessness. Only a new heart given by God’s Spirit as we trust in the life, death and resurrection of Christ in our place will destroy bigotry and racism and injustice in our hearts. We must remember, dear Christians, we were once the ones refusing to kneel before the Lord. We once refused to salute His banner of love. But He came to us in great mercy and gave us life and set us free to love Him and His Law (John 8:36; Eph 2:1-10).
Church, we can belly-ache all we want about these protests and the lawless condition of our culture. And we can even disagree on the politics behind some of it. And we can choose to turn off our TV sets, too, when the NFL games are on! But we must never forget that this whole “freedom” and self-rule project called the United States of America rested on the spiritual values the Colonists once shared in the mid-1700s. This has been chronicled so well by Eric Metaxas in his book If You Can Keep It. I’ll turn my attention to that in future posts. But for now, let us renew our commitment to proclaiming true justice and freedom only through the cross of our Lord and Savior. What these football players are protesting is real. And the fix for it is something only the Church possesses. So go tell the millionaires and the hourly workers, the rich and poor – only Jesus saves, and only His kingdom will know no end. All other flags will be furled eventually.
Until then, work for continued political freedom and law and order, for sure. But never misplace your ultimate allegiance. If you’ve spent hours on social media arguing about the NFL protests, why not vow to spend even more hours speaking about true righteousness, and true justice, and the solution God gives in Christ for our unrighteous, lawless hearts?
“And every created thing which is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever'” (Revelation 5:13).
As Russell Moore says in his book Onward, we are Americans best when we are not Americans first.