Since Colin Kaepernick chose not to stand for the national anthem less than two weeks ago, there's been much fallout. We've learned that The Star Spangled Banner actually celebrates the slaughter of freed slaves. We've learned that Kaepernick isn't alone among professional athletes who want to see change in our country. We've also learned that a bevy of veterans support Kaepernick's right to sit or stand during the anthem.
My concern here, though, is the Christian response. There's an example from Sojourners that notes the necessity of protest against injustice from a Christian perspective. Patheos connects the story to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in front of Nebuchadnezzar, and goes so far as to say, "if you’re telling your kids that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did the right thing (by refusing to bow to Nebuchadnezzar's god), but Kaepernick did the wrong thing, you’re sending them mixed messages." The Christian Science Monitor even suggested that Colin may be the new face of patriotism. I found these most encouraging, that there were people of faith ready to defend Colin's constitutional and biblical grounding.
Of course, there's another side, perhaps typified by an article from Charisma News. Therein the author suggested that Colin was actually being selfish, putting his team in a negative light, and suggests that Colin doesn't truly understand the problems of racism and racial profiling in our country. This seems to fit the social media outcry that I've seen from too many Christians, ridicule Colin for exercising a constitutional right in order to create a conversation around the constitutional rights of people of color across the country.
Yet, what concerns me most about the response from Christians is the assumption that we owe absolute allegiance to a flag or a country. In 2nd Corinthians, Paul reminds us that Christians are Christ's ambassadors to the places in which we live. And let's not forget: ambassadors are not citizens of the country where they live. Their citizenship belongs to their country of origin and to the ruler who sent them. Christians are citizens of God's kingdom first, and our allegiance is not first to a flag, or a song, or a constitution, but to the God made known in Christ.
Now, this doesn't mean we're supposed to hate the countries in which we live; far from it! Max Lucado once wrote, “God loves you just the way you are, but God refuses to leave you that way. God wants you to be just like Jesus.” This, it seems, should be our outlook as God's ambassadors. We should love our countries, but in a way that seeks their transformation. There is no perfect country, so of course we must at times protest, we must at times work to change our constitution, in order to pursue further justice. Or, in the words of 2nd Corinthians, to negotiate with the world so that it might reconcile with God.
I can't pretend to know the inner workings of Colin's faith or mind. What I can say, though, is that as people of faith, we too must be ready at times to not salute everything that our country does. Blind allegiance is not an allegiance worth offering. When our country incarcerates 2.2 million people, 500,000 more than China, a country four times our size, we should not salute that. When it's less likely for people with "black-sounding names" to be hired for jobs or responded to by their government, we should not salute that. When people of color are more likely to experience violence at the hands of our government officials, we should not salute that. Instead, as Christ's ambassadors, we should be pointing to God's preference for those who are imprisoned, for those who are ostracized, for those who experience injustice, and work to bring change that reflects God's reconciliation of all things in Christ Jesus.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.