I have been trying to work out my position on the Colin Kaepernick affair, and nothing quite satisfies. Kaepernick, as most people know, is the biracial San Francisco 49ers quarterback who refuses to stand for the National Anthem, as a protest against police brutality against black people. It has caused a huge stir. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees criticized his NFL colleague, saying he respects Kaepernick’s right to protest whatever he wants, but drawing the line at this form of protest. Brees calls the American flag “sacred.”
1. As a general matter, I don’t take protest by wealthy celebrities seriously. Kaepernick is one of the richest and most famous people in America. America has been very, very good to Colin Kaepernick. Few if any classes in America are more privileged than the professional athlete. He signed a six-year, $114 million contract with the 49ers in 2014. There’s something obnoxious about a multimillionaire NFL athlete taking this kind of stand. If his stand actually costs him something, I will reconsider.
2. On the other hand, Drew Brees is wrong: the American flag is not sacred. I mean, I understand why he believes that it is, and I am sure it is sacred to him, as it is to tens of millions of Americans. But should it be? Do we worship the nation and its symbols? At what point does loving one’s country — patriotism — become an idolatrous form of nationalism?
3. What if the United States government, as well as American culture, began to oppress Christians in a serious, deliberate way? How would I feel about standing up for the National Anthem myself? I would be hard pressed to do so, precisely because the state would be violating the one thing I do hold sacred: the Sacred.
4. It is no small thing to refuse to stand for the National Anthem. It shows disrespect towards the nation, which is to say, All Of Us. It is to say, “I’m not part of you.” If that’s how one feels, then there’s no gainsaying it, but it’s a big deal. What would happen if more people began to think that the ties that bind us together as a people are not as strong as the forces pulling us apart? And what if that were true?
5. I think the vast majority of people who stand for the National Anthem do it unthinkingly. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. One’s love of and fidelity to one’s country should be assumed, normally. Most people will see Kaepernick’s stunt as just that: a stunt. But the day may come when things like this have more power than mere shock value. Though Kaepernick’s action is wholly political, with no discernible religious content to it, it ought to make Christians think about our own relationship with the nation and its symbols.
6. Here’s what I mean: To what extent do we consider being a faithful Christian coterminous with being a good American? We may see no meaningful difference today, but how will we be able to tell when the nation asks us to burn a pinch of incense in honor of the national deity, and that’s something we cannot do without violating our consciences? We may see no contradiction between being a good Christian and a good American, but what happens when Americans as a whole look at dissenting Christians and call us un-American for the things we believe and do? Will we stand for the National Anthem then? If so, will we stand for the America we think is real, versus this politicized, debased America that the mainstream holds to? Or will it be more important for us not to stand, and to accept whatever consequences come with that?
7. Are we asking too much from our country, to expect it to be perfect, and to withhold our public expression of loyalty and respect until it perfects itself — a day that will never arrive? Would we refuse to respect our extended family until it sorts out its own problems? In what sense is the nation like a family? Same with our church (an issue that has been very much present in my own life, as longtime readers know).
8. What will it cost us if we lose the ability to stand together for the National Anthem? Is it worth what we stand to gain?
These are the thoughts I have around the Kaepernick incident. I welcome yours.