Everyone has an opinion on 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand for the National Anthem before games. I’m no different, so here are my two cents. Before we get into it, let me state up front that I do not speak for the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any part of the government. I speak only for me.
As far as I can tell, Kaepernick’s behavior has brought to light several issues:
The idea of an American protesting something in America.
The Star Spangled Banner’s inherent racism.
The national response to Kaepernick.
Issue #1 – An American Protesting America
If you want to save 15% on your car insurance, you go to Geico. It’s what you do. If you’re an American and want to bring about change, you protest. It’s what you do. Seriously, we’ve been doing it from the beginning of our nation. Boston Tea Party, anyone? The entirety of the Revolutionary War was one big protest. In a country that was birthed in protest and has been characterized by protest, it amazes me that people get offended when Kaepernick wants to protest.
The point of the Bill of Rights is that we have the FREEDOM to protest! That’s why we refuse to let government silence the press or to mute the individual’s voice. Protest is built into our very Constitution. Kaepernick is acting more American than ever when he utilizes protest to bring about change.
Issue #2 – The racism in the National Anthem
Let’s be honest, the whole idea of the National Anthem containing a racist line was not what Kaepernick’s protest is about. In fact, before last week, I don’t personally know ANYONE who ever sang more than verse 1 of the song, let alone make it to verse 3. Since verse 3 is not part of the American culture and is only remembered in history books, functionally, it might as well not even exist. It plays no significance in the singing/playing of the Anthem in our country.
Kaepernick’s protest was about CURRENT race relations in America, and in his original statement he wasn’t even talking about the song—he was talking about the flag. I personally don’t understand how someone who willingly lives under the flag and the freedoms that come with it would protest it in such a way, but it is his right to do so. In the Navy, every day when the flag is raised or lowered on base everyone stops to observe colors. Those of us in uniform will salute. Those not in uniform will stand at attention. Drivers stop driving. But that is part of the organization to which we belong. Even though I don’t agree with Kaepernick’s decision to protest in such a way, it is his right—a right Service Members fight to protect (see issue #1).
Issue #3 – National Response to Kaepernick
This is the real issue I wanted to get to because here I see many Christians going bananas. Many “Christians” are incensed that Kaepernick would disrespect the flag, the anthem, and the nation. The problem is that Kaepernick committed the ultimate sin against the national religion – PATRIOTISM. Yes, in a land where we claim there is no national religion, we lie. Patriotism has become the national religion. Many people conflate their patriotism with their Christianity and are unable to differentiate the two. That’s a shame, and both patriotism AND Christianity suffer when they are not able to be separated.
Do not misunderstand me—I am patriotic. I love serving the country as a Navy Chaplain. I love taking care of our Service Members. I am extremely grateful that I live in the USA and have the many freedoms granted me as a citizen of this country. But ultimately this world is not my home. Ultimately, my loyalty to God needs to take a higher place than loyalty to any nation.
I fear nationalism has infiltrated American Christianity. Merriam-Webster defines Nationalism such:
loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups
While I am patriotic and support my country, as a Christian I must recognize that God is the God of ALL nations and ALL people. I must hear the WORD of God when he says, “Consider others as better than yourself.” I must consider the words of Christ when he says, “If you want to be great, be a servant to others.” A genuine Christian ethic doesn’t strive to put one’s nation above others.
Can one be patriotic and be a Christian? Yes! But let’s not get so wrapped up in nationalism that we lose hold of the faith to which we are called. In the end we are citizens of heaven, not of any singular earthly nation.
So, Colin, protest away. In the same stream that America’s founding fathers saw fight to protest, live according to your conscience. It’s your right—a right I choose to protect every day as I serve my country.
And to the rest of us, maybe it’s time to stop focusing on “making America great again” and rather seek to make our faith great again.
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, movie addict (seriously, if it’s on a screen he'll watch it—doesn’t matter how crummy or low-budget), and a Navy Chaplain, currently assigned to Naval Air Station, Meridian. Chris has a deep desire to help people live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live everyday. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He went on to get a Master of Divinity (MDiv) in Pastoral Preaching. Follow him at @chrislinzey.