In short, if they [the magistrates] are deputies of God, they must make every effort and take every care in all they do to represent to men an image of God's providence, protection, goodness, mildness and justice.
-John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, "On Civil Government"
The recent actions of Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe have exposed a hypocrisy within our country, revealed a deeper issues in our social identity, and, now, challenge Christians to reflect on our calling as citizens and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
I cannot help but be perplexed by the hypocrisy of those who have vehemently attacked these two athletes for their protests during the national anthem. Over forty years ago, Muhammad Ali protested the Vietnam War, refused to serve in the military on both religious and social justice grounds, and has since been praised for his actions. However, now an athlete refuses to stand during the national anthem--symbolically representing the laments of black Americans and their frustration with the ineptitude of our government and injustice taking place across the country--and he is immediately viewed as an ignorant, rich brat with no respect for his country.
Furthermore, at the risk of being overly reductionistic, we can look back to the formation of our nation for another example of protest against injustice. And these protests were blatantly disrespectful, and even violent, eventually leading to a war. Yet, we celebrate the actions of these individuals, the "revolutionaries" who helped to establish this country. How is that for both individual and societal hypocrisy?
But there is a deeper issue at hand, one summarized well by James KA Smith in two of his books. In The Devil Reads Derrida, Smith writes:
The faith that trumps all others [in America] is "Americanism." It is a noble faith that feeds off the blood of martyrs--in particular the "greatest generation"--who made the greatest sacrifice for the sake of the religion's highest value: freedom...Americanism has its own sacred documents (the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) and its own saints ("the Founding Fathers"), and has even birthed its own cathedrals and grottos (just stroll the National Mall).
And in Discipleship in the Present Tense, Smith further explains:
While there are alternative conceptual histories that would actually honor how much the United States was conceptually forged--that the US is really the experimental product of ideas--our current anti-intellectual climate would rather think of "America" as the product of force and might (as the national anthem prefers). So if we are thankful for America, we're thankful to the military who, proverbially, protect our freedom, keep us free, make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, etc. Soldiers are thus revered as the warrior-priests of freedom.
The offense of Kaepernick and Rabinoe's actions is wrapped up with concern for the religion of Americanism, and, with all due respect to the brave and sacrificial nature of those in our armed forces, the exaltation of the military and its role in upholding Americanism. Why is it inherently disrespectful to sit during the national anthem? Because it is a hymn, a confession of the faith.
As Christians, we must remember that we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and ambassadors sent to the world with the gospel of our King, Jesus Christ. This should temper our responses to the actions of individuals like Kaepernick and Rabinoe. Furthermore, as Christians, we believe that the civil government is ordained by God to protect us and establish equity and justice. When it fails to do so, we should cry out, protest, and appeal to those means given us by God for bringing change for the good of society.
The challenge before us is to evaluate the actions of our leaders and nation in light of the values and principles of our King and His Kingdom, not that of the American religion. When we see injustice--whether it be police brutality, racism, abortion, perpetual poverty, etc.--we should lament, engage in the civil process, work for the common good, and pray to our Father for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
I close with a prayer (derived from portions of Our World Belongs To God):
May our government, on every level, do public justice and protect the rights and freedoms of individuals, groups, and institutions so that each may do their tasks. Lead our authorities to guard children and the elderly from abuse and exploitation, bring justice to the poor and oppressed, and promote the freedom to speak, work, worship, and associate.
Furthermore, may we, as your people through Christ, serve you wherever we are in all areas of life; without fitting in, light in darkness, salt in a spoiling world, joyfully using our gifts to the glory of your name. Empower us to be witnesses to the only one in whose name salvation is found: Jesus Christ.
We long for the day when your kingdom will fully come, and your rule fully established. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.