A Provocative Freedom

We are a nation divided, and those divisions are not new, they’ve just been put on full display through some very recent acts, namely with a group of athletes choosing to take a different posture when it comes to the flag and the playing of our national anthem. A recent ESPN poll revealed what we already know - one’s position on the flag and whether or not to kneel runs along racial lines. The bulk of minorities surveyed are for the protests, while our white brothers and sisters hold a different view.
As Christians we should have a vested interest in this. I believe we have a unique opportunity to display the fragrant aroma of Christ not in our uniformity around this issue, but in how we navigate those differences with one another in all too public forums like Twitter, Facebook and the comments section on someone’s blog post (to name a few). I am going to guess if you’re a Christ-follower that you are a person of the Book, so how should the Scriptures inform our posture with one another. I’ve found the following to be helpful:

1. America is not God’s country. Nowhere in the Bible will you find that America is God’s country. I do believe that God has blessed America with unusual favor in large part because of how we treated the Jews during WWII. God promised in the Abrahamic covenant that he would bless those that blessed the Jews (Genesis 12:1-3), and we are still feeling the aftershocks of that promise. However, there’s no way one can read the Bible and come away with we are God’s country.

2. God doesn’t pledge allegiance to the American flag. Joshua 5 is one of the strangest encounters in the Bible. Here Joshua sees a mysterious man holding a sword and he asks this man whose side is he on- Israel’s or Canaan’s? The man- who is a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ- says neither, but that he is the captain of the LORD’s army. In other words, Jesus isn’t waving an Israeli flag or a Canaanite one. As Jesus would say centuries later, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Let’s not forget that when the national anthem is played God does not remove his hat, stand up and place his hand over his heart. Sure we should be patriotic, but when our patriotism rises to the level of our allegiance to God we are now guilty of the sin of nationalism.

3. We should show honor and respect to our country and its leaders. Jesus encouraged paying taxes, in fact we find him paying taxes himself. This was an act of honor. The Scriptures instruct us to honor our leaders, even the ungodly ones. Keep in mind when Peter told his audience to
“Honor the emperor,” many scholars believe one of Rome’s most vicious rulers was in power - Nero. It’s a good thing to remove one’ hat, place one’s hand over their heart and show respect to the flag. It is also a good thing to kneel while protesting. Let’s not forget that is why the protests went from sitting to kneeling- to show respect even while protesting.

4. The very historical tradition of Christianity is filled with protests. One need not look any further than the martyrs to see this. The very definition of a martyr is protest. I’m especially interested in Wilberforce, though, who was so incensed over the injustice and inhumanity of the slave trade that he carried on his own protests, one of which was the refusal to eat sugar for what amounted to years. He sparked ire among most in parliament, and many more in England. It is not a stretch to say had he lived today you would find him kneeling when our anthem is played. This, by the way, is not a suggestion to say we should or should not kneel, but to point out the inconsistency of adoring Wilberforce without fully contemplating the present implications of that adoration.

5. Both the Bible and the constitution give us the freedom to kneel or not to kneel when it
comes to the flag.
Because the Bible does not speak clearly into this issue, and because our constitution gives us leeway, we have freedom in how we express our convictions.

6. God is okay with offending. Many would appeal to Paul’s discourse on the believer’s stewardship of freedom found in Romans 14 as the guide for our actions regarding the flag. While his principles are mostly helpful to our discussion in whether or not to kneel, we must remember that contextually Romans 14 is worlds a part from the present topic. What Paul is after has to do with how Christians within the local church exercise their freedoms over disputable matters like food. What we are discussing has to do with using freedom as a provocative instrument to address systemic injustice. Wielded irresponsibly, Romans 14 would have found Rosa Parks guilty of sin when she refused to give up her seat thus causing the whites “to stumble”. Obviously this is a misappropriation of the text. What’s more is we see God, at times, instructing people to do provocative and offensive things to bring out a broader point. Was not Ezekiel offensive to the culture when he stripped down to his loin cloth and laid practically naked on his side for three hundred and ninety days? Did not the sight of the preacher (Hosea) with the prostitute (Gomer) offend so many of God’s people? Was not Jesus’ intentional healings on the Sabbath a protest against legalism, and offensive to the religious rulers of his time? The very emblem of the cross is offensive, Paul writes, to Jews and to Greeks. God is fine with offending, as long as it is committed to a greater good.

7. Whatever you do, love. No matter where one’s convictions on this matter leads them, we are bound by love. We have the right to protest. We have the right to protest the protest. We don’t have the right to be mean. An unloving Christian is an oxymoron.