Written by Taylor Kaufmann. DM by Leanna Westerhof.
On a Sunday morning in late September of this year, David Hawkins, pastor of Living the Word Church in Collinsville, IL was pulled over in his vehicle after leaving church. The officer approached his vehicle with his hand on his pistol. The officer asked Hawkins, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” To which Hawkins replied, “No sir, I do not.” Hawkins described how as the officer approached his car with his hand readied on his pistol, his heart was pounding out of his chest and how he was literally “scared for his life.”
Hawkins was pulled over because his license plate was expired, which he was unaware of. As is standard practice for members of law enforcement, the officer asked Hawkins for his I.D. to confirm the validity of his license and to see if he had any outstanding warrants. Hawkins explains, ”His search found nothing but panic, mental hysteria, and worry that was very real.”
This interaction that caused Hawkins to fear for his life is one of many similar interactions that happen on a daily basis in this country, and his fear should not be dismissed lightly. While this interaction was resolved peacefully, there have been too many others (such as the murders of Terrence Crutcher and Eric Garner) that have resulted in death. These interactions and the fear within these individuals point to deep problems ingrained within American society. Throughout its history, America has seen time and time again a multitude of disparities in treatment of black people. These disparities in treatment of black people have their origins in the black codes, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, and slavery. Jim Wallis, a leading Christian voice in this country, in his book America’s Original Sin, calls racial injustice the “Original Sin of America”. These systems of oppression against black people, racism (both conscious and unconscious), and racial biases exist within the DNA of America (The Netflix documentary “13th” offers great insight into these systems of oppression). This, of course, is a different story than the one we Americans like to tell about ourselves. It is a story that makes us ask, “what does liberty and justice for all really mean?” Which is why most of us would rather avoid the conversation.
Racial injustice is the fundamental issue individuals who kneel during the national anthem are attempting to address and bring attention to. Black people have been the recipients of oppression since the day they were brought to America against their will. Our nation’s past affects today’s society. Individuals who kneel are challenging Americans to see and name the plight of black people within this country.
And as Christians who live in America, we are called to be witnesses to the truth. We cannot sit idly by and watch people who are made in the image of God be treated as though they were not so. We are called to reconciliation and justice, which are fundamental to our love of neighbor. Jesus tells us the Greatest Commandment is to, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ ” And to “ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Matthew 22:36-40)
“The victim on the Jericho Road was passed by twice by persons of high standing in the religious and civic communities… The wounded man was naked and speechless and therefore his identity, his status, his social class could not be ascertained. So they passed him by. This is callousness… But a Samaritan, one of lower class, from an ostracized group, saw only a person in need, and regardless of his tribe or clan he provided for him all that he needed. This is true compassion” (p. 97).
The Apostle Paul tells us we are all part of one body, thereby saying we are all are neighbors, and even more: family. It says, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). No matter what we look like, where we come from, what language we speak or on account of any other difference do we cease to be a part of Christ’s body. There is diversity in the body, yet all of the parts form one body.
As Christians, our highest allegiance is to God, who commands us to love our neighbor. What are Christians saying when they choose to defend the American flag and national anthem rather than their brothers and sisters in Christ? Why are there so many Christians who look to belittle and de-legitimize the form of protest their brothers and sisters are taking, rather than attempt to understand their cries and pleas? Does defending the flag and national anthem before our brothers and sisters in Christ indicate that the flag and anthem are more important or deserve greater respect than our Christian family?
As Christians, we must be careful not to make the flag, anthem, or nation idols in our lives. Anything that comes between us and following Jesus is an idol. By kneeling, Christians give witness that the children of God and their suffering is more important than the flag.
I wonder whether Jesus and Paul would defend standing for the anthem. From my reading of Scripture, I don’t see either Jesus or Paul ever siding with the rulers of this world against members of the body of Christ.
My prayer is the church will begin to see our allegiance to our nation has clouded our commitment to Christ and the good news that in Christ, God has made possible a new family of every tribe, language, people, and nation. When will we kneel in prayer with our Christian brothers and sisters of color and demand fair treatment for them? When will we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness? We should have done this long ago, but there is nothing stopping us from doing this today.