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Kneeling and Patriotism: A Christian Perspective

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BY DEWEY MULLIS |

Picture of a football

Much of the country has been locked in yet another divisive battle. This time, the issue is NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.

On one side, there are individuals who are seeking to address issues of racial injustice. On the other side are individuals who find the protest to be disrespectful and therefore invalid.

As both a Christian and an American, this troubles me deeply. What troubles me specifically is that nobody is paying attention and holding on to what isn’t being said.

Jesus would be concerned with injustice because it impacts humans at their core. To be primarily concerned with the symbols is nothing but idolatry.

In all of the conversations I have heard and had, nobody has denied the issue of racial injustice.

The individuals who kneel are obviously calling attention to it, but those on the other side are only expressing concern about the show of respect for symbols of our country. I have to conclude that patriotism is corrupting our ability to address and solve the issue of racial injustice.

If we ask ourselves the age-old question of “what would Jesus do?”, we can contextualize it as such: would Jesus be concerned about injustice or symbols of a country? Hint: the answer is not “all of the above”.

Jesus would be concerned with injustice because it impacts humans at their core. To be primarily concerned with the symbols is nothing but idolatry.

Yes, we have reached a point in this divisive discussion in which we worship the flag and the anthem at the expense of human issues.

It is unacceptable, as Christians and Americans, that patriotism has become the wall that prevents humans from uniting. Unity is indeed an essential.

Patriotism, like worship, should also be acceptable in many forms. This includes using the freedoms allowed in the Constitution.

Here is another way to think about it: Let’s think about the way Christians worship God. Is there a right and wrong way to worship God? People often get stuck on various non-essentials of worship such as the bulletin not being perfect, the musical selection of the choir, their seat being taken, someone’s “church-(in)appropriate wardrobe”, or the baby crying.

Do these things really define worship, or do they blind us from what worship should be?

Worship in the form of a quiet church and rigid order of service is valid. Christian rock music in a make-shift church or at someone’s home is valid. Two strangers smiling at each other and saying, “have a good day” or helping each other is worship. Praying every day or only when you remember is worship. Being the best person you can be for yourself and others is worship.

Why, on the issue of national symbols, is patriotism one way or the highway? Why does it appear to be an elite club only for those who follow all of the rules for respecting and serving American symbols?

Patriotism, like worship, should also be acceptable in many forms. This includes using the freedoms allowed in the Constitution. It also includes basic acts of human decency. Anything that makes this country better is patriotic – one not being better than the other.

While the U.S. is not a Christian nation (having no official religion), to be an American and a Christian can have significant overlap.

Both identities value peace, love, and justice for all. Both identities enable freedom in their own respects. Both identities are intended to show and create unity among people. Both groups are supposed to be inviting to others, and have many missional qualities. Both are supposed to value human dignity and worth.

While these aspects may be interpreted and experienced differently by each person, they are all standards and expectations set by its subscribers.

We, as Christians, cannot let patriotism or symbols blind us. We must instead be bound together for the human issues we commonly experience and acknowledge.

The beauty of it is that we don’t have to give up either identity to achieve this.

Our God calls for it, and our nation stands and strives for it.


Questions? Comments? Contact Dewey Mullis at DeweyMullis@Gmail.com 

Portrait of Dewey Mullis

Dewey Mullis is a life-long Moravian with roots at Friedland Moravian Church. He studied criminal justice at Appalachian State University, and is currently a graduate student of clinical counseling and social work at Moravian Theological Seminary and Marywood University. Dewey has worked with adults and adolescents in correctional and psychiatric facilities, and currently researches re-entry and mental health services for jail populations.

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2 thoughts on “Kneeling and Patriotism: A Christian Perspective

  1. I am a white female Christian who was raised in the Moravian church in the triad area of North Carolina. With all due respect, it troubles me deeply that you have not encountered anyone who disagrees with the position of “racial injustice.” There are multitudes of people, and yes, Christian people who really don’t understand exactly what people of color are not able to take advantage of if they work for it, just like everyone not of color must do to be successful. What rights do they not have? I am asking because as career Social Worker, what I have seen evolve, is people of color have gained every right and every opportunity that I have. When I ask that question to other groups who talk about racial inequality, they get extremely defensive, and no one provides answers. There is never any dialogue, just passive aggressive responses that get us no where in understanding what racial inequalities people of color feel exist. The term itself has become very ambiguous that no one that I have talked with can even explain what it really means. It has become the “hot button” in the political divide we now find ourselves in this country. Black crime is real. White crime is real. However, the black on black murder and crime rate is an astonishing statistic in our society. This is a fact. You, with a history in the criminal justice system should be aware of these statistics. The media is all too quick to sensationalize any black person who commits a crime and who has involvement with law enforcement that has a “hint” of inflammatory content. And the racial chasm is intensified. There is a simple concept in society, if you break the law most likely you will be involved with law enforcement. If you don’t comply with their instructions, people usually end up getting hurt. black, brown, white, etc. Are there corrupt law enforcement officers, you better believe there are, just as there are corrupt pastors, ministers, social workers, teachers, and all other professions. Does that give us as a society freedom to attack and kill police officers? How can you defend the actions of certain groups where innocent law enforcement officers have died at the hands of these protest groups? I was raised very poor and worked my way through undergraduate and and graduate school. I was the first person in my family to even finish high school. My mother worked in a textile factory, “sweat shop” and my daddy ran a body shop at our house. There were times we didn’t have enough food to eat. I have worked since I was 13 years old. So no “white privilege” here. It also troubles me that you don’t mention the position of the NFL players “as being at work” when they protest. What I don’t understand is how you feel it is OK for the NFL players to use the platform of their work to protest “racial injustice” by disrespecting two of the founding cornerstones of our country, being the American Flag, and the National Anthem. It should be counted an honor to live in this country where we are protected by the most valiant military in the world. Yes we have freedom of speech to say whatever anyone feels like saying. I truly believe our fore fathers who penned the constitution would be appalled at the vile way that freedom is being abused to hurt people and divide this great country. I have worked as a Social Worker for 40 years and have never worked in an environment where it was acceptable to protest or use company time to promote my social interests, regardless of how strongly I felt about certain issues. I think it is rather divisive of you to presume that somehow Jesus would support these actions. What you imply is that if we disagree with you, somehow we are on the wrong side of Christianity. Many of the Christian people who I have known all my life, and have worshiped and worked side by side with, feel that Christian values, morals, and conservative ideals are being trampled in this country. The liberal agenda is destroying the moral fabric and ethical standards that I have used as guideposts all my life. In regard to the NFL, many of these players themselves are criminals with very shady pasts who are multi-millionaires. We as the fans, have turned a “blind eye” to most of their criminal behavior, because football is like a “God” to many people. Symbolism is a strong indicator in a society. So are mores’, culture, ethics and moral standards. I respect your opinion, however respectfully disagree.
    My question is, So where does it end? When Jesus comes back?

  2. Beverly, thank you for taking the time to read and provide such a comprehensive response. I don’t typically reply to my own articles, but you raised some very good insights that are often the foundational questions and topics that come up in conversations like this. What I’m going to do is respond as comprehensively as possible, and in the order in which you raise them. I’ll be offering my interpretation of facts and awarenesses. They may be different from yours, but I don’t want to leave such a thoughtful response unrecognized.

    Yes, it is true that many of the conversations about this specific topic (the NFL) have not raised questions about the existence of racial injustice. As I mention in the article, the majority of the conversations on the national level and media outlets tend to focus solely on the protest and patriotism aspect. When you get into the race conversation at a deeper level, then yes, there are several people who question or disagree with the concept or existence of racial injustice.

    You point out, and correctly so, that racial minority populations have full legal rights. However, that is not what is being discussed. People are not saying that minorities don’t have certain rights, but that their access to rights or experiences of those rights are often different, and not positively so.

    With my background in criminal justice, you again correctly point out that I do know black-on-black crime is at a high rate. Likewise, so is white-on-white and Hispanic-on-Hispanic crime. This is so because people still tend to live in racially homogenous areas, so their environments, thus their crimes and victims, are much more likely to be of their same race. That is not as much a racial event as it is economic and statistical likelihood.

    So where is the racial injustice if we are all victimizing our own racial groups? The differences come in the ways people experience and access their rights. For example, both black and white individuals accused of a crime have a legal right to representation. However, black individuals are more likely to not be able to afford an adequate attorney. They are more likely to rely on public defenders, who have massive caseloads that prevent them from paying more attention to cases, may be less skilled and have less resources, and are subjected to more time restrictions. Therefore, black individuals are more likely to take a plea deal.

    This is where another level of injustice or discrepancy comes into play. Black individuals and white individuals are just as likely to be arrested for crimes, but black individuals are more likely to be convicted, typically serve longer sentences, and take more plea deals than white individuals faced with the same charges. So, how do we change these statistics? The answer is economic.

    As cities began to grow, minority and immigrant populations were brought in to city centers for the purposes of provided labor. This became where they lived. Over time, those city center industrial centers left, but the individuals who had moved there and still lived there didn’t. They weren’t able to. And those areas have not recovered. Then comes this idea of “broken windows policing.” This style of law enforcement suggests that the areas that have more deterioration will also possess more crime, thus, that is where the problem must be. Yes, crime rates are high in these areas, but they often have much to do with survival. This is not to excuse violent crimes, but to shed light on economic and substance-related crime. With your extensive service as a social worker, I’m certain that you have encountered clients who are very oppressed – psychologically, emotionally, because of past victimizations, etc. For minority populations, this experience of oppression is generational, and it has not been corrected yet. How to correct it is another conversation.

    So to summarize all of that, racial injustice isn’t the suggestion that blacks and minorities don’t have the same rights, but that access and experience of rights is often different. And yes, white people have these same experiences. Again, however, white individuals tend to have more resources outside of impoverished areas, and therefore have more mobility prospects.

    Yes, we have laws and they should be followed, but it isn’t that easy. We, as a society have to come to terms with the realities of why certain crimes in certain areas with certain demographic groups are higher. As I mentioned, it is very much related to survival and economics.

    Second, I am not defending the actions of certain groups where innocent law enforcement officers have died at the hands of these protest groups. There are several incorrect assumptions and facts with that statement. First, I’m addressing NFL players who are kneeling. None of those individuals have been convicted of shooting a police officer. I’m not sure what you meant by “these protest groups”.

    It is also imperative to note that white people also kill police officers. The FBI publishes annual reports about police shootings with breakdowns detailing race and reasoning. Over the past 33 years, the FBI found that 52% of officers shot in the line of duty were shot by white offenders, 41% were black, and 7% were of other races. So, this notion that black people kill police officers is wildly inaccurate. It is just that simple.

    Third, to you point about NFL players being “at work”. Yes, they are “at work”. However, I believe that people should work in careers they love, and do the work for the greater good. That includes finding a way to use your job to promote issues you find to be important. Social work is a great example of this. As social workers, we are always using our positions to make a statement, though they may be more outward or subtle than others. The work we do is a form of advocacy and social change, and we are supposed to use that to promote a greater social fabric. That may look different from person to person, but the action itself is what is important. I am not of the belief that work has to be for one purpose or a bottom line alone. Look at how much great work these NFL players do off the field in their communities? They wouldn’t be able to do that if it wasn’t for their work as a player.

    To your next point, yes, I believe that Jesus would support the basic ideas of justice over symbols of national identity. That was the question. If you are of the belief that Jesus would support national identity over basic principles of justice, then yes, I would be suggesting you’re on the wrong side of Christianity.

    What I am NOT saying is that being patriotic is wrong. I’m saying being so patriotic that symbols trump justice awareness is wrong, which is MY perception of the situation.

    I am not going to address the notions of the “liberal media” and that “Christian values, morals, and conservatives ideals are being trampled in this country” because that exact belief currently holds a political majority. It’s also a diversion from the issues I’m addressing. In fact, it is this exact political divisiveness that has created this big to-do with the NFL. It would have never gotten to this level of tension if the President had not manufactured it. Again, I’m leaving that at just that.

    The last point I would like to address is your suggestion that many players are criminal, shady, and wealthy. It is interesting that you lump all of these descriptors together – specifically adding that they are wealthy. But you make my point for me when you say “football is like a God to many people”.

    Football is indeed like a God, as is the flag and anthem – patriotism or being a patriot often being Godly qualities for many. That is the entire point of this article. While they may be indicators of a nation’s strength to the world, I have to ask if they are a sign of strength to the people who inhabit it. Many people say otherwise, and I think it is important that we address problems among our own people before we take that message into the world.

    And to respond to your final question: where does it end? Well, it doesn’t have an end point. After is it black individuals and minorities, it will be something or someone else. Our country is not perfect and never will be, but we should always be trying to make it so. Unfortunately, politics, individualism, materialism, and social constructions and institutions get in the way of that. Instead, I would suggest that it begins with conversations exactly like this. I chose to respond to you because you raised many great points of conversation, and I hope that you read my reply as respectfully as I read yours.

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