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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