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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Disunity in the Unity: Resolving Church Conflict

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BY RUTH COLE BURCAW |

In my work, ironically, I hear a lot about disunity. You’d think that those of us who come together to praise God, to grow spiritually, and to serve the world could find a way to do so without conflict. But like every other church in the world, we fight.

And I’m not talking about disunity around big, difficult issues or the essentials, though that happens too. I’m talking about disunity around the little things that somehow become big things . . . the color of the choir robes, whether we sit or stand for that hymn right before the sermon, what to do about ineffective volunteers, how to handle a difficult person, and more. You know what I mean.

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And all too often, we find ourselves unable or unwilling to address that conflict in any meaningful way. “That’s none of my business,” “The preacher should handle that,” “If I say anything, I’ll make them mad,” “It’s not that big a deal,” or “I’m just going to ignore that until it (or they) go away.”

In our church sanctuaries, fellowship halls, and meeting rooms, we face crucial confrontations and we’re not sure what to say. So, we stay silent, or engage in gossip, or go on the attack. When we fail to hold others accountable in ways that are both direct and respectful, what often begins as simple disagreements can grow into chronic dysfunction.

We as a Church already face numerous, significant challenges from outside our walls. Can we really afford to follow that sacred adage “in all things, love,” even when it’s clear that too much of that “love” and not enough accountability are actually tearing us apart?

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Consider this: not all conflict is bad. Most of us recognize that productive conflict can improve and even deepen our relationships, particularly in friendship, marriage, and business. But somehow, when it comes to church, we avoid conflict in the name of love, or preserving friendship, or saving time. In fact, open debate and disagreement often produces the best possible solution in the shortest amount of time.

How do we overcome the fear of conflict?

  • Acknowledge that conflict can be productive and that our natural tendency is to avoid it. Just say that out loud. In a meeting. More than once. It is critical that leaders model appropriate conflict behavior. By avoiding all conflict – even that which is necessary and productive — we add to the resulting dysfunction, which is unhealthy for everyone.
  • Consider having someone on your board or committee assume the role of “miner of conflict” — someone whose role it is to uncover buried disagreements and call attention to sensitive issues which the team must work through. The “miner” needs to remain objective and the group should commit to staying with the conflict until it is resolved. This responsibility could shift depending upon the issue being discussed.
  • Coach each other through the conflict. A simple behavioral covenant serves as a reminder for how to engage one another. Or perhaps group members agree to remind each other not to retreat from healthy debate. Once the discussion is over, participants can revisit the idea that conflict is good for the group and not something to be avoided. This creates a culture where healthy conflict is encouraged and valued.
  • Take advantage of resources that enable group members to learn about their own conflict styles, behavioral preferences, and personality styles. Knowing more about our own styles can prove useful in managing organizational conflict. There are dozens of assessments out there that can provide helpful insight. The Board of Cooperative Ministries provides several different workshops around healthy conflict and other issues of relevance to congregations. We’d love to come out to your church and help you use these tools to encourage productive conflict and healthy community.

People can learn healthy confrontation skills and when they do, churches benefit.

Future posts will explore specific skills that we can use before, during, and after a conflict. Why wouldn’t we work to make sure we never have fewer brothers and sisters than God has sons and daughters?


References

Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.

Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.


rcb at fourRuth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries. She and her family are members of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. Here she is when her daddy was the preacher at Grace Moravian Church in Mount Airy, NC.