Conservatives are up in arms over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem before a game against Green Bay a few days ago. Kaepernick explained himself in a statement post-game: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Much has been said in the past several days about the racist origin of the national anthem, as well as similar statements and positions by other athletes such as Jackie Robinson (see last link) and Muhammad Ali. The common criticism by some non-conservatives (my own mother, for example) that Kaepernick is “just a football player” holds no sway for me; people in a position to have their voices heard have a responsibility to speak out against injustice.
So I don’t want to pile on about how the people upset at Kaepernick are hypocrites. Instead I want to talk about this meme that I’ve seen shared by some uber-conservative “Christians” I have the misfortune to be connected to on social media:
We all remember Tim Tebow, right? I do, and like I said, I don’t care one bit about football. In case you were living under a rock in 2011, Tebow was a quarterback for the Broncos and made regular news for dropping down to his knees and praying during games. Tebow is very outspoken about his evangelical Christian faith and has made statements such as “[We need to get back to] ‘One nation under God.'”
I love that they want to make this comparison, because it actually gives me an excuse to do what I do best and make this all about Jesus. So let’s do that, shall we?
Let’s start by asking the age old question “What would Jesus do?” Tim Tebow and his conservative fans seem to think Jesus would intercede on behalf of the Denver Broncos (or the Jets, or whatever baseball team Tebow thinks he’s gonna play for).
That’s right: these people actually believe that their omnipotent, all-seeing deity, the being which created the entire universe, takes the time out of His busy day to change the nature of reality to allow a professional sports team to score a touchdown because Tim Tebow is “brave” enough to pray publicly…in a nation of 80% Christians.
I don’t care what Tebow prayed for specifically. Prayer, in the context of a football game, means either that you’re asking God to help you win, or thanking God for helping you win. There is no third option. Whatever it may be, you are implying that God cares about football.
These same conservatives are upset at Kaepernick because he is “disrespecting” the flag, the anthem, the military, the country, whatever. But let’s ask again: what would Jesus do?
It might come as a surprise to some conservative readers, but Jesus actually wasn’t American. I know! Believe it or not, when he was alive, America actually didn’t exist.
Okay, but maybe in the 1700 years between when he was crucified and when the USA was founded, Jesus, while waiting in heaven, might’ve kept up with human poli-sci developments and decided that a constitutional democratic republic is the best form of government, and also that America is just special.
Oh, wait, no, we actually know exactly the type of society Jesus favored, and it looked nothing like America. It was called the Kingdom of God. That’s right. Kingdom.
I’ve already written about how standing up for racial justice is an integral part of actually living the Kingdom. No need to rehash that. The point is that publicly refusing to stand for the anthem in order to make a point about injustice is a form of social-civil disobedience, which was an enormous part of Jesus’s program.
Jesus (and many other Jews, especially in Galilee) were upset that the Temple authorities paid taxes to Caesar and accepted Roman rule. So what does Jesus do? He heals and cleanses people, something only the Temple priests were supposed to be able to do. Then he actually went to the Temple and staged what could rightly be called an “Occupy Jerusalem” demonstration, for which he was killed.
Concepts such as nationalism and even patriotism are anti-Christian because they detract from commitment to the Kingdom of God. I guess it’s conceivable that I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that if Jesus came back to earth and attended a football game for whatever reason (I like to think of Jesus as more of a baseball guy), you wouldn’t find him on the sidelines bent in prayer with Tim Tebow, or carrying the flag while somebody drones “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Generally, if you want to find Jesus, you look to those fighting for justice. So if you wanted to find Jesus at that football game, I’d wager he’d be sitting beside Colin Kaepernick in defiance of America’s system of institutionalized oppression.