Last week President Trump decided to seek some attention by referring to Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” for kneeling during the National Anthem, and calling for other players to either be forced to stand or fired. His words sparked responses which have expanded the anthem protests at NFL games, which have now spread beyond football. “America’s Pass-time” has become part of this protest as well.
The backlash against these protests does not surprise me. The practice of civil religion is an important way for empires to bind together the disparate people who make up their populations. In refusing to go along with an accepted practice of civil religion, even in an effort to highlight how the civil religion is falling short of its own promises, is perceived as a threat to stability 1. When representatives of those who have been most neglected by the promises offered by civil religion fail to participate it gnaws at the conscience of power. And the adrenaline rush caused by such discomfort creates a classic “fight or flight” response. Some, like our current president, lash out in anger. Others flee, promising not to watch until people stop causing them discomfort. For civil religion to work, the god of country must not be critiqued.
I am also not surprised, but I am appalled, by the number of people who claim to be Christians demanding people be forced to bow 2 to the god of civil religion. While I have some serious theological problems with the way civil religion is practiced in our churches, in the United States it was the churches which demanded limits on the fealty the civil government could expect from citizens. Freedom of conscience, called “Soul Liberty” in my Baptist tradition 3, may be the best contribution offered to civil discourse by American Christians. And now it seems we’d like to flush it down the toilet in order to grab for cultural supremacy. What we are seeing from Christians who are demanding civil religion being appeased isn’t faithfulness, it’s idolatry. We must repent.
I am a pastor, I am also a police chaplain 4, and out of Christian conviction I have not said the Pledge of Allegiance since I was seven-teen years old. I love this country, I am fascinated by both the achievements and failings found in its history 5, but my allegiance is the to Lamb on the throne. Given the rhetoric spewing from the mouths of some Christians I have no doubt there are churches in this country which might fire me for my refusal, but what a sad irony that is.
We need to do better.
- This is why Christians were sometimes persecuted in the Roman Empire, they refused to sacrifice to the genius of the emperor. Their was considered an act of societal disruption and obstinance. ↩
- Figuratively speaking. ↩
- Which is, I must admit, a flawed concept. ↩
- So please spare me the bogus claims of disrespecting police. I work with officers every week and I both respect their calling and care for their well-being. ↩
- So much so I feel studying our history is part of my calling. ↩