The National Football League has once again erupted in a storm of controversy over players deciding to kneel or otherwise not salute during the playing of the national anthem. This controversy exists at the intersection of three groups of people with three different sets of priorities.
- People who prioritize their entertainment. These are the ones you’ll hear saying, “Just shut up and play football,” or “Football is my escape from the nastiness of politics so I don’t want politics.”
- People who prioritize identity politics. These would be the kneelers and those who back them. They demand that their experience of being black be heard and validated, and it takes precedence over football and country.
- People who prioritize patriotism. The ones who I hear saying things like, “If you don’t like things in America, leave.” These people are generally conservatives, and this group largely overlaps with the crowd that prioritized electing Trump.
The problem is that all three of these perspectives, in the Christian worldview, have serious deficiencies. In an attempt to bring some order to the chaos, I will provide brief comments on each.
The Entertainment Escapists
The people who prioritize their entertainment (be it sports or other forms) are often practicing some form of escapism. God, work, and family are often unsatisfying, leaving people (more often men) to spend 10 hours a Sunday after already spending 12 hours on Saturday propped up in front of the TV with wings and a 6-pack watching games.
If football is an escape, that escape includes things like politics, which presently are very divisive and unpleasant. In this mentality, football-watching is sacred and must not be impugned.
I won’t say that watching sports in general or football specifically is wrong. But the people who use it as a means to escape reality for great lengths of time are neglecting some important considerations:
- Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Sunday is meant to be a day for the assembling together of the saints to worship God and fellowship with one another. Your pastors and churches notice when attendance drops off in the fall, especially on days when the regional team has an early kickoff. To which is more allegiance owed, the team that moves a leather egg up and down a field or the God who made us and Christ who died for our sins?
- Time is precious. We usually get about 80-90 years on this earth. Typically about 16 hours a day is spent awake. Let’s say someone watches two football games a week. That’s literally half of a day gone. Now I realize not every hour of every day can be devoted to the meaningful, but we should all be considerate of how we manage our time. What about family? (I reject the notion that having your kids on standby at the fridge to fetch beers counts as “quality time”). What about church, and the ministry of word and sacrament? What about the needs around us? Which leads to…
- People are hurting. Our love of the game does not override the fact that the problems people are trying to bring attention to are not worthwhile. Poverty and violence are real. The country is, in many ways, in a bad place. Ignoring problems rarely will ever make them go away. We are called to love God first and neighbor second, even if disrupts our football viewing habits.
The Identity Politicians
There is an overwhelming tendency in the present day for people to align themselves based on race, age, gender, and social status and try to promote one’s own class. The particular identity politics involved in these protests are those of race. Black men see other black men being killed in police confrontations, and they want to do something about it. At its roots, this isn’t a bad thing.
Of course, the devil is in the details. People who determine to do something about this often adopt the language and practice of Marxist class warfare, determining that the oppressed must unite to overcome their oppressor. Even the Christians who purpose to address these concerns often adopt elements of liberation theology, which puts forth a heretical false gospel. “The struggle” takes priority to these people just like entertainment does in the first category. In the Christian context, it forces divisions in the body of Christ. It causes people, in their quest to eradicate hate and discrimination, to become hateful and discriminatory.
The Patriots (Not the Boston team)
I’ve spilled much ink in recent months about how people have disordered their patriotism, even to the point of idolatry. There are a lot of people in this country (most often white conservatives) to whom patriotism is among the greatest of virtues, if not the greatest.
My critique here is what it has always been: Christ came to establish a kingdom not of this world. It does not have national borders or a flag. It does not make war with tanks and guns. I have brothers and sisters in Lithuania just as I do in my local church. I’ll see people in heaven from Compton just as I will from Cheyenne. America does not have a monopoly on what is right (and if anything, it is trending the other direction in the present age). Part of what has made America the prosperous nation it has been is the ability for people to question what is going on and formulate solutions. “They should just leave” is not a solution, it just brews more hatred, resentment, and division.
When any of our priorities become disordered as each of these categories can, we will inevitably veer off into sin, failing to love God and love neighbor. Furthermore, if we are unable to even listen to what others have to say, we might as well shut this whole American experiment down, because it is irrevocably broken. We need to think more than we feel. We need to listen more than we talk. We need to ask if the things we order our lives around are really worthy before we send our next tweet calling for the deportation, wealth redistribution, or silence of our neighbors. ♦