“Protest is proof of a want of loyalty.”- Reinhold Neibuhr
Over the past several weeks, we have witnessed the centuries long tension between nationalism and moralism. The conflict between country and conviction. But, when did allegiance to one’s nation become conflated with morality? When did allegiance to country usurp commandments for justice? People are quick to say they are “American first,” but where is someone’s pronouncement of being moral and just, first?
There’s a blatant contradiction between one’s interpretation of disrespect for a flag verses one’s interpretation of the desecration of the values the flag is claimed to represent.
Murder, racism, white supremacy, in the name of patriotism, doesn’t generate near the amount of ire as kneeling for the sake of patriotism’s demand for inclusion and equality. White mass murders that rob persons of their right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” don’t produce near the amount of consternation as a black protester highlighting the nation’s failings to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”
Do we think Jesus would kneel in allegiance to a Roman Imperial flag that did not extend to those in His Galilean community all the benefits of freedom the flag illustrates? Would Jesus pledge allegiance to a nation that disproportionately disenfranchised and marginalized people in His Jewish Community? Would Jesus have rendered unto Caesar anything at the expense of rendering to God what is owed and demanded by God?
After spending the past few weeks listening to all the hate rhetoric spewed at NFL protesters, I couldn’t help but think back to the Greensboro sit-ins when four black college students sat for the sake of inclusion and equality in Woolworth’s segregated lunch counters. Folks, white and black, Christians and non-Christians disagreed with that, too. Called them ungrateful, labeled them “SOB’s,” and wanted them accosted for exercising their Constitutional rights as well.
I remember the sit-in on a Montgomery segregated bus for the sake of inclusion and equality in American social life and how it launched a swath of protests all throughout Montgomery. Some still said they would not have protested in that way, too.
I think back to Muhammad Ali refusing induction into the armed forces. Folks said he was disrespecting veterans, too. They labeled him as a coward, ungrateful, and no more than an entertainer, too. Yet, Wisdom has been vindicated by her deeds.
Often, when we read history it is easy to see ourselves as the hero in every story, and we cannot fathom how the villains became the villains. How did those in Germany turn a blind eye to the murder of 6 million people, I’ve heard often asked. How could people have been complicit in such evil and inhumanity as to enslave, lynch, and deny basic human rights to whole communities of people, I’ve heard often wondered. The answer, however, lies somewhere between the choices persons made which determined one’s side in the tale of two histories.
Too many people’s sensibilities, their apathy, their pride, their blindness, and the inability of their moral compass to determine true right has galvanized them to willfully step to the wrong side of history. Their faithlessness and their disbelief has caused them to be left behind as the moral arch of the universe continues to move forward and bend toward justice.
Thus, my stance in the present, and my position in history, has been decided by my faith in the tale of a brown skinned, Palestinian Jew. Who, from the ghetto and slums of Nazareth, demands that I first seek justice, love, compassion, and mercy that is the Kingdom of Heaven. And all things are to follow after!
Therefore, for want of loyalty to the Kingdom of Heaven, I am invariably placed in protest of the nation of the United States of America. Said differently, over the traditions and demands of nationalism, I will always choose the commandments of God to care for the least of these; to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly; to work to set at Liberty those who are oppressed, and to preach the gospel to all the nations that God is and remains on the side of the marginalized in the world.
Yet, while standing in protest to the nation, I will remain subject to the governing authorities, operating within the parameters of the law, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, but I will owe nothing to anyone or anything except to operate in love which is the fulfillment of God’s law governing God’s Kingdom. For when it is all said and done, and I am “kneeling” before my Lord, I will not be asked and judged according to my allegiance to the nation, but according to my allegiance to the moral statutes God set out for me to follow.
Jesus took His protest to the cross. The cross was the recompense for His protest. And as I, and all followers of Christ, do as commanded, and pick up my cross and follow Him- so comes with it the vitriol, villianization, slander, rebuke, scorn, assassination of body and character, abandonment, and being “unfollowed” by those once called “friends.”
That’s the cost of the Kingdom of Heaven when resisting the nation’s price to sell one’s soul and moral inclination for the sake of safety, security, and acceptance. That’s the cost of choosing to stand apart from the crowd in favor of standing on the right side of history.