We teach our children to stand when the National Anthem is played before a sporting event. Why do we do that? The standard announcement which precedes the song states something like, “Now to honor America, please rise, remove your caps and join in the singing…”.
Those words are the key to understanding how Christians should respond to the current controversy over sports figures who kneel during this symbol-laden event. Christians view themselves as having a very clear order of loyalties: first to God and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Second to our families. Third to the nations in which we live. God has instructed Christians to honor the governing authorities, and so we should. (You can read about it in Romans 13:1-8) The tradition of standing is also a sign of peace to our neighbors: “we stand with you.”
But, Christians also have a right, even a duty, to peacefully protest the governing authorities when the government invades human rights. God tells us about the dangers of governments with too much power in Revelation 13. Revelation 13 is the warning for the Church about governments run amok. (Credit to John Stott for this insight) The Beast is a government which demands that Christians reverse the ordering of their loyalties, demanding that the knee bow before it. The bowing of the Christian’s knee is limited to one person: Jesus Christ. (Philippians 2:10) A government which demands that its people kneel before it as a sign of loyalty is the enemy of God and God’s Church.
At the present time, and really in most times and under most (but not all) governments, there is both a need for national unity and a need for protest against violated rights. The clear call of Scripture is to give honor where honor is due; to seek peace with all, so far as it depends on us. So I believe the correct response of Christians citizens of these United States is to stand during the playing of the National Anthem. To refuse to stand is to say, in effect, “I do not honor America.” You may intend your kneeling to say something else, but that is what your neighbor hears you say.
But, I also think that Christians should be in the front lines of the peaceful marches against racism and racial profiling. God opposes discrimination in all of its varieties. “We Shall Overcome” is also a symbol-laden song that Christians should stand arm-in-arm to sing as “Christian soldiers marching as to war.” These acts of peaceful protest also honor America and the foundational principles for which millions have given their lives.
So, yes, please rise to honor America. It is the pathway to peace with your neighbor. And, yes, please stand with the victims of injustice. It is the pathway to love your neighbor.