“The early church would be utterly baffled by the idea that future Christians would shame someone for not swearing allegiance to the empire.” -Rachel Held Evans
“If this place really were the “land of the free” someone would be able to sit during your song and not be endlessly harassed for it.” -Dr. Benjamin L. Corey
If Jesus had come to us in the 21st century in America rather than Palestine two thousand years ago I’m convinced that he would be seen in much the same light as Colin Kaepernick. Jesus’ words and actions were prophetic and radical in Palestine two thousand years ago and they are prophetic and radical for us now.
A recent firestorm of harsh criticism and even shocked outrage was sparked after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem to protest racial issues in the U.S. The same cultural conformity police that hates any kind of non-compliance to what they perceive as faithful devotion to the creeds and rituals of the national civic religion, has gone nuts over this so called unpatriotic and offensive action. God forbid, someone stand up for the oppression of minorities by blaspheming the sacred idol of America.
As someone who has, since elementary school, chosen not to recite the pledge of allegiance or put my hand over my heart and sing the national anthem, I would like to voice my solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and others who would do the same. While Kaepernick might not share the convictions and beliefs that drive my choice not to participate in such activities, I admire his decision to do likewise.
There is no shame in refusing to stand for the national anthem or choosing to abstain from placing your hand on your chest or reciting a pledge of allegiance to a piece of cloth. If America is truly ‘free’ then its citizens should not have to fear backlash for their choice to abstain from oaths of allegiance.
And for us Christians, we would do well to remember the countless Christians who were martyred by the Roman Empire for their refusal to say, “Caesar is Lord.” The Early Christians were dubbed as, “atheists” by their contemporaries because they refused to swear loyalty to Rome and to its Emperors, who were seen as divine representatives.
Rachel Held Evans correctly noted that early Christians would be shocked to learn that future Christians would shame someone for refusing to pledge their allegiance to a nation. But as I see it, early Christians would be more shocked to learn that modern Christians would choose to declare allegiance, or ultimate loyalty, to nations and empires. Such power structures are fundamentally committed, by the very definition of nation or empire, to promoting their own advantage and survival through the use of force and coercion and even killing of perceived “enemies”.
It’s important to distinguish that for the Early Church saying “Jesus is Lord,” was not simply a spiritual mantra, but an overtly political declaration. It amounted to taking a subversive, counter-cultural stance of allegiance for the kingdom of God.
I stand (and sit) with Colin Kaepernick, not just because I believe there is racial disparity and injustice in America, but also because I believe my true allegiance is not to America, but to Christ and his kingdom. Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom that has no condemnation, no judgement, no chains. A kingdom that speaks for those on the margins of society, the oppressed, the poor. A kingdom that rejects injustice, violence and hate. It is for all peoples and all nations. There are no borders, there are no flags. Only the emblem of the crucified lamb. And in Christ’s kingdom there is only one Lord, one King, and only he merits our true allegiance. All else that we do in this world must coincide and look like Jesus.
Jesus is Lord.
For Jesus’ words on serving two masters and taking vows:
*Matthew 5:33-37, Matthew 6:24, Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17