We are well into American football season. As in 2016, some African American players in the National Football League are protesting systemic racism by refusing to stand during the U.S. national anthem. Let me lose most of my readers right now. Years of my life have gone by without watching a single NFL game and now it’s something that few people in the U.S. can ignore. Similarly, months go by, especially if I’m not attending any sporting events, in which I do not hear the national anthem. Why so much religious fervor for footballs and anthems? What gods are worshiped in this land?
It has been a difficult year. In 2016, when Colin Kapernick (in protest of police shootings of unarmed black men) began to kneel during the national anthem, the United States was on its way to electing a president that was the preferred candidate of the KKK and white nationalists of any flavor. The fact that the Republican Party had aligned itself with racists, had no impact on voters … or, actually, as the Republican Party leaned heavily on the sentiments of its racist voters, the country rewarded them with a president and a majority in House and Senate.
In this climate, when a black athlete (or really anyone) complains about police shootings, economic disparities, and racial injustices of any kind, he or she is showing a lack of respect for the white powers that permit them to live in this land. Apprently, for many of my white “friends” and relatives, African American and other non-white people in this country, should only have a voice when that voice agrees with white politics. And, as I’ve already noted, it’s not just white politics but a politics that couldn’t win the election without the KKK. (Really, it was that close. The Republicans needed every bigot they could find to squeak out this win.)
If you live in an integrated family, as I do, these are times that strain “good relations” with the white people that supposedly love you. Some of my family members voted for this ugliness on the grounds that it did a better job of defending religious liberty. For much of my life I have listened to white Christians worry that they might be forbidden to pray in public. (As if, I guess, God only hears them in public.) And now, as we watch black athletes kneel on the field and (in many cases, I am sure) pray for their safety, for the well-being of their families, and for God’s justice in their country, white Christians are beside themselves with self-righteous rage. The now elderly women that taught me in Sunday School that “Jesus loves the little children, red, yellow, black and white” are decrying this apparent disrespect to the princes and principalities of the U.S. government. They are chosing allegiance to the U.S. over justice for God’s children. They are, in some cases, screaming curses at men kneeling in prayer.
How does one find a way to keep in communion with white Christians that profess to “love” their black neighbors and yet refuse to hear their complaints? Love does not fail us, but when we fail to act in love, when we have offended our neighbors, communion is false. It is not a conundrum that black and white Christians, believers that share so much in common, should find themselves segregated on Sunday mornings. It is, rather, because there’s no place at the table.
Jere Odell, CC-BY.