Friday, September 02, 2016

Is disrespecting your country a legitimate way to protest wrongs?

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has made the news big time for his decision to not stand during the playing of the National Anthem, as is traditional in the sport. You can read Kaepernick's explanation for his decision here.

Despite refusing to stand for the anthem because of what he says is the need for changes to end racial oppression in the U.S., Kaepernick has sought to show support for veterans in other ways. ESPN says that during a game with San Diego he "applauded veterans and active military during a first-half break with Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA playing and stood for a rendition of God Bless America, clapping at the end of that as well."

Whether you agree or disagree with what Kaepernick has decided to do (and many disagree, as he has been loudly booed by fans as a result of refusing to stand), you have to admit he has been successful at one goal, and that is drawing more media attention to the issue of racial disparity and oppression in America.

I've been thinking about what Kaepernick has done because I realize that, in addition to the issue of racism, there are many other evils happening in America today which could certainly be protested or highlighted in some way if one was willing to take a step to disrespect our country. What about abortion? More than 55 million innocent unborn children murdered in America since 1973 certainly deserves some discussion. Not to mention our government's (and the UN's) support for this heinous practice. What about the fact that as taxpayers we are forced to give a half billion dollars of our hard-earned money each year to the evil Planned Parenthood organization so that it can continue to kill unborn children?

And I'm sure if you looked hard enough, in addition to these two horrible things (racial injustice and abortion) there are lots of other evils that you could justifiably blame America for, and in so doing, find justification in showing disrespect to our country, if you were so inclined. So, should we be?

Respecting Rome

I believe the answer to this question, for Christians, is a clear "No!" ... and here's why.

The first Christians (those who lived in the generation or two after Christ lived, died, rose again and ascended to the Father) experienced government-sanctioned evils as horrible as any we here in America are experiencing now. In 64 A.D. Rome was the greatest power the earth had ever seen, but its emperor, Nero, was feeling threatened by the rise of a new religious sect called Christianity, which claimed fealty to a Kingdom not of this earth. He began a government-sanctioned campaign of persecution of Christians that was horrible beyond imagination. Christians were fed to the lions in the arenas for entertainment, and in his own garden he tied them to poles, coated them with pitch, and lit them on fire to serve as pleasant evening lights.

The Apostle Paul was a Roman citizen who ended up being executed in Rome by the governing authorities, most scholars think in May or June of 68 A.D. Nero himself committed suicide on June 9, 68 A.D. Paul would have doubtless been aware of all Nero's many atrocities against Christians.

So, what was Paul's attitude toward his government? Did he advocate disrespecting it because of its evil?

Paul's letter to church at Rome, written about 10 years before his death, offers an interesting perspective on this question:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.
Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

His statement in verse 6 about paying taxes is interesting. I've considered before the question of whether Christians should withhold a portion of our taxes in objection to being forced to support Planned Parenthood's slaughter of unborn children, in particular. (THAT would make a statement ... get the government's attention very quickly, getting you in all kinds of trouble with the IRS, and you could probably get on the news by doing this if you wanted to.) But would it be the right thing to do? Paul's counsel above would suggest that it would not be.

Rome and the USA: Some Sad Similarities

Some might object, "But Paul says 'rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.' But this obviously wasn't true of Nero, and it isn't necessarily true of our leaders either." And it's true that while Nero was in power when Paul wrote his words to the Romans, he didn't actually begin seriously persecuting Christians until a decade later.

But Rome was involved in plenty of other horrific evils before then. This article in "Ancient Origins" details some of the more gruesome archaeological discoveries of mass infant killings in the Roman Empire. And I quote:
During Roman times, it was not uncommon for infants to be killed as a form of birth control. It was not a crime, as newborn infants were viewed as being ‘not fully human’. In most cases, a Roman woman who did not want a newborn would engage in the practice of “exposure.” She would abandon the infant, either to be found and cared for by someone else, or to perish. According to the beliefs at the time, it was up to the gods to determine whether the infant would be spared or not.
But the author, M. R. Reese, notes as she continues that the hundreds of infants killed at the site under an ancient bath-house in Ashkelon did not die of exposure; rather they were healthy babies, none more than a week old, who died as a result of being thrown into the sewer pit beneath what is speculated to be a brothel as well as a bath-house. She says "It is possible that the infants were born to prostitutes or laborers who worked at the bathhouse."

This is the culture Paul claimed citizenship in when he wrote his letter to the Romans. Such horrors as we also experience here in the U.S. today with our government's support for late-term abortions — near-term babies having their spinal cords snipped with the scissors of abortionists — or the prevalence of incidents of people murdering others because of their skin color, would not have been something terribly out-of-place in the governmental context for Paul's writing.

And yet he urged respect for the governing authorities, and for paying taxes.

The fact is, God expects us to respect those authorities who govern us, regardless of their evils. Such authority has been established by Him, and He will ultimately hold them accountable for what they do with the authority He has given them stewardship over.

Does this mean we are to stay silent in the face of such atrocities? Absolutely not. We in particular have the privilege of living in a country where we have the legal (First Amendment) right to speak out, and God forgive us if we don't exercise this right. In this current election cycle, I find the two primary contenders exceedingly immoral, and so I have not hesitated to use my voice (on social media and elsewhere) to speak out against them. And frankly, there is no way I will support either with my vote. This I also think would be a grievous wrong, to adopt a "lesser of two evils" mentality and thus give my support to either.

But, if either is elected, I will respect them, as I have respected President Obama. This does not mean I won't speak out against the evil that they do, and it doesn't even necessarily mean that I won't respectfully disobey the governing authorities in those situations where obedience would mean myself committing evil. This was the pattern established by Peter and John in Acts 5 when the governing authorities ordered them not to talk about Jesus, under threat of imprisonment and possibly death: “But Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men.'" And they continued to preach the Gospel in respectful defiance of the orders of the governing authorities.

Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is

Personally, I think the most praiseworthy thing that Kaepernick has done to share his concern about racism is not the thing that he's getting all the media attention for. He told the press he plans to "donate the first $1 million he makes this year to help communities in need as part of his plan to take a more active role in combating racial inequality."

Kaepernick's stance has created a lot of useful conversation about racism in America, but putting his money where his mouth is an especially effective (and also respectful) way of making a difference about those issues he's concerned about. Are we willing to do the same thing with the issues we care about?

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