The controversy over NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem has now stretched into another football season. Normally, I will not touch politics in my articles because, inevitably, people see that as an endorsement of one candidate over another, and I will not lower the message of the Kingdom to a vulgar political debate. Don’t misunderstand. I vote in every election, but the message of the Kingdom of God is far and
away above politics, candidates, and parties.
The reason I choose to discuss the current, lingering controversy is that I saw my multi-cultural, vibrant church get split into warring camps over whether people supported the flag or the kneelers. Friends and brethren in Christ who had worshipped together for years suddenly found themselves in a passionate war of words and could not see the other’s point of view. This controversy even devolved into a discussion of political parties and candidates which further opened the rift as some favor Republicans and President Trump and others favor Democrats and had voted for Secretary Clinton. The brotherly love all Christians should have for each other was swallowed up in a worldly quarrel.
Our enemy loves to sow controversy and discord to stop the mission of the Church, and a favorite tactic of his is to get groups to embrace two extremes. This way both groups are in the wrong as they wound each other. Further, the fight had a tribal aspect as Republicans, Whites, police groups, and veterans lined up to support the flag. Democrats, African-Americans, Hollywood, and pro-reform groups supported the players. Of course, not everyone who picked a side strictly fit into the categories of the two camps, but that was the general breakdown. Different Christians from diverse backgrounds identified with one or more of the groups and picked a side to support, and therein was the problem. No one tried to represent the Kingdom of God in the debate.
When God called Abram, who would become Abraham the father of faith, the Lord called him to leave every group identity he knew. “‘Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you'” (Genesis 12:1 ESV). Nationality (country), race (kindred), and class (father’s house) all fell at the call of the Lord to Abram. Abram went from comfortable city life in his father’s house as a leading citizen in Haran to living as a nomad in tents wandering around the land of promise. If he wanted to follow God, Abram had to lay down every group identity that he claimed. If Abraham was the father of faith and we are the seed of Abraham through Jesus Christ, then those of us in the household of faith are called to the same abandonment of our Earthly attachments.
Somebody will erroneously but inevitably say, ‘That’s in the Old Testament, so it doesn’t apply to me.’ They would be, of course, wrong about the application, but the Apostle Peter says something interesting and similar in the New Testament:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV).
Peter was speaking to members of the Kingdom (Holy-Spirit-anointed believers) in his statement above. He says members of the Kingdom are a race, priesthood, and nation—the very possession of God with the purpose of proclaiming the excellencies of God. I don’t know about you, but I lay every worldly identity down to be in this group.
I know many of you may be thinking about the Apostle Paul’s use of his Roman citizenship in Acts or perhaps the multiple commands in the New Testament to pay taxes and honor authorities. Certainly, we live in the physical world and owe taxes, honor, and allegiance to our nation but not above our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. Too often patriotism in the United States gets tied to Christianity as if love of country is a prerequisite for salvation. But seventeen centuries of Christians lived and died knowing nothing of America or patriotism. Most of the world’s Christians today do not enjoy the blessing of living inside the borders of our country.
Of the three identities of country, race, and class, only race is tied to genetics. Countries rise and fall. How many Babylonians do you know? What about members of the Ottoman Empire? Persians? Many people are one market crash or job loss away from a change in social class. But you are born into your race, and it is permanent, right? Or is it? The apostle makes the interesting statement above, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” Scholars have pondered over the meaning of this section of the verses, but I think it is quite simple. God, obviously outside of time, listed the original people groups in Genesis, chapter 10 as the original races—He should know since God is the Creator.
If you ask someone’s lineage today, they may say French, African, Chinese, or even go back to something older like Celtic, Norse, or Native American. The problem is that all these people groups (or ethnicities) are not original, they are intermarried and made from other even older groups. How many people claiming to be a Gomerish, Magogian, Kittimite, or Ashkenzian have you met? Probably not many. Even though every person in the world comes from these peoples of Genesis 10, they cannot trace back that far because those tribes are long gone. Ancestry.com are amateurs compared to the record of Genesis 10. My point is not to cause an argument but simply point out that what we call ‘race’ is a group of similar looking people who share some common genetics. Modern races are the product of history, intermarriages, alliances, and geopolitical conquests, but one thing they are not is original. We are all a fusion and mixture of the original races.
Some of you may be thinking, ‘That is neat, Shawn, but what does it have to do with flags, kneeling, and the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Simply this: according to the apostle in the verses above, God has given every anointed believer membership in a chosen race, citizenship in His Kingdom, adoption to the royal family, and a vocation in His priesthood. God possesses us now—no race, nation, or class has a higher claim on our person.
Patriotism and racial group identity are deeply-held, emotional beliefs for a person, and whether overtly expressed, they are often tied to personal values and worldviews. When everything is stripped away from a person, what they have left are their beliefs. In fact, it may be harder to find a fight that is more tied to one’s core creeds than the Anthem/Flag/Kneeling controversy has invoked. But the Kingdom of Heaven should be basic and more important than patriotism and racial identity. It is the one brotherhood that supersedes all others for Christians. Respect for the anthem and flag or membership in a racial group should not make Christians lose fellowship with their brothers because they both adhere to a greater banner of the Kingdom and have membership in the chosen race. Before either side of the controversy picks up a stone to hurl at the other, remember that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20 ESV).
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