I was born and raised just outside of Pittsburgh, PA, and still live in “Steeler Nation.” I have watched the ups and downs of this team, and the reactions of our extremely loyal fans throughout my entire life, and it’s rare that any Pittsburgh native be disappointed with the personal choices of our beloved athletes.
Typically, we love them when they win and we love them when they lose. As long as they are playing ball with all of their hearts, we praise them as heroes of our historic and often overcast “steel city,” where many of us live for God, family, and football.
Yet, when most of the team stayed in their locker room this past Sunday, either in avoidance of controversy or in protest of ongoing racial injustice & police brutality against black and brown Americans, I saw some of our greatest fans who live in white bodies express disappointment and even disgust with their decision.
I could not help but wonder if we are fine with black athletes entertaining us, winning trophies for our city & boosting our spirits year after year, as long as they don’t bring anything meaningful to their identity, family, and communities that might make some of us feel uncomfortable.
Perhaps our love for our team is not even real or human enough to be skin deep. How could our hearts have grown so calloused and our minds become so closed that so many of us would remain unmoved by video after video of police officers murdering unarmed (or armed with a legal license to carry) black people for minor crimes or no crimes at all?
Why is it that so many Americans and, worse, Christians, have yet to see that this is not about simple politics, republicans versus democrats, conservative versus liberal, left versus right, or Hillary versus Trump; but rather, this is about the lives of human beings – beloved children of God, made in our creator’s very image.
I understand that some moderate white Americans don’t follow politics all that closely, so I’m not at all attempting to judge individual hearts; but this historical moment is far too important for us to carelessly jump on our normal political bandwagons and ignore the fact that the soul of our nation is being tested, and, as a whole, we are failing as Americans and as the Church Body of Jesus Christ.
As Christ followers, racial injustice, police brutality, and white supremacy should be things that we can all easily agree are sinful and against our faith values. Yet, so many of us remain conflicted as nationalism slowly takes over large portions of the American Christian Church.
When we care more about singing to the American flag than we do about the lives and dignity of people, we’ve made nationalism our God and its anthem our worship.
As Christian social activist, Rachel Held Evans, tweeted this past week, “Members of the early church would be completely baffled at modern Christians criticizing other Christians for not bowing before the Empire.” Many of us are confusing loyalty to America and loyalty to God as one and the same, but they could not be more opposing religions.
Christian leader Jonathan Martin put it like this on Twitter, “If your Christianity makes emperors feel comfortable & oppressed people feel unsafe, it’s time for a grand reversal.”
In the “upside down kingdom” of Jesus, the last shall go first, the powerful are brought to their knees, and the oppressed are lifted high. Whoever society unjustly decides to scapegoat as “the least of these” represents the embodiment of Christ Himself. Jesus plainly said, “Whatever you do or don’t do for the least of these, you do or don’t do for me (Matthew 25:40).”
Racism is America’s “original sin” and what generations before us did to African Americans, as well as the racially charged hate, injustice, and apathy towards black lives today, haunts every aspect of American life – from enslavement yesterday to the mass incarceration of black people today, from lynchings yesterday to police officers gunning down unarmed black people today, from segregation yesterday to low quality education for many black children today.
America is being taunted by the demonic strongholds of racism, and instead of Christians walking in the Spirit, we are turning on each other. The belief that white bodies are superior to black bodies is tightly intertwined into the fabric of our nation; it’s so finely honed, that many of us cannot see it without getting out a magnifying glass and intentionally looking for it.
But once the hidden racism in America is seen, we can no longer deny that we have a violent and powerful devil lurking in our laws, our justice system, our schools, our leadership, our businesses, our churches, and in our own hearts.
Our forefathers and veterans did not serve our country so that we could salute the American flag or sing our national anthem; but rather, they sacrificed for what those symbols are supposed to represent – freedom, equality, and justice for all Americans, including the right to protest peacefully in any way we see fit as individual thinkers.
There is no wrong way to protest peacefully in the United States of America. As President John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” America is a country built on “we the people” protesting unjust government in any peaceful way necessary. Protest is supposed to make the complacent and complicit uncomfortable; many of these people would never be satisfied with “how” or “where” black athletes chose to protest, because the problem is within their own selves.
Deep within their heart of hearts, there are many white Americans who resent black people who hold positions of power and have earned substantial wealth because they have been trained by our culture to see black people as unentitled of these things; while thinking that they themselves are entitled to these things, simply because their skin color is white. It is a toxic mix of both racism and jealousy; leading to the disgust, anger, and hatred that many white people are feeling after the Steelers and other black athletes chose to take a knee this past Sunday.
Sure, many white people will do their best to convince you that they are not racist or jealous, but many are now showing their true colors no matter how hard they try to justify the evil lurking in their hearts. Shaming black Americans for protesting police brutality and our president suggesting that these athletes should get fired if they practice their rights and freedom, is about as un-American as it gets.
People don’t generally protest because they hate America, but because they love America enough to risk their jobs, livelihood, reputations & relationships to stand up for American values; freedom, justice, and equality for all. These protests have never been about hating America, disrespecting our flag, or despising our leaders; but rather, “taking a knee” has always been about black athletes kindly asking Americans and our government to put a stop to this cultural epidemic of black people being unjustly abused and murdered by police officers, without any legal consequences.
Please try to put your feet in the shoes of a black American who is feared or despised by the very authorities who are supposed to make all Americans feel safe, simply because of the color of his skin. Imagine being a child and watching a police officer shoot your daddy in the head for no good reason at all. Think about the black momma who kisses her baby boy goodbye in the morning and prays to God that he will not get into normal kid mischief (like stealing a candy bar from a gas station), and be shot in the back by a cop.
Black athletes are using their privilege and power to stand up for those who are without power, privilege, and platform. They are speaking for the voiceless and sacrificing for the oppressed, as Christ so clearly calls each of His true followers to do. Scripture teaches, “to whom much is given, much is due,” so the Steelers and black athletes who have used their influence to do what is right should be praised as heroes.
Our black brothers and sisters are begging us to listen to their cries for justice as if it were our own flesh being opened up and our own blood being spilled out all over the streets. Black athletes are not disrespecting America; they are begging us to be moved by compassion & empathy on their behalf. At the most basic level, those who are protesting are asking us, their fellow humans, to love them as we would love ourselves. As Christians, supporting these protests should be a given for us, as Jesus made it abundantly clear that selfless love should always be our highest aim.
Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.
Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
~Martin Luther King ~
(I Have A Dream Speech)