A Christian Response to Cultural Controversy
This week a firestorm in the news prompted me to create a post on Facebook that elicited quite a response. Today, I want to repeat that post (word for word — for better or for worse), then frame my response with some biblical insights that I believe are very important for Christians in today’s polarized and confused world. (NOTE: My post was addressed to the coaches of two NFL teams whose players have refused to honor the U.S. flag as they snubbed the national anthem in protest over an issue of personal concern.) Here’s my post:
A note to Chip Kelly and Pete Carroll — Please tell the players that when they are on their own time, representing their personal interests at some event – they can stand on their head if they want to during the national anthem – to protest any issues of their choice. That is their right.
BUT when they are on the field, wearing a TEAM jersey, on TEAM payroll, with one objective — which is to help the TEAM succeed — then they need to leave their personal egos, embittered feelings, and social agendas in their personal luxury car in the parking lot and stand with the TEAM to honor the nation that affords them the privileges of freedom and prosperity they enjoy as a player. Allowing this blatant, selfish individualism, on ANY issue that creates massive distraction and division, will inevitably undermine the success of the TEAM.
This could open Pandora’s Box, allowing players to turn the football field into a political or social grandstand on a plethora of issues. Soon it will no longer be about football at all and the game many have loved will no longer exist. NOW is the time to put an end to this nonsense.
The Current Issues at Stake
My concern in this post, and now as I write, is not the specific issues in the news. In the current case in the NFL, the debate is essentially Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter. Of course, there are a variety of issues that might prompt other individuals to protest the flag and subjugate their patriotism. Some might be:
- Abortion – the government’s authorization of the murder of thousands of unborn babies each year.
- Borders – the allowance of undocumented aliens in the nation or, conversely, the opposition to such.
- LGBT issues that ignite great fervor over the newly legislated rights of this “minority” or the lack thereof.
- Marijuana – the legalization of the use of this drug or the lack of legalization restricting it.
As you might guess, the list could go on and on and on…
The Christian Issues at Stake
The deeper issues that concern me in the midst of this media frenzy are threefold: individualism, disrespect, and divisiveness.
Individualism – Western society is marked by rugged individualism, which might have value in some endeavors but is most often counterproductive to a harmonious society. Individualism is the view that personal actions and rights are more important than the common good and well-being of the group. We are seeing this in the NFL right now and, sadly, it also affects the church in many ways.
The Bible consistently teaches the opposite. Author Michael Griffiths provides essential insight when he writes, “Many of the commonest expressions used in the New Testament to describe the church are plural nouns such as brethren, children, saints, disciples: or collective nouns such as flock, nation and people… the plural form ‘saints’ occurs some sixty-one times. Only once (Phil. 4:21) is the singular used… The concept of a solitary saint is foreign to the New Testament writers. The idea of the hermit or solitary religious recluse, far from being biblical in origin, seems to be more the product of an escapist type of extreme separatism.”[i]
Paul had to write three chapters to the misbehaving Corinthian church to confront their self-focused, self-edifying individualism. (See 1 Corinthians 12-14.) He went to great lengths to help them understand the role of each believer as part of a body and to see their function as part of the whole, making their objective the edifying of all, not just the expression of the personal ministry faculties.
Disrespect – Disrespect for authority has been mainstreamed in American culture since the 1960s. Today, it is showcased by the explosion of the internet and social media. To decide that my unresolved personal beef is a justification for disrespecting others – whether it be a flag, a team, a nation, a politician, an organization, a church, or a pastor – is not the spirit of the New Testament.
Recently, I’ve been captured by the Apostle Peter’s words to persecuted Christians who were living under the heavy hand of a pagan Roman government that was openly hostile toward Christianity. His words are striking:
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly (1 Peter 2:17–19).
There is no place for disrespect here. Instead, we are to focus on the character of God, suffer unjustly if necessary for the sake of the gospel, submit to our employers, honor the government and, in fact, honor everyone. These verses spark my angst, from a biblical standpoint, with this acting out in the NFL. I realize these players are not primarily concerned with the Bible – but we must be in our personal responses.
Divisiveness – Inevitably, individualism and disrespect breed division. We see it playing out in the news and, sadly, we find it in the church. People who elevate their personal discontent above the good of the body create discord.
The Bible is clear. Romans 16:17 reads, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” Titus 3:10-11 affirms, “ As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
Evaluate the Battle but Win the War
So, in the midst of endless battles about cultural issues, we are compelled to remember the biblical rules for representing Christ in the greater war we face. Like Jesus, we must value others above self (see Philippians 2:3-8). We are required to show respect to all. We should endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-6).
Today, whether you lead a law firm, teach public school, or serve in the children’s ministry, please remember the grave dangers of individualism, disrespect, and divisiveness. If you play in the NFL, honor Christ, even when you are excessively disturbed about some issue. If you coach in the NFL, remember that biblical principles work for the success of every team because they are always true and reliable.
Copyright © 2016 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] Michael Griffiths, God’s Forgetful Pilgrims (London: InterVarsity Press, 1978), 23