Just about everything that can be said about Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback whose refusal to stand for the national anthem has sparked a nationwide discussion on race, has been said. He has been called a hero, a fearless freedom fighter who puts principle above popularity (and personal safety); a disgrace, an ungrateful soul who’s disrespecting those who fight for the very freedoms he’s exercising; and nearly everything in between.
But there’s one thing left to say about the 28-year-old firebrand that has yet to be stated or explored: what Christians can learn from him.
While’s Kaepernick’s perceived lack of patriotism has undoubtedly upset lots of Christians, he can actually serve as an example worth following for disciples of Jesus Christ. In protesting police brutality against African-Americans, Kaepernick has displayed Christlike qualities that many Christians often fail to put into practice.
Whether you love or hate Kaerpernick, you have to admit that he’s courageous. He knew that sitting down (or taking a knee) during The Star Spangled Banner would anger millions of people, cost him millions of fans, and make him a national pariah.
Beyond that, it could also cost him his career. Kaepernick is no longer the budding superstar whose on-field production outweighs any off-field distractions he may present. He’s a second-string quarterback coming off a miserable season, three surgeries, and a reputation for being at odds with teammates.
Simply put, Kaepernick is expendable. The 49ers could have cut him weeks ago and avoided the entire anthem controversy altogether. With his diminished skills and reported locker room problems, it would have been hard to argue wrongdoing on the part of the team. And it’s very possible, perhaps even likely, that no other club would have picked up Kaepernick, thus ending his once-promising career just three years after ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said he could become one of the greatest QBs of all time.
On top of all that, Kaepernick is also reportedly receiving death threats.
Yet he protested anyway.
That’s courage; courage that many Christians, particularly those in the public eye, often fail to exhibit. Sadly, this even includes some pastors.
As America moves further and further away from Judeo-Christian standards of morality, Christians routinely fail to stand up for Biblical truth, whether in regards to behavior, principles or doctrine. For fear of backlash, criticism - or in some cases, even Kaepernick-sized kickback - we bite our tongues, go along to get along, sugarcoat, or straight-up ignore and deny God’s words in the Bible.
I’m not sure what Kaepernick’s religious beliefs are, but his faith in his god or himself seems to be stronger than the faith many of us have in Christ. This reminds me of 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, when Paul compares the discipline of athletes to that of Christians:
“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (emphasis mine). Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.’’ (NIV)
Paul is saying that athletes go to incredible lengths to win a trophy, a ring, or some other form of worldly recognition. How much further should we be willing to go for our God who has given us eternal life?
Likewise, Kaepernick is willing to risk all he has for justice. That’s admirable and as Christians, justice should be among our highest priorities. But even more so, shouldn’t we be willing to sacrifice as much as Kaepernick has for our God?
If he’s willing to endure resentment, hatred, and worse for justice, shouldn’t we be willing to risk that much for Jesus?
Courage is not an option for Christians. In the first 10 verses of the book of Joshua, God commanded the children of Israel to be “strong and courageous’’ three times. It was not a suggestion. It was a command.
Jesus echoed this sentiment in Matthew 10:28, telling us “not to be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’’
As Christians, we are to fear God and God alone. But which do we fear more: how God might respond to our mealy-mouthed compromise, or how society might respond to us taking a stand?
If more Christians - pastors, public officials, lawmakers, athletes, entertainers, etc. - displayed the fearlessness of Kaepernick, I believe America would have a much harder time erasing Biblical principles and morality from our culture and the public sphere.
Another trait of Christ that Kaepernick is displaying is selflessness. Some have criticized Kaepernick because he has a $12 million salary this season and because as the adopted son of middle-class White parents, he had a relatively privileged upbringing. He’s hardly the one to be screaming about injustice, his detractors say.
But this only makes Kaepernick’s stance that much more impressive - and Christlike.
Kaepernick is putting it all on the line for others!
That is exactly what Jesus Christ did for us. Jesus was beyond rich and privileged - sitting up in heaven with God the Father before coming to earth to redeem us. He gave all of that up for us. He saw us suffering under the oppression of the devil and put our needs, desires and well-being above his own. It would have been easy for Jesus to stay in heaven and ignore our pain, but he put himself in harm’s way (to say the least) to take a stand for us. Likewise, it would have been easy for the bi-racial Kaepernick to focus on his privileged status and ignore the plight of the oppressed, but like Christ, he’s putting himself in harm’s way to take a stand for them.
In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul says this is exactly how Christians ought to act:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
The Book of Acts also says this is how Christians in the early church behaved. In Acts 2:42-47and 4:32-35, it says the believers sold their individual possessions and distributed the profits among the needy, assuring that everyone’s needs were adequately met.
I’m not suggesting we all sell our goods, but I am saying we should operate by the same principles of selflessness and concern for others that motivated our ancestors in the early church - and that is apparently motivating Kaepernick today.
Can you imagine if wealthy, influential, prominent and powerful Christians made it a priority to economically and educationally empower the poor, the struggling, the fatherless, etc. within the Body of Christ? If they stood up for and fought for the rights of society’s downtrodden and oppressed class? Don’t just go into the ‘hood to evangelize. Go into the ‘hood and create economic opportunities and better schools. Use your voice and influence to fight for justice on behalf of those in the ‘hood.
If we as Christians did that, if as Paul said, we “valued others above ourselves,’’ I believe we’d “add to our number daily those who are being saved,’’ just like they did in the early church.
PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN SYMBOLS
Finally, through his protest, Kaepernick is showing that people are more important than symbols. The American flag and the national anthem - as much as we may respect them - are nothing more than representations and symbols of the American people.
Again, as much as we may respect and revere them, they are just words on paper and colors on cloth. They don’t compare in the least bit to the value of a human life. The soldiers who fight for America are not fighting for lyrics and cloth; they are fighting for people, the American people - Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, etc.
To get caught up in the perceived disrespect being shown to the flag or the anthem while ignoring the indefensible killings of American citizens that the flag and anthem represent is akin to idolatry.
Unarmed Americans - ones created in the image of God - have been killed by those paid to protect and serve them. No flag or song was ever created in the image of God.
Like Kaepernick, let we who claim to follow Christ always remember that.
Chris Broussard is the Founder and President of The K.I.N.G. Movement. Chris is an NBA analyst for the ABC and ESPN television networks as well as an award-winning journalist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Broussard now lives with his wife of more than 20 years and their twin daughters in New Jersey. Follow Chris on Twitter or visit www.chrisbroussardspeaks.com for bookings