As a Christian considering Colin Kaepernick’s motivations for protesting and his actions beyond the NFL, I think of Luke 4 and Isaiah 58. I am reminded of a God who is concerned both with our spiritual and material well-being, how the two are related and how Kaepernick’s actions point to that.
If Jesus declares, in quoting from the Book of Isaiah, that he has been sent by God to free people from spiritual bondage and neglect and proceeds to feed the poor, lift up women, outcasts and even little children, while telling them this good news about God’s salvation, then I know that this is a God who wants people to be totally free.
If I read of God chastising His people over their reprehensible treatment of the poor and rejecting their worship because of the community’s unjust and oppressive practices, then I know this is a God who wants holiness and righteousness to include maintenance of equitable systems and just behavior.
Salvation is not only a matter of right thinking but also of right behavior, as any Christian will tell you. These passages, and many more like them, tell me that right belief should result in righteous behavior. Righteous behavior, according to myriad examples in the Bible, are grounded in what pleases God.
“No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” This passage in the Book of Micah, another case where God rejects His people’s attempts at worship due to their violence, oppression and lying, shows again that we are judged by the fruit of what we say we know and believe.
If we say we know the gospel and believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord, then our private and public behavior should reflect what God values.
Instead of lauding Kaepernick’s godly protest and good works, opponents have been weaving false narratives of what the athlete’s mission is supposedly about.
Last August, Kaepernick explained quite eloquently for 18 minutes, according to an ESPN transcript, that his decision to sit or kneel during the singing or playing of the national anthem was to bring attention to “unjust” things happening in our country that counter our ethos of “freedom, liberty and justice for all.”
“There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards,” Kaepernick said.
Is Kaepernick against the military?
“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”
The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, now unemployed, has emphasized that he is not against police officers in general. Kaepernick has said he is against cops who endanger their colleagues and the communities they are supposed to keep safe and the system that keeps these poorly-trained and reckless cops in place. There is plenty of evidence that there are good, well-trained cops, who value their roles and responsibilities. There is also plenty of evidence that there are bad cops (see the Justice Department’s findings on Chicago, Louisiana, Baltimore and Ferguson police departments).
Kaepernick also made it clear that his protest is not about him or his personal experiences, although they bear some relevance to his mission: “This is for people that don’t have the voice. And this is for people that are being oppressed and need to have equal opportunities to be successful, to provide for families and not live in poor circumstances.”
Kaepernick’s statement echoes Christ’s statement in Luke 4:18-19:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
Kaepernick is no Jesus, though he claims faith in God. But he does not need to be—either Jesus or a Christian—for me to take him seriously and consider the things he has been saying and doing off the field, such as lifting up youth, the poor, the homeless, the hungry and others.
The fruits of his protest, so far, have been good. People are fed, clothed and given opportunities at a better life. Americans also continue to wrestle with one of the root causes (or perhaps the root cause) of our present inequitable systems, which is white racism or white supremacy, thanks to Kaepernick’s protest.
To ignore Kaepernick’s good works, and the stated causes of his protest, which are backed by ample evidence, is to choose to disregard the truth. If people choose to disregard the truth, they do so because they do not care for the truth and prefer to remain deceived and to go on deceiving others.
I support Kaepernick’s right to protest, which by definition is supposed to be disruptive, and applaud the peaceful protests he has inspired among other athletes. I also thank God that, by his actions, Kaepernick has further exposed our idolatrous allegiance to things that, ultimately, have nothing to do with worshipping God—which is the Christian’s first and full calling.
Kaepernick may not be preaching the gospel, but he certainly is showing us what it looks like to do what the gospel and our God requires.
Nicola A. Menzie is a religion reporter in NYC and founder of Faithfully Magazine, a print/digital quarterly magazine centering on Christians of color.