Ed Stetzer: In Light of National Anthem Debate, Christians Need to Learn How to Disagree Well

As Christians, we can (and should) disagree well.

by Ed Stetzer

Well, the debate about taking a knee just took an odd turn.

On Sunday, after players at an Indianapolis Colts home game chose to kneel during the national anthem, Vice President Mike Pence decided to walk out of the game. On social media, President Trump signaled that, perhaps, this was a planned walkout designed to rebuke the players for their protest.

And so our country goes further into the rabbit hole of a debate over patriotism.

And we go further down the rabbit hole of missing the whole point of why Colin Kaepernick took a knee in the first place.

I find the vice president’s actions and the president’s tweets to be unhelpful. As two of our highest ranking leaders, their actions and words speak volumes about where their priorities lie. Is this issue about the flag? Or is it about something deeper?

In my initial article I criticized the protests as unhelpful, but that was not my main point.

My focus was that, as Christians, we are going to be on the other side of popular speech and we need to be consistent in our application of this right. We need to “do onto others” by respecting their freedom of speech because this is a right we should value, protect, and rely upon as Christians.

This walkout—in addition to comments by Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones about benching players who protested—was not about resolving disagreement. Instead, it was the all-or-nothing approach to conflict that has come to dominate our culture. In a moment when he could have modeled how to disagree well, Vice President Pence chose to use the anthem in his political gamesmanship in a way that belittled the seriousness of the conversation.

And let’s not forget this is a very serious conversation. Men and women have died because of racial tensions.

So I want to revisit this topic one last time to address more substantively the issue of disagreement and how we, both as Christians and fellow Americans, can disagree well. Let me share a few thoughts.

Disagreement, even among Christians, can be good.

In the wake of the Colin Kaepernick piece, I had conversations with African American friends telling me they loved the article, but that I’d missed something in calling the protest “unhelpful.” As one who believes that the church must be on the front lines of racial reconciliation, I asked them to write responses for my blog.

Why? Because even if I disagreed with their argument, their underlying premise that I had missed something about how my words might sound in the African American community was correct.

Far more surprising for me was some of the pushback I got from readers and Christian leaders for the follow-up articles that we ran. While a few challenged their content, most questioned my decision to allow my ‘employees’ to publicly undermine my article.

My first reaction was, admittedly, shock. Open discussion is something I had assumed we should all value. After all, it makes us clearer in what we believe. Iron sharpens iron. The question entered my mind: Where do you work that your employees aren’t allowed to disagree with you on some things?

To be fair, I’ve worked at places where this was the case. At best, this attitude is immature; at worst, it is unfair.

In John Richards’ response to my piece, the issue he looked at was how African Americans have historically used sports as a platform for social protest. These protests were similarly scandalous in former times, but they have since become iconic as major points in American civil rights history. John challenged us to contextualize Kaepernick in the history of civil rights protests in America in order to understand its significance.

Charlie Dates (who is not my employee) shared that it’s not disrespectful to take a knee, but rather is challenging both our country and the church to think seriously about the systemic problems of injustice that diminish those made in the image of God. Charlie challenged us to look past our interpretations of the flag and anthem to interpret the injustice and suffering behind these protests in light of the cross.

In light of these articles, I have been asked repeatedly if I have changed my mind on whether or not these protests are helpful.

The answer is no, I have not—but more on that in a minute. My opinion has not changed, but it has become more informed, particuarly with how other Christians are responding differently. And this is why we have open dialogue.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today: “The Exchange”