By Pastor Riccardo Stewart
“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
I love this quote. It’s something I’d love to put on the walls of my sons’ bedroom. It conveys and inspires passion and pursuit, both things I think are lacking today. This is a quote that many in our country would love no matter their color, race, religion etc. However, what makes this quote adored or abandoned depends on what symbol or what narrative is connected to such a statement.
News that I have read recently said that it has something to do with Nike and their decision to use Colin Kaepernick as the primary symbol and voice for their latest commercial marking campaign. Again, like many social issues in our country, it has been received with polarizing responses. Many people are left inspired and are congratulatory of Nike’s decision to choose such a person. Others are left confused and angry by Nike’s decision use Kaepernick.
I believe that people are entitled to their own opinions and thoughts, even if those thoughts are different than the ones that I hold. However, we all need to realize and be aware that our thoughts, beliefs, values, and decisions are not made in a cultural vacuum; they all come out of some narrative in which are living. Some are coming from a narrative that there is too much social injustice in our country that has been unaddressed, and we, as a people, need to acknowledge these injustices. Others are coming from a narrative that our country is successful due to the courage and service of the faithful men and women who have fought, and often lost their lives, to protect our country.
I acknowledge that there are more narratives that we as a people are coming from, but it seems that in the conversation surrounding Nike, Colin Kaepernick, our troops etc., these happen to be the dominant themes.
The question on the table is how Christians can engage in such issues. What are the postures we can take in the conversations surrounding nationalism?
This is not an easy topic, nor am I trying to answer this question in its fullness. However, I do believe the gospel of the Kingdom of God provides us another with narrative that is far more nuanced and powerful than the dominant narratives in our culture today.
It seems that the conversations surrounding the Nike campaign leave us with two options: 1) love our country and support our troops, while not caring about social injustices or 2) fight the social injustices in our day and care less about our country and troops. I know that this is overly simplified; however, when scanning social media, for example, it seems as if these are the only options. If these are the options we’re left with, then we will find ourselves in the church more and more divided.
However, there is another narrative or lens we have been given, which is found in the gospel of Kingdom of God and gives us a better, though difficult, way forward.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the theme of exile is an important one for the people of God, whether it was Daniel and his friends or the Apostle Peter addressing the church in the New Testament as exiles (1 Peter 1:1). Exiles implies being away from home and longing to be at home. Biblically, the exiled people of God were never instructed to become like the country or land in which they lived. As exiles, they were not told to escape or withdraw from the land, but they were called to submit, respect, serve, and pray for it (Jeremiah 29: 4–7). The basis for this kind of living is rooted in the very gospel in which we believe, centering on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The narrative of the gospel lets us know that we were bought at a huge price and sacrifice by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The narrative of the gospel teaches us that we are not our own but belong, first and foremost, to God and his coming Kingdom. Along with many other imperatives of the gospel, we are called to submit to earthly authority and governments, while also not neglecting the poor, powerless, weak, needy, least, last, and lost (Romans 13:1–7; 1 Peter 2: 13–17; Proverbs 22:22–23; Luke 10: 25–37).
In sum, as Christians, we don’t have the choice to choose the nation or the poor, military or injustice—we are given the call to be the best citizens in whatever land we live because of the Kingdom of which we are a part. We choose sacrificing not only for our nation but also any others the Spirit places on our hearts because Christ chose to sacrifice for us. We choose justice because Christ was raised from the dead to provide new life for this world, and when we see any in need, we lean in to help. We use all our intellect and resources to engage people who are in need, while at the same time withhold many (not all) of our thoughts and actions to faithfully submit and pray for the nation in which we reside.
I am not always sure how this ought to look, but I am sure that it is far more nuanced than the dialogues being had at the moment. It seems that the only way forward is to begin first with the Kingdom of God and work from there. Maybe we need a realization that we are not the truth, but we can only point to the truth in Jesus and that by his grace, we can embody that truth. It possibly looks like weeping with widows and widowers who have lost their spouses in war while protecting our country, and simultaneously weeping with the parents who have lost their children to violence and injustice. Maybe it looks like being very thankful for living in our country, yet being able to acknowledge our national shortcomings, both throughout history and in the present day.
At this moment, we see many Christians taking sides, when our best posture might be to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus, trusting in his ways and wisdom for the life of our country. This will hard, but should be expected, as our identity is, first and foremost, displayed by the symbols of a bloody cross and an empty tomb.
Believing in something, even if it means sacrificing everything, just might be the most Christian posture. The question is, what is God calling us to sacrifice for the sake of his Kingdom while living in our nation? This is something we need to seek answers for prayerfully in community.