America’s sport has become a case study for our cultural division. As NFL players and teams continue to ‘take a knee’ in protest during the national anthem, the entire country is pondering an avalanche of tough questions about race, respect, patriotism, individual rights, and what America is and should be.
Apologist Josh McDowell points out the current conversation is less a mutual dialogue, and more like parallel monologues. We’re talking past one another and not listening to the other side.
“To Trump, and to many people who support him, it has absolutely nothing to do with racism. It has to do with respect — for the flag and those who gave their lives for our freedom.”
“To the NFL players, it has everything to do with racism. And it is like two people in the room from two totally different worlds, saying they want to talk about the same line.
These paralegal monologues are going to continue until we take the time to hear what others have to say and what experiences are feeding their worldview.
“Try to understand your opponent, the person you disagree with. Try to see it through their eyes, through their feelings, their history, their emotions. When it comes to the racial history of this country, I got to tell you, it’s hard for me, but I’m trying my best.”
As we think about these protests, Tyler Burns of the Reformed African American Network says it’s important to move beyond knee-jerk reactions, those reactions based on our cultural and faith background, toward a biblical response to the cry against perceived injustice.
“At its base level, a protest is a peaceful disruption or interruption; it’s a cry for attention to a particular injustice. My approach to every cultural issue is drenched and bathed in Biblical love. That means that I must have an abiding love for my God, and I must have a fierce, uncompromising love for my neighbor. Love should mean that we view everything we don’t understand as charitably as we possibly can, recognizing that love indeed, as the Scripture says, bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).
“As a believer, I want to approach even the things I don’t understand in love. We’ve been taught in America to hate dissent, to hate protest. As a believer, I want to separate from the cultural norm by viewing dissent as charitably as I possibly can.”
Tyler reflects that protests from NFL arenas or the Emmy awards can also reveal the lofty place entertainment has assumed in our daily lives.
“A lot of people have said, ‘They’re ruining football for me,’ or ‘they’re ruining an awards show for me.’ I believe the Kingdom of God has supremacy over all my cultural dealings, so as it relates to my neighbor and his plea to draw attention to his humanity and his dignity, I can listen to that at any point in time.”
“We have to ask ourselves: Has our entertainment become an anesthesia to allow us to remain asleep to some of the cultural ills that we would we would like to hide from?”
“Both individual and systemic, ethnic sins flourish in darkness, so we should, in any way that we possibly can that is peaceful and respectful, shine a light on those things.”
How can we navigate such important questions without getting caught up in arguments and without denigrating people who see things differently? Josh McDowell reminds us that intentional listening is our most powerful tool in bridging a divide, from racial issues to questions of faith.
As the NFL takes a knee, with Tyler Burns
“Listen to them—without being judgmental, without stepping in or interrupting. Listen to their story. Then respond with creative questions, like ‘when did that happen?’ or ‘how did that effect you?’ Just listen. When I’ve listened to somebody else’s story, I can’t think of a time they wouldn’t listen to my story, and it gave me the opportunity to share what I believe. Through listening, you become a wise person–not only knowledgeable, but wise.”
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20