Those in leadership have always found protests annoying. Certainly that was the case in Jesus’ time. When our Lord went into the Temple and flipped over the money changers tables and chased off the animals that were being sold, he annoyed a lot of people. Jesus had gone to the Temple, that most sacred of places, in order to be disruptive and make a point. He could have tried to make his point in any number of places that wouldn’t have unsettled the leaders so much. However, because of the way the Temple was so treasured in the hearts of the people in his country what he did there was sure to draw attention. And that is the point of a protest.
But the leaders distorted what he was trying to do. They claimed that his protest was against the Temple itself. In fact his protest was against what the leaders were doing to the Temple. It was against how they were allowing it to be used by profiteers and how they were excluding from even the outer court of the Temple those who are not part of their religion and nationality. Jesus said that the Temple was to “be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). That was not a message that was welcomed.
Later when Jesus was put on trial our Lord’s supposed disrespect for the Temple was used against him. His enemies twisted his words and accused him of making threats against the Temple (Matthew 26:59-61). That lie was among the reasons given to justify his crucifixion.
Those in power continue to distort reasons for protests, ignoring the real message as they try to discredit the protesters by making false accusations. This is taking place right now. Those in the NFL are protesting against unjust treatment of people of color by police and the criminal justice system by kneeling during the national anthem. Some people don’t like the timing and circumstances they have chosen for their protest. But that has always been the case when there are protests, sometimes even among the people who agree with the point of the protest. There is room to differ about such a matter.
Nevertheless, the protesters themselves are the ones who determine the meaning of the protest. They are the ones who rightly define the message of their action. And in this case I believe their message needs to be heard. What should not happen is for political leaders to distort the meaning of the action in order to incite hostility and take attention away from the true point. To claim that the NFL players kneeling at the national anthem is a deliberate insult to the anthem, the flag, or soldiers is deceitful. Rather, the NFL protest is a way of insisting that the meaning of the anthem be put into actual practice in an equal and just way. To do otherwise is the real disrespect.
I don’t deeply care whether you do or don’t agree with what some of the NFL players are doing. But I do hope you will consider the message they intend and not allow dishonest voices get in the way. The very story of our faith tells us that ugly things can happen when leaders twist the meaning of a protest.
Grace and Peace,